Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Teens cast fresh eyes on farming’s future as Ag&Ed challenge kicks off

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Inspiring results as Ag&Ed Innovation Challenge gets underway in Feilding.
Adelyne Patrick, Jade Askin and Harry Oliver claimed top prize in the Ag&Ed Innovation Challenge.
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Business inspiration comes in many forms. For a group of North Island teenagers it was huhu grub protein powder, alpaca milk, micro-green capsules and a skin-soothing ointment made from kawakawa and flax.

These were the products presented by the teens at AgriHQ’s Ag&Ed Innovation Challenge, held in Feilding.

The challenge was the culmination of a six-week Ag&Ed education programme, which featured in Farmers Weekly, in partnership with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Twenty pupils from the lower North Island were selected for the challenge, and 13 were able to attend the challenge weekend.

Ag&Ed project manager Dave Craig said the aim of the challenge was to develop an export-quality product or service, using 4.8 hypothetical acres of land with Class B soil.

The first customers for the products had to be based outside New Zealand.

Lucy Allomes, Mason Woodhouse and Baxter Twist work on their innovation challenge pitch.

The Year 11-13 students gathered on Friday evening and were put into teams. They had until Sunday to develop their product and pitch it to a team of judges.

Throughout the weekend industry experts James Stewart of Stewart Dairylands, Mat Hocken of Grassmere Dairy, Sarah Lockhart of Rabobank and Gareth Evans of MyFarm held fireside chats with the contestants, offering their experience, inspiration and some direction.

“The aim of the speakers was to show [the development process] from grass to investment. You could work on the land, or help people work on the land, or you could invest to help people work on the land,” Craig said.

“There are all these different aspects as to what the ag sector is.”

The teams came up with a wide variety of ideas for products.

One planned to farm huhu grubs, which have 30% more protein than chicken, and develop a huhu protein powder to target the Asian market.

Another proposed growing kawakawa and native flax and creating a natural ointment to sooth sunburn, targeting Australia.

Haylee Baker and Davina Zhang are are all smiles at the innovation challenge.

Micro-greens that could be ground up and spread on food or swallowed in capsules were developed for the United  States market, and farming alpacas and selling their milk to Brazil was another idea. The animals’ wool could also be used to produce high-end jerseys.

Craig said after much deliberation the huhu protein powder was chosen as the winner because it was a “niche product, innovative, and they had done their homework around the customer market”.

Adelyne Patrick, Jade Askin and Harry Oliver made up the winning team.

Craig said he and others at the event were blown away by the ideas the teens came up with.

“The word that I have is ‘inspired’,” said Craig. 

“Every time we do something like this with young people I’m always blown out of my boots.

“The way that they worked together, the way that they talked to each other, the way that they problem-solved … It’s a really beautiful process to watch.”

The contestants took part in a series of ‘fireside chats’ with industry experts.

Craig said the winning team will be taken to Wellington to pitch their product to MPI staff. The winners will also visit tech businesses in the capital and farms in the lower North Island.

The aim is now to grow Ag&Ed and the innovation challenge with a view to holding two events next year, timed to coincide with National Fieldays in Hamilton and Central Districts Field Days in Feilding. 

“One of the biggest successes out of the pilot was that teachers started to use the Ag&Ed double-page spread in Farmers Weekly as a proper teaching resource. We have created modules in agribusiness that they could literally pop out and use.”

The response to the innovation challenge from those involved was amazing, he said.

“I had one parent say that the farming sector in New Zealand is sometimes seen as doom and gloom, but seeing this gave them hope that the next  generation is going to keep the sector cranking. 

“That’s pretty cool to hear.

“It’s crucial for us to keep our kids engaged. Projects like this give a big eye-opening experience to kids about ag. It’s not just dairy and sheep, it’s ag tech and all the different aspects that make up the industry.”

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