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Partnership set to turbo-charge agritech AI research

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

A New Zealand partnership is developing new artificial intelligence (AI) computing power and technology to meet demand from scientists for faster processing of complex research data. 

The PlantTech Research Institute in Tauranga and New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI) have partnered to accelerate innovative research.

Horticulture and produce are among the first New Zealand industries to benefit from this faster AI computing infrastructure, with PlantTech scientists using it to explore new approaches to data driven horticulture in key sectors, including kiwifruit. 

It will remove computer processing bottlenecks that limit the ability for data scientists to train AI models that learn from high volumes of complex and tightly coupled data. It will also dramatically reduce the turnaround times for current AI research. 

NeSI has procured a first tranche of Nvidia A100 general purpose Graphics Processing Units (GPGPUs) and is working with early adopter communities, including PlantTech, to pilot these new technologies.  

“This is a special collaboration, enhancing the capabilities and support we offer to New Zealand’s agricultural research communities, particularly those working in emerging technologies, such as AI and deep learning,” says NeSI director Nick Jones. 

PlantTech chief executive Dr Mark Begbie says access to the high-performance GPU-based platform is critical for PlantTech’s market driven, horticulture focussed research, as well as for the wider primary sector. 

“Having access to the latest generation of systems brings capabilities that will enable new approaches to highly complex data challenges that will deliver step change benefits across productivity, profitability, sustainability, provenance, and biosecurity,” he says.  

“Achieving the transfer 80-100 times faster is hugely beneficial – a day-and-a-half becomes an hour. But for large data packages, transfer is simply not practically achievable over the internet.”  

“In 2021, this is more important than ever, particularly as the Government focuses on New Zealand’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 and executes the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) to build stronger and more productive horticulture and agriculture sectors.” 

In its first year, the research institute has trialled innovative solutions for the kiwifruit industry, including crop estimation and fruit maturity testing. 

Dr Georgina Rae, NeSI’s science engagement manager, expects the new platform will act as a catalyst for boundary breaking science in New Zealand. 

“Other countries have been exploring these capabilities for years, but having an indigenous, accessible platform in New Zealand will support the momentum we’re seeing build around technology and solutions that support data driven decision making on orchards and farms.”  

Read more. 

Posted in AgriTechNZ News

AgritechNZ news: Valuing our connections

Tuesday, February 9th, 2021

The forced social experiment of the current pandemic leaves me feeling incredibly grateful for our place in the world.  Thankfully, we can connect in person as a local community of interests in global agritech, here in Aotearoa.  We are currently three events into a 10 event roadshow and the interactions are invigorating on many levels.  Later this month, we’ll publish our 2021 calendar of events, providing further opportunities to connect.

Locally and overseas, as a sector, agritech is taking new shape, so there has never been a more important time to consider what collaboration and cooperation, look and feel like.  Our current roadshow includes an update on the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) as workstream activities progress.  The opportunity for industry engagement is key to its success, so we hope you can 
make it to one of the sessions.

Many of you will be aware of the Agritech Story created by New Zealand Story and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).  As part of our ITP work, we are seeking interested parties to join workshops during March and April to take a pulse check and co-create our international campaign.  If you are marketing your business in international markets, or are ready to do so, we would love to hear from you.

We are also making good progress in the creation of a Baseline of Digital Adoption in Primary Industry audit.  This will gauge some of the qualitative and quantitative progress in technology use across different farming systems.  Again, if you would like to support this work, we’re keen to hear from you.

Meanwhile, entries for the Most Innovative Hitech Agritech Solution in the New Zealand Hi Tech awards close on 8 March.  Here’s some tips for writing an entry that will get noticed.  Don’t forget to save the date for the awards dinner on 28 May.Applications are now open for Fieldays Innovation 2021 with revised categories and more prize money, although the real prize is  the global attention these awards receive.  This year, Fieldays is 16-19 June at Mystery Creek, Hamilton. 

Registrations are also open for the Sprout Agritech Accelerator’s second intake, commencing in July.  The Sprout Accelerator is tailor made for each company, focussing on four core areas to enable scalable growth – high margin business models, channels to market, building world class teams, investment readiness and capital raising.  This year’s first cohort has been announced and will soon begin their journey of discovery.  Applications close on 9 June.

Ngā mihi

AgriTech New Zealand

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Posted in AgriTechNZ News

Advancing agritech for New Zealand

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

In New Zealand, when we think of countries known for their agritech prowess, we frequently refer to Singapore, Israel, The Netherlands, Ireland and the United States of America (USA).

Already under way, but accelerated by the global pandemic, more countries with strong agricultural contributions to their gross domestic product (GDP) are investing significantly in advancing their agtech sectors.  For example, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

This further highlights the importance of New Zealand’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) developed in partnership with the All of Government taskforce and supported with a significant 2020 Budget allocation. Brendan O’Connell, our interim CEO, tells me he recently attended one of the early industry reference groups (the Horticulture Automation Activator) advising and creating ITP project activity. He was impressed by the genuine collaboration that is directing further investment and creating industry capabilities to address systemic issues.

I recently had the opportunity to meet virtually with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s (NZTE) global team, so they could be updated on our deep and broad ITP engagement, and its focus to enable New Zealand’s agritech sector to punch above its weight domestically, across Australasia and globally. But there was a salient message from the NZTE team, and one we do well to heed. Currently, New Zealand does not have global brand recognition as a leader in agtech – agriculture, for sure – but not agtech. At least not as much as we think, if we fall victim to believing what we hear in our own echo chamber.

We have a solid foundation with the ITP, and we have some great companies doing remarkable work. There is still much to do before New Zealand is recognised as the agritech country we aspire to be. There are three practical steps we can undertake to help achieve this aspiration.

Firstly, members get members – if you know of colleagues in the agritech sector who are not members of AgritechNZ, please invite them to join. Having a strong industry voice will direct efforts in areas that most benefit New Zealand agritech businesses.

Second, collaborate domestically – support the data standards and interoperability work that is being ably undertaken by our Practitioner Working Group. It is unglamorous back-room work, about as fascinating as underground power cables or cell phone towers, but essential to enable the free flow of permissioned data, on which farmers and growers, global suppliers and buyers can make better decisions.

Third, partner with Australia – adding our two sectors together still leaves us as a drop in the ocean in terms of global spend. We are stronger together, and can’t afford to duplicate resources to produce identical outcomes on both sides of the pond.  AgritechNZ and AusAgritech are forging deeper and better relations at both association and individual member level.

Ngā mihi

Kenneth Irons
Agritech New Zealand

PS: Please let us know of your industry event if you would like it mentioned in future newsletters.

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Posted in AgriTechNZ News

AgriTechNZ Developments And Progress

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Since its inception in 2018, AgriTechNZ has grown significantly and now combines the resources of members, supporters, funders and researchers. We are a 160+ member-strong organisation with the people, passion, resources and direction to deliver value to producers, growers, researchers, Government and our agritech businesses large and small.

We’re now able to progress and participate in work that will benefit global agriculture, New Zealand, our sector and our businesses. The New Zealand Government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan enables us as businesses and government organisations to collaborate in new ways. AgriTechNZ is now the only group that represents a collective and independent view of the agritech sector in New Zealand. We have a lot to be proud of: our work empowers primary production, and together we can take this even further. Let’s make the most of the many opportunities ahead of us. 

Welcome to our experienced new Executive Council

AgriTechNZ’s Executive Council (EC) has now replaced the formative Establishment Council. The new EC includes Andrew Hoggard, National President of Federated Farmers, Dan Bloomer of LandWISE, Daniel O’Brien of AWS, Simon Yarrow of Callaghan Innovation, Sophie Rebbeck of Lincoln Agritech, Peter Nation, CEO of New Zealand National Fieldays, Brendan O’Connell (independent), and deputy chair Dion Cawood of Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC).

Introducing our new Interim CEO

Brendan O’Connell has been appointed as the interim CEO while the Executive Council formally recruits a permanent CEO. He will build on the successes achieved during Peter Wren-Hilton’s tenure as Executive Director and will continue working with Peter in the further delivery of member benefits. In this role Brendan will work with members and government representatives to further develop the ITP opportunities and progress existing projects.

Brendan has a technology leadership background and has developed a strong affinity with the agritech sector, its people and its purpose. 

On behalf of the EC and all members, I extend our thanks and appreciation to Peter and Jacqui Wren-Hilton for their significant contribution to the establishment of AgriTechNZ. We are delighted that they can continue to add their experience and insight in an advisory role with a particular focus on key global alliances. 

Your opportunity to be involved 

Over the past 12 months, AgriTechNZ has been working with the ‘all of New Zealand Government’ taskforce to assist with the delivery of the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP). The published Agritech ITP document proposes two initial High Impact projects and six workstreams, designed to support the development of New Zealand’s agritech sector’s ecosystem. (The document is available here). 

To provide ongoing industry leadership and support to the government’s ITP taskforce, AgriTechNZ is establishing Industry Reference Groups to consider the proposed High Impact Projects and workstreams, to recommend actions and, in selected cases, be the vehicle for implementation of initiatives.

Some of these groups are already partly or fully formed, based on existing work and engagement. AgriTechNZ is now helping to further develop the scope, purpose and structures for these groups to enable even greater industry engagement.

The domains for these Industry Reference Groups include:

  • Robotics, Automation & Sensing Academy 
  • Farm2050 Nutrients Initiative 
  • Global Alliances & Positioning
  • IP Commercialisation 
  • Capital & Investment 
  • Data Interoperability & Regulation 
  • Skills & Workforce 

We will be seeking expressions of interest from members to contribute to these projects and workstreams as the terms of reference are completed for each, individually. We expect the first of these to be completed in the next few weeks.

These opportunities will be highlighted in further communications, webinars and meetings. In the meantime, we welcome your comments and input, and look forward to the shared beneficial outcomes of these collaborations.

Ngā mihi

Kenneth Irons
Agritech New Zealand

PS: MBIE is currently consulting on a Consumer Data Right for greater choice and control over data. Join AgriTechNZ and Digital Identity NZ for a member discussion later this month. More information coming soon, but please contact us to express your interest.

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Posted in AgriTechNZ News

Closed Borders And New Pastures

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

First, I hope wherever you are, you and your family are safe and well. These are indeed strange times. Closed borders have new meaning, because today, I can travel to Hamilton, but not to Auckland. However, in the world of Agritech New Zealand, things are not slowing down!

Earlier this month, we elected our new Executive Council. Kenneth Irons is the new Chair and Dion Cawood, the Deputy Chair. I would like to congratulate all the new members on their successful election. Meet the new team here.

As promised in our last newsletter, July was an epic month! I joined Ministers Twyford and O’Connor in Tauranga as we launched the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP). Almost 100 Agritech New Zealand members attended the launch at Zespri. Looking ahead, we will be establishing Industry Reference Groups to support the Key Impact Projects and work streams contained within the Plan. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – ongoing industry engagement is critical to ensure the successful delivery and implementation of the Plan.

Minister O’Connor also used the occasion to release Aotearoa Agritech Unleashed, a major research report prepared by Agritech New Zealand on the economic impact of the sector on New Zealand’s broader economy. The significant impact of the sector on New Zealand’s economic performance was further enhanced by the release of the inaugural TIN Agritech Insights Report. 

July also saw two major digital events; Fieldays Online and Techweek2020. Agritech New Zealand hosted eight sessions across the two events. Again, I would like to congratulate the teams behind both events. In the past, I would have expected to be wearing my red band gumboots at Mystery Creek and criss-crossing the country during Techweek to support regional agritech events. However, this year, I was in a studio on Auckland’s North Shore and live at Techweek TV at AUT. Both teams did an amazing job, especially as they pivoted from hosting significant physical events to creating very successful digital ones.

And now for some personal news, this will be my last Agritech New Zealand newsletter as Executive Director. Over the past few months, Jacqui and I have become very aware of the impact of closed international borders on many of our members. We have decided to focus exclusively on leveraging our global networks to support keeping lines open between New Zealand’s agritech sector and offshore markets. 

The good news is that when our current term finishes on Friday 4 September, Jacqui and I will sign a new contract with NZTech to help grow Agritech New Zealand’s offshore footprint. In the meantime, the Executive Council is actively recruiting my successor.

In closing, I would like to thank our members for their ongoing support over the past 2+ years. I would like to pay special tribute to the members of the former Establishment Council for their significant contribution and service to the sector both before and since the organisation was established. You were awesome! 

It was your support that helped get the Agritech ITP across the line and it is the ongoing support that will take this organisation to new heights.

Ngā mihi

Peter Wren-Hilton
Executive Director
AgriTech New Zealand

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Posted in AgriTechNZ News

Join Agritech New Zealand at Techweek2020.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

Next week, Techweek2020 kicks off and Agritech New Zealand has three great events lined up for the country’s agritech community.

Tuesday 28 July – Techweek TV 2.00pm – 2.30pm

Join David Downs, the Agritech Transformation Plan Taskforce lead and myself as we discuss the next steps in the delivery and implementation of the Plan. If you missed the official launch of the Plan in Tauranga earlier this week, you can read about it here.

To view this ½ hour special, set your clocks for 2.00pm on the 28th and go to We hope you can join us then.

Wednesday 29 July – Elizabeth Fastiggi, global agritech lead at AWS 11.00am – 12.00pm

At 11.00am, I am hosting an exclusive one hour webinar with Elizabeth Fastiggi, global agritech lead at AWS. Dialling in the US, Elizabeth will talk about her perspective of the global agritech landscape and illustrate this though some customer journeys. Viewers of the webinar will be able to ask Elizabeth direct questions during the webinar. It will be the first time that Elizabeth has spoken to a New Zealand audience.

This is a free event, but registration is essential. To register, please visit

Thursday 30 July – Re-Imagine the Digital Economy: The Role of Technology in Food Assurance 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Online events don’t come much bigger than this. A live two hour webinar linking major thought leaders in New Zealand and Singapore.

Join this session as we hear from industry experts, technology providers and food producers on the role of technology for improving yields, optimising production methods and reducing waste, predicting demand, and safeguarding supply chains.

Speakers Include:

  • Peter Wren-Hilton, Executive Director, Agritech New Zealand
  • Bradley Busetto, Director, UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development
  • Paul Ryan, Director, Trust Codes
  • Claudia Roessler, Director Agriculture, Microsoft Azure Global Engineering
  • Amit Gupta, CEO, Ecosystm (Singapore)
  • Jannat Maqbool, Principal Advisor, Ecosystm  (New Zealand)

Starting at 2.00pm (NZT), registration is once again free, but essential. To register, please visit

Techweek2020 promises once again to be a festival of innovation. If you want to share in it, and have an interest in the progress of New Zealand’s agritech sector, we very much hope that you can join us for one of these free events.

Posted in AgriTechNZ News

The Agritech Industry Transformation Plan has finally launched!

Monday, July 20th, 2020

The Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) was finally launched by Hon Phil Twyford at Zespri’s HQ in Tauranga yesterday.

Phil was joined by Hon Damien O’Connor who took the opportunity to release Agritech New Zealand’s research report, Aotearoa Agritech Unleashed. The research provides a detailed analysis of the impact of agritech on New Zealand’s economy and the opportunity for productivity and export growth.

The launch of the Agritech ITP follows 15 months of engagement between industry and government. I have been fortunate to spend a large amount of my time working with ITP taskforce members, across a number of different government agencies; MBIE, NZTE, Callaghan Innovation, MPI and MFAT. It has been a really positive experience to see cross-agency collaboration at close quarters. Knocking down silos has never been so much fun!

At yesterday’s launch, I spoke about the role of industry in the delivery and implementation of the Plan. A number of Industry Reference Groups are being established to map the different high impact projects and workstreams contained within the Plan. Amongst other things, these will look at;

  • Global Opportunities
  • Investment
  • Commercialisation
  • Skills & Talent
  • Data Standards & Regulation
  • Government Process

The Industry Reference Groups will give industry, (including the research sector), the opportunity to work closely with the different agencies as they lead the workstreams. This input is critical to ensure the successful delivery and implementation of the Plan.

Whilst in Tauranga, Jacqui and I organised separate meetings for the Ministers with both PlantTech & Ballance. It was an opportunity to showcase some of the great innovation currently being undertaken in the Bay of Plenty.

At PlantTech, a number of their partners, including Robotics Plus, BlueLab, Eurofins, Trimax, Cucumber, Zespri & the University of Waikato talked about their work. It’s safe to say that both Ministers were impressed. Collaboration and transformation became the main themes of the day.

At Ballance, CEO Mark Wynne spoke about the positive strides being undertaken by the cooperative, particularly in the area of sustainability. The move away from being seen as a fertiliser company to a nutrient management one is playing a major role in the organisation’s transformation.

Back at the launch, I had referenced the day as being the end of the first chapter. The next chapter, the delivery and implementation part, starts today.

Posted in AgriTechNZ News

Agritech New Zealand AGM 2020. The election results.

Sunday, May 31st, 2020

On Thursday, Agritech New Zealand hosted its 2020 Annual General Meeting.

In keeping with Level 2 restrictions, the AGM was hosted over ZOOM. Because of that and because the organisation’s membership is so widely dispersed across New Zealand, it guaranteed a large turnout.

I was able to talk about the achievements of the past 12 months and some of the opportunities and challenges for the next 12. Given the effect of COVID-19, it will inevitably impact on some of our operational planning. Proposed NZ agritech delegation visits to the US and Ireland / UK later in the year have already been cancelled. Other in person events will almost certainly replaced by ZOOM.

The 2020 AGM marked in some ways the end of an era. As we moved from an Establishment Council to an elected Executive Council, it was time to say au revoir to a number of Council members who had been part of Agritech New Zealand’s organisational structure since Day 1.

I would like to pay a personal tribute to the support and energy they provided Jacqui, myself and the wider management team since our formation in May 2018. Without it, Agritech New Zealand would not be where it is today. They include;

  • Brendan Mahar – NZTE
  • Brendan O’Connell – PAANZ
  • Dean Tilyard – Sprout Accelerator
  • Mark Ennis – Fonterra
  • Rob Heebink – Gallagher
  • Sarah Hindle – Tech Futures Lab (Interim Agritech New Zealand Chair)
  • Simon Yarrow – Callaghan Innovation
  • Simon Neale – Spark

At Thursday’s AGM, we welcomed the newly elected and appointed members of the Executive Council. They include;

  • Dion Cawood – LIC
  • Daniel O’Brien – AWS
  • Peter Nation – National Fieldays
  • Sophie Rebbeck – Lincoln Agritech
  • Dan Bloomer – Landwise
  • Kenneth Irons – Precision Farming

There remain four additional positions to be appointed

  • Government
  • Practitioner
  • Iwi Rep
  • Independent

There was considerable interest in the Executive Council elections and I would like to thank the 19 different individuals and organisations nominated for the 1 available Major Corporate and 1 available SME position. It spoke volumes for just where the organisation is today.

Looking ahead, the recent Budget announcement of $11.4M funding to support the delivery and execution of the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) remains a core focus for the organisation. We are currently looking at establishing working groups to support the 3 High Impact Projects and 6 workstreams contained within the ITP recommendations.

I’ll be publishing updates on the progress as soon as I can.

Posted in AgriTechNZ News

The NZ Ag Data "Insights & applications" Webinar Series

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

This series of four webinars was designed to enable people across the spectrum* to acquire factual insights on which to make informed management, technology and interoperability decisions, with an emphasis on real-world application.

Data is at the heart of business decision-making in any industry, especially so in the ag sector.

For NZ agriculture-related companies to remain competitive in an increasingly globally-connected world, their data must be more complete, timely, accurate, and comprehensible. Standards help make this possible.

A challenge for implementers is knowing what standards are available and the purpose of each. How and if standards relates to other standards, and how various technologies and tools inter-relate.

This four-part webinar series addressed these points, prioritising breadth over depth, and with references to resource libraries to enable participants to dig deeper.

Guest presenters during the series included:

  • Andrew Cooke, MD, Rezare Ltd, Head of DataLinke
  • Sir Bill English, 38th Prime Minister of New Zealand
  • Alexey Rostapshov, Head of John Deere Labs, San Francisco
  • David Downs, MBIE

*for example agtech businesses, agribusinesses, research organisations, primary producer co-ops, regional and central government regulators

The agenda covered, in four sessions

Session Two: Tuesday 21 April

Business Processes, Message Data Standards from a global perspective, with implications for NZ business.

Session Three: Tuesday 28 April

Reference Data; Data Ownership, Moving data around (APIs etc) (NZ & globally).

Session Four: Tuesday 5 May

Practical Strategies for New Zealand entities wanting to implement technologies in line with global best-practice standards; Relevance of AgGateway for New Zealand (and Australia); Alignment with New Zealand’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan.

The webinar series is built on the work undertaken by the Precision Ag Association of NZ (“PAANZ”) over the last two years, the investment in Datalinker and NZ Farm Data Standards, the NZ Government’s Industry Transformation Plan, as well as emerging dialogue within and between New Zealand and Australia to facilitate greater collaboration between ag sector organisations.

These webinars were convened by:

  • Kenneth Irons, on the boards of PAANZ and AgriTechNZ, and CEO of Precision Farming Ltd, and were lead by
  • Jim Wilson, Global CEO and President of OAGi and CTO of AgGateway.

AgriTechNZ members are also welcome to access the substantial library of resources made available free of charge with the complements of AgGateway, to attendees at the webinar series. If you can not access this page please contact Tim Cutfield on

Posted in AgriTechNZ News

The Agritech New Zealand Insights webinar series is now available online

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

We are delighted to publish the eight Agritech New Zealand Insights webinar sessions which were recorded over the past three weeks. 2,200+ registered attendees signed up to view the series and the feedback we have received since has been hugely positive.

As with any first time Hollywood blockbuster, I’m pleased therefore to announce that we will be launching the Insights webinar series Season 2 during Techweek 2020. This takes place during the last week of July. We plan to host major global thought leaders who will once again provide valuable insights for New Zealand’s agritech sector.

To view any or all of our ‘Season 1’ recordings, please click on the links below and enter the relevant password. I hope you enjoy.

Dr. Adrian Percy: Former global Head of R&D at Bayer Crop Science: CTO of UPL

The role of major agribusiness corporates, early stage collaboration and the impact on innovation Password: 4j!*@J#e

Arama Kukutai: Co-founder and Managing director of Finistere Ventures

Understanding the Global Agritech Investment Landscape Password: m1$Y0!5D

Claudia Roessler: World wide director of Agriculture, Microsoft

Microsoft’s investment in agriculture, the role of agritech and how local companies can partner. Password: 8n+2ygwu

David Downs: The government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) Lead

Supporting the growth and scaling New Zealand’s agritech sector – an update on the planned delivery of the government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan. Password: 9y+$4F00

Dennis Donohue: Director of the Western Growers Technology & Innovation Center

Stateside challenges and how New Zealand agritech businesses can help solve them Password: 1U&EL4Kq

Ian Proudfoot: Global Head of Agribusiness, KPMG

AgriFood’s ‘Now Normal’ post COVID-19 Password: l7+++4=4

Richard Dellabarca: CEO, New Zealand Capital Growth Partners (formerly NZVIF)

Navigating the NZ Investment Landscape post COVID-19 Password: 8Z&lCF9w

Vic Crone: CEO, Callaghan Innovation

New initiatives to support early stage businesses in the current environment  Password: o7+kvP7R

I would like to personally thank all our presenters for their time and contribution to the Insights Series. During our COVID-19 Level 4 & 3 lockdown, it was great to be able share their knowledge and vision with New Zealand’s agritech community.

I will post details of our Season 2 line-up closer to the Techweek 2020 programme.

Posted in AgriTechNZ News

The Agritech New Zealand Insights Sector Survey results are in. What next in a post COVID-19 world?

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

UPDATED: 11 May 2020: On Thursday this week, the Hon. Grant Robertson will announce the government’s 2020 Budget. It will be against the almost surreal economic background created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Agritech New Zealand released the results of its Insights Sector survey. It reflected several areas of major concern for New Zealand agritech businesses.

Over the past few weeks, Agritech New Zealand has been working closely with the government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) taskforce to promote the ITP’s inclusion in Thursday’s announcement. We believe it can create significant opportunity for New Zealand’s agritech businesses, both short-term and long-term. We now await the outcome of that work.

The Agritech New Zealand Insights Sector Survey results are out. You can view the detailed Survey results here.

The purpose of the Agritech New Zealand Insights Survey was to get a better understanding of the New Zealand agritech sector’s resilience and business continuity planning, both during the COVID-19 lockdown and beyond. The Survey took place between Tuesday 31 March and Thursday 9 April 2020.

The respondents’ answers to the open and closed questions highlighted several major areas of concern. These included:

  • Access to funding
  • Access to customers
  • Access to markets

In this post, I am going to provide some detailed commentary on each area of concern. In later posts, I will talk about some of the actions that government and industry can take to address them.

Access to Funding

One surprising feature of the survey was the relatively small number of startup businesses taking part in the survey (26). This might be because their focus is on survival. Anecdotally, a significant number of pre-revenue startup businesses across New Zealand’s tech landscape are in survival mode. On Friday 17 April, Callaghan Innovation released figures based on research conducted during the current COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown, which suggested that perhaps 50-60% of New Zealand’s pre-revenue tech businesses might fail.

More established agritech companies are also under funding pressure. This was confirmed by Arama Kukutai, co-founder and managing director of Finistere Ventures and Richard Dellabarca, CEO of New Zealand Capital Growth Partners (formerly known as NZVIF) during two Insights webinar sessions hosted by Agritech New Zealand during the weeks of 13 & 20 April. Portfolio companies are being asked to re-set their business plans and financial models to extend cash runways to the end of 2021. In many cases, this will result in a reduction of R&D spend and a reduction in headcount.

When asked about the most significant need post COVID-19 lockdown, the survey respondents pointed to financial support as the most relevant support mechanism required for economic recovery. This was cited by 50% of all respondents. Anecdotally, Callaghan Innovation is accelerating its Project Grant application process to support ongoing R&D activity by some customers. The survey also indicated however that a number of companies, particularly in the start-up / SME phase were either reducing investment into R&D or going into full R&D hibernation.

It is clear that novel solutions need to be considered to address the funding issue. During any severe economic downturn, poorly performing businesses are likely to fail. The unprecedented nature of the current COVID-19 pandemic however means that many potentially high growth New Zealand agritech businesses have been exposed at the most important part of their funding cycle.

Access to Customers

At the time of the survey, the biggest risk to ‘current business activity’ was access to customers. This was cited by 50% of all respondents. This was particularly apparent for the SME sector.

It is likely that for domestic customers, access will become less of a problem as New Zealand reduces its COVID-19 alert level. At the time of the survey, a large number of agritech businesses, corporate as well as SME, were not classified as ‘essential’ businesses. This meant that they were not able to support or service customers in the primary sector. A number of respondents were critical of the government’s process for determining an ‘essential service’ at a time when the primary sector was the main driver of the country’s economy during lockdown.

Access to offshore customers however remains a significant challenge. Just over 50% of respondents cited that the restriction on international travel had impacted their business. With no end-date in sight for the relaxation of New Zealand’s closed borders, this is a challenge whose impact is likely to grow. Responses to the open question, enabling respondents to comment further on the impact of travel restrictions, indicated that a number of agritech businesses had already lost overseas sales and others were putting their offshore market development plans into hibernation.

Access to Markets

New Zealand’s closed borders threaten a number of agritech businesses medium to long-term offshore market development plans. This is significant.

Over the past 5 years, New Zealand’s exports of agritech products and services have flatlined at approximately NZ$ 1.5 billion per year. Compared with international peers such as Israel & the Netherlands, this figure suggests under-performance given the size of New Zealand’s agricultural sector.

One of the key drivers behind the government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) initiative was to identify actions that could accelerate the growth of New Zealand agritech export sales. This activity would not only generate more export dollars, it was designed to create more highly paid jobs, particularly in the regions where much of the sector is based.

Based on the results of the survey, Agritech New Zealand believes that the closed borders will significantly impact the ability of agritech businesses to grow their offshore sales in the short to medium term. To compensate for the inability of entrepreneurs to travel overseas, a novel set of support mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that international markets remain open to New Zealand’s agritech sector post the relaxation of border controls.

Access to offshore markets, includes one additional key metric; access to global capital to support potentially high growth agritech businesses invest and scale. Based on conversations that have taken place over the past 3 – 4 weeks with a number of global offshore funds – particularly those associated with Farm2050 (, new investment into New Zealand agritech companies at a Series A scale is unlikely to materialise until 2021. For a number of New Zealand agritech companies looking to start a Series A or B funding round, this is likely to impact significantly on cash runway and operations unless other finance options can be found.

Addressing these Challenges

In my next post, I will provide some insight into the potential mechanisms that government and industry can use to begin to address these real challenges that a number of businesses in our sector face.

Over the past 4 weeks, Agritech New Zealand has been in constant contact with government officials to promote ongoing support for the sector as we enter the economic recovery phase. Working collaboratively together, I express the hope and the belief that New Zealand’s agritech sector will emerge stronger as we go forward.

Posted in AgriTechNZ News