Innovation Projects

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Rural Innovation Lab announces four rural innovation projects

Thursday 5th September 2019

A 14-year-old entrepreneur looking to provide broadband access to isolated, rural communities is one of four rural innovation projects to receive support from the Rural Innovation Lab, announced today.

Chairman of the Rural Innovation Lab, Mat Hocken, says the projects came from a wide call-out for people to submit ideas to help solve burning issues in the rural sector, as identified by farmers and growers.

“Farmers are facing a myriad of challenges. How do we move from our existing systems and succeed in an uncertain and challenging future? The best way to get ahead of disruption is to innovate”. 

 “The four innovation projects were selected from a pool of 50 applications, and also include a carbon calculator co-designed with farmers to estimate on-farm emissions, an online platform for farmer-to-farmer rentals and the development of a Māori agribusiness collective. We also have eighty third-year Massey University students working on a further ten projects.”

The Rural Innovation Lab was launched in Palmerston North in February 2019, with funding from the Provincial Growth Fund. Since then, it has engaged with over 150 farmers, growers and Māori landowners to identify the key challenges they face, and develop solutions.

The four projects will receive a package of support from the Rural Innovation Lab, including project facilitation from start-up and company development experts The Factory; access to partners within the Lab’s collaborative network, including Massey University, Microsoft and the ecentre; mentoring by leading farmers and growers in the Manawatu/Whanganui region; and a contribution to project costs. 

“We’ll be supporting the four project teams to engage with farmers and growers, to help shape their ideas and innovations; facilitating their development over the next few months; and providing them with mentoring by leading farmers in the region” said Mat. 

“When you have 14-year-old entrepreneurs who are creatively responding to challenges farmers and growers are facing, it’s a very exciting time to be in the primary sector.” 

The farmer and grower-led collaboration between Manawatu/Whanganui Farmers & Growers Innovation Collaborative, Massey University, The Factory, Microsoft, ecentre, local Māori farmers, Te Au Rangahau, Performance Beef Breeders NZ, and Federated Farmers received $400,000 of funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund.

The projects were announced at a celebration afternoon tea at Parliament this afternoon. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Communities, Hon Damien O’Connor, said the projects support the Government’s priority to assist thriving and sustainable regions.

“These projects exemplify the sort of enterprise and innovation that we want to see in our rural communities”, Mr O’Connor said. 

“The food and fibre industries are the backbone of New Zealand’s economy, delivering more than $45 billion in export revenue last year. The Coalition Government wants to help extract more value from what they already do, in a sustainable way that means our natural resources will be there for future generations. New ideas and technologies like these are essential if we want to keep our primary sector growing and maintain a competitive edge.”

Innovation Project Teams

Alex Stewart, a 14 year old entrepreneur from Whanganui with WombatNET - democratising affordable broadband access to rural farms and communities. 

Alex is utilising the latest rural networking technologies to provide a direct, dedicated, carrier class broadband connection to rural communities, at an affordable cost. His innovation assists the primary industries where inter-connectivity and/or internet connectivity is required i.e. data logging, data collection, remote monitoring, etc. Since establishing WombatNET, Alex has already run a small-scale trial on a rural property in Okoia where he beamed a farmer’s home broadband connection down to his woolshed, making high speed WiFi available at every corner of his farm. The RIL will support the Alex to purchase critical infrastructure, engage with the smartfarm farmer network to expand his reach, and to gather user feedback.

Jo Kerslake & Mark Teviotdale, AbacusBio - will work with local farmers to design a calculator to quantify emissions on farm.

AbacusBio will design a calculator that farmers could use to estimate emissions on-farm. The project will bring together Manawatu-Whanganui farmers, and AbacusBio’s data scientists and software developers, to firstly ask what farmers would like to know, before designing a calculator to further enable their understanding of emissions on their farm. RIL will connect AbacusBio with their extensive farmer network, and support farmer input into the design, supporting the grass roots development of farmer friendly tool.

Alexandra Tully & Scott Cameron, from the Manawatu - who are developing an online platform to provide an additional income stream to the primary industries, using current resources.

Alexandra and Scott have developed a concept for a peer-to-peer lending platform that creates a financial opportunity for farmers. The website and app-based platform will be designed in an "air bnb" style, enabling machinery owners to list items for their desired price, and generate income from unused gear. All machinery will be covered by an insurance policy, protecting both owners and users of gear. It will allow farmers to complete tasks that they have the skills for but lack the resources to do. Farm jobs can then be carried out in an efficient manner without the wait-time (and cost) associated with hiring contractors, and create connections between dairy, sheep, beef, cropping, and lifestyle farmers. The platform will be a wealth creating, productivity improving, and environmentally beneficial innovation that will have a positive financial impact across a range of businesses. The RIL will support Alexandra and Scott with getting the idea off the ground, including engaging with farmers & growers to validate concept, and developing a business model to enable the platform to be launched within the next couple of months.

Lisa Warbrick from Smith Warbrick & Associates, Wilson Karatea & Taruke Karatea from Te Reureu Valley - who will establish a Maori Agribusiness Collective in the Manawatu/Whanganui region. 

Lisa, Wilson & Taruke will develop a Maori Agribusiness Collective that provides a conduit for connection, information and participation of Maori landowners in the broader economic growth of the regional agribusiness sector. The project team has a vision of supporting a collective grassroots responsiveness to Maori Agribusiness potential. The project plans to develop and deliver a relationship and engagement programme that encourages and supports whanau to develop, grow and nurture their land utilisation in a sustainable way for future generations. The project aims to deliver, over four months, a comprehensive engagement plan that builds a central database of Māori landowners in the Whanganui & Manawatū region including land demographic, future aspirations, current challenges and succession constraints. This information will provide a foundation for targeted wrap around support. The RIL will support relationship engagement and co-ordination, as well as the development of ongoing communications channels.