Science Fiction Coming True on the Farm

Top Microsoft researchers were on-hand to launch the first AgTech Hackathon Manawatu at BCC (Building Clever Companies) on Friday 24 February.

More than 100 people attended the launch of the AgTech Hackathon. The competition takes everyday on-farm opportunities and challenges and gives them to technology experts who draw on their hardware and software programming skills to creatively solve problems.

Microsoft Senior Director Tony Newling launched the event, saying Microsoft is on a ‘mission to empower’ by providing local technology experts with the tools and the platform to help solve on-farm problems.

“The world can’t feed itself in 20 years without damaging the planet. We need technology to help us solve these problems. Years ago what we are doing would have been science fiction, but technology is getting us to a stage now where we can solve really deep problems.”

While the Hackathon will help solve on-farm problems, Tony is also backing the event as it helps to drive conversation between industry and technology – both across the Manawatu and the world.

Ranveer Chandra, renowned Microsoft Scientist, also took time out to address the audience explaining research he has done to enable data-driven farming, focusing on white space, drone imaging and sensoring and rural connectivity. All participants will have access to these technologies during the AgTech Hackathon.

“We are facing the enormous challenge of doubling the world’s food production by 2050 without an increase in arable land. Luckily, New Zealand is very aware of the environment – it is not the same around the world.”

It was Ranveer’s first trip to New Zealand, and after bungee jumping in Queenstown, he was excited to see his first cow in the Manawatu.

Ranveer emphasised that he and his team do not claim to know more than farmers but that they want to supplement farmer’s knowledge with data.

“Farmers, who know a lot about their farm, when equipped with this kind of data, can make smart, informed decisions.”

Local dairy farmers, and Ravneer’s hosts for the day, James Stewart and Mat Hocken agreed saying the difference between a good farmer and an average farmer is two weeks.

“It all comes down to timing. We feel like two kids in a candy store, with all this talk of apps and technology use, we’re just excited to see what you all come up with.”

James and Mat were on hand to explain to the problem statements the teams would be challenged to solve during the competition. The on-farm problems included; Measuring Grass, Managing Water Supply, Connectivity, Dairy Shed Monitoring, Electric Fences and Gates, Getting Cows Off the Platform in Rotary Sheds, Animal Weights, and Recording Beef Genetics.

The AgTech Hackathon will take place from 11-12 March and final pitches will take place during New Zealand AgriFood Investment Week at Central Districts Field Days, Friday 17 March.

The Hackathon was collaboratively founded by Microsoft, BCC, Manawatu-Rangitikei Federated Farmers, Accelerate 25, Future Institutes, Massey University and New Zealand AgriFood Investment Week.

Dave Craig