Changes being driven by computer scientists in the agri-food sector are providing new opportunities for the country's farmers.

The disruption, which is changing what we eat, was the focus of the keynote speech at the AGMARDT NZ Young Farmers Conference.

"There's a restaurant in Boston with a robotic kitchen," Julia Jones from KPMG told the audience in Christchurch.

Spyce is a world-first and was created by four robotics-obsessed engineers who wanted "healthy food at a reasonable price".


Customers order using a touchscreen, then robots do the rest. Ingredients are dropped into a row of rotating woks, which cook meals in under three minutes.

Julia Jones from KPMG. Photo / Supplied
Julia Jones from KPMG. Photo / Supplied

"Disruption in the agri-food sector is coming from computer scientists," said Jones.

It's likely to be "another three to five years" before lab-grown meat is available in supermarkets in the United States.

"The only thing they haven't quite worked out is how to grow the fat and muscle that gives meat its taste," she said.

The world's food system is worth US$8 trillion. New Zealand earns $40 billion annually from the food it exports.

"We have a big advantage on the world stage because we can produce artisan, niche products and demand a higher price," said Jones.

The audience heard deer milk produced by Pāmu (formerly Landcorp) is being made into ice creams and other desserts by chefs in upmarket restaurants in Auckland and Wellington.

Julia Jones believes the opportunities to expand New Zealand's ocean-farmed salmon industry are immense.


"I recently visited one of New Zealand King Salmon's farms in the Marlborough Sounds. There were 33,000 fish in one pen. It's amazing," she said.

NZ Young Farmers members were urged to understand consumers and find out what they are willing to pay a premium for.

"If you travel overseas, go into an expensive-looking supermarket and see what sort of food is on the shelves," said Jones.

"I went to a supermarket in California last year and they had a crazy big fridge with a sign on it that said grass-fed milk."

The world's population is projected to reach about 10 billion people by 2050.

"That's a huge jump in terms of calories that we need to produce to feed all of those people," Sarah Hindle from the Tech Futures Lab told the conference.

Devising ways to sustainably feed everyone poses a challenge for scientists and food producers. It also opens new career opportunities.

"What we see real growth in, is the rise of the agricultural technologist," she said.

"They'll have an ability to manage technological systems and have expertise in things like robotics, automation, drones and data electronics."

Jones ended with some words of advice to farmers planning on "experimenting a little" and diversifying their land use.

"Embrace failure. There will be things you try and they won't work, but keep trying and learning from your mistakes," she said.