Steven Saunders, Robotics Plus
With 10 billion mouths to feed by 2050, massive amounts of labour will be required to collect crops
Why would Yamaha Motor Company invest in a New Zealand horticulturalist? Grower Steven Saunders shared his journey from a common problem – labour issues – to his uncommon solution, giant robots.
Labour is rapidly becoming the biggest issue facing global agriculture, says the robotics entrepreneur. With 10 billion mouths to feed by 2050, massive amounts of labour will be required to collect crops – and farmers are an aging population.
Globally, this is seeing wage increases up to 43% in Washington State – with significant impact on production systems, especially on specialty crops that are labour-intensive.
In New Zealand, this is putting more pressure on bringing in labour from overseas – but what’s really needed, reckons Steven, is technology R&D investment.
Steven’s move from orchardist to entrepreneur started off with an orchard management company. He credits collaboration and a multidisciplinary team with the rest.
“I’ve built my whole life and whole career on partnerships and collaborations,” he says. “The right partners and team will be the difference between success and failure.”
“Collaboration means you don’t have to replicate work that’s already been done, and quickly get technology into the ecosystem.”
Government has also played a big role, he says, such as the MBIE science fund that enabled the development of science-based technology, and the support of NZTE in different markets and making introductions.
Becoming part of your market’s community is crucial, he says. It was through building a network of trust and relationships over 6 or 7 years, that led to the relationship with Yamaha, built through their aligned vision and community.
Robotics Plus has grown exponentially through this partnership, and by focussing on simple problems in the value chain: for example, their technology can scan a truck full of logs in 4 minutes instead of 18 – and can recreate the truck load in 3D for measurements and data collection.
Steven Saunders (Ngāti Ranginui), owner of Robotics Plus, has 35 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, and specialises in horticulture management consultancy, orchard ownership, global pollen production and robotic development
Kay Baxter, Koanga Institute
“After 30 years of seed saving and research, our heritage seeds now need to become the seeds we eat from”
It’s great to see the legendary Kay Baxter take the stage. Kay deserves better renown for her 30 years of work building the Southern Hemisphere’s most comprehensive heritage seed and plant bank – containing over 700 heritage vegetable lines, and over 300 New Zealand heritage fruit and berry lines.
She speaks against a rotating backdrop of stunning photos of colourful New Zealand fruits and vegetables quite unlike those we are used to seeing in our supermarkets.
What became the Koanga Institute started when Kay began off saving heritage seeds from apple trees in the 1980s – an interest that rapidly accelerated when she learned, soon after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that left a cloud over the security of Europe’s food supply, that New Zealand’s seed supply came almost entirely from the Northern hemisphere.
30 years later, and people are still sending in seed from novel heritage food plants.
Kay is here because after 30 years of seed saving and research, she believes Koanga’s heritage seeds now need to become the seeds we eat from. She’s interested in forming partnerships with growers who’d like to bring our heritage produce back to the mainstream.
Heritage seeds are genetically much more diverse, she explains. They are much more capable of growing to be nutrient dense, having co-evolved in living systems with microbes, fungi and minerals over thousands of years.
Kay’s interested in the connection between soil health, plant health and human health (something our Innovative Agricultural Microbiomes research is also investigating) and is a committed supporter of regenerative farming in New Zealand. Using regenerative practices, she’s taken the humus content of soil on the property she shares from 4% to 28% in just a few years.
Kay’s number 1 piece of advice for changing to regenerative agriculture? “Stop putting on nitrogen. Change your fertiliser.”
Kay Baxter is a co-founder of the Koanga Institute; read more about her here and here
Bailey Peryman, Cultivate Christchurch
Is regeneration of soils for food production as important as restoring fresh water quality in New Zealand?
93% of the audience votes Yes
Self-described ‘compost nerd’ Baily Peryman is co-founder of Cultivate Christchurch, an urban farm servicing CBD markets with fresh produce.
Uniquely, it’s also an employment training programme for young people, in which youth are paid as interns and work alongside team in an intensive urban agriculture style of farming.
The urban market garden is in an accessible environment for some of our most disadvantaged young people, says Baily.
“Premium organic psychotherapy” is how he describes it, resulting in good food and genuine social change.
“We need to give young people the opportunity to grow food, even just once, and it will flip a switch and give them a sense of purpose,” he says with obvious passion and pride. “90% of NZs population is urban-based. That’s where our next generation of food producers is going to come from.”
Bailey Peryman co-founded Cultivate Christchurch
Roger Beattie, Wyld
“Don’t be ahead of the curve. Create a new curve.”
Roger Beattie is Managing Director of Wyld and farms 1000ha of organic sheep, beef, paua, and kelp on Banks Peninsula. He also hunts wild lamb on his property.
Roger speaks energetically about the need to own your niche – and by that he means, really own it.
When AgResearch looked to sell its experimental breed of ‘bare bum’ sheep, Bohepe, Roger bought them (all of them).
When he spotted an opportunity in iodine-rich kelp, he took the Ministry of Fisheries to the High Court for the right to harvest it and is now NZ's largest kelp quota holder.
No stranger to controversy, he left us with the challenging statement: “If you want to save a weka, eat a weka.” Beattie is a tireless advocate for farming (and eating) this protected native species. He set up New Zealand’s first large predator-proof reserve and with his wife is NZ’s most successful weka breeder.
Roger Beattie is Managing Director of Wyld; read more about him here
Wayne Langford, YOLO Farmer
“I want people to taste the love I put into that milk”
Wayne Langford, is a 6th-generation dairy farmer and previous National Dairy Vice-Chair of Federated Farmers, who began a second life as the You Only Live Once (YOLO) Farmer when he was suffering from depression.
What began as a personal project to do one small thing every day that made him feel alive, has become over two years a call for farmers to view farming life through a different lens.
His daily challenges to find more meaning from life have led him in many new directions. One in particular was relevant today: his Farming 2030 project. This began after he asked volunteers to come and help him run is Golden Bay farm more sustainably.
Connecting with your community is crucial for producers who are on a transition journey, he says. “Take your family and your community with you. Not only will you get there faster, you’ll get there stronger.”
Wayne Langford, is a 6th-generation dairy farmer and runs YOLO Farmer; read more about him here
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