We spoke at some length about Agritech New Zealand’s Partnership Agreement with Western Growers In recent weeks, I’ve been speaking regularly to Dennis Donohue, Director of the Western Growers Technology and Innovation Center, and more recently Western Growers’s new Director of Innovation, Walt Duflock. There has been a lot to talk about.
For many Western Growers members, labor remains an ongoing challenge; both in terms of supply and cost. Additionally, COVID-19 has created massive disruption to the food service sector. With US citizens spending more on dining out than groceries, closed restaurants, cafes & bars have decimated many growers long standing supply chains. I know of several ‘family owned’ enterprises who are counting the cost in terms of hundreds of million of dollars.
With last week’s news that Walmart were emptying shelves across the States with a particular brand of romaine produced in Salinas Valley – because of concerns around E.coli, it just doesn’t get better. For many growers, 2020 has basically sucked.
Enter New Zealand. I spoke about some of the significant research and development taking place in New Zealand’s agritech robotics and automation space. Our meeting took place at the University of Waikato campus in Tauranga. The Bay of Plenty is home to such luminaries as Robotics Plus, BlueLab, GPS-it, Cucumber, Eurofins, PlantTech, Trimax, Radfords, Zespri and Plant & Food Research. How can the product and IP generated by such companies and research organisations support grower organisations and their members across the Pacific?
I also spoke about New Zealand’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) – particularly its High Impact Project – the Robotics & Automation Academy. It now has a new placeholder name: The Horticulture Robotics Catalyst. By chance, Jacqui and I are meeting up with the team from Callaghan Innovation who are leading the initiative, this afternoon.
A large number of folk collaborating within the Catalyst visited the Salinas region during last year’s Forbes Live conference. The challenges being faced by Western Growers members are therefore well understood. I personally believe that New Zealand has the capacity to deliver some of the solutions these growers need. That’s incredibly important. Western Grower members produce over 50% of all US fresh produce. That’s vegetables, fruit, nuts and organics. As a commercial pathway for New Zealand agritech, it doesn’t get much bigger.
Friday’s meeting created an important opportunity to accelerate the conversation. As the global pandemic creates new focus on nations’ food supply and food security, New Zealand’s agritech sector is well placed to take a global leadership role.
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