Wharf42 supports calls to end the effective ban on GE and GM in New Zealand

Wharf42 supports calls to end the effective ban on GE and GM in New Zealand

Wharf42 strongly supports calls to end the effective ban on GE and GM in New Zealand.

On Sunday, the National Party published a paper called ‘Harnessing Biotech’. Its plan consisted of 3 core elements;

  1. End the effective ban on GE and GM in New Zealand.
  2. Create a dedicated regulator to ensure safe and ethical use of biotechnology.
  3. Streamline approvals for trials and use of non-GE/GM biotech

We have been calling for this policy change for years. As the founders of Agritech New Zealand and a global partner to some key international players, we have witnessed at first hand the negative impact current policy has had on New Zealand agricultural research and commercialisation opportunities. Gene editing and CRISPR in particular, has been proven scientifically to support the reduction of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and improvement of on-farm productivity. These should be key priorities for the New Zealand government and removing current GE restrictions will go a long way to accelerate our success in achieving these goals.

Last month, the NZ Government released an updated version of its Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP). It aimed to increase agritech exports to $8B by 2030. This number is challenging enough. With our research and industry entities operating with one hand behind their backs however, it is almost unrealistic given the widespread adoption of GE in many peer countries.

The timing of this announcement coincides with next week’s 2023 Salinas Biological Summit, which we are proudly hosting. Reducing the use of chemical pesticides on soil and plants with more biological alternatives can be accelerated with the application of GE technologies. At the moment, such work is evidenced at major US research institutions such as UC Davis. Why not AgResearch & Plant & Food Research in New Zealand who currently have to work with global partners to trial some of their incredible research offshore?

The ‘Harnessing Biotech’ policy proposal from the National Party does not suggest a biotech ‘free-for-all’. Instead, there will be a dedicated regulator to ensure the safe and ethical use of biotechology. In the past, I’ve been told by Government Ministers that when it comes to GE, it’s time for a ‘robust discussion’. Then nothing.

Wharf42 very much hopes that National’s ‘Harnessing Biotech’ plan accelerates that discussion and the country’s agritech community has the opportunity to compete globally on a level playing field. It’s that message that we will be taking to California this week.


The case for ‘Agritech Diplomacy’

The case for ‘Agritech Diplomacy’

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking more deeply about the role that agritech can play in supporting New Zealand’s primary sector scale globally.

Taken at its simplest, agritech has the ability to address a number of ‘on-farm’ or ‘beyond the farm gate’ challenges. We are buoyed by our ‘Good for the World’ purpose and it helps drive the NZ Agritech story. Dig a little deeper however, and the reality becomes a little less evident.

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade lead the way when it comes to securing market access for New Zealand’s producers. Recently, they successfully secured Free Trade Agreements with both the UK & the EU. The two Ministries achieved the best results they could. Whilst the outcomes benefited some primary sector players however, not every sector was happy. It’s a tough mantra when your main focus and realistically only driver is ‘the interests of the New Zealand producer’. ‘Good for the World’ becomes harder to define. Particularly when you are negotiating with parties providing little to no flexibility.

It goes beyond government. That focus and that driver lies at the heart of many of New Zealand’s Crown Research Institute public funding models. The science and IP generated (which for the record is outstanding) is frequently developed and commercialised for the benefit of the New Zealand producer only. It’s a core part of the funding settings. Exporting that science and IP internationally is not a priority and therefore potential licencing and revenue-generating income is not returned to either New Zealand’s research community or the New Zealand taxpayer.

It’s pretty clear that these models do not exactly fit the ‘Good for the World’ mantra. Our agritech sector however operates differently. It actively seeks out collaborative partnerships with, and in, global markets. As an example Callaghan Innovation & NZTE are supporting agritech entrepreneurs visit Ireland & the UK in September, Australia in February and potentially the US in June.

In October this year, the California Department of Food & Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, is bringing a delegation of officials and growers over to New Zealand for the 2035 Oceania Summit. They are looking to identify potential agritech solutions that might help address some of the challenges that they face back in the US. It made me think more closely around the wider role that New Zealand’s agritech sector can take to support its primary sector. Through developing global relationships based on innovation, trust, common interest and dare I say it, a ‘Good for the World’ mindset, can agritech become a core ‘soft’ diplomatic tool for the wider agriculture sector?

It’s a model I’m becoming quite familiar with. In Australia, I’m fortunate to sit on the evokeAG steering committee. In the US, I sit on the Western Growers Global Advisory Board. This provides a two-way channel for offshore market engagement. It helps build trust and potentially breaks down some of the traditional roadblocks faced by our trade negotiators. Looking for a ‘win-win’ outcome that potentially incorporates agritech collaboration into formal trade negotiations is an interesting prospect.

As an example, whilst the FTA’s with the UK & the EU have been concluded, food security remains a key concern for both countries/blocks. An article on agritech collaboration would have meant that whilst quotas and tariff negotiation had come to an end, on-going engagement, collaboration and partnership hadn’t. It’s an interesting conversation that as a wider sector, I feel we should have.


Wishing you a Happy and Safe Festive Season

Wishing you a Happy and Safe Festive Season

As we wind down for the festive season, it’s hard not to reflect on what has been an interesting and at times, a challenging 12 months.

Our focus though is on what’s to come, rather than what’s already happened. For Wharf42, the big news in 2022 is that the delayed 2035 Oceania Summit will end up being bigger and more impactful than originally planned. A number of pre-Summit initiatives now have an extra 5 months of activity to build in advance of the October event. This will include a more significant (in-person) engagement with partners and friends on the other side of the Tasman. The evokeAG conference in March provides both a platform and an opportunity to travel to different parts of Australia. We expect to share some of our planned itinerary in late January.

2022 will no doubt bring new challenges. What we have learnt over the past 20 months however is that people and business have an amazing ability to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Whilst announcing a delay to the original Summit date was unfortunate, we have focused on the silver linings that that delay has created. There are many which is why we approach the New Year with such confidence and excitement.

Jacqui and I would like to thank everyone for their support and encouragement over the past 12 months. We are looking forward to getting some time to relax and rest over the summer holidays. From where we are seated, 2022 looks like it it is going to be an A1 year with the opportunity for Wharf42 to do what it does best;

Vision. Execution. Impact.

Wishing everyone a very Happy and a Safe Festive Season!

Living the Tauranga dream. Why we do it.

Living the Tauranga dream. Why we do it.

Over the past few years, I’ve been frequently asked, why Tauranga? Why not move to Auckland or Wellington and be closer to the action?

With the mercury set to hit 31c today and as New Zealand slowly gets back to work following the extended Xmas / New Year / Summer vacation break, its time to answer the question.

Whilst most folk think of Tauranga as being the Mount main beach and a holiday mecca, I want to focus on its position as one of New Zealand’s most significant agritech and entrepreneurial hotspots.

And look ahead to its prospects for 2021.

To provide the platform for the city’s agritech ecosystem, it’s fair to say that our horticultural heritage and production has a large role to play. Home to the country’s multi-billion dollar kiwifruit sector, Tauranga is also home to Zespri, PlantTech, Robotics Plus, Radford Software, BlueLab, GPS-it, Cucumber, Trimax and a host of other agritech businesses, including public sector players such as Plant & Food Research and the University of Waikato. Together, these research and business organisations are transforming the productivity and sustainability of our orchards and contributing significantly towards the development of new export markets.

In order to grow the city and region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, it’s important to have the investment and funding mechanisms in place to support its growth. Tauranga has this in spades.

At the pre-seed stage, we have WNT Ventures, one of New Zealand’s 4 technology incubators. (Disclosure; Wharf42 is the ‘W’ of WNT). Over the past 6 years, we have invested in a number of early stage businesses and are currently in the process of closing its biggest funding round to-date, Fund 3. In terms of portfolio, think of the likes of Mint Innovation, Avertana, Nyriad, Mastaplex, Foundry Lab, MaramaLabs and Argo Navis.

Enterprise Angels is one of New Zealand’s largest angel networks, providing support and investment into a number of the country’s leading early stage companies. Check out their portfolio here. Additionally, Enterprise Angels recently launched Purpose Capital. With $20M already committed, this promises to be New Zealand’s largest Impact fund.

Oriens Capital invest in new equity capital to enable existing businesses with good intellectual capital and a strong market position the opportunity to expand. BlueLab is a great example of a local agritech company who has benefited from this investment. As is Rockit Global.

Quayside Holdings and Craig Investment Partners look after the more established end of the market, although Quayside also plays an active role in WNT & Oriens.

Pulling a lot of these dots together is Priority One, the region’s Economic Development Agency. Wharf42 has been a member of ‘P1’ since our formation back in 2012. It plays a hugely influential role in helping develop the region’s long-term growth strategy. As we head into 2021, this combination of deep agritech talent, genuine sector collaboration and local investment capacity is going to accelerate the growth of the sector in the region and across New Zealand.

Add to this heady mix, local start-up and entrepreneur ecosystem builder, Venture Centre, expanding co-working spaces such as Basestation and a very proactive, Tauranga Chamber of Commerce and you have a connected, vibrant and expansive entrepreneur ecosystem. For the Bay, these are exciting times.

And if you are still wondering why Wharf42 is based in Tauranga and not Auckland or Wellington and still don’t quite get it, pop down the Mount’s main beach one day and I’ll explain.

If you want to learn more about the ongoing development of the Wharf42 Insights Programme and other initiatives currently being kept under wraps, please sign up for our free Monthly Newsletter.

Wharf42 2021 Preview: Building global agritech networks from behind closed borders

Wharf42 2021 Preview: Building global agritech networks from behind closed borders

Welcome to Wharf42’s first news release of 2021.

The global COVID pandemic is accelerating and New Zealand’s borders remain tightly closed. Wharf42 understands the impact that closed borders are creating for agritech businesses in New Zealand, across the Tasman in Australia and in the wider Asia Pacific Rim.

Over the past 4 months, we have expanded our offshore reach. As of today, we are;

Over the Christmas & New Year festive break, we have worked to connect these dots. By developing a strong regional Asia Pacific Rim cluster – New Zealand, Australia & Singapore, we are looking at opening up new channels for creating significant opportunities for increased research and commercialisation collaboration.

The question some folk ask is why. It takes us back to our core values.

The global COVID pandemic and closed borders are doing nothing to assist address some of the world’s greatest long-term challenges:

  • Feeding 9.6 billion people with nutritious and affordable food by 2050
  • Addressing the real and ongoing impact of climate change
  • Identifying new ways to farm more productively and more sustainably
  • Researching for new forms of alternative protein

We believe that by building scale and creating the opportunity for greater cross-border collaboration, we can collectively begin to tackle some of these major challenges. In Q1 2021, we will be seeking to expand our global network beyond the Asia Pacific Rim. Discussions are already underway with potential partners in North America and Europe. As the opportunity for creating international travel bubbles from New Zealand recede, building global networks from behind closed borders is today our #1 goal.

Whatever the new year might bring, Jacqui and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a safe and prosperous 2021.

If you want to learn more about the ongoing development of the Wharf42 Insights Programme and other initiatives currently being kept under wraps, please sign up for our free Monthly Newsletter.

The Wharf42 podcast on last night’s Sarah’s Country

The Wharf42 podcast on last night’s Sarah’s Country

It was great to join Sarah Perriam last night on the Sarah’s Country live TV broadcast.

Sarah wanted to learn more about my time as Executive Director of Agritech New Zealand and what lies ahead now that I have stood down from the role. It gave me the opportunity to talk briefly about the successful launch of the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan as well as my new focus on delivering comprehensive trans-Tasman agritech collaboration and an expanding global footprint. Plus a not so subtle plug for the amazing agritech ecosystem in the Bay of Plenty!

In case you missed it, you can view the 10 minute interview below.