Sunday, December 3, 2023

NZ’s agritech sector gears up for refocus, ITP makeover

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A knowledge hub has been established, compiling a database of all known agritech firms, contacts and locations throughout NZ.
AgriTechNZ chief executive Brendan O’Connell says for the agritech sector to reach $8 billion in annual revenue, the industry needs to look at new ways of growing businesses.
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Three years into it, the agritech sector’s industry transformation plan is getting a makeover, developing sharper definitions on outcomes and expectations for the industry’s future. 

In a series of roadshows, AgriTech New Zealand CEO Brendan O’Connell is outlining the key points the plan is re-focusing on, seeking industry feedback and summarising its success to date.

The sector was the first to kick off with an industry transformation plan (ITP), since followed by forestry and, recently, advanced manufacturing.

“Being the first plan to be launched was a blessing and a curse  in many ways. Also, some very strange years followed across the past three years,” O’Connell said.

Being recognised as a genuine growth sector, having the ear of two key ministers (agriculture and economic development), and having a combination of government agencies support it have, however, given the plan some strong early impetus.

Despite covid travel constraints, a key win has been building a stronger international network with markets including Australia, Ireland, and the United States, taking researchers and innovators into those markets to better understand how they work.

A knowledge hub has been established, compiling a database of all known agritech firms, contacts and locations throughout New Zealand, and Callaghan Innovation has worked with identified early agritech startups to help them develop their growth pathways more effectively. 

Formal partnerships have also been cemented with overseas grower groups, including the huge Western Growers alliance in the US.

Farm 2050 trials are also continuing, with $850,000 of funding to identify, validate and demonstrate at scale promising disruptive technologies, currently focused on pasture-based dairy.

“What we heard were a lot of the high-level skills had landed in the right place,” Grant Bryden, lead Ministry for Primary Industries official on the plan, said, though “there were still challenges to businesses wanting to get to scale”.

He said one key refresh to the plan was a shorter “elevator pitch”, with the simply stated goal being to “grow agritech’s contribution to $8 billion by 2030”.

The industry is also working to pin down just how much the sector is worth now, something that has proven elusive.

“Based off the top 22 companies, it is estimated to be valued at $1.6bn, but there are about 450 other companies out there, so it’s safe to say the starting point is $1.6bn, but the total could be nearer $2-$2.5bn.” 

The sector is co-sponsoring a series of insight reports to provide a better baseline of data for measuring growth from here.

O’Connell acknowledged $8bn is a big stretch for the sector, equating to about 15% compounding annual growth between now and 2030, compared to its estimated current rate of 7%.

“This is the equivalent to another 10 Gallagher-LIC sized businesses, another 20 generating between $50 million and $200m, and 35 generating between $4m and $50m.”

He said there will of course be more growth to come from big players like Gallaghers and LIC, and he is encouraged by the change in behaviour even such big companies are exhibiting when it comes to achieving that growth.

“Companies like Gallagher are behaving more like an active investor, investing in established tech companies to grow from. This is what we have seen more of in overseas companies like Syngenta,” O’Connell said.

The refreshed ITP proposal also includes sharper outcome definitions. 

These have been distilled down to seven key areas, including seeking a more diverse workforce on higher paying jobs, greater iwi recognition given their strong links to the land, and a stronger underlying infrastructure to support agritech companies.

O’Connell said feedback is being sought from the industry to tune in the changes.

“What becomes important is what will be done under these outcomes and looking at ‘How is that relevant to my business?’”

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