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New Zealand has an enormous opportunity to use technology as a means to support the economic growth of its agri sector and become a world leader in a fast growing agritech market, NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says.

The country is achieving good agritech export growth rates relative to other nations.  Global agritech investment is expanding rapidly, with VC investment in agritech firms in 2014 estimated at over $US2.36 billion making investment in agritech higher than fintech.  
“With our traditional strengths in agriculture and our growing strengths in tech, this is an opportunity we should pursue with vigour.  Agriculture is a big user and creator of technology. 
“Tech sector innovations are being adopted in many agricultural areas with examples such as the application of precision agriculture on-farm and industry-wide information capture and utilisation through activities such as the development of the Dairy Data Network.
“Reigniting productivity in the rural sector is critical for both farmer profitability and New Zealand’s global competitiveness.  A trend of reducing agricultural productivity is typical across most other high-income nations, with one exception being the Netherlands.  Despite being a third of the size of the North Island and having 26 percent of the country below sea level, it is now the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world by focusing on innovation and value-add. 
“Production costs have placed pressure on the competitive position of New Zealand agriculture in world markets.  Reversing a slowdown in productivity growth is critical given the challenges the sector faces with strengthening environmental regulation.
“Previously, productivity growth was driven by open market reforms in the 1980s and then changing land use, particularly conversions from sheep and beef farming into dairy production.  Significant expansion of irrigated land, which has doubled every 12 years since 1970, has also contributed to land use change and increased productivity.  Future expansion, particularly in dairy, is now challenged by the impact of land use on water quality.
“Digital agriculture, in the form of precision farming, big data, sensor technology and drones, delivers a new potential for productivity gains across rural New Zealand.
“To help Hew Zealand agriculture we have formed an alliance with Precision Agriculture Association NZ.  We recognise the growing interest among stakeholders, from farmers, high tech firms and the government, to understand the scope of activities being undertaken by various organisations and individuals using tech to grow the agri sector,” Muller says.  
Precision Agriculture NZ connects participants in the precision agriculture value chain to one common organisation; land users, researchers, commercial companies, regional councils, primary industry organisations, rural professionals and students. 
The chair of Precision Agriculture NZ, Craige Mackenzie, says the focus is on increasing the uptake of technologies in land-based primary production systems, developing initiatives to promote and support the allocation of additional funding for research and the development of PA technologies, building capability within the sector and promoting adoption of precision agriculture through industry events, symposiums and field days. 

Mackenzie recently travelled to St Louis, Missouri, to receive the award of Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year from the United States-based PrecisionAg Institute.
“We believe both organisations working together will contribute to the future prosperity and success of the New Zealand economy and particularly with the profile and sustainability of NZ primary sector exports,” Mackenzie says.

The tech sector is the country’s third largest and fastest growing export sector, worth over $6.3 billion in 2015 and employing 5% of the New Zealand workforce.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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