Published: 21 FEB 2023

AgriTech NZ is a key forum for agritech innovators, startups, researchers, enablers, investors and agencies. We discuss investment with CEO Brendan O’Connell.

What were your main reasons for setting up AgriTech NZ? 

We were established to orchestrate the definitive ecosystem of researchers, innovators, investors, enablers and agencies across the agritech industry in New Zealand. We nurture a sense of identity across the players in the sector in New Zealand and make it easy for international partners and government to interact with us.  

New Zealand is a small market, but it’s a smart one: our farmers and growers are very well connected to our researchers and innovators and tech adoption is good. We represent a contact point for shared interests, ranging from economic development and research through to venture capital and international growth, and we can help advance the industry through advocacy.  

Some of our focus areas include talent and investment attraction. While investment coverage has improved, we believe there is still room for more choice of investment partners and investment propositions, such as ‘weightless’ software solutions, agrifood, equipment, and more. Having a range of investors will enable us to have more investment matches. As well as achieving high growth and greater depth in funding, we aim to help New Zealand entities think globally as early as possible. It’s hard to justify investment in agritech if you’re only targeting the local market. We work with agency and international partners to create a global focus and scope. 

What trends do you see in the agritech sector? Can you give examples of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland companies or collaborative ventures that are successfully capitalising on them? 

Brendan O'Connell
Brendan O'Connell, CEO, Agritech NZ

Agritech currently is targeting labour shortages and producing food in a warming climate. One company that’s been tackling these challenges – and operating globally from day one – is WayBeyond, who are pioneering the use of data and artificial intelligence to improve yield, quality and bottom-line with their farm management and prediction tools. That’s an approach we’ll see a lot of in the future. 

In terms of labour, Machines at Work is a startup developing after-market autonomous solutions for farm equipment. The company has partnered with Trimax and now they are mounting a big global drive.  

One tool that’s being adopted easily and widely by growers and farmers is finance and business management software, such as Figured’s platform for farm management accounting or Tātou’s workforce management solutions. 

Currently, New Zealand’s agriculture sector is feeding about 40 million people globally, but the pressure is on to boost production by 70% by 2050 to feed the world while also facing climate change. Given our relatively small scale on the global stage, can you explain the value of establishing a smart ecosystem here? 

As a small nation with a modest GDP, we alone are not going to feed the world – but we are a significant food producer, and our farmers are resilient and highly professional. Our ecosystem is compact and smart, with strong connections between the different players, so we can innovate fast. 

For instance, the government’s research institute Plant and Food Research has been driving entire industries via a value chain that extends from applying science to product development and on to commercialisation. Engender, which has been pioneering semen sexing in cattle, is a great example of using fundamental science (from the University of Auckland) to connect with industry and grow through international investment. 

The last couple of years have seen record investment in Aotearoa New Zealand agritech startups. What are the main attractions agritech offers to investors, particularly those offshore? 

Agritech answers the existential questions we need to address globally, such as food production and the climate crisis. But investors need to be aware of timing. When developing for seasonal operations, for instance, you need ‘patient’ capital which understands both the complexity of issues and the way in which the seasons and natural cycles determine the rate of progress. 

One of New Zealand’s great advantages is that it is counter-seasonal to, for instance, big markets like the US. This means people can test things down here and roll out later. FARM2050, for instance, is looking at accelerating large-scale nutrient trials in the southern hemisphere followed by fast-track development in the north, thus capitalising on two sets of spring data per year. 

How do you work with investors? 

Our AgriTech NZ membership includes universities, investor groups and banks as well as agribusinesses; we’re a complete ecosystem. We run events that bring investors and investees together, enabling them to meet up before doing business. And I want to stress that the business is not a transaction: it’s about forming a relationship that endures for the whole journey. 

How do you help international investors with an interest in the New Zealand agritech sector? 

We connect investors to all the regional centres, such as here in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland to Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wairarapa and throughout the South Island. We often work in collaboration with Callaghan Innovation, and we’re also working with our counterparts in Australia. We partner with AusAgritech making joint presentations on what’s happening in the sector, and we work with AgriFutures, a government-funded group that invests in research, innovation and leadership to strengthen rural industries. 

The ‘smart ecosystem’ is a viable handle for New Zealand’s agriculture sector: we can pull together and move forward much faster than many others. This is a fantastic place to be developing agritech, and Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland is a portal to the rest of the country. 

Find out more

Contact Investment Specialist Yan Zhang to learn more about investment opportunities in agritech in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, New Zealand.

DISCLAIMER: This article provides general information on potential investment opportunities in Auckland and is not intended to be used as a substitute for financial advice. The views and opinions expressed are those of the relevant author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Tātaki Auckland Unlimited disclaims all liability in connection with any action that may be taken in reliance of this article, and for any error, deficiency, flaw or omission contained in it.