Five take-homes from Fieldays
With more than 130,000 people visiting over four days, the annual Fieldays at Mystery Creek in Hamilton is billed as the largest agribusiness event in the Southern Hemisphere. It has four pillars - innovation, education, technology and internationalisation. On its opening day I went in search of the first one - innovation, of the tech kind - and here are my five "take-homes" from the day.
1. Gaining traction as an agri-tech start-up takes time. While there were a number of new ideas on display in the Innovations Centre, the tech companies that had been around five or so years were the most instructive. A typical comment was that it took about three to five years to get a decent customer base. On Wednesday one tech vendor told me in the late afternoon that he'd sold more product that one day, then at the four previous Fieldays combined.
2. Environmental applications are hot. That's according to Simon Young from Callaghan Innovation, who was the guide on its Future of Farming Innovation Tour, which consisted of eight companies, the majority of which were providing ways to collect and analyse data from the milk tank, fuel tank, animal feeding, pasture, and so on. Young says the successful apps do more than help farmers comply with regulation, they need to benefit the farmer's bottom line. An example of this was when we visited the Te Pari stand to learn about its Dosing Gun, which connects with a smart phone and most Bluetooth livestock scale systems to provide an auto calibrated dosing system. The gun costs around a $1000 and a member of the tour group asked how long it would take to get an ROI. Farmers want to know the value of everything.
3. Subscription business models are just as popular in Agritech as in other tech sectors. While the Te Pari Dosing Gun had a fixed cost, the Dosing Gun App was sold on subscription. At Knode, an IoT solution built on the SigFox network, measured the level of water tanks, while Levno, which monitored fuel, milk and water, also has a SaaS pricing structure.
4. Data is for customers only. While not a comprehensive survey by any means, I asked a number of tech vendors if they were doing anything with the data they collected - other than returning it farmers via applications. A couple of them looked a bit surprised that I had asked such a question and were quick to point of out that the data belonged to the farmer.
5. A robot! C-Dax, which specialises in pasture management systems, had on a display the latest version of its Pasturemeter, which is designed to travel over paddocks collecting data. Models to date have been attached to farm vehicles. But, with assistance from a team of Massey University engineering students, and after 18 months R&D, they have created a robot version. While 44% of dairy farmers currently have access to a Pasturemeter, only 22% are getting the full value of it because you are supposed to use it every five days. The catch is that it takes around 7-9 hours to cover around most farms. Hence the appeal of the robot. They're aiming to get it into market early next year.
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