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Source: Massey University

The Rural Innovation Lab is an opportunity for the primary sector to experiment with, and drive, technology and innovation.

The Rural Innovation Lab (RIL) is currently scouting for innovative, new projects to solve farmers’ and growers’ wicked problems – with set-up funding available to successful applicants.

The platform of collaborative partners, including Massey University, is supporting farmers and growers to experiment with and drive technology and innovation. Established by a $400,000 grant from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, the lab will select three projects for funding, with applications closing on July 15.

Chairman Mat Hocken says the RIL is after bold ideas with the potential to transform the primary sector.

“The world of food and agriculture is facing huge disruption, and people are asking questions about farming into the future,” he says. “How can we give consumers visibility and transparency into the value chain? How can we align community and consumer environmental, social and cultural expectations? What do new business models look like and how can they build resilience into our future farms?”

Primary sector stakeholders at one of the Rural Innovation Lab’s engagement events.

The burning issues, as identified by the sector

A series of engagement events with over 100 farmers and growers has already identified the burning issues faced by the sector, and projects are being sought to address these challenges.

“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,” Mr Hocken says.

He says all ideas are on the table. “We want to hear from farmers and growers who 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 will receive access to a share of a $15,000 fund, support from The Factory for project set-up and oversight, and use of Microsoft’s latest technology. They will have also access to partners within the RIL collaborative network, including Massey University, Microsoft, The Factory and eCentre, and mentoring by a network of leading farmers in the Manawatu/Whanganui region.

Farmers and technologists can work together

Pro Vice Chancellor of the Massey Busines School Professor Stephen Kelly says the RIL is now entering an exciting phase.

“By focusing on the ideas with the most potential and operationalising them, the Rural Innovation Lab will show how farmers and technologists can work together,” he says. “By the end of the year, we should have three proven projects that will have established mechanisms and processes for bringing together very different people to encourage innovation.”

The Rural Innovation Lab is hosting its first Digital Bootcamp on Wednesday June 26 to prepare farmers, growers and innovators for the application process. The event will be held at The Factory in Palmerston North from 5.30pm. To register:

About the Rural Innovation Lab

The Rural Innovation Lab is a platform of collaborative partners supporting farmers and growers to experiment with, up-skill in and drive technology and innovation. It puts farmers and growers at the centre of the innovation process. The project is funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment through the Provincial Growth Fund, and stakeholders from the Manawatu-Whanganui region.