October 31, 2020

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New Zealand to invest $11.4 million in agricultural technology

New Zealand government is planning to invest $11.4 million directly on developing the country’s agritech sector. This plan also includes the creation of a horticultural robotics academy.

The plan was developed with assistance from the industry by a cross-agency taskforce, led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The funding forms part of the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan.

Further investment in the agritech sector would come from $84m set aside for the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund that supports the government’s 10-year vision for this sector.

Additionally, assistance would be provided from a special taskforce and other existing government programmes.

Development Minister Phil Twyford said the money will be used to grow the agritech sector which would help increase exports and advance sustainable farming.

Twyford said, “We want to grow a cluster of large agritech firms that can take on the world, and build on New Zealand’s agricultural strength.”

Twyford said more support would be provided to aid commercialisation of new products as well as help in establishing a horticultural robotics academy.

Managing Director of Iris Data Science said the announcement had come at a good time because the company planned to launch its facial recognition technology for animals by the end of the year.

The Dunedin-based company had announced, what it said would be the world’s first sheep facial recognition software in 2019. The initiative would eliminate the need for electronic identification or ear tagging.

The software does away with the need to observe lambing or do DNA parentage testing. The development has potential to allow technology to be adapted to various applications.

This would include tracking animal locations to prevent poaching, monitoring animal behaviour, determining illness and overall welfare of the animals.

The technology would equip farmers with the ability to track their livestock such as sheep and cow, and also provide information about the animal’s livelihood.

The plan was by the end of the year the company would have enough data to prove the technology worked and it could start selling it to farms in New Zealand and Australia, he said.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor also launched a report from Agritech NZ on Tuesday that looked at opportunities for the sector in a post-Covid-19 economy.

The report outlines a new approach to industry policy, aimed at growing more innovative industries in New Zealand and increasing productivity, sustainability and inclusivity of key sectors in the nation.

The report recommends that the government and agriculture industry work collaboratively to develop a trans-Tasman agritech strategy and further drive widespread uptake of agritech.

O’Connor said, “New Zealand agritech companies are creating innovative technologies and solutions that support our farmers, growers, beekeepers and fishers to create more value, and achieve greater sustainability.”

Agritech sector is an important part of the country’s 10-year strategy for the primary sector along with additional transformation plans for the forestry and wood processing sector.

Twyford said as a result of Covid-19, there was also a refreshed industry strategy to help grow highly productive and internationally competitive firms.