Last week, I spoke to Dennis Donohue, Director of the Northern California-based Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center on the Center’s ‘Voices of the Valley’ podcast. It gave me the opportunity to share New Zealand’s agritech story as well as discuss a number of emerging global trends.
I first caught up with Dennis back in 2015. I was based in Silicon Valley at the time and became aware of this new investment asset class called ‘agtech’. What I learnt was that very little of this investment was finding its way across the Pacific. I returned to New Zealand in late 2015 and the rest as they say is history. Today, Agritech New Zealand is a strong industry-led organisation and there is no lack of capital for globally-focused investable agri-technology companies in the country.
In the podcast, we talked about three key focus areas for the Center (plus, I’ll add a fourth); These are labor (lack of and cost of), food security and rapid diagnostics. The fourth reflects the work and support of Karen Ross, the California Agriculture Secretary, who together with Dennis and the team at WG are looking at longer-term workforce skills and talent training. As robotics and automation begin to play a bigger role in the field, growers and their staff need to be up-skilled to operate in this significant emerging technology-driven environment.
During our call, my current focus on the impact of our changing climate also resonated. Water in states such as California, Nevada & Arizona is a major consideration for growers. I’ve seen at first hand in high-production areas such as the Central Valley and the Salinas Valley, the ongoing impact of drought. As I write this post, the western seaboard of the US is suffering some of its highest June temperatures on record. Seattle, in the northwest, hit 37.2c yesterday. Further north, Lytton in British Columbia (Canada) reached 46.6c. A taste, I suspect, of what’s to come with our changing climate.
In the podcast, we spoke about some of the emerging global trends and specifically about some of the specialist strengths of different national and regional agritech hubs. Dennis and I speak frequently on this subject. Western Growers understand that they need to be aware of what is happening globally to address some of their local challenges. The Center and its team are very open to this conversation.
Next month (travel bubble willing), I’m heading across the Tasman to keynote at South Australia’s AdvanceAg conference. Once again, it’s not just about sharing our story. It’s about identifying opportunities for collaboration across borders to address some of the major challenges that we discussed on the podcast last week. As the impact of climate change, labour shortages and the prospect of feeding a rapidly growing global population become more urgent, developing these collaborative cross-border frameworks will become ever more important.
If you want to check out last week’s ‘Voices of the Valley’ podcast, you can listen to the recording below.