A new initiative means Horowhenua farmers and growers have the chance to get funding for innovative ideas to solve problems in the primary sector.

The Rural Innovation Lab, a platform of collaborative partners supporting farmers and growers to experiment with, up-skill in, and drive technology and innovation, is calling for the best proposals from those who work in the industry and know its challenges.

RIL chairman Mat Hocken said some of the biggest issues facing farmers and growers were identified during a series of engagements earlier in the year and now the organisation is looking for solutions.

"We heard from farmers that the pressing issues were getting closer to consumers, creating new business models, ideas to drive value from regulation and compliance, access to data for better decision making, and understanding and enhancing the environmental footprint," Hocken said.


"We want to hear from farmers and growers that have been dreaming up ideas as they work their farms and orchards. We want to hear from the entrepreneurs, developers and techies, start-ups and businesses working on projects that might apply to the primary sector".

Successful projects would receive access to a share of a $15,000 fund, support for project set up and oversight, and use of the latest technology from Microsoft, Hocken said.

They would also have access to the RIL's collaborative network of partners, including Massey University, Microsoft, The Factory and eCentre, and mentoring by a network of leading farmers in the Manawatū and Whanganui regions.

Hocken said the reason behind the project is that the world of food and agriculture is facing huge disruption with many people asking questions about farming's role into the future.

"The Rural Innovation Lab is here to turn the model upside down and have farmers and growers leading change in the primary sector. We can't wait to see the ideas that are waiting to be uncovered".

Rural Innovation Lab Programme Manager Kristy McGregor said the project was an opportunity for the sector to actively and collaboratively develop solutions to some of agriculture and horticulture's pressing issues.

"Horowhenua is the food bowl of the Lower North Island, so it's important that agriculture and horticulture is succeeding, not just for the economic development of our district and the broader region, but for New Zealand," she said.

McGregor said they had been pleased by Horowhenua's uptake during engagements, particularly from growers in the district who are continually looking for more efficient and innovative ways to operate.


"At the grower workshop we held at Te Takeretanga o Kura-hay pō in April, issues such as regulation and compliance, and better understanding and reducing environmental footprint were discussed," she said.

"Growers are looking for ways to be more efficient with their water use, and to recycle water. Then there's the people side of things - responding to ever changing consumer demands, and working and developing farm teams, are all challenges faced by farmers and growers in the Horowhenua."

Hocken said the RIL aims to put farmers and growers at the centre of the innovation process.

"Our ambition is to be the go-to place for rural innovation, and that the Manawatū-Whanganui is seen as having the smartest farmers in the world," he said.

The project is funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment through the Provincial Growth Fund, and stakeholders from the Manawatu-Whanganui region.

The RIL is hosting a series of "digital bootcamps" to prepare farmers, growers and other innovators for the application process.

For more information, the organisation's terms and conditions or to apply, visit www.ruralilab.net.nz

Applications are open until 15 July.