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My first international visit since the pandemic has been an insightful reminder that while we’ve been working on agritech growth strategies, so has the rest of the world!

Most of my time has been spent touring the United Kingdom’s (UK) agritech centres of excellence. This highlighted the level of local investment in agritech in addition to the upheaval and opportunities present.

In 2015, the UK was one of the first countries to have a national agritech strategy. Since then, it has been funded by Innovate UK with significant investment in four agritech centres, each with their own speciality:  

  • Agri-EPI Centre concentrates on engineering and precision agriculture, 
  • Agrimetrics develops data capabilities
  • CHAP focuses on crop health and protection 
  • CIEL is the centre for innovation excellence in livestock. 

These centres for agricultural innovation are a collaborative model between industry and government.  The aim is to help the UK commericalise innovation, encourage inward investment and improve farming practice.

During the last fortnight,  I’ve met with key people from each of these groups and continue to deepen our network of networks for agritech innovators. Many New Zealand companies are already establishing a  position in the UK and benefiting from access to the significant resources of these groups.

What I have found most interesting in the UK, is the relatively high level of technology capability, but low level of domestic technology adoption.  Within that dynamic lies great opportunity for collaboration between the UK and New Zealand agritech innovators both of whom work in different domestic environments and have shared global aspirations.

During my visit, local commentators described the factors contributing towards  a ‘decade of disruption’. In addition to the global challenge of food production in a climate crisis and the food system impacts from the war in Ukraine, UK farmers are also facing the phase out of a Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).  Until recently, this has subsidised their operations based on the area they farm. This is being replaced with supports for three areas of policy impact (productivity, environmental outcomes and landscape/air/water quality) but at lower levels than the BPS.

Interestingly, the devolution of agricultural policy to each country in the UK will see a divergence in how support is applied;.

  • England will focus on public good – improving landscape, air and water quality improvements
  • Scotland will focus on reduced emissions from agriculture
  • Wales will focus on public good, with an agriculture focus
  • Northern Ireland focus on sustainable productivity improvements

This is a notable period of change in the UK. Approximately 40 percent of farmers have only been profitable with the BPS and a further 15 percent who are not profitable even with the BPS. Farmers will require significant adjustments to their practices. Like many other countries, they will be searching for the optimal sweet spot combining  productivity and environmental improvements. Both will  require a new suite of tools and capabilities.

Earlier this year, the New Zealand Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (AITP) supported an Agritech Story campaign in the Farmers Guardian. I was delighted to receive positive feedback during several meetings in the UK and Ireland about how it  struck a chord in the market.  Later this year, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and the AITP team will collaborate again on another campaign.  Yes, the primary audience is UK farmers, but it’s worth noting the whole ecosystem pays attention and the potential for technology collaborations is significant.

Certainly, local details may differ, but the common challenges of farming in a climate crisis are shared. This is truly the age of agritech as farmers and growers seek innovations necessary to navigate disruption. It’s also true that neither the UK nor New Zealand can justify substantial investments in agritech developments without taking those solutions to international markets. 

The connections strengthened on this visit will continue to be nurtured when the UK Department of International Trade (UK DIT) visit New Zealand with a cohort of UK agritech innovators for Fieldays 2022..

We look forward to continuing to develop and collaborate on successful projects  with all our UK partners.

And for our Members, we will continue to provide opportunities to connect, promote and advance our ecosystem. This type of engagement is just one example supporting our goal to connect our Members and participate in opportunities for economic growth.

Brendan O’Connell