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Up country: the New Zealand companies changing the face of farming and food production

With global population growth, water scarcity and the desire for food  security high on the list of political concerns, the agtech sector is booming  and attracting plenty of investment. Here are some of the local companies improving the way we produce food. 

Biolumic 

Biolumic, based in Palmerston North, has pioneered Smart Light Array Technology to increase crop yields, traits and resistance to pests and disease when applied to seeds, seedlings, and plants.

The company’s UV lighting technology is also able to infuse plants with certain flavour and colour profiles prior to harvest resulting in tastier and better-looking (i.e. more marketable) produce.   

Successful trials undertaken by Biolumic in New Zealand, Australia and the US with some of the largest lettuce, basil and broccoli growers and processors have shown its technology improves yields by between 10 and 26 percent and makes them hardier and bigger.

Bioconsortia 

A New Zealand company based in the US, BioConsortia is developing a library of highly effective plant microbes for increasing agricultural yields and understanding how microbes that live inside plant tissues directly affect the way a plant survives and grows.

The company has developed a revolutionary Advanced Microbial Selection (AMS) process for crop trait enhancement and its BioDiscovery platform holds one of the world’s largest collections of pre-screened and characterised micro-organisms for crop trait enhancement comprising over 45,000 microbes.

The company has a pipeline of products for increased fertilizer use, growth improvement and other beneficial crop traits. 

Compac

Compac Sorting Equipment is a leading supplier of sorting and packing solutions to the global produce industry. 

Compac sorters use digital cameras and software to analyse and sort fresh produce based on weight, size, shape, colour and surface blemishes and then delivers it to the packing areas. 

The technology also provides traceability solutions to packhouses where produce can be tracked from its orchard block across the packing line and into bags, while records are stored for recall.

Robotics Plus 

Tauranga-based Robotics Plus specialises in developing autonomous fruit packing robots for the apple and kiwifruit industry. The automated apple packing machines place apples in trays "colour up" with the stems aligned, using sensors, software and electromechanical technology, and are expected to remove some of the monotonous work that apple packhouses find difficult to staff.  

The company is also developing automated fruit pollination and harvesting technology and a self-driving vehicle for orchards. Robotics Plus has five automated packers operating in Nelson and has plans to enter the United States and other markets.

Hivemind 

Hivemind develops beehive monitors that track hive weight, humidity, temperature, location and remotely monitor hives from anywhere. Its remote hive monitoring systems enable beekeepers to remotely track and optimise hive productivity (honey production), hive health and increase security. 

Hivemind’s flagship system involves scales that sit under a hive and a satellite or wireless hub – the “brains of the operation” – that measure the hive’s weight, a key indicator determining whether the nectar and honey flow is on. 

CropLogic

Christchurch-based precision agriculture firm CropLogic is built on technology developed over 30 years out of Plant & Food Research. It gathers data via low-powered wireless networks and satellite systems from in-field sensors and provides growers with real-time prescriptions for the application of crop inputs. 

 CropLogic, which recently closed its $2 million pre-IPO capital raising, has conducted field trials with potatoes in China, USA, Australia and New Zealand with PepsiCo, Lamb Weston, Simplot and McCain Foods. And it’s set to move into other commodities like corn, wheat, soybean and cotton. 

Agrigate 

Agrigate is a joint venture between Fonterra and the Livestock Improvement Corporation that provides New Zealand dairy farmers with a digital dashboard that aggregates data from multiple sources to enable farmers to make better on-farm decisions about herd and pasture management.

Agrigate assesses the interaction between different on-farm factors, such as weather conditions, animal health, milk production, financials, pasture cover and fertiliser applications, and allows farmers to benchmark those factors on a scale they haven’t been able to in the past. 

Farmshed Labs

Breeding cows isn’t art, it’s science. And Farmshed Labs’ wearable tech is making that science easier than ever before. Flashmate is a heat detection device that lets farmers know when their female cows are in heat and available for breeding. The device is attached to a cow on their right flank just below the hip bone, and when they are in heat, it flashes red for about 26 hours, giving farmers time to get things happening on the calving front.

Ubco 

The Ubco 2x2 electric bike was first launched at Fieldays in 2014, and was initially designed as a two-wheel utility vehicle that could replace farm motorbikes due to being quiet (it doesn’t disturb lifestock), light (easily transportable and lifted over fences) and easy to maintain (no clutches or chains). The demand for a recreational, on-road version from users and industries such as tourism and law enforcement has meant another version of the bike is in the works.

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