NZ Zero spearheads fossil fuel free growing

Project: Emission free farming

Innovative agribusiness company NZ Zero (NZ0) has its sights set on export of the world’s first certified zero emissions produced cherries during the 2022/23 season, following start up support from AGMARDT.

The company’s focus is on eliminating fossil fuel used in the growing and harvesting of produce and to eliminate or reduce its use across all other aspects of its supply chain. It is also aiming to achieve New Zealand’s first zero fossil fuel certification.

NZ0’s first grower, Forest Lodge Orchard, near Cromwell, was established in 2019 by Mike and Rebecca Casey, who co-founded NZ0, along with Angus Curry.

Initially the orchard, which has about 9,600 cherry trees, allowed for fossil fuel use but by September 2021 it had completely converted all day-to-day operations to the latest electric technology – the first New Zealand grower to do so. This includes irrigation, frost fighting fans and orchard vehicles. Extensive solar power has also been installed on site.

The first ‘fossil-free’ harvest in 2021/22 was sold into the New Zealand market but the upcoming harvest will also be exported.

An AGMARDT grant helped NZ0 through its establishment phase. This included incorporation with the NZ Company Office, approval of trademarks, launch of its website and building its social media presence. The funding also supported NZ0 in the creation of an open source certification for food production with zero emissions, through AsureQuality, a pre-sales marketing campaign and retail and consumer research.

Angus Curry said market trials had been highly successful, demonstrating that New Zealand consumers were willing to pay a premium for sustainable food, with data showing that electrification for growers was highly viable – they have also developed an electrification payback model.

Forest Lodge has attracted significant media interest, including for the introduction of its electric tractor and bespoke electric foliar sprayer. It was a finalist in the 2021 Sustainable Business Awards and has been used as a case study by the Sustainable Energy Association New Zealand.

“NZ0’s purpose is to become a catalyst for true, quantifiable change in the production methods of growers,” said Mr Curry. “As a brand, it will add value to both growers and consumers while acting as a point of difference for NZ from other global producers.”

Mr Curry said that, recognising that impactful change of New Zealand’s carbon footprint depends on scale, NZ0 is developing a conversion plan for other growers to model.

The company now aims to build on its initial market research and data by expanding product offerings from cherries to other important commercial crops. Next steps include finalising its zero fossil fuel certification, working towards on-boarding new growers and establishing new sales channels domestically and internationally.

“We believe the ‘NZ brand’ would benefit greatly from its next market catalyst, identifying with carbon conscious consumers both domestically and globally to regain our premium niche in the market,” said Mr Curry. “This is a sector in which NZ could become the sole true participant based on our government’s target of a 100% renewable grid by 2030, the only large scale food exporter to do so.”