Greetings from Braga Fresh, Salinas Valley!

Greetings from Braga Fresh, Salinas Valley!

As we prepare for the 2024 Salinas Biological Summit in June, Jacqui and I were delighted to be back in California two weeks ago.

During this visit, we joined 100 growers at ‘The Nexus of Soil Health and AgTech: Field Day at Braga Fresh’ in Soledad. A Western Grower Science event, the day featured presentations and in-field demonstrations of some of the latest agtech solutions being deployed by growers in the Salinas Valley.

The venue was appropriate. Braga Fresh is a family-owned property, growing fresh conventional and organic product across 20,000 acres in several different locations. The Field Day also provided me with a unique opportunity to meet and engage with a number of growers 1-2-1. The problems and challenges they face are familiar; labor, water, regulation and the ever-increasing cost of inputs.

One of the key themes that emerged from yesterday’s Field Day was the increasing interest in regenerative agriculture. A number of speakers provided science-based evidence which demonstrated its benefits for both soil and plant health. This in turn was supported by on-farm data that provided the hard numbers on ROI returns – typically to be earned 2-3 years after a system-based regen strategy had been implemented.

Many of the growers attending the Field Day are attending the Salinas Biological Summit in June. Increasing regulation (another key theme yesterday) around reducing synthetic chemical use means that growers are having to look at alternative inputs to improve plant health (& yield) as well as manage pest and disease damage to crops. The Salinas Summit ProgramSpeakers and launch of the Platform10 Global Partner Network and its international component in June are well-timed to meet this need.

growAG. A global channel for Australia’s agrifoodtech ecosystem

growAG. A global channel for Australia’s agrifoodtech ecosystem

I was delighted to join Harriet Mellish, GM, Global Innovation Networks, AgriFutures Australia and Rebecca Robinson, President & CEO, Kansas State University Innovation Partners, on stage at yesterday’s growAG session at evokeAG 2024.

First, a declaration of interest. I was honoured to be invited to join the inaugural growAG steering committee back in 2020. The then Australian Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, had requested AgriFutures Australia to build a platform that would provide transparency into RDC research spend (given that 50% came from Federal taxpayers).

The growAG platform was born.

Today, growAG highlights over 3,000 research projects being undertaken by Australian RDC’s and other research organizations. For international researchers, industry players and investors, it provides a unique insight into the Australia’s agrifoodtech ecosystem. 50% of its users are based overseas and at any one time there will be at least 100+ projects with commercial opportunities – research, commercial & investment.

Over the past two years, international venture investment into Australia has grown exponentially. Pre-growAG (I call that BG), accessing information about current agrifood research in Australia was a challenge. Inward international investment was low. growAG has changed that. Today, Australia’s agrifoodtech ecosystem continues to benefit from the visibility that growAG brings to the market.

New Zealand – The Missed Opportunity

Over the 4 years since I first joined the growAG inaugural steering committee, I have advocated for pro-active New Zealand Inc. engagement with it. Despite visits to NZ by growAG representatives, these calls have fallen on deaf ears. There is still no formal arrangement currently in place between NZ Inc. and growAG.

I suspect that this is reflected in inbound venture capital metrics over the past 2-3 years. Whilst NZ & Australia were both on a ‘par’ back in 2020, offshore venture funding into Australia’s agrifoodtech start-up and scale-up companies has far exceeded that of NZ peers since then. I suspect that this will be reconfirmed when we hear from Michael Dean of AgFunder later today at evokeAG 2024. I believe that growAG has been part of this story.

The good news is that NZ researchers and companies can independently list their research and ‘opportunities on the platform. I would encourage more to do so. There is no cost and it helps leverage the trans-Tasman lens that I continue to advocate for.

Yesterday’s session with Harriet & Rebecca was a blast. Afterwards, Rebecca and I took part in a growAG podcast which will be released at some time in the near future. I’ll share that link on this website when it’s available.

For New Zealand researchers and companies looking to leverage the power of growAG, you should visit today. The growAG team will be pleased to meet you!


The Platform10 Global Partner Network Review in Perth

The Platform10 Global Partner Network Review in Perth

Yesterday, Wharf42 was pleased to host the first Platform10 Global Partner Network review in Perth, Western Australia.

On the eve of the 2024 evokeAG conference, we were delighted to be joined by Dennis Donohue & Jeana Cadby of Western Growers, together with biologicals doyen, Pam Marrone. We were also delighted to be joined by a stellar group of invited stakeholders from both Australia & New Zealand. Their time, inputs and observations were very much appreciated.

The session kicked off with a live ZOOM presentation by California Department of Food & Agriculture Secretary, Karen Ross. Karen is an awesome supporter of Platform10 and we really appreciated her spending part of her Sunday evening with the group in Perth. The joys of time-zones! Pam Maronne then provided an insightful 15 minute presentation covering some of the most significant current trends in the world of biologicals. It was fascinating to see so many moving parts and the significant role that Platform10 had to play.

It was then the turn of Dennis & Jeana to provide an overview of the Platform10 model. This included an update on the recent recruitment of 10 biopesticide companies and growers to the first US-based Platform10 cohort. This provided something of a template for future international engagement.

Following a short break, the delegates attending then provided their own thoughts and insights around the development of the Global Partner Network. These included important contributions around:

  • the efficacy and importance of robust field trials
  • the recruitment of an International Advisory Board
  • the recognition of the need to engage growers, their advisors and regulators in the process
  • the opportunity to leverage existing programs in Australia and New Zealand that support investigating alternative inputs

With plans for the launch of the Platform10 Global Partner Network slated for the 2024 Salinas Biological Summit (25-26 June), the contributions made at the session were invaluable. We’ll be maintaining the engagements started today to ensure that the vision and purpose of the Network is realised in Salinas.

It was a great start to what will be an epic two days of conversations and networking at evokeAG.

Supporting Western Growers in Australia

Supporting Western Growers in Australia

Following an awesome week in New Zealand (more to appear here shortly), Jacqui and I are delighted to have been able to join Dennis Donohue & Jeana Cadby from Western Growers in Western Australia.

We have traveled across the Tasman to learn more about the Australian agrifoodtech ecosystem and its growing impact on farmers and growers. The highlight of our time here in Perth is attending the 2024 evokeAG conference. This year, it’s a sold-out event with an expected 2,000 delegates attending. It’s the largest southern hemisphere agrifoodtech conference with representatives attending from over 20 countries.

As readers of the Wharf42 blog may know, I’ve sat on the evokeAG steering committee since its inception back in 2018. I’ve seen it grow exponentially and expect this year’s conference to be the largest and most impactful to-date. On Tuesday, I’ll be on the stage talking about AgriFuture’s growAG  platform and how it has helped transform Australia’s agrifoodtech sector’s global reach. I was fortunate to be invited to join its inaugural steering committee. It’s been an amazing experience to have been so close to the growth of such a rapidly emerging global force. There are lessons to be learnt by others. By increasing the transparency and visibility of Australia’s publicly-funded research sector, research, investment and commercialization opportunities that did not exist before have emerged. That will be a key message that I want to share on Tuesday.

Last night, Dennis, Jeana, Jacqui and I attended the ‘Let’s Connect’ Networking event, jointly hosted by Callaghan Innovation & AgriFutures Australia. It was great to spend time with AgriFutures Managing Director, John Harvey (pictured). I’ve worked with John for a number of years to help promote the trans-Tasman agrifoodtech story. In a global context, Dennis & Jeana’s presence in both New Zealand and Australia has helped accelerate that partnership and the incredibly important message it delivers.

The next few days promise to be epic. We have a number of scheduled 1-2-1 meetings as well as leveraging new opportunities presented by the main conference itself. I’ll share details of some of these meeting outcomes. They promise to not only showcase what’s possible through international collaboration, but specifically what opportunities exist for closer research and development engagement between California and the ecosystem ‘down-under’.

It promises to be a fascinating few day ahead.


Welcoming Western Growers to New Zealand

Welcoming Western Growers to New Zealand

Yesterday, Dennis Donohue, Director, Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology and Dr. Jeana Cadby, Director, Western Growers Climate & Environment (Science), flew into New Zealand from California. The visit is intended to provide insights into some of New Zealand’s great agricultural science and capability, as well as showcasing real world examples of its practical implementation.

The visit has another purpose.

Wharf42 has enjoyed a long history with Dennis and the team at Western Growers. For some context, Western Grower members produce over 50% of all fresh produce (fruit, vegetables, nuts and organics) in North America. Plus a number of Western Grower members have extensive growing interests in Mexico, Peru, Chile and broader parts of LATAM.

We first met in 2015. Last year, we co-hosted the 2023 Salinas Biological Summit. In June this year, we’ll be co-hosting the 2024 Summit. The partnership between Wharf42 & Western Growers led to the creation of Platform10, an international, multi-year collaboration that will accelerate promising biopesticide companies, rigorously assess products, enhance grower confidence, and facilitate market development and adoption.

For Californian, New Zealand and growers everywhere, this initiative has huge significance. Growers are up against mounting pest and disease challenges due to climate change, reduced efficacy, and diminishing availability of traditional pest control tools. The specialty crop / fresh produce industry in particular requires new crop input technologies due to governmental regulations and consumer demands. Bio-based and novel pest control options to address existing and anticipated gaps in pest management are sorely needed to ensure that our growers are properly equipped with the tools to address these challenges.

Given Wharf42’s home base, it was appropriate that Dennis & Jeana had the opportunity to meet Todd Muller (pictured) yesterday in Tauranga. Todd is Chair of Priority One, the Western Bay of Plenty’s Economic Development Agency (Wharf42 is a long-time member) and a former senior member of both Fonterra & Zespri leadership teams. Over an hour, interesting insights and thoughts were shared. It was clear that the strong relationship being developed between New Zealand & California is creating new and potentially significant opportunities in the area of climate smart agriculture collaboration. CDFA Secretary Karen Ross’s attendance at the 2035 Oceania Summit in Auckland in 2022 was testament to that.

In this week’s edition of Farmers Weekly, Daniel Eb asked the question; ‘Does New Zealand have the courage to punch above its weight’? I would like to pose a related question. What role can New Zealand Inc. play in the development of the global Platform10 program?

It’s going to be an interesting few days ahead.