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Peter Wren-Hilton

COVID-19. Its impacting on Agritech New Zealand scheduling

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Over the past few days, I’ve been working to re-schedule a number of Agritech New Zealand engagements in the light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ten days ago, I received an email advising that this year’s World Agri-tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco had been cancelled. So today, rather than attending the Summit in SF, I’m hunkered down in my Tauranga home office. Scheduled meetings with Farm2050, Western Growers and others are being re-scheduled as ‘business as usual’ takes a back seat. The ZOOM Pro account is coming into its own.

The same fate might apply to June’s Forbes Live event in Salinas, California. Monday’s announcement by AirNZ that they were cancelling all flights to San Francisco until 30 June means that that event is now ‘on hold’ in the diary. Agritech New Zealand had planned once again to support Callaghan Innovation take an agritech delegation to this event. We have been discussing the opportunity for more collaboration with partners in the Bay area around the establishment of a robotics and automation academy. That conversation continues.

Back home, in the past 24 hours, both Central District Fieldays and National Fieldays have postponed their shows. This will have a significant impact on the rural sector. It will also impact on some of our own planning around these events.

As to the state of the NZ agritech sector, yesterday I had the honour to review this year’s entries to the NZ Hi-Tech Awards Agritech category. I was able to park some of the current troubles to one side. As a member of the Award’s judging panel, it’s great to see the amazing quality of some of our emerging agritech companies. They are addressing some of the really big issues.

Looking ahead, there is one initiative that continues to provide real focus for us. Over the past two weeks, Agritech New Zealand has co-hosted 3 workshops in Auckland, Hamilton & Lincoln. These sessions enabled us to engage industry leaders and partners with some of the government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) thinking. Over 200 folk attended the three workshops which demonstrates the interest the initiative has generated. The Agritech ITP is an incredibly important piece of work and I am working closely with the Agritech ITP taskforce on implementing the next phase. Its delivery.

In terms of the actual timing of the launch, we are liaising with the Minister’s offices. Today, I had to postpone a planned private dinner with Ministers Twyford & O’Connor for several agribusiness CEO’s slated for 1 April. With the COVID-19 situation still being so fluid, we’ll be working on the launch details over the next few days.

As the team work through these challenges, we are following the Ministry of Health’s advice closely. As a member of the NZ Tech Alliance, we are putting in place various steps to support team members reduce risk of exposure to COVID-19. So whilst the outbreak is having an immediate impact on a number of our planned activities, we are taking a ‘safety first’ approach.

I’ll continue to update on developments online. These are trying times, but the key message today is simple. Stay calm and stay safe.

Peter Wren-Hilton Peter is Executive Director of Agritech New Zealand and founder of Wharf42 in Tauranga. Peter helps organise major agritech conferences in New Zealand and offshore and connects early stage New Zealand agritech companies with international markets.