Sharing insights into technology use

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PlantTech’s Research Director Prof Ian Yule hosted a delegation of 10 university academics, researchers and state government officials from Malaysia as part of a Precision Agriculture Study Tour of New Zealand last month.

The tour, organised by Space Exploration Asia, connected participants with some of our country’s agri-tech leaders and enabled them to learn more about how precision technology is applied in agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

In the Bay of Plenty, the group visited a kiwifruit orchard and toured the laboratories at Eurofins’ Katikati site before travelling to Mystery Creek and attending Fieldays.

Space Exploration Asia chief executive Sonia Mahendran said the visit was informative and eye-opening. “It’s always fascinating to see how other countries have responded to their own industries’ challenges. What we’re seeing very clearly, particularly in horticulture, are the quality results and economic benefits that come from organisations working together, rather than in a silo.”

Malaysia is one of the world’s largest producers of palm oil and rubber, and the visit was an opportunity for researchers to consider how technologies used by New Zealand’s growers and farmers could be adapted and customised to benefit Malaysia’s dominant export industries.

Agriculture is critical to Malaysia’s economy, with 16% of the population employed through some sort of agriculture. Large-scale plantations include rubber, palm oil and cocoa, while a number of other crops are grown for domestic consumption, including rice, pineapple, durian and bananas.

Rice is a crucial part of Malaysian’s everyday diets but the country only produces 80% of the rice it needs, forcing it to import the rest. Growing demand for rice as a result of Malaysia’s increasing population has led to calls for more research into improving domestic rice production.

This gap between efficient crop production and consumer demand is typical of the challenges facing global food producers and is one that PlantTech, through scientific excellence, will play a role in helping New Zealand exporters tackle head on. 

Exponential growth at Eurofins

Before touring the Katikati site, the Malaysian delegation were introduced to Alistair Mowat, who heads Eurofins’ innovation and contract research units, as well as managing director Floris van Rhyn.

Together, they explained how Eurofins is a leading global company in providing laboratory testing and support services to food, pharmaceutical, environmental and agricultural companies. It has more than 650 laboratories in 45 countries, employing about 45,000 people, including 800 people across Australia and New Zealand. Its two largest campuses are in Philadelphia and France.

It has seven laboratories in New Zealand, acquiring sites in Katikati and Te Puke in 2016 as part of a strategic move to introduce fruit maturity testing to its global suite of services.

Staff at the Katikati site are directing global development of Eurofins’ fruit maturity testing services, starting with Italy and France last year. Efforts are also underway to introduce them to clients in Korea, Japan and China. Seven more countries, including the US, are being targeted in the next roll-out phase, especially as interest mounts in the apple industry for high quality fruit testing services.

Eurofins’ global expansion as it responds to the needs of industry has resulted in annual compound growth of 28%  over the past 10 years - a rate that has created significant demand for staff, said Floris.

“Our Katikati site is a breeding ground of talent for Eurofins, enabling young science graduates to join us, stay for a year or two in New Zealand, then spill out to our other global offices.”