University agri-ventures set pace for Fieldays

ADDING VALUE: Waikato University deputy vice-chancellor Alister Jones has announced three new agri-tech innovation initiatives.
ADDING VALUE: Waikato University deputy vice-chancellor Alister Jones has announced three new agri-tech innovation initiatives.

Waikato University has kicked off the Fieldays with the launch of three new agricultural innovation initiatives - just as Lincoln University announces a new venture in Waikato.

The local university launched three new initiatives at an event last night, including a dedicated agri-tech innovation manager, an agri-tech seed fund and an agri-tech entrepreneurial fellowship.

Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Alister Jones said the initiatives would support a "strategy for a connected university focused on adding value to key sectors".

"Our new model for engagement will make it easier for industry to engage with the university and is designed to encourage innovation," he said.

"This really is about adding value."

The agri-tech innovation manager will work with WaikatoLink, the university's commercial arm, which will oversee the seed fund.

Jones said the university would be looking for a manager and agri-tech fellow as soon as possible.

However, it would not assign a target value to the seed fund.

"We haven't put a value on that because it will depend on the type of initiatives that are around.

"But normally the average price for seed funding is between $15,000 and $20,000 per project, and so we will look at each project and fund it accordingly."

He said he was aware of the Lincoln University announcement, as it had been working with Waikato University on a planned AgriHub.

"They have a particular skill set in a particular area and ours is in a different area."

"So it's actually working to our relative strengths rather than crossing over."

He said he hoped Waikato University could be involved in testing some of its innovations at the Lincoln project.

Lincoln University and St Peter's School in Cambridge yesterday announced plans to develop a demonstration dairy farm, which will aim to set the benchmark for farming practice in Waikato.

The joint venture will use the 200 hectare dairy farm at St Peter's to replicate Lincoln's South Island dairy farm, which has been in action for seven years.

Lincoln University vice-chancellor Dr Andrew West said findings from Canterbury farms can't necessarily be replicated in the Waikato, so a local farm is needed.

"It will act as a model . . . where it can take a few risks to improve farming systems, economic activity and environmental compliance."

The joint venture partners are looking for sponsors to fund demonstration activities and scientific monitoring, and aim to have the project up and running for the 2015/2016 milking season.

They are also looking for two or more leading Waikato farmers to guide the farm's focus areas.

"We want to target high-level profitability.

"We want this farm to be in the top 3 per cent [of profitable farms]."

The farm is also expected to be in the top 3 per cent of environmental performers.

"We'll actually be measuring. Objectively, scientifically measuring and publishing the results," he said.

"It's under huge public scrutiny, which is fantastic.

"Sometimes we might try something that doesn't actually work.

"That's tremendously valuable to the farmers." A governance committee and management committee - with senior members from St Peter's, Lincoln and farm sponsors - will oversee the farm.

St Peter's will manage funding for the farm, and profits will ultimately come back to the school.

West said Lincoln would put in legwork to find sponsors, but wouldn't invest capital itself.

St Peter's principal Steve Robb said farms would build on the school's strengths. "Our focus will be on the business of farming, with agri-business-related courses through to tertiary level, building on our current excellent programmes in agriculture and horticulture in years 10 to 13, and linked through our new Business and Entrepreneurial Centre, which is under way this year."

Waikato Times