And the winner is...

Best farm ideas make it through from computer wizards in 'Hackathon'

Smart Farm Solutions are the winners of the AgTech Hackathon after going on a farm to try to come up with solutions that help farmers.

The winning team of the AgTech Hackathon showed that computer people can help farmers with on-farm technology, say judges.  

Smart-Farm Solutions, a Manawatu group of technology innovators, won the event with an automated system to control electric fences, gates, water flow and to identify system problems. Judges said the talented group developed arguably one of the most exciting farming innovations in recent times in one week.

After a gruelling week of workshops and developer days, the teams pitched their ideas to a Dragon's Den-style panel of leading farmers and technology experts.

Finalist ideas included roaming pasture robots, flying sheep-dog drones and smart apps to help with areas such as electric fencing and water supply, to grass monitoring and weighing livestock.

The AgTech Hackathon saw teams of students, start-ups and tech whizzes come up with a range of hi-tech solutions to tackle common issues that New Zealand farmers face every day.

Microsoft's New Zealand's national technology officer Russell Craig said the company identified the rural economy as a huge opportunity for technology.

"Yes we're not the first, but things like measuring pasture growth and quality- better pasture means better animal health, production and farmers tell us in dairying the difference between the top farmers and others is two weeks pasture growth."

He said the technical challenge was to make more use of pasture and limit the environmental impact of farming.

"[We need] better decisions on effluent and fertiliser use and run-off.  Technology can help with these things."

Craig said there was potential for technology to help with horticultural and agricultural exports as New Zealand was so far from major markets.

"The country is dependant on agricultural exports. It is exciting.  There is so much potential."

He said there were some fantastic researchers at institutions such as Massey University and crown research institutions.

"But we were lucky to have them [the techies] visit a farm and have a farmer judging the ideas. Quite often farmers think of things to make things on-farm better right away, and they might not be things researchers think of."'

He said Manawatu  was a natural place to produce the latest technology.

"Manawatu has big research institutions such as Crop and Food Research and Fonterra Research and the mayor of Palmerston North, Grant Smith is thinking hard about how the city and region can progress."

As the winner of the AgTech Hackathon, Smart-Farm Solutions, will now be supported by Microsoft to develop in-market products based on their prototype and to pursue other business opportunities. 

Link to Stuff article here.


Dave Craig