What's new in agritech?

Zeddy agritech solar power panel

11 July 2018

Lisa Marcroft / Customer Manager / New Zealand, NZTE

More than 130,000 people flocked to the 2018 New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays to learn, watch, feast, negotiate and purchase. What was more apparent than ever before, and fitting for this year’s theme (the Future of Farming), was the breadth of emerging digital technologies for livestock farmers, and the range of innovative high-value proteins. 

As farming faces growing demands, these emerging products are designed to enhance productivity and profitability, and thus make it easier for farmers to do better for their teams, their animals, their farms and the environment.

And I am delighted to see that a number of these new products are private-public sector collaborations, combining the best of both worlds to design products that should really make a difference. 

Here is a snapshot of some of the emerging technologies that caught the attention of the NZTE team

Virtual ‘fences’  

  • Australian company Agersens is partnering with New Zealand's government-owned research institute AgResearch and fencing and security company Gallagher to develop and grow eShepherd, which allows farmers to control virtual fencing via a smartphone. The system uses a collar and an app to enable farmers to fence, move, or monitor their livestock from anywhere, anytime. The farmer sets up a virtual ‘fence’ – really just a line on an electronic map - anywhere on their property. This links to an electronic collar on the animal’s neck. As the animal approaches the 'fence' it gets an audio cue. If it continues, it gets a mild electric pulse. If it walks through the fence, the device herds it back.  The farmer can move the virtual fence without manual labour or physical products.  Uses include strip grazing, to manage animal demand and forage supply, and excluding stock from streams in winter, to protect waterways from effluent and trampling.  AgResearch will be first in the world to trial virtual fencing in New Zealand’s unique hill country environment, starting in the Waikato this winter. 
  • New Zealand ag-robotics company Halter has developed a solar-powered, GPS-enabled intelligent neck band that uses sensory cues to direct cows.  The technology enables farmers to shift and manage their cows remotely with a few swipes of a screen. Uses include drafting, break feeding, shifting between pastures, monitoring for health problems and more.  Halter recently closed an $8 million Series A capital raise from Silicon Valley investors to commercialise its technologies. While the company has plans to go global, the product will initially be offered in the Waikato.  Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck is a Director of Halter.   

Robots and lasers

Robert and Lasers

C-Dax's pasture robot delivers high-quality information to guide farm decisions

  • Massey University and New Zealand company C-Dax have designed a robot that measures the quantity of pasture on the farm, to free up farmers’ time, save labour costs and prevent over-fertilisation.  Farmers map a path and leave the C-Dax pasture robot to finish the job precisely and autonomously.  The four-wheeled-drive vehicle boasts two electric motors that charge in dock overnight. It uses 3D cameras and GPS to navigate.  The robot will now be field-tested. 
  • Drone-mounted lasers could be used to zap weeds that are posing a billion-dollar problem for New Zealand agriculture.  “The idea is to mount specialist cameras on the drone that can first identify the weeds based on their unique chemical signatures and how they reflect light, and precisely map their locations using GPS,” says Dr Kioumars Ghamkhar, programme leader at AgResearch.  “From there, we think smart spraying (rather than systemic and non-targeted use of chemicals), or the right kind of laser mounted on the drone, could hone in and damage the weed. We know there are lasers now available that could be suitable, and that they are extremely accurate, so if lasers are used, it would also avoid damaging the useful plants around the weed.” The Map n Zap programme is a collaboration between AgResearch, Auckland and Michigan universities, and New Zealand technology firm Redfern Solutions

Alt protein

Alt Protein

Professor Richard Archer of Massey University, with beef flavouring samples on the right

  • Massey University is developing beef flavourings for plant protein meat analogues (fake meat).  “The concept is to take some of the lower value meat by-products and crank them up into high performing flavour ingredients for plant protein,” says Professor Richard Archer.  Flavourings will be exported to countries with large-scale plant protein production.  This is one of several projects under Food Industry Enabling Technologies, a six-year, $18 million collaboration between New Zealand research institutes, industry and government.

Paleo Bread

Home St. cricket bread – a crowd pleaser at Fieldays 

  • Auckland company Bakeworks is selling bread made from almonds, tumeric and protein packed cricket flour under its Home St brand.  With six grams of protein in two slices, the bread is being marketed to paleo enthusiasts.  “Yup cricket flour, don’t bug out... it’s the wave of the future,” says Bakeworks. 
  • There are significant further opportunities for New Zealand to expand and develop plant-based protein sources, according to a new study by Plant & Food Research called Opportunities in Plant-Based Foods: Protein.  Researchers highlighted New Zealand’s capability in protein research, materials isolation and engineering, as well as food product development and sensory science.  Plant crops that show potential as sources of high quality protein include alfalfa, amaranth, cereals, kiwifruit seeds, oilseeds, potato, tree nuts, and wrinkled peas. 

High value F&B 

High Value F&B

Rob Ford, GM Technology and Innovation at Pamu, fielding enquiries about deer milk at Fieldays

  • New Zealand can’t feed the world but we are experts at producing high quality food.  One example of this is deer milk – a high-end dairy alternative with low environmental impact.  Pāmu, the premium food brand of government-owned farm company Landcorp, launched deer milk into New Zealand restaurants and hotels in June, and is now looking towards international markets.  Rob Ford, GM Technology and Innovation, says Pāmu deer are hand reared so easy to milk.  Maintaining trust with the animals is essential, which requires a huge focus on animal welfare.  The brand’s expansion into deer milk won it an innovation award at Fieldays.  


Zealong's Transformer - co-developed with French vineyard manufacturer. The company has had interest from New Zealand winegrowers and orchardists

  • New Zealand luxury tea brand Zealong debuted the world’s first tea farming machine. The custom-designed hydraulic tractor is designed to automate jobs on an organic tea plantation.  Its nickname ‘The Transformer’ is inspired by its system of moving parts and attachments.

Internet of Things  

  • Agrigate combines key data on one, easy-to-use online dashboard.  By tracking on-farm factors such as weather conditions, animal health, milk production, financials, pasture cover and fertiliser applications, farmers can observe what effect each factor has on the others and plan accordingly.  They can also benchmark their performance against other similar farms on a scale that they haven’t been able to in the past.  Agrigate is designed to help farmers make faster and smarter decisions via a laptop, tablet or smartphone.  It is currently used by around 10,000 farming families in New Zealand, and may go global in the future.  The New Zealand companies behind Agrigate – Fonterra, LIC, Ravensdown and Figured – are continually refining the technology based on farmers’ feedback. 
  • Levno’s system uses GPS sensors and an online dashboard to monitor milk vat temperature and volume, fuel levels and water usage.  An alert via a smartphone gives early warning of faults and problems, in real time - saving money, labour and hassle.   
  • Zeddy automatic dry feeders read an animal’s RFID tag to feed it an individualised diet when it walks up to the feeder.  The system can feed up to 250 animals per machine, and is solar-powered for fully outdoor use.  Data is fed back to a tablet, PC or smartphone to see consumption at a herd or individual animal level. This helps to avoid feed wastage, spot health or feeding problems, and to get more consistent weight ratio across herds. Zeddy works for calves, cattle, deer and goats.

Precision Ag

Te Pari Products displayed the latest iteration of its Revolution electronic drench gun

  • This year, Te Pari Products added Bluetooth to its Revolution electronic drench gun – allowing it to connect to electronic weigh scales and instantly determine the right dosage for each animal as it steps off the weigh platform. Te Pari says the gun not only reduces the problem of drench resistance, but creates on-farm savings that can add up to potentially thousands of dollars per farm per year. Te Pari has picked up six Fieldays Innovation Awards going back to 1981, including a Grass Roots Innovation Award in 2014 for an earlier version of the Revolution drench gun.

Precision ag

  •  Hyperceptions allows farmers to get their farm information right down to one square metre. A remote scanning tool precisely identifies effective areas of vegetation on a farm in one flyover. Hyperspectral imaging detects the unique signature of objects or land areas, based on a visible, near-infra-red and short-wave reflection scanned by the sensor from a plane.  This allows farmers to extensively map the land and break down the farm into productive blocks for variable applications. Hyperceptions was developed by Massey University and Ravensdown, who are forging a road into additional applications for hyperspectral analysis in forestry, horticulture, food safety and bio-security. 
  • A plantain that started life as a common weed is reducing nitrogen leaching on livestock farms.  Research by Agricom, alongside Lincoln and Massey universities and government-owned science company Plant & Food Research, found that, when consumed by cows, the plantain Ecotain reduces nitrogen leaching from the urine patch – an area containing high concentrations of nitrogen. It does this by increasing the volume of cows’ urine, which dilutes the concentration of nitrogen; reducing the total amount of dietary nitrogen in animals’ urine; delaying the process of turning ammonium into nitrate in the urine patch; and restricting the accumulation of nitrate in soils growing Ecotain.  Ecotain won an innovation award at the Fieldays.

Water efficiency

  • A new effluent treatment system could save 42 billion litres of freshwater a year on New Zealand farms alone - the equivalent of 17,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools - through the reuse of safer water for dairy yard washing.  The system is installed between the dairy shed and the effluent pond, and binds effluent particles together to settle them out from the water.  The separation process kills up to 99% of microorganisms such as E. coli, and reduces smell.  This transforms “green water” so that it can be confidently reused as yard wash.  Ravensdown and Lincoln University piloted ClearTech and are developing it further with dairy industry stakeholders.  

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