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The Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA) launched the Manawatū Agritech Strategy in late 2019. Developed in partnership with global agritech accelerator Sprout, industry leaders, iwi, businesses, investors and entrepreneurs.

“It is the first regional Strategy of its kind in Aotearoa that clearly defines our agritech ecosystem and maps out the work required to accelerate Manawatū’s leadership in agritech and agrifood, setting a clear path forward to achieving our ambitious goal of being recognised as one of the top three agrifood hubs in the world,” says Linda Stewart, CEDA’s CEO.

It is an exciting time for the agritech industry globally, and Manawatū is leading the way for Aotearoa. The latest 12-Month Report for the AgriTech Strategy shows we are well on our way to achieving global top-three status. With $12.4million of capital invested into local agritech companies, and $1.6million in research and development (R&D) grants invested in Manawatū agritech companies during the 2019/20 financial year, Manawatū is also home to more than 3,900 scientists and researchers. Here, we have a world class concentration of labs, trial farms, food R&D facilities, education institutions and innovation spaces. Manawatū is a place where groups in agritech and agrifood can work and grow together to share knowledge, network and innovate for the future of food.

Additionally, the Sprout Accelerator has been bolstered through a partnership with Callaghan Innovation and new investment partners Fonterra, OurCrowd and Finistere Ventures, to create a $40m seed fund to invest in start-ups over the next seven years.

“Sprout Accelerator is designed for the next generation of agritech and foodtech companies from around the world. Companies that are successfully selected undergo intensive mentorship and can raise $1million of seed-stage funding from Sprout,” says Jane Donaldson, Accelerator Manager of Sprout.

Other notable achievements over the last year include:

  • The establishment of the Massey AgriFood (MAF) Digital Lab, an incubator for the development of technologies in areas such as advanced robotics.
  • The Massey University and AgResearch joint food science facility, Te Ohu Rangahau Kai, has also been established to provide office and lab space for NZ’s best scientists in the fields of dairy and red meat research to collaborate.
  •  The establishment of the International Horticulture Immersion Programme, an Industry-driven collaborative venture supported by AgMARDT, NZ Apples and Pears, Zespri International, Massey University, Lincoln University, ANZ Bank, Food HQ, AgFirst, T&G Global, Farmlands, Potatoes NZ, Horticulture Capability Group, and Global HQ. The programme is a unique, experiential professional development program for exceptional university students and recent graduates who possess high leadership potential, with a complete immersion into selected international horticultural markets and exposure to the complete value chains supporting them.

“With Greentech Robotics, Levno, Hyperceptions and Biolumic just some of the well-known companies who are born out of the region, Manawatū has all the right ingredients for innovative agritech companies to thrive.” says John Morris, CEDA’s Business Development Manager. “As an economic development agency, it is our role to bring together key stakeholders, partners and industry to leverage and raise Manawatū’s profile in the agritech sector, to ensure that people, businesses and investments from across the globe want to be here and can connect to our expertise. Working towards recognition as a top three global agrifood hub is one of the regions strategic goals, and one that everyone can play a part in achieving.”

“We’re currently reviewing the plans and goals for year three, alongside our partners to look toward the future opportunities,” Morris says.


Generating great ideas is part of the New Zealand and Manawatū DNA, with the Glaxo in pharmaceuticals giant, GlaxoSmithKline, starting in Bunnythorpe. The challenge has been to match the great ideas that come out of labs and farm workshops with the market opportunities and means to take them globally.

This is where Sprout comes in. Sprout is a business accelerator and the only one of its kind in New Zealand focused on food and agricultural technology start-ups. Sprout works with young companies with little in the way of revenue, to build products with a global market. Since launching in 2014, Sprout has supported 50 companies directly and hundreds more indirectly.

Being focused on food production and delivery, and being based in Manawatū, Sprout understands the opportunities arising from agriculture. The investors that it works with “get” agricultural technology, the unique nature of young companies, and what is needed to take them nationally and internationally.

Sprout is also one of only four Callaghan Innovation technology incubators and has sufficient resources to complete 40 one million-dollar investments over the next seven years. They also has the backing of Fonterra, agritech venture capital investor Finistere Ventures and crowd-sourcing platform Our Crowd, the latter having investments worth over US$1.5 billion.

As the young companies that Sprout works with are in the ‘seed and start-up-phase,’ it can evaluate and assess opportunities before connecting them to the investment marketplace, or alternatively, by putting them through its own six-month business accelerator as the first commercial step. Young companies applying to the Sprout accelerator generally do so in the fourth quarter, but such is the nature of what Sprout does, its door is open whenever the idea and opportunity is right.

A recent partners’ summit for the eight companies in Sprout’s 2020 accelerator cohort illustrates the diverse companies that it works with. This summit was held as the 2020 cohort approached graduation to provide Sprout partners with a networking and investment opportunity.

The 2020 companies include Iris Data Science, which has developed imagery analysis and artificial intelligence for animal health. Three companies have software solutions including PICMI for recruiting seasonal workers; Foodprint to reduce food waste in eateries; and Land and Water Science for on-farm production optimisation, which puts the environment first. Two have developed plant-based food alternatives, including seafood by Sea Swell and nuts from the Equanut Trading Company. Mirisma Bio-Sensors has electronic sensors mimicking highly-sensitive insect odorant receptors, while Water Watch has water management technology to combat challenges in agriculture and industry.

What’s common to each company in Sprout’s 2020 cohort is the curriculum they follow. This includes connecting with customers, technology and product development, intellectual property, evaluation of market opportunities, as well as governance and investment. While tailored to each company’s needs, it is backed by structured weekly meetings with mentors to discuss progress. Then, every four to five weeks over the six-month accelerator all eight companies are brought together for a two-day “Underground.” This not only reinforces relationships but enables companies to learn from one another. Sprout firmly believes it is vital for entrepreneurs to share their experiences.

Sprout knows that the companies that will succeed, will be those with a tenacity about them and a unique product offering.

As the companies are part of the world’s biggest industry, there is potential for Manawatū to emerge as the Silicon Valley of agricultural and food technology. To realise this potential means retaining, growing, and attracting agricultural and food technology start-ups into the region from all over New Zealand and when the borders reopen, the world. To achieve this, Sprout suggests there is need for specialist equipment, labs and technicians and the right building to house them in – a scientifically-based co-working space.

The one thing Sprout will never change is its location in a region that it is proud to call home. It values the connections with business, farms, councils, academia and especially the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA). There is a shared determination to improve the built environment and infrastructure to make the region highly attractive to young companies looking for investment and a place to grow. To increase the number of young companies that Sprout can work with, Sprout is investing in both people and resources.

Sprout has earnt its stripes and is positioned with quality national and international partners and a growing list of innovative start-ups. It is on the cusp of a virtuous cycle with the global market deeply interested in New Zealand, Manawatū, and Sprout itself.

For more information about Sprout visit their website.

In a world that is increasingly digital, it’s rare that a new magazine launches. We spent five minutes catching up with Shepherdess Magazine founder and editor Kristy McGregor, about where the idea came from and the journey to date.

What is Shepherdess?

Shepherdess is a new quarterly magazine for women in rural New Zealand. It is about connecting, empowering and inspiring women across New Zealand, by offering a place to tell the people of our rural community’s stories. It is a place to share stories of resourcefulness, entrepreneurship and courage.

Where did the idea come from?

I’ve always been passionate about creating vibrant and thriving rural communities. When I lived in far western Queensland, before moving to New Zealand, I started an event called the Channel Country Ladies Day with a group of women. It’s still going strong, now eight years on, and brings together women from the most remote corners of three states together for a weekend of laughs, connection, comradery and burlesque. It’s a lot of fun, but it also has – as we discovered – an important place in the lives of many women for its impact on their social and emotional wellbeing, in what is a very geographically isolated region.

When I moved to New Zealand, I realised that there is this very strong agricultural industry, but a lot of the conversation was about cows and grass. Communities are closer together here than in Australia, but that doesn’t always mean they are better connected. There’s also so many wonderful things going on already in rural communities, but they aren’t widely talked about; they’re almost hidden. You have to know where to find them.

When I moved to New Zealand, I realised that there is this very strong agricultural industry, but a lot of the conversation was about cows and grass. Communities are closer together, but that doesn’t always mean they are better connected. There’s also so many wonderful things going on already in rural communities, but they aren’t widely talked about; they’re almost hidden. You have to know where to find them.

At the same time I met Claire Dunne, the founder and editor of Australian magazine Graziher. Claire has really paved the way in Australia for telling the stories of women in the bush. After a little while of toying with the idea, she messaged me just after the Christmas before last saying ‘how about it?’. At that point I had a newborn baby, was studying for my Masters, was about to return to work, and life was full. I don’t believe there’s such thing as waiting for the right time though – you’ve just got to seize the moment as it comes and with that, we thrust into creating a magazine. Claire’s been on the end of the phone ever since and I am very grateful to her for her support and wisdom throughout.

When print is going out of fashion, why a magazine?

There’s something special about picking up a magazine and holding it in your hands! It’s so much more of an experience than the inundation of material we’re privy to through digital channels. Receiving a magazine that you treasure in your letterbox is a real treat, and it’s a fond memory I have from growing up. It feels like a lot has fallen into place – now there’s a reason why I’ve kept so many magazines on my bookshelf for all these years! They’ve also become good reference points over the last few months.

Where is the magazine available?

The first edition is with the printer as we speak, and it will be available from mid-March. It will be available online via subscription and at selected Farmlands stores nationally. You can also find it at a couple of Manawatū favourites, including Marton’s Moomaa Café & Design Store, and Tonic & Cloth in George Street, Palmerston North.

Can we have a sneak peek of the first edition?

We’ve trekked from Northland to the Mackenzie Country, and there’s so many beautiful stories, it’s hard to know where to start! We’ve got a story on a wahine, mother and farmer from Northland, Chevon Horsford, who is doing beautiful work supporting her whanau and their aspirations for their land. We talk with two families who have diversified their farming businesses by adding glamping accommodation. We met a pioneer in the seafood industry, a crayfisherwoman from Tora on the Wairarapa Coast, and catch up with two sisters who are taking on the family farm. Alongside that we’ve curated lovely things for your home made in rural New Zealand, women sharing their memories and moments, a profile on a rural artist, and social photos from recent rural community events around the country.

For magazine subscriptions visit the Shepherdess website.

Once a corporate project manager and now a Manawatū beekeeper, Nathan Gillard left one suit behind to pick up another; all in the name of chasing a career that will serve his family and his community.

Now, on any given day, Nathan can be found visiting one of their many apiary sites across the greater Manawatū, catching up with landowners or proudly delivering his product direct to his suppliers and consumers.

“At Gillard Honey, we put the right amount of hives in the right place and rarely move them. So, our bees are happy. We’re close to nature, we gently manage our own hives, extract and package our own honey. We are a local, family-owned and operated business which enables us to offer a “hive to home” service which is important to us and our customers,”

With a chuckle and a small but grateful sigh, he goes on to say, “just yesterday I extracted honey at 4am and delivered it to a customer at 6pm that night – it’s incredible.”

Gillard Honey is a regular at the Hokowhitu Village Farmers’ Market, taking place on the third Sunday of every month.

Nathan genuinely believes he has a great product and generously shares it, and his passion, with his community. From educating school groups to personally handing his honey to customers at the Hokowhitu Village and Feilding Farmers’ Markets, Nathan tells the story and the benefits of his product wherever he can.

However, Nathan’s knowledge and Gillard Honey aren’t confined to the region – or even the nation.

“Restaurants around the country use our honey. One up in Auckland used it as a marinade and it got picked up by a top chef and we made it into Dish Magazine. That was cool. The most exciting news is that we are exporting to Asia and currently setting up Gillard Honey UK to service the UK and EU market.

With their export license, one of Gillard Honey’s primary goals is education.

“Everyone is so focused on manuka, which is a great product, but we think it’s important to educate our customers about the health benefits of other types of raw honey, including Rewarewa, for the anti-oxidants and more. It’s just such a great product.”

Nathan believes this story must start at home, which is why he tends to get his honey into the hands of locals and talks about his product as often as he can. He summed it up well when he said:

“Here’s the thing. If we, and our neighbours, don’t understand the value of what we have in our own country, and are not able to find it in our own supermarkets – how are we going to collectively tell the world?”

Gillard Honey will be served at the MPI Provenance Breakfast following ASB Perspective 2025. Hosted at Te Manawa and presented by Brew Union, the breakfast will be a showcase of some of the best and brightest food products and producers from the Manawatū-Whanganui region.

New Zealand AgriFood Week attendees can also purchase Gillard Honey at the Hokowhitu Village Farmers’ Market and Feilding Farmers’ Market.

The third Sunday of every month in Hokowhitu Village is truly a feast for all the senses. 

Colourful buntings and hanging flower baskets are matched with the smell of coffee brewing and the taste of artisan delicacies. The sound of young buskers earning their school trips fill the ears of local patrons as they walk home holding locally grown, raised, and baked purchases.  

Since its inception, Hokowhitu Village Farmers’ Market has been a collaboration of quality products, and community spirit.  

The Green House’s salads, smoothies and acai bowls are firm favourite amongst locals.

“My initial goal was to think outside the block and put Hokowhitu Village on the map. Few people knew what it had to offer beyond the handful of storefronts. There are actually 25 businesses back here – including a community centre!” says founder Robin Fischer.

From the beginning, Robin firmly believed that the event should only showcase food. 

Founder of the Farmers’ Market, Robin Fischer.

“If I can’t eat it, then it doesn’t come. When I managed a lodge up near Matakana, I saw the quality of their markets and wanted to offer something to reflect our area too. Every stall is handpicked, and most of our products – even stalls that showcase international fare – reflect the quality and variety of food we produce.”

“There’s a growing trend to eat less but eat higher quality. That’s what our vendors provide.” 

Cartwheel Creamery’s award-winning cheeses are made in the picturesque Pohangina Valley.

It’s not uncommon for 400-600 people, on average, to frequent the 40+-stall market. As one local attendee shares, “I don’t know how he does it. At 9am it’s like someone has rung the school bell and, if you look down the street, doors open up as people prepare to walk down to the Market.”

Even though it was initially his idea, Robin insists the market wouldn’t happen without the investment of the brick and mortar businesses, stallholders, and the Palmerston North City Council. Together they raised funds, awareness, and personally paid for small projects to bring life and public awareness to the Village; including improved signage, maintained public facilities, murals by local artist Melanie Christmas, and the hanging baskets.

The award-winning Rata Olive Oil.

Beyond the beautification projects, Robin and his team work hard to spruce up the culture and thoughtfulness of the event. 

“We advocated for event recycling bins here. It’s now mandatory for the vendors to use cardboard or brown paper. I tell them, ‘you own the market, I just facilitate.’ We have to take care of this place and own our responsibility to use it. It’s all about quality, sustainability and reducing wastage.”

Celebrating four years this month, this local tradition will be putting on an extra special event during New Zealand AgriFood Week. Taking place the day prior to the week’s Official Opening & Pōwhiri, the Market will be hanging their birthday bunting on Sunday 15 March. 

New Zealand AgriFood Week attendees will discover a stunning array of delights from bespoke cheeses, organic produce, German breads and artisan meats. Dine on tasty street food, enjoy live music by local talent and meet the makers, passionate growers, and crafters.  

This market is an important part of New Zealand AgriFood Week and highlights the growing trend from consumers that they want to know where their food is grown, how it’s produced and have an opportunity to connect with the farmers, growers and bakers creating their food. 

Subscribe to our New Zealand AgriFood Week Newsletters

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