Thursday, November 30, 2023

PULPIT: NZ, a great place for agritech

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New Zealand agritech start-ups are creating value, powered by technology. We are at the beginning of a golden age of artificial intelligence and the possibilities of what it and other modern technologies can deliver are still to be seen.
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The agritech sector here is in a unique position to address critical global issues such as meeting the food demand from a growing global population.

The world’s population of 7.3 billion people is estimated to reach 9.7b by 2050. About 83 million people are added to the global population each year.

This growth must be met by corresponding increases in food production.

We have seen the local agritech sector embrace a range of technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing with transformational impacts. 

These technologies enable precision agriculture to optimise production while minimising environmental impacts such as detrimental effects on waterways.

In the agritech sector Kiwi start-ups such as GPS-it and Intela have been working alongside Amazon Web Services (AWS).

These organisations have access to leading-edge innovative capabilities to experiment, remove technical debt and focus on creative ways to innovate for their customers. 

In the past on-premises information technology infrastructure would have taken months to procure and cost millions of dollars to operate.

Agritech start-ups now have instant access to on-demand cloud services, which is rapidly changing their business models. 

GPS-it, which exhibited alongside AWS at Fieldays in Hamilton this year, is a good example. 

AWS underpins the land management software platform of the company, which provides farm and orchard managers with customised maps and geographic information system (GIS) solutions using the latest high-resolution, aerial imagery technology. 

It lets farmers improve on-farm management systems such as crop planning, budgeting and paddock rotations.

GPS-it runs its entire technology platform on AWS, yet it cost less than 5% of annual revenue in the 2018 financial year. It is delivering significant cost savings as the company considers that traditional infrastructure models would have resulted in technology costs of 30% of annual revenue.

The savings the company makes mean it can invest more in the development of new products. That has allowed it to evolve into a business that serves organisations such as Fonterra and Zespri – a long way from its beginnings in a small office on a kiwifruit orchard, with one staff member and a global positioning system unit.

NZ agritech start-ups are in a unique position, given the expertise and skill base here.

It’s widely recognised the sector needs to move from a volume to value focus, as shown by the Government’s recent announcement to boost agritech innovation and productivity.

We have a highly active and rich agritech start-up environment, with significant opportunities to push the global boundaries by deploying innovative technologies.

Globally, NZ is seen as an excellent place to start an agritech business because of the ease of doing business and Government support for the sector, according to the Start-up Genome: Global Start-up Ecosystem Report 2019.

The report, which is based on independent research from more than 100 companies across 150 cities shows NZ’s so-called agtech and new food sector in the top 10 global start-up ecosystems.

It said 20% of very early stage investment in the local start-up ecosystem has been directed to the agtech and new food sector since 2013.

NZ’s legacy in agriculture combined with smart technology and innovative thinking is an opportunity in the making. 

Smart farming will evolve and NZ can play an important part, whether it be developing food traceability and in turn food safety systems, creating more efficient water systems or optimising use of resources for increased productivity.

Agritech is delivering a sustainable, efficient and more productive form of agricultural production with the potential for this to accelerate rapidly in the future.

Now is the time for the NZ agritech sector to think really big and take their innovations to the world.

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