Farming2020 Review

I was looking forward to the TechWeek event Farming 2020 as it was all about two things I enjoy – technology and the farming community.  Peter Wren Hilton created a three day event at the LIC Innovation Farm that combined a marquee of companies alongside great local speakers and some world leading thought leaders in AgTech. This event was for showcasing some of the technology that is finding its way into Agriculture and Horticulture and to help those with aspirations to take their Agtech into the USA.


In 2017 Peter Wren Hilton, organised the 2017 Silicon Valley AgTech Immersion Program and Conference where 21 New Zealand AgTech leaders travelled to Silicon Valley and Salinas.  He has deep contacts that he tapped into to put together a panel of speakers who were charged with being brutally honest about entering the USA market.  The good thing is Bill Reichert, Rob Trice and Dennis Donohue are all big supporters of New Zealand and our companies so they provided very valuable advice. 

Bill is the co-founder and Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures, a seed and early-stage venture capital fund based in Palo Alto. Bill was very clear that New Zealand companies are a little too relaxed about things compared to those from other countries.  We need to be serious from day one and make sure the right Executive level staff, and legal and banking systems are in place.  Being a Kiwi is not enough to open doors.


Rob Trice is the Founder of The Mixing Bowl & Valley-based Better Food Ventures. I had actually seen Rob in action nearly four years ago in a very brief workshop when Zahra Champion from ATEED had bought him out. Even at that time I could see he was a visionary and I believe he is one of the first to really understand the Agtech Ecosystem. I have been following (stalking) the Mixing Bowl tweets and Linkedin articles for years so when I realised that Rob was there in person (as opposed to being beamed in from the States) I had a little fan-girl moment which is probably very undignified in someone of my age. Rob did not disappoint and provided many points to note. 


My top three are:

1)     Rob is obviously a fan of the All Blacks:  he believes we should emulate their ‘block and tackle’ and play as one team.

2)     Be polite, be on time to meetings. You are not the only show in town.

3)     If you are considering an accelerator or incubator do the due-diligence on it before you enter. However accelerators are a great training ground to grow talent for a rapidly changing world.


Dennis Donohue from did get beamed in from Salinas, CA.  He is the Head of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology which helps companies looking to validate their technology and then scale their business.  One of the companies there at the moment is New Zealand success story Biolumic (fostered by BCC) so it was great for the audience to see that there is a ‘soft’ landing in Salinas.  He told us that the Center had come out of a need to solve common industry problems such as food safety after a number of scares including an E-Coli outbreak.  It is a public – private partnership that is going from strength to strength with the aim of hosting 50 companies.  He noted that they are expecting a 75% loss of labour over the next five years, which is a daunting hurdle that must be overcome.


Peter also wrangled a visit from Melanie Higgins, US Consul General to New Zealand.  Melanie was very entertaining and is very committed to her role.  She recommended that exporters look at the SelectUSA programme to help them  She also provided the most chastening statistic of the morning: There is one bank in Wyoming that alone has more farming clients that the whole of New Zealand.


The video can be seen here.


Also (just to prove I’m a geek-girl), while I enjoyed all companies and products on offer in the Marquee, including Agrigate and UBCO, it was Sherlock™ that stole my heart (and perhaps my wallet). I grew up on a pipfruit orchard with a Dad who always needed to know the weather so we learnt to be quiet at the end of the News so he could hear.  My sister and I were always disappointed when we sneaked a look at his diary (hoping he would mention us of course) only to find a blow by blow account of the temperature.  Even now he has weather stations and rain measurements dotted around the house. So perhaps the early brainwashing primed me to be really excited by Sherlock™. It can accurately measure all MetData, like temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure and take photos of the sky every five minutes to send to me. However the really cool thing is it LEARNS and uses technology to inform the owner. So if the weather changes down the back of the farm, or on an offsite orchard it would let you know.  This hyperlocalised data can be shared and collated which is where the collaboration between our own Metservice and Bloomsky comes into play. With 27 microclimates in Auckland alone, Metservice believes the deployment of many Sherlock™(Sherlocki?) will lead to better collection and consumption of MetData. Oh and the price? Between NZ$600 – 800.


Lastly I think the takeaway from the three days of Farming2020 is that there is a ground swell of interest in doing what Rob suggests to play as one team. Kevin Cooney Head of Agri Markets, for ASB Bank believes there is a need for a National Strategy for Agtech, and I believe everyone who attended Farming2020 would feel the same.

Amanda Gilbertson


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