Complicated, time-consuming IT systems that don’t necessarily meet farmers’ needs is holding back widespread agritech adoption, Elaine Fisher writes.

New Zealand’s agri-tech business needs to find ‘the best in breed’ among existing software systems and integrate them to provide farmers with the solutions they need, Farmax chief executive Gavin McEwen says.

“We are crap at integration and collaboration,” he told the opening session of the Farmax conference, ‘Advancing the New Zealand farm system of the future’ held online over two days in early March.

There was frustration among farmers that IT solutions were too complicated, too time-consuming and don’t necessarily meet their needs, and this was holding back widespread adoption, he said.

There were many reasons for lack of integration, including arrogance of some agri-tech companies who believed they had all the best ideas and protectionism among companies unwilling to share farmers’ data for fear of giving away a competitive advantage. An IT skills shortage in NZ and general apathy and lack of understanding of the value of integration were also factors.

“There is also a real lack of expertise on many agri-industry boards in New Zealand.” Openness and sharing data promoted innovation and benefited the consumer, he said. environmental, social and animal welfare standards.

“We can’t just say we are good, we have to show we are good and have the data to back that up. We can no longer think we are good buggers, and everyone loves us. They do love us but need the evidence that we are doing the things we claim to do.”

Much of the pressure was also coming from consumers who now take a holistic view and want to know that the wellness of humans, animals and the land is being taken care of.

“They want more digital connection, so data becomes really important, which is why integrated frameworks are so essential for New Zealand on the global stage.”

The effective use of data would help the agri-industry take back some control by providing consumers with information which fits their needs.

“We leave an excessive amount of money on the table because we are slow to respond to consumer issues. Let’s go out into the market in a more proactive way.”

 Julia Jones, head of analytics at NZX, told the conference that while farmers might feel overwhelmed with continuing requests, including from milk and meat companies and banks, for yet more information, that data was essential for the continuing success of their business and the wider NZ agri-sector. NZ exports 95% of its primary products and companies involved in the supply chain had obligations to demonstrate they were meeting requirements around