What we’re looking for

AGMARDT is in the business of supporting bold new ideas and leaders that will help accelerate a better future for food and fibres in New Zealand.

We do this through a range of grants and scholarships

So, what exactly are our trustees looking for when they consider applications?

Well, in short, high quality, high impact ideas!

It’s important that applicants demonstrate ‘impact potential’ that aligns to one or more of our priorities:

  • Regional resilience / growth
  • Regional or placed based leadership
  • Improved environmental performance
  • Growing economic value for New Zealand (at farm, community, regional or national level)
  • Collaboration / partnership

And we’re looking for evidence of need or demand, whether that’s about the problem that needs to be solved, the market opportunity or the capability / leadership needs that funding could support.

We’re also after an innovative approach – transformational, diverse thinking and future focused, demonstrating scalability and benefits/broader impacts that can be sustained over time.

Of course, with that we want to see evidence of ability to deliver and the right mindset. That can be demonstrated in a clear, well thought out plan, sound success measures, capable people / teams, entrepreneurial spirit, growth mindset and willingness to learn and adapt

We’ll also looks favourably on applications where industry financially contributes (whether commercial companies or industry good organisations). This signals strong support for projects and is a good demonstration of collaboration and industry commitment.

Find out more about our grants and scholarships – and check out the FAQs – here.

BioLigna – Wood to Food

An AGMARDT Agribusiness Innovation Grant (AIG) has enabled BioLigna to achieve proof of concept for Wood to Food, a unique approach to producing a high-value food grade ingredient using wood residue converted to sugars as a feedstock.

“AGMARDT plays a wide-ranging role in the eco-system, but I particularly appreciate its early-stage funding in the ideation space,” says BioLigna project manager Amos Palfreyman.

“So many great opportunities never get underway because there is no-one willing to step up and provide grants for experimentation and incubation, but AGMARDT does that.”

The AIG grant kick-started testing of the Wood to Food concept. The project successfully identified strains of lactic acid bacteria with potential to be grown in this way. Options now being explored include using these in in production of specialist ingredients such as low-calorie sweeteners for use in plant-based food products.

Amos is passionate about food sustainability. He is the former business development manager, and now advisor for emerging proteins for FoodHQ. The world class food, science and innovation hub is a collaboration between internationally-recognised New Zealand companies, councils and research and educational institutions. He is also a co-founder and CEO of the Miruku foodtech company, which is developing alternative dairy proteins technology.

The BioLigna project had its origins in discussions at FoodHQ around ‘what does New Zealand’s role look like in the future of plant-based food’?

“When we look at ingredients of plant-based foods, beyond plant proteins they require ingredients not so well-known in the food industry,” says Amos. “For instance, sweeteners to address the bitter taste some plant foods have. Manufacturers don’t want to add sugar or sucrose because of the health aspect.

“A lot of the industry is importing many ingredients, such as sweeteners and plant-based proteins and these are being repackaged in ‘made in NZ’ products and sold here or exported. As more of these products are needed, more transparency in the supply chain will be required.

“We wanted to look at supporting plant-based food producers with natural ingredients from New Zealand – to look at what we have, including our unique botanicals, and what we can access and leverage. Then we could have a compelling story to tell about the most natural plant-based food, all produced here in New Zealand.”

Further inspiration came from a research document on bacteria being used to ferment wood-derived sugars into biofuel.

“The idea was sound but ultimately the economics had not stacked up for that,” says Amos. “But I thought, ‘could wood seconds be used to create high value feedstock for food-grade bacteria’? Especially as a lot of biomass is not being fully-utilised.”

The team worked with Crown Research Institute Scion, which had developed a proprietary technology to convert wood residues to fermentable sugars. Laboratory testing was provided through Massey University and AgResearch.

“We have been exploring a few different options and the best option is specialist health food ingredients such as low calorie sweeteners to use in formulas in the fast growing plant-based market,” says Amos. “There is also potential for probiotic fibre-based ingredients with these sweeteners, so you also get healthy gut microbiome.”

The AIG funding included covering travel costs for a post-graduate to undertake work on the project, Scion sample processing, lab hire and microbial materials costs.

“It helped enable testing of multiple strains of lactobacillus to find those that most enjoyed the ‘dinner’ we were providing,” says Amos.

BioLigna will now work with Scion and AgResearch to explore the techno-economic feasibility of specific ingredients and use non-GMO accelerated evolution platform to enhance bacterial strains to  improve growth and efficiency while creating a patentable microbial strain.

“Through the laboratory trial we have identified over a dozen strains that most efficiently used the wood sugar components to ferment single cell proteins and grew fastest,” says Amos.  “We now need to identify a number of targets in terms of high value low calorie sweeteners – xylitol, erythritol and mannitol for instance – to see which we can produce most efficiently.”


Common good action leaders

For dairy farmer Deborah Rhodes, the future of the industry depends not only on looking after the environment and animals, but the human beings the industry relies on.

“Humanity is the least economically valued factor in our dairy industry workplaces,” says Deborah, a 2021 AGMARDT Leadership Scholarship, undertaking a Master’s in Health – Workplace Health and Safety.

“What we need from future leaders is to bring this humanity, the duty of care and love of whanau, into our complex work relationships to create more equity and a balance of work and life outcomes in our industry.”

A registered nurse with a background in sales and marketing and project management in the international pharmaceuticals industry, Deborah owns a dairy farm in Collingwood with husband Tim and their three teenage children.

An active leader in the community and industry, Deborah sits on the Ministry for Primary Industry’s regenerative agriculture technical advisory group with past roles including school boards and Chair of the local Arts Council. She did stand unsuccessfully for the Fonterra Shareholders Council, Dairy NZ Board of Directors, and Golden Bay Community Board, to show commitment to the need for change.

Her driving passion is evolving leadership to support mental health, wellbeing, and workplace ethics for people in the dairy industry, looking to improve safety, wellbeing, and common good prosperity.

“Ultimately, common good action leadership is my take on the future for the industry and is driven by my experiences.”

Entering the booming dairy industry in 2010 as a second career, Deborah says she and husband Tim were surprised by the hierarchical nature of workplace relationships in the industry.

“We started out as farm assistants, right at the bottom of the ladder and it was there that the workplace injustices became evident. In an industry built on rapid growth with a lot of money at stake, employees were being squeezed to do jobs within tight timeframes, under huge pressure and with little opportunity for recourse.

“That motivated us to not only buy our own farm but do something for more equality.”

Deborah with husband Tim is pioneering healthier employment relationships in the dairy sector having developed the Responsible Work Relationships ™ framework with an accompanying app, that can be used to record, report, and trigger resolution, of relationship issues on farm.

“The framework has the potential to build regenerative workforces that are less hierarchical and exploitative, help retain staff and build skills for people to stay in communities, maintain performance, keep school rolls stable, and build more robust businesses in climate change.”

Supported by the AGMARDT Scholarship as part of her Master’s in Health, Deborah will be working to validate the framework and progress the app, also working alongside Māori to ensure the system is appropriate and accepted.

She sees the framework as being a useful tool to support the Employment Relations Act 2000, under which employers are responsible for the health and safety of their workers – including their wellbeing and psychosocial health.

She says farming contracts can be a far more significant driver of fatigue and harm to people than government regulations, but better measurables of production-based pay for share and contract milking arrangements, can then be a source of powerful metrics.

“Social and environmental metrics giving proof points of future food and fibre businesses will become imperatives for market approval of good, service and trade agreements.”

Deborah will also be using her Master’s in Health – Workplace Health and Safety study to better understand what type of leadership is needed to allow ‘common good action’ leaders to emerge and evolve in the dairy industry – and wider primary industry sector.

“Hierarchical structures can be an impediment to emerging leadership. When power is held, less leadership may be given, but common good action leaders achieve a lot because they understand the issues from the ground up.

“I have worked voluntarily for common good goals, and I know with responsible work relationships to restore our faith in humanity, means a long-term prosperous future for our primary industries.”

Using satellite science to measure river water quality

AGMARDT is funding laboratory testing for a new programme to develop ways to use satellite science to measure river water quality.

“Rivershot is an intelligent and innovative approach to water quality that is data-driven, highly directed, inquisitive and comprehensive in its commitment to learning and understanding,” says Paul Brown.

Former dairy farmer Paul, from Ashburton, is one of the core team of three driving development of the innovative programme which uses a combination of satellite-based spectral analysis and direct water sampling to monitor changes in river water quality and to identify nitrogen and e-coli levels.

AGMARDT provided funding to support regular testing of water samples during 2020 and 2021 to help Rivershot test and adapt its processes.

“As a dairy farmer, I was very aware that dairy farming is blamed for a lot of river pollution and I wanted to look at ways to help,” says Paul. “The other members of our team are a computer scientist and a space scientist .

“Rivershot portrays water quality by continuously tracking the extent of Nitrogen and E. coli content along the river. It works through a mixture of absorption, refraction and reflection of wavelengths. It is very complex but, by measuring wavelengths, you can detect what is in the water.”

While satellite-based programmes for analysis of lake water quality are already established, Paul  believes Rivershot technology is a world first for monitoring river water.

“Lakes are larger and more stable. Rivers are not as wide or deep and they move faster and weave through hills and urban and rural environments and various industry. There is the potential to monitor every river in New Zealand using this – and overseas too.

“Rather than taking river water samples in a handful of locations monthly, Rivershot looks across the whole river, taking up to 2000 test points per km, and averaging them over a length of river. Results will be presented within 48 hours of satellite imagery.”

Paul is funding technology development costs for the project and the AGMARDT funding enabled regular laboratory testing of river water samples to check against satellite analysis.

Initial pilot programmes were undertaken on the Avon, Cam, Kaiapoi and Rakaia rivers, with water samples taken on the same day as satellite imagery. The data set and analysis is being independently peer reviewed.

“We did a lot of testing with satellites and, at the same time, did traditional bucket testing,” says Paul. “We also used water testing data from LAWA (Land Air Water Aotearoa) to correlate our results.

“It’s been a constant process of developing our technology to overcome issues like flow and distinguishing stones from water. There have been many steps in the process but we have successfully demonstrated the process of using satellites to measure N and E. coli is possible on different types of rivers within NZ. We are now processing data from 60 rivers – mostly in the South Island but some in the North too.

“As an example, the Avon is one of the most tested rivers in the South Island – it is tested in seven places monthly by agencies like ECan and Christchurch City Council.. In one day, Rivershot can get 1,500 samples from the Avon. The Rakaia river is tested in two places monthly; we can get a shot every metre and over 50,000 samples in one day.”

The Rivershot team is now seeking partners to help take the programme to its next stage and ultimately to facilitate its uptake by agencies, government, independent groups and business groups, who can use it for their needs.

“We want to work with the right people for the right reasons,” says Paul.  Rivershot contributes to a sustainable river eco-system that benefits everyone.  Our system is a more holistic view of the whole river system and presents the results to clients very quickly. Therefore results can be acted upon  by those that monitor our rivers in real time to help prevent further pollution. Rivershot helps tell the whole story of the river , the good and the bad, as it passes through different localities that can effect water quality.

“Our aim is to become the trusted supplier of regular data from all possible fresh water rivers and waterways, and supply agencies, farmer groups, water care groups and individuals, that require this information to carry out their regulatory roles and maintain our fresh water standards for the benefit of all New Zealand.”

Turning NZ into the eco valley of the world

Alex Worker sees a future for New Zealand as the eco valley of the world, producing ethical, technology enabled food to help feed Asia Pacific more sustainably.

That may be a big ask, but this innovator and future-focused thinker is already well on track and as a 2022 AGMARDT Leadership Scholar will be furthering his goal.

The founding Chair of Future Food Aotearoa, a collective of food entrepreneurs committed to growing New Zealand’s foodtech industry, Alex has an extensive international career in food and agribusiness.

He has over a decade’s experience in sales, marketing and management for Fonterra in China and New Zealand, and wider experience in new ventures and business development across Australasia, the Americas, Greater China, and Asia Pacific – including co-founding and directing China’s first culinary incubator, Hatchery.

Aware of the changing dynamics of the global food industry, the challenges of climate change, population growth and changing customer needs and preferences, Alex sees significant opportunity for New Zealand to transform into a modern food system.

“Like any good garden, Aotearoa’s food system requires thought, care and attention. With the right knowledge, experience and leadership, New Zealand could become to food, what Silicon Valley is to software. We could become the Eco Valley of the world producing sustainable, technology-enabled and ethical foods.

“To do this we need to take a systems approach looking globally at what’s possible, where demand is heading, and where New Zealand fits in. Understanding our role in this value chain, investing in food technology and IP, and feeding both China and US with higher quality nutrition is our opportunity”.

Having lived in Asia for over 15 years, Alex is now based in Queenstown with his wife and young family and passionately pursuing his goal. He splits his time between several ventures, including leading the launch of Impossible Foods’ meats from plants into New Zealand.

“Once New Zealanders and farmers start to experience the delicious meat taste of Impossible that’s made from plants, they’ll open to a new world of possibilities.”

Alex is also a partner in two New Zealand foodtech ventures LILO Desserts and NewFish. LILO is focused on harnessing fruit waste, the 10% that never makes it out of the orchard and turning it into novel plant-based desserts. NewFish is scaling up use of micro-algae as a powerful, protein rich future food from New Zealand.

And he sits on the steering committee of Te Hono, a partnership between food and fibre sector industry leaders, iwi, and government agencies with a vision to turn New Zealand into a global food and fibre exemplar economically, environmentally and socially. He also sits on MPI’s food and beverage industry transformation plan advisory board.

Focused on further honing his governance skills to better represent New Zealand’s growing pipeline of food entrepreneurs, Alex will be using the AGMARDT Leadership Scholarship to complete Harvard Kennedy School’s Public Leadership Credential programme.

“With the Harvard programme, my aim is to significantly upgrade my governance, public good thinking and leadership skills to have a greater impact on the betterment of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“I’m really grateful for AGMARDT’s support. It’s a progressive signal to take a risk on my type of profile. In turn I hope to de-risk their investment and use the opportunity to drive real, collective impact across New Zealand’s food and fibre sector.”

Applying Supercritical UV technology to the dairy sector

AGMARDT funding is helping take a revolutionary new UV treatment technology to the dairy sector where it has potential to significantly reduce biosecurity risk and improve animal well-being.

Super critical UV (SCUV) is a patented technology designed at Massey University. SCUV is a potentially simple and cost-effective solution for rapidly disinfecting low clarity liquids like industrial effluent, juice, wine, and milk for which standard UV treatment is not normally considered feasible due to these liquids’ low ‘UV transmissivity’ (UVT).

SCUV is also potentially a cost-effective way to enhance the shelf life of products and treat them far more cheaply than other methods like pasteurisation – without high temperatures that impact nutrition and flavour.

Led by Professor Andy Shilton, who has a PhD in Environmental Engineering and more than 25 years’ experience working in solutions for water and wastewater treatment, Massey has already developed a market-ready industrial scale SCUV system.

Now Professor Shilton and his team are testing a prototype for the dairy industry – where SCUV has multiple potential benefits including reducing the biosecurity risks from waste milk and effluent.

Professor Shilton says farmers are particularly interested in the ability of SCUV to lift the quality of milk fed to calves by reducing potential disease spread, especially if the waste milk derives from multiple farms.

From talking to stakeholders a prototype has been refined and has been tested on milk spiked with E.Coli and Bacillus cereus spores and was shown to be effective and fit for purpose for the next stage of long term rigorous testing.

Professor Shilton says without AGMARDT funding this critical stage of the work wouldn’t have been possible.

“While we had been able to undertake preliminary testing that indicated potential, without this AGMARDT funding the young Bio/Chem Research Engineer that we had trained in this area would have had to be laid off and work on applying Supercritical UV technology to the dairy sector would have ceased.

“This funding gave us the opportunity to continue and enabled us to secure co-funding from Fonterra to apply for a second stage of AGMARDT funding that will allow longer-term testing including on-farm trials.”

This work will build a rigorous data set to allow practical proof of concept and economic feasibility analysis.

“Ultimately this work has the potential to provide a significant reduction of biosecurity risk, improvement in animal well-being and lift in profitability across New Zealand’s dairy sector.”