Ag-tech: come and learn from the war-stories

Andrew Cook, Rezare

If you think new technology is slowing down, the next few years are going to bring even more innovation into the red meat sector, says one agricultural technology expert. He’s behind a new bootcamp for agricultural innovators to come and learn from other ag-tech ‘war-stories’.

Looking ahead at a positive avalanche of innovation coming out of the US and Europe in particular, managing director Andrew Cooke of Rezare Systems says the feeling is that because of increasing investment in innovation, there will be a lot more technology start-ups in the next few years. Potentially, this could lead to confusion in the marketplace and lead to disintermediation.

“But, in my view, New Zealand’s agricultural companies – including red meat farmers and meat companies – will absorb the game-changers like blockchain and respond,” he says. “It will all depend on their ability to feel their way through the technology.”

Farmers do adopt new technology, he says. “Especially if it works for them on a whole range of different factors. That means close engagement for customers’ needs.”

Rezare Systems is involved in the development of customised software and data management for the agricultural industry. The company has been working with the Red Meat Profit Partnership on its DataLinker programme and with Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics Ltd, amongst other projects.

Over the years, he has repeatedly witnessed individuals developing new technology, repeating work – and mistakes – and finding out how to do things the hard way. This led to the thinking behind a new two-day Ag Innovations Bootcamp, put on by his company and supported by Fieldays, AgMardt and Amazon Web Services.

“We wondered if we can we better equip New Zealand agricultural companies and ag-tech companies, if they create new products, to get it more right the first time.”

Experiencing NZ ag-tech

Cooke and his colleagues in the company’s Australia and UK offices have found that New Zealand broadband connectivity, seen as a rural bugbear here, is actually not as bad here as it is in other countries, like Australia and Wales. The Rural Broadband Initiative has helped hugely.

Some really useful smartphone applications are coming out now for use with electronic Animal Status Declarations (eASDs), farm assurance programmes and animal health plans.

“Farmers using these tools quite quickly adopted them, because they are useful immediately, and are not having any problems with them,” he says. Previously, problems arose because farmers were having to go back home in the evening to sit in front of the PC and relearn how to use the programmes time and time again.

Even though he has one himself, Cooke’s been a little sceptical about drones, he admits, because data can be captured in other ways. While they have been used enthusiastically to date, there has been little real direction in their development for use in agriculture, he believes.

“What would be more useful for the farmer is if you could schedule them to do a task, go off themselves, do their imaging of your pasture cover for the day, land themselves charge themselves and download the data ready for use,” he says, adding this technology is not that far away. He believes drone and multi-spectral camera imaging costs will lower considerably that will enable obtaining richer data.

He can also see robots being used on-farm.

“They already are used for boning in meat plants, backing gates for dairy farms and for apple packing,” he says. “We’ve also talked about them being of use at moving ewes during rotational grazing to reduce mis-mothering.”

New sensors to assist with measurement will be very helpful for jobs such as accurately weighing livestock on-farm

Droving robots have also recently been introduced into US meat plants yards by US meat giant Cargill. If they have predictable patterns, for example, he says they would reduce stress in animals and so lower pH levels.

The current technology buzzword ‘blockchain’ has him less animated, though it “could be really useful” once its current issues with data openness and privacy are resolved, he believes.

What excites him most about future technology is the potential in smart ear-tags, “when they get to a price-point that’s feasible,” and also camera and imaging, including multispectral, technology.

Pragmatically, though, he says the best thing is the improvement of data-sharing for whole community use.

“It’s taken three years [with DataLinker], but we are now starting to see companies sharing information with farmers that is starting to enable better decisions to be made on-farm.”

Learn from experts and share ideas

The Ag Innovations Bootcamp is for anyone working on any aspect of agricultural technology innovation in a large or small organisation, be they inventors and visionaries, product managers and functional specialists.

“The idea is to learn from the experts and share ideas. A big component will be valuable networking with like-minded people. As Bill Gallagher said, ‘Life’s too short to learn off all your own mistakes’,” says Cooke.

There will be some ‘hands-on’ sessions too, for participants to learn how to build a prototype or to properly interview potential users to understand their needs of the new product.

Aware of sensitivity about sharing that Big Idea with others, individuals will be able to choose a ‘proxy idea’ or project for use in group activities.

There are two keynote speakers. New Zealand Trade & Enterprise general manager David Downs is skilled at helping fast-growing tech companies grown internationally and has written two books No.8 Rewired and No.8 Recharged and his work with Nano Girl. The other is Jenene Crossan, a digital entrepreneur at the age of 16 before launching nzgirl.co.nz at 20, will share her expertise about predicting, understanding and developing technologies to underpin evolving consumer behaviour.

Other speakers include Rezare’s UK manager Julian Gairdner, who is ex NZXAgri and PGG Wrightson, innovation consultant Jeremy Suisted, Andrew Cooke and two case-studies from Mark Harris (Gallagher Animal Management) and David Campbell (B+LNZ Genetics).

“Everyone has their own ag-tech war-story to share,” says Cooke.

[Ed: And, we’ll look forward to seeing the outcomes at next year’s Fieldays Innovation stand!]

The Ag Innovation Bootcamp will take place at Mystery Creek showgrounds in Hamilton on 5 and 6 December. Find out more and register here. NOTE: Early bird registrations close 9 November.

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