Milk spill stopper wins innovation award
The dragons have chosen, and another farm invention is one step closer to commercial success.
For the second year running, Fieldays had its own Dragons Den-style competition for agricultural innovations.
The joint initiative, run by Fieldays and Hamilton business incubator Soda Inc, selected nine innovators from a pool of 20 to present their gadgets to a panel of experienced investors and business leaders.
The top prize, Most Viable Business, went to Pahiatua couple Graeme and Alison Franklin with the DTexH2o.
The invention is an electronic probe and alarm to stop farmers spilling milk down the drain or getting water in the milk vat during wash-down.
When a dairy shed is washed down, water is pumped through the pipes, pushing the last milk through into the vat. It is up to the farmer to re-route the water to stop it going in the vat.
Turning the valve too early means milk goes down the drain. Too late and water goes in the vat, which can mean decreased milk quality and fines from the dairy company.
Often this decision is made by the farmer putting their hand on the pipe and feeling when the cold water passes by.
The DTexH2o is installed in the pipeline, and sets off an alarm when water passes by the probe, giving the farmer a pre-set amount of time to switch the valve.
"It removes the idiot factor," said Alison Franklin, who takes care of the marketing side of business.
She said as well as removing the risk of the farmer getting distracted and forgetting to turn the valve, it gives them peace of mind when the shed is being run by casual workers and relief milkers.
Franklin said her husband Graeme is a backyard innovator, and has invented all sorts of gadgets over the years.
He came up with the idea for the DTexH2o in a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night.
Twenty of the devices have already been installed in milking sheds, and it has been tested by rural science company QCONZ, with a 100 per cent pass rate.
Fonterra has approved the product for its farmers to use, and the Franklins have a manufacturer lined up who can produce 100 a week.
The couple are looking for a $50,000 investment to get help with marketing and distribution of the product, and the judging panel were impressed.
"I really love the idea that you've already got approval for this from Fonterra," they said.
Soda business growth manager Petr Adamek, who was event MC, said the Franklins stood out from the group because they thought about the business aspect, rather than just the invention.
"Because they are both farmers, they understand the problem, they understand the risk that water means for milk and for money ... They really structured it as a business rather than only a technical solution."
The prize was a $15,000 12-week "lift programme" from Soda to build networks, improve the business and work on an investor pitch.
Adamek said the competition was close this year.
"I think it was a step up... I think people are beginning to really listen to our advice and pitch it well."
Other competitors of note were the Liquid Strip filtration system, which won the Brilliant Simplicity award, and the Ice Cycle milk snap chiller, which won the Best Pitch award.
The competition also saw the return of 13-year old Patrick Roskam, who won a prize last year with his Gudgeon Pro fencing device.
While he didn't win a prize this year, Adamek applauded his improved prototype and business approach.
"I think young inventors like him with support and enthusiasm from the family are really vital for the country, because he can inspire a whole generation of kids to do things that really matter for the future of our economy," said Adamek.