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Thursday, 20 September 2018 10:55

NZ needs to get bolder

Written by  Pam Tipa
The delegation from NZ Agritech visiting Silicon Valley. The delegation from NZ Agritech visiting Silicon Valley.

New Zealand companies aren’t bold enough when taking innovation overseas, says Callaghan agritech innovation expert Nicky Molloy.

US companies are much bolder in the early stages of the business, she told Rural News. You don’t realise the scale until you go there.

That was one reason for leading a team of 30 NZ delegates – from smaller agritech start-ups to big businesses like Zespri and research groups -- on a week-long trip to Silicon Valley and California.

The Agritech Immersion Programme and Conference visited large US growers and producers, connecting with local trends while scoping investment and export opportunities. 

From the outset US companies are bolder in messaging, story-telling and how fast they move to scale, Molloy says.

“In NZ we want to get little things solved and get it right before we take it to market whereas they take it to market and then get it right. They just do it. When you talk to a US company you almost think they are bigger than they are.”

The big challenges for US farming are the same as here -- labour, environment and water -- but on a much bigger scale. One US orchard can be equivalent to the whole NZ apple industry.

“You can be solving a small problem in the NZ, but go and do that in the US and gain way bigger traction. We encourage doing your R&D in NZ, but going offshore for scale. That is part of why we have instigated these trips.” 

Molloy says much needs to be done on the NZ storytelling piece and Callaghan is working with companies on this. 

“When they land in the US we don’t want them to be shy.”

The research groups on the trip realised challenges in the way NZ runs research: our seven-year programmes may instead need to be “short sharp iterations”.

The Callaghan Innovation trips to Silicon Valley are a three-year programme so companies from the first year now entrenched in that market talked about their journey. It emphasises connecting science with onfarm problems needing a solution and then the need for entrepreneurs to take it to market. 

A key message from farmers was “make sure the tech works and don’t just give me another app”. They don’t want apps that just solve one problem; they want more integration.

Another key message was the recognition that NZ farmers aren’t behind in adopting technology. 

“In the US… a 300,000ha farm will be more reluctant than an NZ-size farm in bringing something onfarm. We are more nimble in our ability take up technology and give things a go. Our universities are quite connected; they are talking with farmers who give us honest feedback,” Molloy says.

“Robotics, automation, managing data -- some of that technology is more advanced in NZ. There is more opportunity for NZ in those areas to really make a play.”

At a panel session, Tony Laming from Blinc Innovation talked about how the global industry can connect into NZ. 

“We have an opposite season to the northern hemisphere so there is an opportunity for companies to do a 12 month programme rather than stop because it is the end of the growing season. They can come down and continue it in NZ,” Molloy explained.

Getting NZ companies in the agritech community to get away from their business, talk to each other and think longer term was a highlight of the trip. 

“That’s the bit I love: getting the NZ businesses all interconnecting.”

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