Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week Simon is joined by Bridget Hawkins, CEO of Regen, an app helping to drive efficiency on farms.
We love a good chat about the things being done to improve farming practice on this show. And today’s guest is the CEO of an app that helps farmers use less water and more efficiently use nitrate fertilisers to only irrigate at times the soil is ready, meaning less runoff of fertiliser and effluent – meaning less crap getting into our waterways.
Sounds pretty good already. But it also helps farmers save money and keep to their council water usage consents – so it is a tool that you don’t have to be a big greenie to want.
The company is called Regen, and since 2010 founder and CEO Bridget Hawkins has been on a mission. Starting out it was to get intelligent tech into farmers’ hands to help them make better decisions, and over time the mission has evolved to focus more on sustainability and building brand into our primary products.
To chat about that journey, the product, and agritech, Bridgit joined us on a trip up to Auckland.
Back in 2010 when the app came out, it was quite a revolutionary to be able to bring so many things together with the new tech. In the time since have you seen lots of people move into the area or are you still in clear space?
There are a lot of different businesses that provide parts of what we do. There’s certainly a lot of companies that have devices that are monitoring soil moisture, so a farmer can look at a graph and they can see a line that goes up and down with the soil moisture and the number that’s reported in is a percentage.
So if I said to you – we’re sitting here in Auckland, it’s quite wet, the soil moisture outside is probably on a patch of grass, around 36%, now what does that mean to you?
Nothing, probably. With soil moisture, at about 60% it’s completely full. That’s not particularly helpful. What we’ve done, and we’re the only company that do this, is we’ve said well farmers are not actually interested in what it is today, but where they want it to be and what their options are to get there.
We have a weather forecast that soil moisture is represented in a different way, showing them in a zone of where it sits for their particular soil type, and they can record what they do so they see the impact of their actions and then they can feel confident that when they irrigate they know where they’re going to end up. Not just presenting data, but actually saying what that data means and what can farmers can actually do. There are very few companies, even internationally, that are moving into that field.
It’s complicated, and if you get it wrong there are real consequences for the resources that they have at hand.
In the years since you began, a lot of your uptake has been in places like Southland where there’s a real council-mandated approach to keeping to the consent. Has that spread throughout the country? Because to an Auckland liberal green type, it seems like every farmer in the country should be using this.
I think every farmer in the country should be using it. Our market for the effluent service really grew in Southland because the council was really specific about what they wanted farmers to be able to demonstrate. The service we provide makes it easy for them to do that. It gives them confidence they are actually meeting those consent conditions.
It’s the same now in Canterbury. We’ve got quite a fast growing customer base there because there’s very clear regulations that are coming into force now that farmers need to justify every time they irrigate. That’s exactly what our service does.
We’re starting to see a lot more interest in the wider Waikato region now as the healthy rivers [law] is coming into play.
Farmers feel they know their farms and have a good sense of where they’re at, but the landscape is changing in the sense that the wider community is not necessarily satisfied with a farmer just saying ‘I know I’m doing it right, just trust me’. They’re wanting to have evidence of that and we’re seeing that coming through in regional council regulations. There’s a requirement for more transparency on what actually is being done and the information that’s being based on.