As well as checking out Fieldays classics – wood chopping, dog handling, tractor displays – the group saw some of the latest innovations that are changing the way New Zealand farmers do their jobs, such as drones, agriculture specific apps, advanced milking machines and electric farm bikes.
The purpose of their visit was to build networks and connections between the entrepreneurs and the New Zealand agri-sector and to explore potential business opportunities.
Although involved in areas of agriculture as diverse as sourcing protein from insects, organic strawberries and growing mushrooms, the entrepreneurs shared a common interest in sustainable farming – a hot topic at this year’s Fieldays.
Thai organic strawberry grower Walaiporn Phumirat (Be) says she was amazed by the size of Fieldays and the incredible range of products on display.
Be is the founder and CEO of Backyard Strawberry, an organic strawberry producer in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. She is a marketing specialist who uses social media to tap into city-dwellers’ dreams of rural life and at the same time educate them on the benefits of organic produce.
Of the goods and products she saw, Be was particularly interested to learn about Manuka honey production (she has hives on her farm to pollinate the strawberries) and Zespri kiwifruit.
“Although my business is very small in comparison, it’s interesting to talk to the people from Zespri about what it is like running such a big company and how they market their fruit to the world,” she says.
On the Friday at Fieldays, the entrepreneurs met up with 12 members of the Foundation’s Leadership Network and other interested parties to discuss their businesses and share ideas at the Agriculture in Southeast Asia workshop.
Discussions from the workshop were carried over to the following day’s Agribusiness Hui held in Raglan Town Hall, where Leadership Network members and visiting entrepreneurs spent the afternoon discussing some of the big issues facing agribusinesses in their respective countries.
A key topic of discussion at the hui was the challenge of attracting more young people to agricultural jobs.
Leadership Network member Margie Hunt, who was raised on a Waikato dairy farm and now works as a food technologist, says most farmers in New Zealand are nearing retirement age and the next generation is less inclined to work on the land as their parents, partly due to the bad press farming has received in recent years.
To counter this, farmers need to adjust the way they market not only their products but the industry as a whole, she says.
“How can we make sure we are selling ourselves and selling the story of ourselves in agriculture – not just marketing a product but showcasing what it is like to live and work on a farm?
“It’s something I’ve been trying to do through social media, like Be has been doing with her strawberries.
“We need to showcase what we have to offer and get people to think critically about what farming is and what agriculture is so that we can attract people to it and dispel some of the negative stereotypes portrayed in the media.”
ASEAN YBLI programme manager (Entrepreneurship and Leadership) Adam McConnochie says around the world farming is going through massive upheavals as the sector is forced to face challenges not faced by previous generations.
“The agriculture sector has some big challenges coming up, particular around issues of food security, climate change and technological change.
“To witness young leaders from both New Zealand and Southeast Asia passionately debating such topics while dedicating their time to solving these issues was particularly pleasing.
“The links and friendships that result from these exchanges will be crucial to how we frame these issues in the future.”