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Wanted: Future-focused agritech and agribusiness ideas for the 2018 Fieldays Innovation Awards

Calling all agricultural inventors and innovators: entries are now open for the 2018 National Agricultural Fieldays Innovation Awards.

The Innovation Awards showcases innovation across several industry areas: dairy and drystock farming, horticulture, information and communication technology, cloud and mobile-based software, animal health and genetics, water and waste management, environment and clean-tech, animal and farm management, farm safety, and leading research. This year also marks Fieldays’ 50th year of showcasing agriculture and innovation to rural and urban audiences.

 This year’s theme is the “Future of Farming.” The idea is that visitors and exhibitors will have discussions about what the future of farming means to them.

Fieldays Innovations event manager Gail Hendricks says they’re encouraging entries from small, grassroots innovations through to the larger, international innovations. “We love seeing how widespread our entries are, and have always encouraged the small, grassroots entries just as much as the bigger, more established ones. Even though an entry might be ‘small’, it can still make a big impact.”

Hendricks says the entries are housed in Fieldays’ Innovations Centre, with entrants able to access free advice from lawyers, patent and trademark attorneys, accountants and product development consultants.

She adds the Fieldays’ theme of the “Future of Farming” ties in perfectly with the forward-looking Innovation Awards.

“Originally, the Fieldays Innovation Awards were about widgets, gadgets and devices to improve farming, but more and more we’re seeing entries that play to the agritech factor and really take into account how science and technology continues to advance agriculture.”

Awards judge Nigel Slaughter – who’s also CEO of Hamilton-based molecular extraction company Ligar – says the judges aren’t necessarily looking for the most-clever, hi-tech of inventions. “We’re looking for entries that show they’re ahead of the curve, have seen a gap in the market and shown that their product is useful for its intended audience,” he says. “We want to see the thought processes behind the innovation. Have they seen where their product is going to be useful? Is it going to save the user time or money? Have they taken into account the feedback they received during trials?

“Sometimes innovators spend a good deal of time explaining their own thought processes in getting a new product off the ground, and while that’s an important part of the journey, we want to see how they’ve engaged with their audience and incorporated their users’ feedback into their final prototype.”

Slaughter points to the winner of the 2016 international innovation and agribusiness category, Fraser Smith and Matt Yallop’s heat detection device FlashMate, as a good example of a product that had its end user in mind. “Fraser and Matt spent a lot of time with farmers to get their product right, and they made sure to show that in their entry.”

FlashMate is a small plastic dome housing touchscreen electronics that accurately detects the activity associated with cows that are “in heat,” with a flashing red light signalling to the farmer it’s ready for insemination.

Smith says he and Yallop trialled FlashMate on several farms in New Zealand, spending time with farmers to get a full understanding of one of the huge challenges they face – knowing exactly when a cow is in heat. And before someone laughs it off as a device that essentially helps farmers know when a cow is capable of getting pregnant, consider this: there’s serious money involved. As in many millions of dollars’ worth.

“Detecting heat is the single biggest controllable factor that makes the biggest impact on farm profitability,” says Smith. “DairyNZ have said that even a small lift in detection rates of 15 percent would add an extra $300 million to New Zealand’s GDP, so there was a big economic factor at play in developing this product.”

Since winning the innovation award, Smith and Yallop have taken FlashMate to the world. It is currently sold in Australia, Ireland, the UK, South Africa and in Southeast Asia, with interest coming in from around the world. Smith is currently overseas instigating research projects with the University of Cambridge in the UK and Teagasc, Ireland’s agriculture and food development authority.

“The Fieldays Innovation Awards gave us instant international recognitions,” says Smith. “Being able to say that FlashMate had just won the supreme award for innovation at the National Agricultural Fieldays was a great way to get international conversations started on the commercial front.”

But FlashMate’s Fieldays entry is from a couple of years ago now. Entries for this year’s Fieldays Innovation Awards are now open, and close at 5pm on May 1.

There are three main categories: the Fieldays Prototype Award, Fieldays Launch NZ Award and Fieldays International Award. Other awards also up for grabs include Fieldays Young Inventor of the Year, Vodafone Innovation in Technology Award of the Year, Locus Research Innovation Award, the Crowe Horwath Agri Innovation Award, the Tompkins Wake IP and Commercialisation Award and the Origin Intellectual Property Award.

There are quite a few benefits to entering. For example, Innovation Awards entrants have access to business advisors, legal experts, and product development consultants at a dedicated space in the Innovations Centre called The LAB, powered by Locus Research. In addition, they have a chance to meet with potential investors at an invite-only evening hosted by Enterprise Angels – Fieldays Innovations Capital.

The 2018 Fieldays Innovation Awards are sponsored by Vodafone, Sprout, Callaghan Innovation, Locus Research, Tompkins Wake, Crowe Horwath, Enterprise Angels and Origin. 

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