There’s been no greater pressure for the agriculture industry to account for its environmental footprint than there is today. Not a day goes by without a headline hitting the news about the negative impact this industry has on the planet. While there’s particular focus on animal agriculture at the moment, the impact of damaging crop farming practices, such as the over-application of pesticides and fertilizers, is increasingly a focus for consumers as well as regulators all over the world.
New Zealand, home to AgFunder Network Partner Sprout Accelerator, is among those countries under pressure from consumers and regulators to improve the environmental credentials of its farming industry.
“The spotlight on water quality in New Zealand has been significantly amplified this year,” says Stu Bradbury, one of Sprout’s key advisors. “New Zealanders have made it known that they are really concerned about freshwater quality, availability and everything from what goes into our water, to how it is being used and where it is being extracted.
“At Sprout, we’re interested in helping New Zealand’s public and farmers understand how much work is going into environmental science and technology and supporting the adoption of new technologies to help our country lead the world in environmental sustainability,” he added.
For this reason, the accelerator is particularly keen to attract applications from startups working on technologies that can monitor environmental impacts — such as plug and play sensors, sensor networks, and modeling software — and those that and can aid farmers with compliance and best practices ahead of growing regulation.
“Legislation can come in quickly, demanding farmers to invest in technologies to satisfy consent conditions, so farmers don’t want to be in a position where they’ve just invested in some type of technology only to find that that technology is soon to be superseded or they need to invest in something else to keep the legislators at bay,” says Bradbury. “This makes it really hard for startups, as they’re entering a tough market, but on the other hand, it’s also a good thing as it forces great innovation in order to overcome such a difficult climate.
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“Things are changing so rapidly on technology and political fronts, and the industry is faced with so many options and opportunities, that people just don’t know where to turn and which technologies will be here for the long run and which will be gone in the blink of an eye,” says Bradbury.
Startups focused on environmental monitoring and accounting face several challenges, particularly uncertainty in the market, however, he cautions. Sprout is uniquely positioned to help startups in this area as one of the first accelerator’s globally to focus on the agtech vertical. The team at Sprout also believes New Zealand is a great location for entrepreneurs to get a handle on their technologies before expanding globally.
“Sprout has worked with and been watching many startups in NZ and overseas, and naturally we’ve seen many failures as well as some great successes,” says Bradbury.
“In New Zealand, we are able to closely monitor market reactions and learn from everything that is going on in this space. Anybody in New Zealand is generally no more than a couple of phone calls away – we’re essentially a big community that looks out for each other, which makes it an ideal place to come and test tech, as you’ll get honest feedback and fast!”