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Reframing the ‘down under’ narrative: Reflections from World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit

More than 2300 agrifood businesses, technology giants, startups, corporates, research institutions and investors gathered in San Francisco in March for the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit – and AgriFutures growAG.  was on the ground to make new connections, David Lord, Manager Engagement, growAG., reflects on the experience and what it means for the Australian agritech sector. 

Growing Global panel in discussion at evokeᴬᴳ⋅ 2024, just prior to World Agritech

For the growAG. team, attending the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit was a fact-finding mission to connect with ecosystem builders, corporates and research institutions that could be potential partners for Australian innovation, but also sources of innovation and technology capable of addressing Australian problems.

There is so much innovation capacity and potential market opportunity across USA and Canada and increasingly South America. How can we engage strategically in these different markets?

1. Casting our net further afield

Instead of trying to ‘boil the ocean’ we identified key regions, industries, enablers of innovation discovery and commercialisation where we believe a relationship could be mutually beneficially and held meetings.

growAG. met with several Universities and industry support groups from California, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, New York State and Canada, and a range of complementary groups from Saskatchewan and around Calgary, in the Province of Alberta. 

The Calgary Economic Development Corporation, in particular, recognise Australia as similarly matched in the type of industries and the challenges facing agriculture, particularly climate and labour issues, but productivity is the first and last thing on the mind of investors, corporates and industry. So many synergies exist between Australia and the Canadian ecosystem, at times we seemed to be finishing one another’s sentences. But how do we make the most of this shared opportunity?

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There’s a great need to find areas where we can make it easier for groups to land in Alberta to scale up in Canada, but likewise from the rest of Canada into Australia.

Pictured: Engagement Manager, David Lord

Changing thoughts, boosting AgTech

We get it – why would we support groups coming in to compete with us, or local businesses leaving Australia for Canada? 

But the reality is for the Australian agritech sector to flourish, companies need to be able to scale globally and have a big enough market. But equally, international groups bring different know how, networks and access to capital that will in the long run, support local companies truly commercialise, whilst from the farmers perspective, giving them access to the best solutions available.

Engaging with those groups reinforced our understanding of the need that exists to develop a global innovation network that all different types of users can leverage. From a Canadian perspective, they want support connecting with Australian innovators, investors and industry. We will need to work together on how to make that mutually beneficial through collaboration, not competition. It’ll take time, but it’s encouraging.

growAG. met with a range of university tech transfer officers and a number of corporate innovation or open innovation scouts who are globally-focused and interested in our service offering. 

But there’s still a pervading attitude of ‘You’re down in Australia and we’re a global conglomerate or behemoth research institution, and I’m not that familiar with it’.

Which means we have some work to do. How do we take Australian, but also New Zealand opportunities over there? What can we do to remove some of the friction?

Power in person

A significant motivation for the week – besides the incredible effect of starting new conversations and getting in front of people after a long hiatus – was to connect with a number of groups growAG. has been working with for years.

Bayer CropScience, the largest ag chemical company in the world with a huge private spend on innovation and research, had a range of innovation challenges – and growAG. has been working to connect Australian researchers with those opportunities.

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Bayer is interested in working with growAG. to tap into the globally renowned agricultural innovation that could be applicable to other markets that Bayer engages in. Up until now, the size of the Australian market and our geography has kept us further down the list of Bayer’s priorities. That’s changing. 

Bayer has also moved Australia and New Zealand into the North American market. Its unclear what that means in the short term, but longer term, better access to new chemistry and traits would be a positive for farmers. For our researchers and agritechs, better access to their R&D, open innovation and investment teams could also be a bonus for commercialisation – JV, M&A and Investment.

Engagement Managers David Lord and Rebecca Bradford connecting in person

Making life easier on the guinea pig

A recurring theme across the week, and more generally when talking about scaleups entering Australia or North America, is how can we better support agritechs get commercial validation and testing sooner – investors signal it could be a selling point for earlier market entry from their portfolio companies, industry wants better validated tech in the paddock, not just a ‘smart farm’ or on a research station. We will explore these queries in our backyard, but look to groups in California, in the mid-west and across Canada to see what other models work.

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growAG. met with The Vine, and AgStart based in Woodlands, California. The Vine, an innovation network that enables connection across much of the California based agrifood tech ecosystem, will be a great ecosystem enabler for Australian agritechs, investors, research institutions and industry. Watch this space.

AgStart has an incubator-type program which has wet lab facilities and supportive systems for companies, just two hours from Silicon Valley. growAG. had featured a Bayer led AgStart program on the platform recently and was s in discussions on the potential for AgStart to make opportunities available to Australian groups and nurture them. We can’t compete with the advantages of that region – but we can find ways to leverage it.

The week emphasised the importance of establishing long term relationships with key sources of innovation and potential partners for Australian agritech. If we can make those foundational ecosystem enabling networks – including investors, corporates, research institutions, accessible, at scale then we can reframe the conversation from Australian agritech coming from ‘Down under’ to being front and centre.

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