The acquisition of a computer vision startup speeds the company’s goal of helping farmers grow enough food for an exploding global population.
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for making tractors has a gleaming new Silicon Valley office. But inside, instead of building the latest app, John Deere is focused on how to use artificial intelligence to make farming equipment that can meet modern sustainability and food production challenges.
John Deere Labs, which opened its doors in the spring, made its first major deal on September 6. The company spent $305 million to acquire Blue River Technology, a startup with computer vision and machine learning technology that can identify weeds–making it possible to spray herbicides only where they’re needed. The technology reduces chemical use by about 95%, while also improving yield.
“What Blue River Technology allows us to do is move to the plant level, and start managing at that plant level.” [Photo: courtesy Deere & Company]It’s one step in John Deere’s embrace of “precision agriculture,” the use of technology to target crops and soil for optimum productivity and health. The manufacturer began incorporating aspects of precision agriculture more than two decades ago, building self-driving technology into tractors long before it started showing up in cars. But advances in AI mean that farm equipment can change more significantly now.
“What Blue River Technology allows us to do is move to the plant level, and start managing at that plant level,” says Alex Purdy, director of John Deere Labs. “That’s going to have transformative power in agriculture both in terms of yield but also in terms of cost for growers.”
A move has begun to develop a tropical fruits demonstration farm in the Gisborne district with the initial focus on the potential for commercial banana production.
Northland-grown bananas have been at markets in Northland for some time and the rising interest in their production led to the formation of the Tropical Fruit Growers of New Zealand (TFGNZ) group.
That group has begun to explore and experiment with tropical fruit production in Northland with bananas as their first focus.
The group has offered their expertise to the Te Nahu whanau Tai Pukenga Trust based in Papatu Road at Manutuke.
“Looking for diversification, the trust has researched the establishment of a tropical fruits demonstration farm on that land,” said trust programme manager Trevor Mills.
Mr Mills said growing bananas on a commercial basis provided a better shorter-term commercial return than other horticulture crops like citrus and grapes.
“The Northland banana growers are getting $5 a kilo for their fruit. They have sweetness and taste that imported bananas cannot provide. The total value of imported bananas consumed in New Zealand is now over $150 million a year.
“As a result of their research, the TFGNZ group reports a possible return of $20,000-$30,000 a hectare after about a 30-month period from planting to harvesting.”
On the Rural News website Pam Tipa writes that Trade expert Stephen Jacobi warns that if we don’t get Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) through, we will be seriously ‘squeezed’ in the Japanese market.
This will be particularly in beef, but also in a wide range of primary products, he says.
“The Europeans and the Australians now have free trade agreements and the Australians already have a very strong advantage over us in beef and the Europeans will have that too once their agreement is ratified,” Jacobi, the executive director of the NZ International Business Forum, told Rural News.
“The Japanese have just put a safeguard on beef exports of 50% so that will damage our trade even further. You are talking about over $70 million of business, so it is quite a lot.”
Over time Australia and the European Union will “steal a march on us,” he warns.
This is not only in beef; the dairy, horticulture, wine and wood sectors will also be exposed.
“The real gains in TPP for us came from Japan in the end and not from the United States, and it’s Japan we don’t have an FTA with -- the only country in Asia we don’t have one with now,” he says.
Jacobi says the National and the Labour Parties should reach a bipartisan consensus on how to roll out the current TPP process. Negotiations are at a “delicate” stage.
“This is too serious for NZ to just leave to domestic politics in my view. That’s why we like bipartisanship,” said Jacobi, “We have an opportunity potentially to conclude the Trans Pacific Partnership before the end of the year among the 11 remaining parties, excluding the United State which has pulled out.
“It would be a lot easier to conclude that agreement if it wasn’t open to renegotiation.”
Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson has said NZ should hold out for a better Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal that includes blocking offshore buyers from buying existing residential homes.
Jacobi says if we reopen negotiations, other countries will come up with different issues and “we will see a repeat of the eight years negotiation we just spent trying to get TPP right”.
“That’s the risk. Of course at this stage it is hard to say whether others will want to reopen negotiation. It is conceivable they might. It would be particularly damaging if the market aspects got reopened because that was a very delicately balanced exercise.
“For those reasons we would rather stay with TPP as it is at the moment. As you know, the risk for us is that if we don’t get TPP through we will be seriously squeezed in the Japanese market.”
“Calling for renegotiation is not a straightforward exercise and I don’t know that NZers would be very well served to be the ones calling for it.”
TPP has got to this stage against the odds, he says.
“Everyone assumed once the United States pulled out the others would dissipate and all credit to the Government and negotiators for keeping up this work.
“But the Japanese are key in this: they have put a lot of emphasis on this agreement for their own domestic restructuring so they clearly are not wanting to waste all that effort and that of course encourages other people to stay on board.”
Massey University industrial design graduate Nicole Austin’s re-modelled lamb docking or tailing iron has won the top prize in the New Zealand section of the James Dyson Award.
In the 17 years the award has been run in New Zealand it is the first time a woman has won the award.
“It’s pretty exciting. Now that women are becoming more engaged in industrial design, it’s nice to be able to represent that,” Ms Austin says.
The global product design competition celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers.
Ms Austin’s design, called Moray, helps eliminate repetitive strain injury for farmers when using traditional tools during the seasonal process of removing lambs’ tails – known as docking. The body of the device, which updates equipment unchanged in design for more than 40 years, is made from reinforced nylon and ergonomically designed with a specialized handle to make the docking process easier on the farmers hands. Effective docking significantly reduces lamb mortality and improves the health and productivity of the animals too, she says.
“I’ve refined the tool to be 35 per cent lighter and to use 60 per cent less hand span than the docking iron currently used by New Zealand farmers,” she says.
Her design was first exhibited last November at the annual end of year design exhibition Exposure run by Massey’s College of Creative Arts and has led to her securing a full-time job as part of Fisher & Paykel Appliances industrial design team in Auckland.
She has also made the device more reliable by using piezoelectric igniting and a specialized double-chamber dampening shaft for reliable weather-proofing and consistent blade temperatures for clean cauterization. Effective docking significantly reduces lamb mortality and improves the health and productivity of the animals too.
Ms Austin, who is originally from Timaru, was also pleased to devise a design for the sheep farming sector which in recent years had operated in the shadow of the dairy industry.
“Little has been done to develop common tools in the sheep farming industry and I saw it as a huge opportunity to channel my expertise as an industrial designer toward something that benefits the agricultural sector.”
James Dyson Award New Zealand head judge and president of the Designers Institute, Mike Jensen, says the judging panel was impressed by Ms Austin’s deep exploration into how the product may provide significant improvements for animal welfare and user comfort.
“Nicole visited a series of farms to interview farmers, ran surveys and undertook rigorous design workshops during the research phase. She also spent time docking to truly understand the process and the current challenges faced by farmers during the highly labour-intensive docking season.
“The result is a prototype design that will save time and definitely effort and is a major advancement on what is currently being used by farmers,” Mr Jensen says.
“It’s exciting to see a functional and rugged design that has been well researched and that holds much commercial potential for domestic and international markets.
Ms Austin’s award earned her $3500 in prize money.
Other finalists included fellow Massey industrial designers who studied at the College of Creative Arts; Glenn Catchpole who made an ecologically designed chair that produced zero waste; Abby Farrow who designed a hand-held device that makes intravenous vein finding easier for medical practitioners and less stressful for patients; and an electronic, tunable and portable log drum for modern musicians designed by Rachel Hall.
Auckland University of Technology industrial designer Haydn Jack was also a finalist with his design of a live streaming system specifically designed for amateur sports broadcasters.
The New Zealand finalists now progress through to the international final where a prize worth about NZ$50,000 will be awarded to the winner to be announced on October 26. The tertiary institution they represent will also be awarded a prize of NZ$8000.
| A Massey University release || September 6, 2017 |||
TOKYO -- Low-fat, high-protein beef from grass-fed New Zealand cattle is becoming increasingly popular in health-conscious Japan.
In a country known for gastronomic indulgence, not least its love of fatty, marbled wagyu beef, it may come as a bit of a surprise to see the burgeoning popularity of lean New Zealand meat.
But as demand for lean cuts rises from an increasingly health-conscious public, more and more grass-fed New Zealand beef has appeared on Japan's supermarket shelves.
In June, Co-opdeli Consumers' Co-operative Union switched from grain-fed Australian beef to meat from pasture-grazed New Zealand cattle for its home delivery service.
Livestock tends to be raised in a more environmentally sound manner in New Zealand than major beef-producing countries.
While the weather can be a bit dreary in the land of the long white cloud, abundant rainfall does make for rich and plentiful pastures. There are even farmers who specialize in grass for livestock feed, growing fiber-rich ryegrass and clover for its minerals.
One of the most common frustrations during packing of bags is the time consumed by the labeling system. Changing tape, tickets or ribbons means halting the process while another tape or ticket roll is being loaded.
This leads to unnecessary delay, accumulation of costs per bag and increases in lead time. Furthermore, the tape or tickets attached to the bag can easily tear off or be removed and can fade when subjected to sun light, causing logistical problems and loss of identification. Depending on the number of customers and products being packed, storage of all the different tape and tickets increases your costing and often leaves you with unusable surplus material.
Together with LC Packaging Eqraft has developed laser printable bags and a laser printer that prints straight on to bags without the use of ink ribbons, tape or paper tickets. As the printing is without contact there are no wearing parts.
This printer has been developed for high volume continuous operation at high reliability. The printer allows for the individual printing of bags with filling dates, product information track and trace numbers and any other information making the identification of each specific bag and its contents possible. Printing is done straight onto the bag without the use of the so called consumables such as PE tape, paper tickets, sprayed ink or ink ribbon.
The Eqraft Laser Printer for Bags allows for:
Real time printing & online editing
Durable, water & light resistant prints
Individual product identification
Currently the Eqraft Laser Printer and the LC Packaging laser printable bags are being thoroughly tested by one of our customers in the Netherlands. The official presentation will be at the Potato Europe Exhibition in Emmeloord on September 13-14th. The Eqraft Laser Printer for Bags can be integrated with the Baxmatic® bagging equipment.
New Zealand’s major national rural health group says they are happy the government has committed to ensuring 74,000 more rural further homes to be connected for mobile phone reception.
The Rural Health Alliance of Aotearoa New Zealand (RHAANZ) says all the homes to get fibre wi-fi are in small and tiny rural towns as well as extending urban edges. The alliance has concerns and wants assurances that there will not be any extra costs to small town New Zealand to subsidise high costs for rural connections.
The Government announced today it is investing $270 million to roll out Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) to 190 more small towns and extend rural broadband to another 74,000 households and businesses.
More than 300,000 rural homes and businesses already have access to improved broadband – about half the population of rural New Zealand.
The announcement will provide important coverage to remote parts including State Highway 1 in Northland and SH6 on the West Coast.
“This is a positive move to see rural connectivity investment for Rural New Zealand. It’s great to see a consortium of three mobile companies pooling resources to ensure the roll out is extended beyond anything any one mobile provider could do. We are also happy that wireless providers are receiving funding to help rural areas where geography obstructs the roll out of fibre,” RHAANZ chair Martin London says.
“Having 87 percent of the New Zealand population to have access to fibre continues to move us higher on the OECD table for connectivity. But we feel for the many thousands of rural Kiwi households still without broadband.
“We are keen to see government to keep focusing on providing broadband in rural areas where Kiwis help contribute so much to the nation’s economy.
“When you consider the government is providing extra funding to ultrafast broadband to reach 87 percent of New Zealanders in 190 cities and towns by 2022 that’s really heartening.
“But why should New Zealanders who don’t live in cities be the last to be supported? The lives of rural New Zealanders are at risk every day because of poor connectivity and inequitable health services.
“And just because we have good fast internet we need to make sure all rural Kiwis know how to make good economical use of it.”
Dr London says government needs to help remove barriers so rural people’s health be considered just as important as those who live in cities.
RHAANZ has 47 national member organisations encompassing rural health providers, agribusiness groups, universities, rural community groups and local government.
Rural New Zealand makes up at least 600,000 people, effectively New Zealand’s second largest city, and is an important constituency from an economic and political perspective.
Agriculture and tourism are the powerhouses of the economy, London says. Each year, more than two and a half million tourists visit rural New Zealand. In 2011-2012, $40 billion, or 19 percent of GDP, was generated directly or indirectly by the agri-food sector.
For more information contact RHAANZ chair Martin London on 027 4641191 or Make Lemonade editor-in-chief Kip Brook on 0275 030188.
The Power Farming Euro Tour saw 63 New Zealand farmers, contractors and dealers hit Italy and Germany to see the latest tractor technologies from the SDF Group including production of the series 6, 7 and 9 Deutz Fahr. The Power Farming Euro Tour saw 63 New Zealand farmers, contractors and dealers hit Italy and Germany to see the latest tractor technologies from the SDF Group including production of the series 6, 7 and 9 Deutz Fahr.
While the All Blacks were well into planning their end-of-year tour, another group of Kiwis headed to the northern hemisphere in the middle of July during the European summer.
The Power Farming Euro Tour saw 63 New Zealand farmers, contractors and dealers hit Italy and Germany to see the latest tractor technologies from the SDF Group, which recently commissioned the most modern tractor factory in the world.
First stop was at the SDF headquarters in Treviglio, east of Milan in northern Italy.
This is the home of Deutz Fahr tractors up to 130hp and the capable and versatile Series 5 tractors. Guests could take in the heritage of a business that saw the Cassani brothers build their first diesel tractor in 1927, and the SAME DA, the world’s first 4WD tractor, launched in 1952.
On the production lines an upgrade is underway to produce automated guided vehicles (AGV) that carry the emerging tractors around the site and allow the factory to build up to 100 tractors each day.
Following a trip to a local dairy farm, which supplemented milk production with a large biogas plant, the party headed over the Alps to Munich and on to Lauingen, the home of Deutz Fahr.
Said to be the fastest growing brand in Europe, Deutz Fahr has recently commissioned a state-of-the art tractor assembly plant aptly named Deutz Fahr Land. In a building of 42,000sq.m on a site of 160,000sq.m and built at a cost of NZ$145 million, the mission is to build tractors right first time (RTF). A completed tractor leaves the production line every 12 minutes; the factory is said to be capable of producing up to 6000 units per annum on a one-shift basis.
Silver Fern Farms has launched a large-scale China chilled pilot with the first sea-freight container shipment of chilled beef as well as multiple air-freight orders of beef and lamb set for customers across China.
The pilot is part of a six-month trial negotiated by the government to test chilled red meat access into the China market. While small-volume air-freight product has been sent into market, it is understood that this is the first sea-freight container to test the market says Silver Fern Farms GM Sales Grant Howie.
"It is important that during this trial period we test the market’s protocols and supply chain for chilled meat at sea-ports as well as via air-freight," Mr Howie says.
"With chilled product in China we need to test the process at scale which is why we have worked with one of our customers to take a full 20ft container of chilled product."
The first sea-freight container leaves New Zealand this week and is due to arrive into China in early September.
"Our relationship with Shanghai Maling has helped facilitate this sea-freight order. We are working with one of Shanghai Maling’s subsidiaries who will distribute Silver Fern Farms chilled beef to a number of its supermarkets in and around Shanghai.
"The cuts they are taking are important. They are primarily secondary cuts of prime Beef - cuts that would otherwise have been sold frozen at lower prices. They have the capability to position these traditional Chinese cuts at a premium in supermarkets."
Silver Fern Farms is New Zealand’s largest meat exporter to China, having achieved $316m of sales to the region in 2016. All of the product entered the market in frozen form.
Silver Fern Farms is also testing protocols for small-scale air-freight orders of beef into key food service distributors who service high-end restaurants and hotels in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen and an airfreight order for lamb cuts into a major multi-national high-end supermarket chain.
"For the past 2 years we have been busy developing the premium food service market with our Eating Quality (EQ) Graded Silver Fern Farms Reserve Beef as a frozen product. Our Reserve and Angus Beef frozen programmes are aged for 21 days back in New Zealand before being shipped frozen. Now that we have the ability to ship chilled, that ageing can now occur as it is shipped to China."
"This is a complex large scale chilled pilot to test a variety of market entry options as well as a range of products. We have two air-freight orders destined for our food service customers in Shanghai. They have ordered our value added Silver Fern Farms Reserve Beef, and our food service chilled prime beef product in primary and secondary cut form. They are taking steak cuts, our Silver Fern Farms Reserve oyster blade and rump caps."
"We have also partnered with a major multi-national high-end supermarket chain for an order of lamb cuts, including premium lamb racks. We look forward to further orders at scale so we can test sea-freight container orders once the new season lamb production comes on in coming months."
| A SilverFern Farms release || August 23, 2017 |||
SOUTH Australian contractor Nick Pratt’s new Duncan AS6100 folding tine drill is living up to expectations.
Mr Pratt is owner of Emu Ridge Ag Contracting based from Penola, fifty kilometres north of Mount Gambier. He primarily concentrates his business on hay baling and pasture renovation.
"“I feel that farmers need to get more out of the land they have got. With beef prices being on a high, it’s a good time for farmers to improve their pastures.”" - Nick Pratt
The business purchased the new 6.1m wide AS6100 drill in April. He was previously using a 26-row another brand of seed drill with six-inch spacings as his main drill.
Mr Pratt said that a trip to New Zealand in 1994 is what tipped the balance in favour of the Duncan drill.
“I feel that farmers in New Zealand are some of the best at growing grass in the world.
“The Duncan is a true pasture renovation machine and that’s the line we are going down with our contracting” he said.
Duncan Ag is a family owned business, with all manufacturing taking place in New Zealand.The 6.1m wide AS6100 Duncan drill
The 6.1m wide AS6100 Duncan drill
Mr Pratt said that one of the features of the Duncan drill is that it is a simple machine with few wearing parts.
“It has the coulters on the front, with a Baker boot and rubber-tyre roller on the back. There are L-shaped finger tines for seed incorporation” he said.
Previous drills used by Mr Pratt did not have coulters, but he made the move as he thought they would make it easier to handle the trash.
The finger tines also make a difference to establishment.
“The fingers tines weren’t on our old machine but when the seed falls out the back on the Duncan it gets incorporated more” he said.
Mr Pratt and his son James have been using their new Duncan drill since the start of May.
They have planted approximately 500 hectares of pasture this season with the drill.
The Pratts have followed up on the progress of the early paddocks sown for their clients and have been happy with the result.
“I feel that farmers need to get more out of the land they have got. With beef prices being on a high, it’s a good time for farmers to improve their pastures.”| A Farmonline release ||August 2, 2017 \\\