Lighting up innovation at the Fieldays

Felton Industries
Roger Marty: “We have an exciting opportunity of turning into an agritech company.’’

Two Auckland agritech companies supported by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) have received big boosts after winning innovation awards at the national Fieldays 2015, held in Hamilton in June.

Felton Industries, based in Glen Innes, collected the Tru-Test Grassroots Innovation award for its unique Ag Oxijet wash-down nozzle that reduces water usage and energy costs in dairy sheds.

South Auckland business, Farm Medix, was awarded the Launch NZ Innovation and Innovation Den titles for its simple, low cost and effective on-farm CheckUp Mastitis Diagnostic tool.

Felton Industries and Farm Medix made large strides in developing their innovative products with ATEED supporting them to successfully gain Callaghan Innovation research and development (R&D) grants.

Felton’s general manager Roger Marty says without ATEED and Callaghan Innovation’s assistance to make the R&D work on the Ag Oxijet feasible, it wouldn’t have happened and “we would just be ‘sticking to our knitting’ with showers and tapware.”

Roger says his team talked to hundreds of farmers at the Fieldays and had the opportunity to refine the offer before launching the product into the marketplace.

“We discussed the product with farmers in a non-threatening way – a lot of the products in the innovation area were not yet commercially available and we found the farmers were upfront with suggestions, knowing we weren’t trying to ‘sell’ them something.”

Roger says after listening to the farmers’ feedback, the company is now making the water-saving nozzles in anodized aluminum rather than injection-moulded plastic – to create extra functionality and appeal to the broader market.

The Ag Oxijet works by reducing the flow of water but maintaining the pressure and power. The water flows through very small holes and speeds up, creating a vacuum and competing with the air. The resulting energy makes the water drops bigger and causes them to fly further, washing off the effluent in milking sheds easily and hygienically.

Felton caught the judges’ eyes at the Fieldays because it had completed a lot of market research before perfecting its product.

Felton first obtained a Callaghan Innovation ‘Getting Started’ grant to undertake a world-wide intellectual property review, prior to undertaking its development project. Felton was subsequently awarded a $50,000 Callaghan Innovation R&D project grant that included completing a five-month field trial on 30 farms across the North Island between October 2013 and February 2014.

“We didn’t want to make claims till we had some robust facts and numbers,” says Roger. “We will complete a further six-week trial on a handful of farms later this year just to be sure of the water, energy and environmental savings before we launch the final product.”

At this stage Felton knows it can make compelling water savings of 20-40 per cent with its Ag Oxijet – savings that will bring smiles to farmers’ faces. Actual savings for each farm will vary by pump size and wash-down operation.

Roger says: “We would not have done the field trial and we wouldn’t have the product today without [ATEED’s] support. It led to a relationship with DairyNZ and AgResearch, and we now have an exciting opportunity of turning into an agritech company.”

Felton, established in 1968, now intends launching the Ag Oxijet by the end of the year and will be using its existing distribution channels to sell in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Czech Republic and Spain, as well developing new markets.

Armed with a Getting Started grant – secured through working with ATEED’s Local Economic Growth Manager Paul Robinson – Farm Medix tested and refined its mastitis diagnostic tool and is now selling thousands of the screening kits around the world.

Following its award-winning efforts at Fieldays, Farm Medix has picked up clients in Australia, United States, Canada, South America and New Zealand – including dairy processing and animal health companies, and farmers with big herds.

The kit contains a high-tech petri dish divided into four sections and tests for multiple strains of bacteria from one milk sample. Each kit can complete 10 tests and identifies the bacteria pathogen or bug associated with a case of mastitis.

Farm Medix co-director Natasha Maguire says standard testing of herds and daily milk supplies gives farmers an indication of their animals’ general health but the gap is the lack of information about the cause of the infections.

Rather than guessing, CheckUp is a measurement tool the produces fast results and the farmers can then work with their vets to establish the right treatments.

“Without measurement, farm-side treatment is frustrating,” says Maguire. “Some cases respond, some don’t and others came back as soon as treatment stops. Since the bug is not known, often the treatment is a guess and everyone wants to reduce the use of antibiotics.

“Our tool indicates which cases are likely to respond to treatment, which to give up on and which do not need intervention – in 20 per cent of cases the cow has already eradicated the pathogen herself,’’ says Maguire.

Farm Medix believes the screening kit will improve the on-farm management of mastitis and result in improved milk production volumes.

ATEED’s Paul Robinson says Farm Medix had a great idea and ATEED was delighted to help the company turn its innovative concept into reality – with the potential of making a big difference for the dairy industry.