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Posted: 09 June 2017
The final in a blog post series by Business Innovation Advisor Nicky Molloy, following her recent agritech adventures in San Francisco.

In April I was privileged to join a delegation of businesses from New Zealand and around the world to see first hand San Francisco’s agritech industry in action. Special thanks to the Silicon Valley Forum for hosting the Seeds of Our Future AgTech Immersion Program 2017. Thanks also to NZTE, which funded the Kiwi contingent that was ably led James Wilde from NZTE, Peter Wren-Hilton from Wharf 42, and joined by Bridget Unsworth from NZVIF.

So how does NZ rate as a leader of innovation in agribusiness? In this blog series, I’ve shared some of the learnings from this trip and where NZ sits on the innovation spectrum.

Part 4 (final): Developing an innovation ecosystem around agritech in Salinas, California

Salinas is a strongly focused agriculture centre in California and with an 80-year history of growing iceburg lettuce. With large key industries moving out a number of years ago, it needed to reconsider its regional strategy to look at how it could develop an ecosystem that supports agriculture. A  collaborative effort between local government, education providers, businesses and community support agencies, this public private partnership is bringing agricultural and technology together, leveraging the region’s strengths with the aim of providing growth, developing well paid jobs, and producing a healthier environment as a result.

Key points are:

  • The local government doesn’t provide funding but acts as a convenor to clear the way for other support networks to do what they do best 
  • Education hubs such as Hartnell College work closely with businesses to understand the skill levels needed and how to support these with training modules. The College developed a computer science degree that could be completed in 3 years with businesses providing funding and internships. Examples of courses include basic applied technology degrees that cover business, computing and agricultural science through to mechanics, welding and soft skill development
  • Community projects where children as young as 4 are taught to code. About 600 students between the ages of 8 and 17 will be taken through the coding programme in the first year. This programme is free
  • The Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology, launched in December 2015, houses start-ups including two NZ companies http://farming2020.nz/video-gallery/
  • Salinas will host, for the third year, the Forbes AgTech Summit 
  • The THRIVE Accelerator program connects the expertise of tech companies to knowledge of agricultural companies, investors, and entrepreneurs

New Zealand Home of Innovation in Agribusiness

There are fantastic initiatives happening in this city that are benefiting the whole community. What a great showcase.

Our final day included a day at Plug and Play in Silicon Valley with presentations by agritech leaders from Brazil, Israel, France, Chile, Denmark, Mexico, China, Columbia, Spain, Canada and Japan. New Zealand’s presentation, led by James Wilde from NZTE and supported by Dr Cather Simpson (Engender Technologies), Tim Cutfield (Agrigate) and Paul Whiston (LIC Automation) was a standout!

Our agritech discussions have continued - through the Farming 2020 event in May and with next week’s Fieldays. There you'll find Callaghan Innovation in the Innovations LAB, where businesses can access a free innovation knowledge bank. We'll also be launching our inaugural Award for Partnership and Collaboration, and our co-partnership of the Business & International Centre (a networking hub for international buyers and media) will see our Chief Technology Officer Dr Chris Hartshorn deliver several seminars that will explore how technology will change the future of agritech businesses - and our world. 

Deals are being done, connections are being made, and we will watch with interest over the next 12 months for the benefits that these bring to NZ.

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas.  Our specialised agritech team supports businesses through the use of technology in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency and profitability

Posted: 24 May 2017
Part 3 of a blog post series by Business Innovation Advisor Nicky Molloy, following her recent agritech adventures in San Francisco.

In April I was privileged to join a delegation of businesses from New Zealand and around the world to see first hand San Francisco’s agritech industry in action. Special thanks to the Silicon Valley Forum for hosting the Seeds of Our Future AgTech Immersion Program 2017. Thanks also to NZTE, which funded the Kiwi contingent that was ably led James Wilde from NZTE, Peter Wren-Hilton from Wharf 42, and joined by Bridget Unsworth from NZVIF.

So how does NZ rate as a leader of innovation in agribusiness? In this blog series, I’ll be sharing some of the learnings from this trip and where NZ sits on the innovation spectrum.

Part 3: What is driving Big Data, Robotics and IoT in agritech

Across the US, traditional family agriculture businesses are changing as the next generation chooses other career paths. Despite increasingly higher wages to attract workers, farm jobs are being ignored by Americans and there is a heavy reliance on foreign workers. Issues of farmers having to plough crops into the ground due to labour shortages and reducing the amount of land they crop are driving the development of robotics and automation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i62juq8Euk

However out of adversity can come opportunity; technology is also providing solutions to improving yield, efficiency and profitability while ensuring this is done sustainably. Integrated technologies where machines are smarter and can work across multiple crops are the next innovation, along with  data capture tools to assist with decision-making on farms. 

Some examples of farming innovations are:

  • Climate FieldView (bought by Monsanto in 2013 for $930 million) has built a platform to help farmers sustainably increase their productivity with digital tools that collect and analyse field data, measure performance, monitor nitrogen, and build tailored seeding prescriptions  
  • Plant Tape provides an automated transplanting system and is touted as a fast, efficient, less labour-intensive solution that eliminates a number or issues with fragility when replanting seedlings
  • Blue River Technology is an engineering tech company building the next generation of agriculture equipment that reduces chemicals and saves costs. Its machines apply chemicals only where needed ie to the weeds and not to the crop or soil
  • Trace Genomics provides microbial evaluation for soil health and disease management. A winner out of the Thrive Accelerator it combines genomics, bioscience, data and machine learning to provide farmers with insights

So what does the future of farming look like? Big data, robotics and the IoT all feature along with the ability to take outdoor farming indoors. Take a look here: https://futurism.com/world-first-robot-run-farm-harvest-30000-heads-lettuce-daily/

Part of the challenge in NZ is that we have a tendency to focus on local solutions. The US trip gave us an insight into some of the issues outside NZ, the challenges and opportunities that are emerging, and the size of the export opportunity if you get it right.

A number of Kiwi companies are focusing on developing a solution to a single problem. However what we need to do better as an innovation community is collaborate and bring multiple companies together to provide a more integrated solution that has a stronger export appeal. As we innovate, we need to be thinking early on about who we could be working with and who we could be collaborating with.

We have the ability in NZ to work with farmers who have traditionally been early adopters of innovation, but we need to keep a global vision in mind when developing this technology. More on that in my next blog.

Coming next week – Part 4: Developing an Innovation Eco-system around agritech

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas.  Our specialised agritech team supports businesses through the use of technology in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency and profitability.

Posted: 16 May 2017
Paths To Food Traceability: Part 2 of a blog post series by Business Innovation Advisor Nicky Molloy, following her recent agritech adventures in San Francisco.

In April I was privileged to join a delegation of businesses from New Zealand and around the world to see first hand San Francisco’s agritech industry in action. Special thanks to the Silicon Valley Forum for hosting the Seeds of Our Future AgTech Immersion Program 2017. Thanks also to NZTE, which funded the Kiwi contingent that was ably led James Wilde from NZTE, Peter Wren-Hilton from Wharf 42, and joined by Bridget Unsworth from NZVIF.

So how does NZ rate as a leader of innovation in agribusiness? In this blog series, I’ll be sharing some of the learnings from this trip and where NZ sits on the innovation spectrum.

Today's blog is about paths to food traceability.

We need to start thinking about Food Traceability as connecting consumers to their food source. In NZ we have a strong Farm to Fork story that, through the emergence of better digital tools, can be better shared. But we still need a stronger combined industry voice in NZ, data that evidences improvements, and to start benchmarking ourselves against other global markets.

In the US, grass and pasture-fed products are growing by 30% - and consumers are paying a premium for them. Fresh Box Farms is disrupting the leafy green market by reducing the supply chain, growing greens organically, and delivering fresh within 24 hours of harvest – its products are always in season, always fresh, and fully traceable.

McDonald’s has stated that it wants to go cage free by 2025; digital tools that track its products through the value chain will be critical in helping to support that claim. 

Barcodes were originally introduced to help track products around the world but new technologies such as Safe Tracers enable a seaweed marker to be added to food. When combined with other traceability systems and labels, this can provide a complete authentication solution throughout the supply chain.

Safe Traces presentation slide
Safe Traces presentation slide

 

Digital tools have the ability to add value to the Made in NZ brand: they allow consumers to engage directly with producers, and offer an opportunity to build brand trust.

As food products move from the highly processed back to the more natural, consumers are seeking a two-way dialogue to build that trust. When we tried an Impossible Burger (vegetable protein that tastes and looks like meat) in San Francisco, one of our party tweeted that the burger was “90% there” but that the producers “needed to do further work”. Result? An instant response from the Impossible Burger team, one happy customer, and a win for Impossible’s brand trust. Lesson? Transparency represents a powerful marketing opportunity.

I was joined in San Francisco by Paul Ryan from Trust Codes, a digital platform that shares product history and provenance directly with customers. “The desire for transparency is set in the context of a technological culture where feedback moves fast, access to information is easy, and open sources are expected,” he says. “Thanks to social media, they can make their voice resonate internationally and in real time. 

“Consumer tastes appear to be changing to reflect the free flow of information and the increase in social consciousness. A Deloitte study of the ‘shifting consumer food value equation’ revealed that transparency is an overarching driver and that health and wellbeing, experience, social impact and safety are the things consumers care about as much, if not more than taste and convenience. Based on that, it is quite conceivable that a consumer will ask questions like: Is this good for me? How do I know if this food is safe? Do they treat their staff well? How much water was used to make this? How many miles did this food travel to get here?”

Kiwi food producers be ready: if your products are clean and green, you’ll need to prove it.

Useful reading: Capitalizing on the shifting consumer food value equation (PDF)

Useful viewing: Farming 2020 - The Future of AgTech in NZ, Panel Discussion May 10 2017 (Facebook)

Coming next week – Part 3: What is driving Big Data, Robotics and IoT in Agritech

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas.  Our specialised agritech team supports businesses through the use of technology in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency and profitability.

Posted: 09 May 2017
Part 1 of a new blog post series by Nicky Molloy, following her recent agritech adventures in San Francisco

In April I was privileged to join a delegation of businesses from New Zealand and around the world to see first hand San Francisco’s agritech industry in action. From the bustling start-ups and high energy of Silicon Valley to the berry fields of rural California, 100 representatives from 17 countries lived, ate and breathed all things agritech. Ideas and global experiences were swapped as frequently as business cards on the myriad bus trips with industry entrepreneurs, investors, growers and innovation support agencies.

A group of NZ delegates at Driscoll’s Berry Farm
A group of NZ delegates at Driscoll’s Berry Farm

 

Special thanks to the Silicon Valley Forum for hosting the Seeds of Our Future AgTech Immersion Program 2017. Thanks also to NZTE, which funded the Kiwi contingent that was ably led James Wilde from NZTE, Peter Wren-Hilton from Wharf 42, and joined by Bridget Unsworth from NZVIF.

Last year’s inaugural tour was funded by Callaghan Innovation, and resulted in $6 million in deals by Kiwi businesses.

So how does NZ rate as a leader of innovation in agribusiness? I’ll be sharing some of the learnings from this trip and where NZ sits on the innovation spectrum over the next few weeks.

Today, I’ll start with Part 1: Tech in food - Reinventing the sustainable food supply chain

So what if our meat or milk didn’t come from a cow, our eggs from a chicken, or wine from grapes? Large amounts of investor money, R&D effort and focus in the start-up area is looking at solving the global challenge of how we produce enough food to feed the growing population sustainably. A number of food and beverage start-ups based out of Indie Bio in Silicon Valley showed us what is possible and how our supply chain will be transformed:

  • Hampton Creek is using plants to transform the food toolkit in the lab. Its 60-strong R&D team sources stock from all over the world to develop its specialty plant-based egg ingredients. Its products are enabling food companies to reduce costs, attract more customers, and embed sustainable innovation into their supply chains.
  • Still on the plant-protein connection: Alex Lorestani from Geltor Inc shared the company’s vision of a cost-competitive, sustainable gelatin sourced from a plant. The gelatine market is estimated to be worth $3 billion by 2020.
  • Caribou Biosciences is working on accelerated precision breeding strategies to create, for example, drought-tolerant and disease-resistant plants. Its vision is to produce plant foods that are grown using less added nutrition, water and pesticides. Additionally, it has a focus on flavour, improved nutrition content, and producing crops with non-browning properties.
  • Wine created in 15 minutes? With not a grape in sight? By analyzing and sourcing individual components, Ava Labs aims to produce a fine wine from a molecular level. Benefits will include water savings, a reduced impact on the environment, and the capability to extend the process to any beverage. But can we still call this product wine?
  • GEA enzymes is a protein design company using technology to convert saturated fats into unsaturated fats from most vegetable oils.  Doing so changes the texture from a solid to a liquid state. GEA is partnering with multinationals to introduce this technology to food products. The fat industry is worth $247 billion for food and pharma. 

As we look to how we can create an agritech industry of the future, we are being challenged to think about what impact these new technologies will have on our traditional primary sector. Will clean, green and natural continue to be an advantage? Will consumers be willing to pay a premium for a pasture-raised cow over a lab-produced protein? If we are saying we are sustainable, can we prove it? Food for thought.

Coming next week - Part 2: Paths to food traceability

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas.  Our specialised agritech team supports businesses through the use of technology in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency and profitability.​