I spent yesterday visiting the Innovation Hub at Fieldays 2015. The timing was perfect. Today, I have a WNT Ventures Investment Committee meeting and AgTech is high on the agenda.

First of all some background: Fieldays is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest agricultural event, providing a unique opportunity to showcase New Zealand’s agriculture, agribusiness and agtech. 120,000 visitors are expected to the Mystery Creek venue over just four days. It’s big.

The backdrop to this year’s (the 47th National Agricultural Fieldays) event has been well documented. A collapse in the price of global dairy products over the past year has not only impacted affected farmers, but the wider New Zealand economy. Yesterday’s news that Fonterra, our largest dairy cooperative, was planning to lay off hundreds of staff cannot have helped the mood. Building higher value, rather than just more commodity dairy product, is the new game in town. (Dairy is of course only one component of our agribusiness, but is by far and away the largest in terms of $s contribution to the economy). That game will be driven by innovation and this year’s Fieldays committee launched some new initiatives in this direction.

Fieldays 2015 is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest agricultural event

Fieldays 2015 is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest agricultural event

I guess the biggest and certainly most publicised of these was the launch of the Fieldays Innovation Accelerator, supported by Callaghan Innovation. It is designed to support Kiwi companies and innovators that have exhibited in the Innovation Centre in previous years. Exhibiting in the Fieldays Innovation Accelerator is however a once-off opportunity – after that, companies must exhibit in the main area of Fieldays. It’s not quite the Accelerator experience I am more familiar with. This Accelerator seems to last for all of four days.

It is situated in the Fieldays Innovation Centre and here I was on far more familiar ground. The Fieldays Innovation Den is powered by our friends at SODA Inc. The Innovation Den is a live pitching event in which eight finalists of the Innovation Awards are able to pitch to a panel of investors and business leaders. The Fieldays Lab is powered by another great friend of ours; Tim and his team at Locus Research. The Lab is an ideas booth where entrants to these awards are able to access knowledge from the Locus Research team and other partners on how to further progress their innovation.

Outside the Centre, I saw the word Innovation used a lot. It seemed to cover everything from tractors to 4WD’s, from milking sheds to Fanny Adams Underwear – this is not incidentally a joke. Two way stretch cotton-lycra is apparently the key to no digging in, no irritation and no nasty panty lines. Fieldays, as you might guess, appeals to a wide cross section of visitors.

All New Zealand’s major Agtech research centres were present and had impressive displays of their current work. My main regret was missing out on local Maketu, Bay of Plenty chicks, Karena & Kasey Bird who are preparing recipes from their new cookbook, ‘For the love of’, at Fielday’s Kiwi’s Best Kitchen. They take on that role today and tomorrow. Something then for Jacqui at Xmas.

As I walked back through the site towards the car park, I spotted out the Enterprise Ireland (EI) stand. And this is the lesson referred to in the title of this post. Enterprise Ireland is the Irish Government Trade and Technology Board. I come across them in Silicon Valley all the time. At Fieldays, they were showcasing a number of highly innovative Irish AgTech companies including Keenans, Hi-Spec, Samco, Easyfix, Combilift, Crowley, amongst others.

As I spoke to the representatives on the EI stand, I thought about the Fieldays Innovation Centre and Innovation Accelerator I had just left. I thought also about how global this industry is, but perhaps how insular we are.

I would have just loved to have seen evidence of some Irish, some US, some Asian collaboration taking place with NZ innovators on site. If we are to effectively commercialise and export our innovation to these markets, cross-border collaboration at an early stage of development is often critical. What works in the Waikato just might not sell in Ohio, Shandong or Cork.

As I prepare to pack up for three months in Sunnyvale, this is a message I will be taking with the Kiwi tech start-ups participating in the Meteoroid Program. It’s a lesson that cuts across the innovation ecosystem. AgTech is no different.

You can follow the Meteoroid Program via its dedicated website at www.meteoroid.co.nz