This morning I had a briefing call with Dennis Donohue, Director of the Western Growers Technology and Innovation Center. We speak on a pretty regular basis. Wharf42 has been working with Western Growers since 2016, signing our first joint Memorandum of Understanding in June 2017.

These calls enable me to get a better understanding of the current landscape for North American growers as well as talking about some of the exciting agritech being developed in New Zealand.

Today, the biggest impact on our engagement is COVID-19. Closed borders mean that my trips to Salinas and the Central Valley will have to wait until next year. Hopefully.

In the meantime, ZOOM has become the main channel for our calls. This morning, we decided that we could leverage this platform to set up a virtual showcase of New Zealand agritech. The initial specific focus of interest to Dennis and a number of his grower members is robotics and automation. The lack of, and cost of labour, remains a key challenge for specialty crop growers across the United States.

Over the past few months, Dennis and the team at the Center have been building up a comprehensive field network of leading growers. The intent is to set up a virtual showcase which will enable selected NZ agritech companies to demonstrate their tech to these growers via a ZOOM conference. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be working with Dennis and the team to identify appropriate businesses and potentially, some key researchers who can talk about their work.

As I’ve indicated elsewhere on this website, the issue of closed borders is one that is today central to a lot of Wharf42’s activity. This virtual showcase is one example of how we can make it clear that New Zealand agritech is still open for business and keen to engage with the rest of the world.

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