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Farming2020 Marks a Major Shift for the New Zealand Agtech Ecosystem

May 22, 2017

Editor’s Note: Peter Wren-Hilton is founder at Wharf42. Wharf42 was established in 2012 to support early stage Kiwi tech companies connect with Silicon Valley’s vast innovation ecosystem. It’s also a cofounder of WNT Ventures. This year he organized New Zealand’s first agtech conference Farming2020 and here offers his key takeaways from the event.

New Zealand’s annual Techweek initiative has just ended. Over 270 tech-focused events, representing multiple tech domains, were held across this South Pacific nation last week. Farming2020 was Techweek 2017’s signature event, giving centre stage to the country’s rapidly emerging agtech sector.

Farming2020 was hosted at the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC)‘s Innovation Farm in New Zealand’s dairy heartland, the Waikato. It included an on-farm exhibition, where many of New Zealand’s most exciting startup and early stage agtech companies demonstrated their tech. In the adjacent Hooper Innovation Centre, major New Zealand agribusinesses detailed their strategies for increasing engagement with the country’s emerging agtech sector, over three days of intense presentations.

Investment was a hot topic of conversation. The recent NZ$25 million ($17 million) investment in the mini Rockit apple variety, reported by AgFunderNews here, and the NZ$3.95 million raised by Ubco, a New Zealand technology company responsible for the world’s first electric farm bike, are just two recent examples in New Zealand. During Farming2020, CropLogic also announced it had raised $2 million from investors ahead of its initial public offering to list on the Australian stock market later this year.

Other early stage Kiwi agtech companies currently in the market for funding include Altus Intelligence, Autogrow, Robotics Plus, Ceratech, Ectosolutions, Elastic Green, Encounter Solutions, Knowby, Mastaplex, Origins Software, Pastoral Robotics, and Regen.

Luckily for these companies and the overall ecosystem, new corporate venture funds are emerging with capital to invest in agtech. They include Fonterra Ventures, the venture arm of the dairy cooperative & Spark Ventures, the telecom company’s VC arm.

Significant New Zealand agribusinesses Gallagher and LIC have also both recently announced investments in agtech start-ups along with established local funds, such as WNT Ventures, Enterprise Angels, and MIG Angels. New Zealand’s agtech industry also has its own dedicated accelerator program in Sprout, which has prepared startups to raise funding from some of the above investors.

In spite of this growing wealth of local funds, one of the key themes that emerged from the Farming2020 event was the need for New Zealand’s agtech sector to engage more directly with global agtech investment funds and networks.

New Zealand has an abundance of agtech innovation and technologies that have the ability to transform farming practice.

Farming2020 demonstrated particular depth the pastoral space (pasture-fed livestock), horticultural sensor & robotic technologies, and digital farm management systems.

Agrigate is a good example; it is a new joint venture between New Zealand’s two largest dairy co-operatives, Fonterra & LIC. It provides dairy farmers with a digital dashboard that contains multiple metrics about their own farm’s herd and milk production performance and benchmarks that performance against neighbouring, regional and national dairy farms. The dashboard provides insights that individual farmers can deploy to improve herd and milk production performance. Agrigate is adding additional third party data providers to the platform to provide farmers with even more custom data to help them become not just more productive and profitable, but also initiate more sustainable farming practices.

Increasing sustainability on the farm and improving environmental practice was another key theme throughout the Farming2020 talks.

New Zealand’s agtech sector is in robust health with no lack of great deal flow opportunities for international, as well as domestic, investors. But what the country lacks, however, is a coherent story that articulates our strengths in this space. Farming2020 is one of the several current initiatives designed to address this and attracted some international industry leaders to speak, such as Rob Trice of the Mixing Bowl, Bill Reichert of Garage Technology Ventures, and Dennis Donahue, head of the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Centre, based in Salinas, CA.

Plans are already underway to build a more significant Farming2020 presence for New Zealand’s Techweek 2018, where we expect to see greater international exposure. With the country’s growing reputation for developing some of the smartest robotic, sensor, drone and other digital agtech technologies, it’s time that we built that story and shared it with the rest of the world.

Agriculture lies at the heart of our national economy. By accessing and leveraging that domain expertise, the opportunity for international venture funds to invest in New Zealand’s agtech sector will only grow.

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