Opinion: Disruption and Opportunity in Food and Agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that nearly 10 billion people will live on this planet by 2050, and recent studies are showing that we will need to produce 70 percent more food to keep up with the population growth.

“Major transformations in business as usual food science, agricultural systems, rural economies, and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” states FAO in its publication entitled The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges.

Fortunately, the makings of the next agritech revolution are underway and great initiatives such as Sprout, Agritech New Zealand and are leading the NZ Inc charge. The on-farm innovations driving the revolution include genomics and biotechnology, bio-pesticides and bio-stimulants, self-driving tractors, wireless sensors, nanotechnologies, urban farming with fully closed small glasshouses and LED technology, and the use of big data and artificial intelligence in agriculture, just to give a handful of examples.

However, this will fail to meet the full potential of increased export value for New Zealand from the primary sector unless the next links in the value chain are strengthened and the value-added processing of food component is improved.

FoodHQ is focused on this part of the chain by bringing the smartest food science minds together to enhance and accelerate the ability of New Zealand to be at the forefront of R&D innovation in targeted areas and close the gaps in the ecosystem between new ideas and consumer ready products backed by world class research.

In the Emerging Growth Opportunities in New Zealand Food & Beverage Report 2018, the New Zealand government has outlined the growth opportunities in the country’s food and beverage sector, which generates US$29 billion in exports and represents over half of the country’s merchandise export earnings.

According to the report, New Zealand is making good use of its proximity to Asian markets, good climate, and fertile soils, but opportunities to drive growth with further technological innovation are still plentiful. If the New Zealand food and beverage sector can fill the ecosystem gaps, collaborate and successfully position itself as a global leader in innovation, it will be able to lead global food and agriculture disruptions and make the future of all people on this planet brighter.

In my previous role I was fortunate enough to hang around some experienced entrepreneurs and corporate leaders who regularly told me to “follow the smart money”.  I came to interpret this as meaning that venture capitalists and their investment bets offer us a window to the future as they attempt to peer around the corner to see what’s coming next in terms of industry disruption and identifying growth sectors.

Already, venture capitalists from around the world are investing billions of dollars in technological innovations in the agriculture & food sector that have the potential to disrupt every link of the food chain and address the challenge of how we’ll feed the exploding world population in the future.

The number of venture capital investments into agriculture and food skyrocketed in 2013 and the trend doesn’t look to be slowing.

“In New Zealand, where agriculture and food contribute more than US$37 billion to the economy annually, investment opportunities are abundant. “It is a great location for bringing the best of new agritech from around the globe,” says Arama Kukutai, a partner in American venture capital investment company Finistere. “Agritech is seeing a new apogee in investment and New Zealand stands to profit from this megatrend where US$85 billion was invested in venture capital in 2017, and over US$1.5billion in agritech.”

The depth and wealth of experience that FoodHQ represents in R&D in food science clustered in one location has the potential to attract some smart money and solidify our relevance globally in adding value to food production.

Every time I question whether smart money really can be attracted to fund innovative ideas and disruptive technologies in little old Palmerston North, I need only open my office door and right across the hallway is Biolumic who recently announced the close of $5 million in Series A financing led by Finistere Ventures.

The food and agriculture industries are facing significant challenges to meet demand and massive investments are being made to turn these challenges into opportunities to make the entire food chain more efficient. In New Zealand we need to collaborate, accelerate value added processing and collectively put our hand up to signal we want a slice of the global action.

I think it is an incredibly exciting time for the New Zealand food industry as we collectively navigate these national and international changes. FoodHQ CEO Dr. Abby Thompson and I look forward to sharing more of our ideas, partner events and our FoodHQ initiatives with you over the coming months.

Introducing FoodHQ Programme Manager, Amos Palfreyman.

Amos Palfreyman is passionate about the Manawatu’s potential to become an international food science destination, and he has a unique background to help make it happen.

For the past five years Amos was the Economic and Trade Affairs Advisor at the Embassy of Israel in Wellington. His role focused on connecting and encouraging technology driven businesses in Israel and New Zealand to work together for mutual benefit. He was curious as to what New Zealand could learn from working with Israel, a nation that punches above its weight in terms of entrepreneurship and technological innovation. His role in economic and trade development included NZ trade visits to Israel and culminated in several successful technology joint ventures in the agriculture, medical and energy sectors.

One of these involved a collaboration between Nelson based company, NZ Supreme Health and Algatech an Israeli partner to scale their micro-algae to commercial levels before returning it to New Zealand for the extraction of astaxanthin. The algae is grown in Nelson and was originally developed in partnership with FoodHQ partner Cawthron Research Institute who worked with Supreme Health to successfully establish a pilot scale facility and ultimately an Astaxanthin export market.

Another important aspect of the role was the facilitation of NZ trade visits to Israel like the May 2016 fact finding mission led by Simon Moutter MD of Spark which included the now Minister of Trade David Parker. Their mission was to identify why Israel was so successful at creating and growing technology start-ups and what could New Zealand learn.

Some of the key learnings from that trip was that despite New Zealand developing innovative technologies on par with anything in Israel there was a comparatively weak level of commercialisation of these technologies and that as a nation New Zealand was not effective at collaborating.

Amos says a significant difference between the two countries, identified in a 100-page report following the visit, was the way Israel embraced entrepreneurship as a nation and specifically their culture around failure.

“New Zealand investors want to back proven winners, but Israeli investment funds often don’t invest in someone who has just had success. They actually want to invest in someone who has failed and demonstrated they have learnt from the failing.”

Israel’s collaborative and easy to navigate start up ecosystem and the willingness of the Israeli government to de-risk private venture investment combined with a nationally celebrated entrepreneurial culture has resulted in it becoming a world leading technology and research destination.

Amos’ most recent visit to Israel was in May 2018 when he was fortunate enough to join a delegation of senior NZ and Australian agriculture executives led by Fonterra’s Miles Hurrell with a focus on learning lessons in agritech and foodtech from the “startup nation” ecosystem.

The visit and the incredible opportunity for NZ recognised in the subsequent report resulted in  Amos’ career coming full circle two months later in July 2018 when he joined FoodHQ, just a few hundred metres away from Fonterra Research and Development Centre where he first began work in the sensory division over 10 years ago.

“Food technology runs in my blood with my father Kevin being a stalwart of the dairy science community and my brother Daniel about to begin his Master in Food Technology at Massey University.”

He has a deep interest in food, a genuine desire to contribute to NZ Inc and a commitment to seeing NZ reach it’s potential for increased export growth based on value added products. It’s also clear he has a deep belief in the the power of the FoodHQ partners to collaborate and make Manawatu a global food science destination.

“It’s really exciting to be working at the intersection of scientists and food. If you have a great idea for something about food and want to connect with some experts in the field doing cool things, FoodHQ is where you come.”

AgResearch/Riddet Institute Dairy Industry Workshop

WHEN: 29-30 August 2018
WHERE: Palmerston North

The inaugural Dairy Industry Workshop is being held in Palmerston North on the 29th & 30th August 2018. AgResearch Ltd and the Riddet Institute are jointly hosting the Workshop to bring the post-farm gate dairy industry and science community together as there currently isn’t a forum in which this can happen.

The purpose of the workshop will be to disseminate information on what pre-competitive research is being undertaken, and to provide a forum to discuss science and industry wide issues.

The format will be a mix of seminar and breakout sessions on specific topics. Seminar session titles are outlined in the attached flyer. We have secured three renown international speakers to headline the workshop and we will be releasing more information on the speakers and detailed programme in the coming weeks.

You can register for the conference at https://dairy-industry-workshop.lilregie.com

Note that due to the venue there will be a limit on the total number of attendees.

For further information please download the full programme here or contact Tania Brown on 06 351 8033 or tania.brown@agresearch.co.nz

3 Plates of Food

Free Public Talk

Protein! It’s the powerhouse nutrient for the body. But when it comes to the best nutritional bang for buck, which is better—animal or plant sourced? It’s a hot topic today with the growing trend in plant-based diets. Professor Teresa Ann Davis (Professor of Pediatrics, USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine) cuts through the myths to examine why animal- sourced protein is needed in a healthy diet.

WHERE: Spiers Centre, Palmerston North Boys’ High School

WHEN: Tuesday 28 August 2018