New Zealand's world-beating agritech innovators have won powerful new access to the trillion dollar United States agriculture and food production market and some the world's biggest investor pockets.
Agritech New Zealand, representing some of this country's leading technology companies, has signed two agreements in northern California this week, which between them will open doors to North American farmers and growers and big funder names such as Microsoft, Rabobank and Dupont.
Agritech New Zealand is a membership-funded organisation which connects, and finds export opportunities for, sector innovators, investors and researchers.
One partnership agreement is with Salinas-based Western Growers, a consortia of farmers, ranchers and growers who make up the largest food producer in North America, providing that market with 50 per cent of all its fresh produce and about 65 per cent of all organic product, said Agritech NZ executive director Peter Wren-Hilton.
A senior Western Growers' executive discussing the deal told a Californian television news programme this week that New Zealand robotic and automation technology was slightly ahead of US efforts, he said.
The agreement will give New Zealand companies a "landing pad" to work from at Western Growers' Technology and Innovation Center at Salinas, and access to its consortia members' properties to field test their technology and work with farmers, distributors, wholesalers and investors.
The other, quite separate, partnership makes New Zealand the first country partner of Farm2050, a collective of the world's biggest agribusinesses and agritech sector investors and entrepreneurs.
"This is almost bigger than the Western Growers initiative, because it's designed to provide better connected capital to New Zealand agritech companies," said Wren-Hilton.
"These investors not only have capital but their own portfolios of companies and partnerships and they will introduce New Zealand companies into those networks. By themselves, these (NZ) companies would find it difficult to get time with the likes of Microsoft but they'll have much better access through Farm2050."
The investors are from Europe as well as North America, he said.
The New Zealand agritech sector, which pioneered the world's first electric fence, electric farm bike and digital milk meter, produces export returns of $1.2 billion a year.
Wren-Hilton said with the ink barely dry on the two agreements, it was too early to put potential dollars on the deals.
"All we can say is the two agreements together will enable agrictech companies to potentially scale much more rapidly and grow much more quickly in North American markets."
The signings came during a mission by 30 Kiwi agritech companies to California, and follow many months of work by Wren-Hilton with the support of Arama Kukutai, the Kiwi co-founder and partner of Finistere Ventures, an American venture capital firm that supports early-stage agtech companies.
"It's partly been perseverance on my part and also the very good relationship we have with Arama and his support for New Zealand," said Wren-Hilton, who began discussions with Western Growers two years ago while working in Silicon Valley.
The Farm2050 agreement followed Agritech New Zealand hosting a conference during TechWeek in May which drew international senior executives from sector heavyweights including Microsoft, Bayer, Rabobank and the Irish Sovereign Fund.
Two New Zealand companies, Biolumic of Palmerston North and Dunedin's TracMap already have desk space at the Salinas technology centre, while three more, Robotics Plus, Autogrow and GPS-it are lined up for desks, Wren-Hilton said.
Biolumic, a developer of ultra-violet technology to speed the growth of seedlings in glasshouses and greenhouses, had recently received US$6m from an American investor, while Tauranga horticulture company Robotics Plus, had got funding support from Salinas-based Yamaha Ventures, he said.