IT Brief New Zealand logo
Technology news for New Zealand's largest enterprises
Story image

Learnings from the road: How New Zealand is leading the agritech revolution

By Julia Gabel
Fri 8 Jun 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

By Claudia Rössler, Microsoft WW Industry Director, Chemical, Agricultural, Life Sciences Industry

Last month, I had the exciting opportunity to join a delegation of agriculture investors and market experts on a tour organized by Finistere Ventures and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise to learn more about New Zealand’s agricultural maturity and opportunities.

The trip also corresponded with New Zealand's' Techweek and 10 Billion Mouths Summit in Tauranga, the Sprout Summit, and the opening of the BioLumic R&D Lab in Palmerston North.

A recurring theme throughout these events was that agriculture is transforming and growing more quickly than ever before.

During the 10 Billion Mouths Summit, Arama Kukutai, co-founder of Finistere Ventures, stated in his keynote that the food and agriculture industry all-up is a $5 trillion industry and he is seeing more market consolidation, larger investments and innovation than ever before.

In a compact week, I had a tremendous opportunity to meet with farmers, leading agriculture producers, representatives of government, and investors.

They showed me just how much New Zealand is leading the industry as a strong contributor to world's agriculture business.

There were three key themes that came from my discussions that I’d like to dive into here: innovation, sustainability & trust, and collaboration.

Food innovation

New Zealand is quite proud about its high-quality and high-value produce.

In order to stay on top of the market, producers need to match consumer demand.

New Zealand’s goal is to create local, provenance brands. During an audience poll at the 10 Billion Mouths conference, 53% of the audience said that premium foods will be the key success driver for New Zealand agriculture in the future.

Several companies are already leading in local food innovation, including the Plant & Food Research center as well as Zespri, who taught us about the next level of innovation in fruit. Zespri is the world’s largest marketer of kiwifruit, managing 30% of global kiwifruit volume.

The company’s focus is on variety innovation purely through breeding. The diversity of food tastes changes from country to country, with variants ranging from edible skins, colors, size and nutrition.

It’s exciting to think about what flavorful new varieties of kiwifruit we are going to eat in the near future!

How can you match this kind of innovation in an economy where consumers are becoming more sophisticated?

There is an increasing demand for more diversified, value-added products providing personal benefits like nutrition for consumers, and we, as an industry, need to be prepared to meet this challenge.

However, the innovation cycle of breeding a new food variety is roughly 10 years. Beyond the product research challenge, more diversified products will put even higher pressure on demand planning and avoiding food waste.

To address both research and food waste, data and analytics are the answer.

While it will always be a challenge to truly to predict the ongoing change in consumer demand, data and artificial intelligence (AI) will be what helps us "fail faster."

What I mean by that is, data and AI will be what helps us more quickly eliminate the variants that are not successful, so we can find what does work faster.

This will allow companies to iterate innovation in shorter and more accelerated cycles, such as increasing the number of indoor farming trials.

So far, New Zealand has decided against gene-editing, which is putting their innovation pressure at a higher level compared to some other parts of the world.

Throughout the week, there was also much discussion about the lower demand for meat in the future, based on perceived health and environmental concerns. Based on what I learned, in 2016, New Zealand exported 92 percent of its sheep meat and 83 percent of beef to over 120 countries.

New Zealand also represented more than a third of the global trade of lamb (36 percent) in the same year. So, as companies work to continue to meet the needs of meat lovers and flexitarians that value healthy food, it’s important to track quality, sustainability and provenance throughout the value chain.  

Obviously, developing precision farming solutions and technology innovation in agriculture is top of mind. 

In many ways, New Zealand farmers and farmer co-ops are on the leading edge here, for example, global dairy nutrition company Fonterra, who is shaping the industry in quality and innovation.

Many of the great innovations I saw during the week were centered around precision farming (an area that is already bustling with innovation).

There was a great example of remote monitoring or life stock management, such as the digital fence from Halter that allows farmers to shift, manage and monitor their herd remotely.

There were also mobile labs that detect disease or monitor farm animals such as Mastaplex, and those around food technology innovation such as Sunfed meats, a product made from pea protein but cooks, feels and tastes just like animal meat and is healthier for both people and the planet.

Sustainability & Trust

As the agriculture industry matures, so do the tastes of the consumer.

People want to know where their food comes from, if it has been produced in an environmentally safe manner, if it is safe to consume, and if there is any nutrition value to their health.

High quality and sustainability are two key attributes that New Zealand food producers claim as differentiators in the market. In order to stay "clean, green, and pure," control and transparency of the food production process is mandatory.

However, as Professor David Hughes from the Imperial College London stated at Techweek, "Suddenly, green and clean becomes normal and the bar continues to move up.

You don't get a premium when you are on top of the bar, but you get discounted if you are not."

When it comes to food traceability, we know this concept by many names: “farm to fork," "pasture to plate," and "grass to glass."

Traceability is about building trust with the consumer, a key point made by Adrian Percy, Head of Research & Development at Bayer Crop Science at the 10 Billion Mouths conference.

If we pay a premium for food, we want to know if it's worth it. If we buy strawberries in the winter, we want to understand their provenance. This is also important in the context of food waste. The biggest losses happen during harvest and production.

Adding to this complexity are the vast array of closed systems, for example, a particular sensor for precision farming that is providing insight to farmers.

In these closed systems farmers cannot marry information with other existing farm information. In addition, there are companies that still see themselves as the owner of the data that is collected, versus the farmer who is applying the system.

These narrow applications and closed systems will be difficult to maintain in the long run.

Technology to ensure food traceability is here today: Blockchain is a powerful tool to combat traceability, bio-security, and fraud, as well as drive accountability and transparency throughout the agriculture value chain.

Blockchain creates a distributed ledger to record and share records with assurance that the records cannot be manipulated.

Having said that, in order to make those reliability concepts "real," it requires the trust of all value chain participants. Microsoft believes the foundation of those concepts is trusted and secure data sharing.

Participants in the agriculture value chain—from farmers to input providers to equipment and food producers—all agree to share data in a secure data vault by defining policies that determine what data is shared, what encryption is applied, what rules have been defined, and what the desired outcome looks like.

This is essentially a secure, walled garden approach to sharing data in a controlled, encrypted and monitored way.

In order to discuss these kind of high-value measurement standards, Microsoft recently joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) with the goal of achieving benchmarks in how we measure the impact of agriculture and food production in a sustainable manner.

WBCSD’s Reporting Matters initiative around sustainability makes recommendations and shares best practice examples to help companies demonstrate how they create value, engage with their stakeholders, and learn from their peers. 

This leads me to our third theme around networking and collaboration.

Value chain collaboration

Throughout the week, I was lucky enough to experience the growing start-up community in New Zealand.

And Finistere says that "Strategic investors will continue to look for great technology and great teams.

Agritech has exploded as a niche opportunistic clade of the venture investment class, to a legitimate asset class attracting focused and generalist funds.”

I had the opportunity to see investment pitches from about 16 start-ups, driven by great passion and knowledge of the industry.

Two of my favorite start-ups in New Zealand were BioLumic, who said it can slow the growth of plant-threatening diseases and get plants to positively respond to UV light.

This gives farmers the ability to grow stronger, more appealing, and more productive plants with less water usage and risk of pest attacks. BioLumic is using light as an agritech treatment during critical stages in a plant’s development. Another great example was Robotics Plus, who is using high-tech, intelligent robotics solutions to change the way the world cultivates fruit.

However, across several of the start-ups there was not a lot of differentiation, as we saw companies presenting similar solutions.

As Kirk Haney, CEO and Managing Partner of Radicle Growth, said during his 10 Billion Mouths presentation, investors look at market, technology and execution risks.

The agritech market is growing so rapidly that it will be important for startups to orient their business around existing technology.

Instead of coding everything themselves, start-ups need to align around partnerships and build a network that will maximize their value-add.

Programs like Microsoft FarmBeats can help companies jump-start innovation around predictive farming.

FarmBeats brings IoT edge computing to the farm, applying machine learning on complex sets of data coming in from sensors and imaging, as well as public and historical data sources.

This enables capabilities like the smart application of fertilizer or herbicides.

What’s most unique about FarmBeats is that it sends large amounts of data from ground-based sensors, tractors and cameras to a computer on the farm using TV white spaces, a type of Internet connectivity similar to Wi-Fi but with a range of a few miles.

The issues we are trying to solve in agriculture are not trivial. This week has shown that only a strong network and collaboration between farmers, corporations, investors, government and agritech is the only path forward.

We need the business acumen of companies like Fonterra and Zespri, entrepreneurship and innovation coming from start-ups and universities like Massey, the power of investors being able to differentiate from "next" to "me-too," governments coming in and supporting the industry, and agritech building the foundation of future innovation.

Collaboration and a broad ecosystem is a fundamentally different concept than how business has been done in the past 50+ years, when individual success, competition and entrepreneurship were key.

We look forward to seeing New Zealand leading the path.

Growing the future on New Zealand farms

Here at Microsoft, we plan to build on the great connections coming out of this trip.

But, I'm hoping to see more global lighthouse innovation coming from New Zealand, for example, involvement in the Microsoft AI for Earth program that puts the power of artificial intelligence towards solving some of our biggest environmental challenges, or collaboration across local and global ecosystems as part of the Microsoft for StartUps program.

If there is one country that has the innovation, resources and passion to make the difference, it will be New Zealand.

Agriculture is the largest sector of the tradable economy as the GDP from agriculture alone in New Zealand has increased over the past three decades, reaching a high of $3.3 billion in 2016.

Despite the country’s population of roughly 4.7 billion, New Zealand is more like a large village, with everyone wearing multiple hats, focusing on collaboration versus competition.

This allows for agility and innovation at the highest of levels.

It’s clear that New Zealand is well-positioned to lead us into the next agricultural revolution as we come together globally to feed our world through a safe, innovative and connected food ecosystem.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
What every CISO must answer to enable a best-in-class security operations program
It has been widely reported recently that South Australian government employees have been the victims of a cyberattack.
Story image
Identity and Access Management
The post-pandemic workforce requires secure IAM capabilities
HID Global discusses what identity and access management means for organisations in today's convoluted digital world.
Story image
Microsoft previews Power Platform website design offering
Microsoft has announced the preview of Power Pages, the fifth product in its Power Platform family, designed for low-code makers and professional developers.
Story image
The paradox of change, and how to get around it
The business decision to technologically transform should not come from an IT department but from the business itself.
Story image
SoftIron named global leader for efficient DC infrastructure solutions
SoftIron has been named a global leader for supplying energy-efficient data infrastructure solutions for core-to-edge data centers after an assessment by Earth Capital Ltd.
Story image
Aligned Data Centers increases sustainability-linked loan
Aligned Data Centers has increased its sustainability-linked loan from $375 million to $1.75 billion to speed up the next phase of its strategic growth.
Story image
Comcast to use ThreatQuotient for cybersecurity operations
Comcast, the parent company of NBC Universal and SKY Group, has chosen ThreatQ Platform and ThreatQ Investigations to meet their cybersecurity needs.
Story image
Data Protection
Information management capabilities to meet privacy requirements
Organisations with customers or operations across more than one country face a spate of new and proposed privacy and data protection laws.
Story image
APAC organisations fail to disclose ransomware breaches
85% of organisations in APAC were breached by ransomware at least once in the past five years, but only 28% publicly disclosed the incident.
Story image
Alteryx releases updates, empowers data insights for enterprise
Alteryx has released new advancements designed to aid enterprises with cloud analytics, democratise insights and ensure data governance.
Find out how a behavioural analytics-driven approach can transform security operations with the new Exabeam commissioned Forrester study.
Link image
Story image
Digital Marketing
Getty Images delves into the world of NFTs with Candy Digital
Getty Images and Candy Digital, the next-generation digital collectible company, have announced a new multi-year partnership agreement.
Story image
Digital Signage
MAXHUB's Digital Signage range to bolster boardroom productivity
The new MAXHUB Digital Signage technology is purpose-built to make every kind of team meeting more effective.
Story image
Accenture - a collective security approach a driving factor for cyber resilience
With the approaching Davos World Economic Forum upon us, it is even more imperative to discuss the impact of cybersecurity on business operations leading into the future.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Frost & Sullivan recognises Genesys as leader in new reports
Frost & Sullivan has recognised Genesys as a leader in the cloud contact centre market for its robust cloud and digital capabilities.
Story image
Digital Transformation
Digital transformation increasing business complexities
A new survey suggests businesses must re-examine their digital transformation approach to better help employees adapt to change.
Story image
Elevation of Privilege the top 2021 Microsoft vulnerability
BeyondTrust has released its 2022 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report, finding that Elevation of Privilege is the top vulnerability category for the second consecutive year.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Gartner reveals top three tech trends for banks this year
Gartner says generative artificial intelligence, autonomic systems and privacy-enhancing computation are gaining traction in banking and investment services.
Story image
Vectra AI
Vectra’s inaugural Partner of the Year Awards revealed
APAC companies Baidam, Firmus, ShellSoft and Macnica have been recognised in Vectra AI's inaugural Partner of the Year Awards.
Story image
Microsoft, Cloudian partnership offers data center flexibility
Cloudian’s HyperStore object storage platform is now integrated and validated to work with Microsoft SQ Server 2022, offering more flexible and scalable data centers.
Story image
Manhattan Associates
Shortening the click-to-customer cycle through smart technologies
Speed of delivery without accuracy is a dealbreaker for consumers. How can retailers operating in an omnichannel environment overcome the challenge of click-to-customer cycle times.
Story image
Red Sift
Entrust expands strategic partnership with Red Sift
Entrust has expanded its strategic partnership with Red Sift to make it easier for businesses to adopt Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) standards for email identification and security.
Story image
Ponemon Institute
Email revealed to be riskiest channel for data loss
More than half (60%) of organisations experienced data loss or exfiltration caused by an employee mistake on email in the last 12 months.
Story image
Digital Transformation
Harnessing digital innovations to maximise loyalty programmes and improve CX
When it comes to the retail sector, merchants have never had access to so many different client touchpoints and data to understand their customers better.
Story image
New Relic
New Relic launches vulnerability management platform
New Relic has introduced New Relic Vulnerability Management to help organisations find and address security risks faster and with greater precision.
Story image
Equinix announces milestones on sustainability commitments
Equinix has released its 2021 Sustainability Report which outlines progress, innovation and accomplishments on key ESG commitments.
Booster Innovation Fund. A fund of Kiwi ingenuity – for Kiwi investors.
Link image
Story image
Check Point
Check Point and CCTV expert join forces to boost protection
The partnership will involve Check Point Quantum IoT Protect Nano Agent being embedded in Provision-ISR’s CCTV cameras for on-device runtime protection.
Story image
SPS network now available to CrescoData eCommerce customers
CrescoData, a Pitney Bowes Company and PaaS business in the commerce space, says its customers can now connect to the SPS Commerce Retail Network.
Story image
Hybrid Cloud
Barracuda expands cloud-native SASE platform
"The expansion of Barracuda's cloud-native SASE platform for hybrid deployment models and IIoT environments solves a number of challenges."
Story image
Cyber attacks
Devastating cyber attacks expected to hit energy sector
Energy executives anticipate life, property, and environment-compromising cyber attacks on the sector within the next two years.
Story image
Silver Peak
The path to an adaptive, modern network
Managing and securing the network looks different than it did just two years ago—especially given that most of these networks are made up of multi-generations of infrastructure stitched together over time.
Story image
Cybersecurity prompts upgrade for 1.3 billion electricity meters
ABI Research finds Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and cybersecurity concerns are prompting the upgrade of 1.3 billion electricity meters by 2027.
Story image
Multi Cloud
Red Hat updates dev tools, empowers use of hybrid and multicloud
Red Hat has unveiled updates across its portfolio of developer tools, designed to help organisations build and deliver applications faster.
Story image
BYOD / Bring Your Own Device
How zero trust can lead the battle against ransomware
SecOps teams champion a zero trust strategy to support the fight against the escalating risk of cybercrime and help monitor threat actors across a network.
Threat actors are exploiting weaknesses in interconnected IT/OT ecosystems. Darktrace illuminates your entire business and takes targeted action to stop emerging attacks.
Link image
Story image
GapMaps Live to improve brand decisions on physical locations
GapMaps has released its latest service GapMaps Live, giving more insights and features to help brands make better decisions about physical locations.
Story image
Fastly acquires Glitch, enables faster developer innovation
"This acquisition brings together two of the worlds best ecosystems for application development into a single, seamless developer experience."
Story image
Sift shares crucial advice for preventing serious ATO breaches
Are you or your business struggling with Account Takeover Fraud (ATO)? One of the latest ebooks from Sift can provide readers with the tools and expertise to help launch them into the new era of account security.
Story image
Skills shortages hold orgs back from capitalising on cloud 2.0
Organisations are becoming more comfortable with sophisticated 'cloud 2.0' technologies, even as they confront difficulties in hiring and retaining IT talent.
Story image
Data Center
Preventing downtime costs and damage with Distributed Infrastructure Management
Distributed Infrastructure Management (DIM) can often be a lifeline for many enterprises that work with highly critical ICT infrastructure and power sources.
Story image
Infosec unveils role-guided cybersecurity training roadmaps
Infosec Skills Roles maps hands-on training and certifications to the 12 most in-demand cybersecurity roles to maximise training efficiency.
Story image
i-PRO releases smallest AI-based surveillance camera on the market
The new i-PRO mini network camera is now available, with a pocket-sized form factor and full AI analytics functionality.
Story image
Digital Marketing
Similarweb acquires SEO and rank tracking company Rank Ranger
Digital intelligence company Similarweb, which specialises in analysing web traffic, has acquired Rank Ranger, a market leader in SEO and rank tracking.