Whilst most Kiwis remain focused on a wonderful summer vacation, I am writing this first Wharf42 2018 post from the UK.

The festive break has provided a fascinating perspective on some of the challenges facing farmers and growers in a very different economic and political environment to that currently being experienced in New Zealand. With Brexit’s trade talks looming and a big question mark hanging over long-term UK farmer subsidies, uncertainty is the name of the game.

Tesco Lamb Steaks

Working on exporting awesome NZ agritech as well as premium NZ primary product

In the US, I have been speaking to Dennis Donohue, Head of the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center (WGITC) in Salinas, CA. Uncertainty too is high on their agenda. Labor (lack of and cost of) and the need for increased on-farm automation are the talk of the town.

Across the globe, climate change threatens a potentially devastating impact on traditional growing seasons and the subsequent impact on crop and pasture growth. All at a time when the world needs to be increasing agricultural production to meet the demands of its rapidly growing population.

So where does this leave NZ AgriTech and my optimistic outlook for 2018?

Let’s start off in Britain. Whilst market access will dominate talks between UK & NZ trade negotiators through 2018-19, the real long-term issue here is farming subsidies. These subsidies can typically make up to 50%-70% of a high-country sheep farm’s income, for example. A few extra frozen NZ lamb steaks at Tesco are not going to change that dynamic. (They did taste great though!)

What will, is an improvement in productivity, profitability and sustainability. And that’s where New Zealand’s agritech sector can step up. There is a precedent for this.

In my discussions with Dennis at WGITC, we have been talking about the framework for a Dual Hemisphere Strategy Initiative. Essentially, the ‘Dual Hemisphere Strategy’ would see US-based agritech companies conduct R&D in New Zealand during the southern hemisphere growing season. Conversely, the opportunity will exist for New Zealand agritech companies to conduct R&D in the US during the northern hemisphere growing season. The initiative provides an opportunity for our agritech companies to significantly accelerate their R&D programs. It will also provide them with the market access necessary to scale their businesses in a key offshore market.

In May, Wharf42 is partnering with Techweek’18 to host the headline ’10 Billion Mouths’ agritech event. To progress the discussions with Dennis, we are inviting key US-based agritech innovators and investors to attend so that the ‘Dual Hemisphere Strategy’ framework can be discussed face to face.

I can see no reason why such collaborative initiatives should not be discussed with other countries looking to expand not only agricultural production, but also the means of production. Last year, New Zealand exported approximately NZD 1.3 billion of agritech product and services. Israel exported approximately 10x that value. That’s the benchmark we should be setting for ourselves.

At the ‘10 Billion Mouths’ event in May, as well as inviting delegates from the US, we are expecting delegates from the UK, Australia, China & Singapore. A joint venture agreement between Techweek’18 and the Trans-Tasman Business Circle is designed to attract a number of key agritech folk from these countries to Tauranga for the major event on 23 May. It’s going to be a great opportunity for New Zealand’s agritech sector to meet and engage with potential offshore partners.

Early bird tickets for this event are selling fast. If you have not secured yours, you can do so by visiting the Techweek’18 ‘10 Billion Mouths’ webpage.

I am back at my desk in Tauranga next Monday.

2018. The year when New Zealand agritech will finally take centre stage.