12 months ago today, the Australia New Zealand Agritech Council was launched at the ANZLF conference in Auckland. Little did we know then what lay ahead.

However despite COVID-19; despite lockdown; despite closed borders; significant progress has been made on both sides of the Tasman. Whilst much of our time in New Zealand has been focused on securing the successful passage of the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan, across the Tasman, our colleagues on the Agritech Council have been equally hard at work.

The Australian Agritech Association

Without doubt, the major development in Australia’s agritech ecosystem has been the establishment of the Australian Agritech Association. It’s an open and inclusive membership-based association established to foster a world-class agritech ecosystem and help create a prosperous future for Australian agrifood innovation.

For New Zealand, the creation of a strong, collaborative agritech ecosystem in Australia is crucial. In a post COVID world, regional cooperation is going to play an increasingly important role as agrifood companies review every aspect of their global business. Promoting the trans-Tasman region as a significant hub for agritech research and commercialisation is top of Wharf42’s current focus.

The Bridge Hub Water Challenge

One of the key joint trans-Tasman agritech initiatives to have started during lockdown has been the Bridge Hub Water Challenge.

The Bridge Hub is a NSW-based innovation and investment ‘hub’ with a specific focus on agrifood. Co-founded by Craig Shapiro, a member of the Australia New Zealand Agritech Council, Wharf42 has worked with Callaghan Innovation to encourage New Zealand research organisations and startups working in this space to apply for the Challenge. Zespri are sponsoring the $25,000 prize for the most promising New Zealand research submission. Wharf42 is delighted to be sponsoring the $5,000 startup prize.

The response from the sector has been awesome. Applications to the Water Challenge closed two weeks ago and the judging process begins this week.

The Water Challenge is a great example of how Australia and New Zealand researchers and agritech businesses can work together. As the global landscape changes post COVID-19 with an increased emphasis on regional supply chains, this type of collaboration is going to be more important than ever.

The evokeAG Network

Back in February, over 100 kiwis made the trip to Melbourne to attend the 2020 evokeAG conference. For many of us, this was to be our last trip offshore. As a member of the evokeAG steering committee, I am well aware of just how close we were to having to pull the plug. If the event had been scheduled for just 3 or 4 weeks later etc. etc. The decision has already been taken to postpone the planned 2021 conference in Perth to 2022.

AgriFutures Australia has decided wisely however not to just mothball the evokeAG brand. Whilst a face to face conference might still be 18 months away, plans are well advanced to deliver digital content over the coming months. This will reflect the trans-Tasman face of evokeAG. I continue to work with the team at AgriFutures on this and some other exciting trans-Tasman initiatives. I’ll be sharing more news about this in the coming weeks.

Next Steps

Had circumstances allowed, I would have been cutting the proverbial birthday cake today in Sydney or Wagga. Instead, I will be popping a cork with Jacqui back home.

The good news is that the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan recognises the importance of the Australia New Zealand Agritech Council and the role it can play in developing stronger trans-Tasman agritech ties. This collaboration is likely to manifest itself in different ways.

  • I would expect increased cooperation between the new Australian Agritech Association and Agritech New Zealand.
  • I would expect to see more trans-Tasman initiatives launched, replicating the success of the current Bridge Hub Water Challenge.
  • Most importantly, I expect to see an increased level of cooperation at an inter-governmental level.

The Agritech New Zealand Agritech Council was launched at the ANZLF meeting one year ago today. This annual meeting was hosted by PM Jacinda Ardern and attended by senior Government Ministers from both sides of the Tasman. Agritech was the new kid on the block and has become a key part of the ANZLF Innovation workstream.

I cannot predict when the trans-Tasman bubble will become reality and travel between the two countries will begin once again. What I can confirm however is that increasing collaboration and opportunity in both Australia and New Zealand is now Wharf42’s major focus.

More on that over the coming weeks.