Ag+Food Tech has become something of a buzzword in recent years, with digital technologies from big data to robotics developed to enable better on-farm and off-farm decision making in agriculture and food production around the world.
Grapegrowers and winemakers, along with producers in the broader agricultural sector, are often at the forefront of adopting technology to help make decisions and solve problems. However, for producers looking to develop their own ideas into a product, the path has been less clear. Until now.
Dr Christine Pitt is the co-founder of a world-first farmer entrepreneurship program called Farmers2Founders (F2F). Alongside fellow innovator, AgThentic’s Sarah Nolet, Christine devised the program to shine a light on the enormous potential held by primary producers who foster big agtech ideas, but have nowhere to take them. As the CEO of Food Futures Company, Dr Pitt knows all too well the promises and subsequent shortcomings of start-ups developing food and fibre innovations without consulting with producers first – and thought it was time to flip the status quo and go straight to the source.
‘Primary producers have a wealth of knowledge with on-ground expertise’, Dr Pitt said. ‘Sarah and I have worked together on many initiatives where it was clear to us how innovative producers are. They also have lot of problems that need solving, but there’s a gap between what challenges they’re experiencing and what technologies are being developed; F2F hopes to bridge this gap.’
The program will be rolled out across Australia with free ideation workshops initially held in 15 regional locations, linking big-thinking producers to movers and shakers in the ag+food tech space.
‘Access to mentors and coaching is invaluable when developing new products’, Dr Pitt said. Growers will be given access to the latest technologies, learning how to tailor a business model for new products, to launch in an ever-changing global market.
‘It can be so hard to wrap your head around what is even possible now’, she continued. ‘Until now the ag and food sector hasn’t fostered an innovation development program tailored specifically to producers, that equips them to act as frontline innovators. We want to help launch our producers to the next level.’
The program has received support from major stakeholders including Wine Australia and fellow research and development corporations Meat and Livestock Australia, Grains Research and Development Corporation, Australian Wool Innovation and AgriFutures Australia; organisations that are keen to see what talent might be discovered and helped to flourish.
‘Changing global conditions in agriculture are creating a fantastic opportunity for our food and fibre industry in Australia, and we want to make sure that producers have every opportunity to contribute their experience and play a key role’, Dr Pitt continued. ‘We know there are producers who are ready to step forward to develop new technologies, new value chains and new products and we wanted to create a program that was designed specifically for them.’
The workshops will funnel producers towards two different streams; AgTech Innovators or FoodTech and Value Chain Innovations. ‘These are venture creation streams for producers who have a problem and an idea that they want to develop and market’, she said. ‘Selected producers will then have the chance to join an accelerator program to get them in front of investors with the scope to launch a business after the program.’
The program will also cater for those producers who don’t want to be a founder.
'We also have a Tech Trial stream for producers who have fantastic ideas and expert knowledge but don’t want to start a business themselves. We can then put them in touch with the researchers and developers who are building the technology in that area, and make sure it’s actually going to work when it gets on farm.’
It’s a program with some big outcomes for those involved. ‘We’d love to see more producers high up in the ag and foodtech space, bringing new, exciting and highly-valuable products to market. This means teaching them the tech language and linking them with experts who have the know-how to get it done’, Dr Pitt said. ‘This alone will solve lots of on-farm issues, but will also unveil new talent and give participants the chance capitalise on and commercialise new technologies. Everybody wins.’
Grapegrowers and winemakers with budding Ag+Food Tech ideas are invited to attend one of the Farmers2Founders workshops across the country. Upcoming sessions include:
- Gippsland, 22 May 2019
- Bendigo, 18 June 2019
- Wagga Wagga, TBC
- Maroochydore, TBC
- Adelaide, TBC
- Perth, TBC
For more information, visit www.farmers2founders.com.