Growing Our Region

Rural revolution taking shape

​In the Manawatū, a rural revolution is in full swing. The Rural Innovation Lab (RIL), launched in February this year, and is the first of its kind in New Zealand, focusing on enabling a digital transformation of primary industries and supporting sustainable agriculture for the Manawatū-Whanganui Region.
It is a collaboration between Manawatū-Whanganui Farmers and Growers Innovation Collaborative (MWFGIC), Massey University (Massey), Microsoft, Te Au Rangahau, Federated Farmers, The Factory, eCentre Limited and The Collaborative Limited.

​“The rural sector is undergoing some major disruption and we can either sit back and watch it happen, or we can face it head on,” says Rural Innovation Lab Chair, Mat Hocken.

“The Rural Innovation Lab provides the space to pull us together so we can collaborate on solutions and ideas, ultimately becoming the smartest, most innovative and sustainable farmers and growers in the world.”
The RIL enables farmers and growers to identify and pursue solutions to their most pressing challenges and opportunities. At the same time, they are provided the opportunity to build their skills and capability through the Smartfarm network. Partners benefit from working directly with organised and capable farmers and growers in the network to trial and test new ideas.
“The Rural Innovation Lab is unique because while there is vibrant and internationally recognised agri-food research and development within the region, the limiting factor is the ability of farmers and growers to adopt these new innovations,” says Mat.
“The point of difference is that the Rural Innovation Lab places agricultural communities at the centre of the system.”
Individuals and organisations can get involved with RIL just by reaching out. The Lab is run by farmers and growers for farmers and growers, along with some techies and other individuals from local organisations. This month, the RIL will be launching an application process for innovators to pitch ideas that will have an impact on the problems farmers and growers are facing. Successful teams will have support wrapped around them and funding to make their ideas happen. It’s an exciting prospect and an opportunity for those crazy back pocket ideas to come to the fore. 
“Whether you are a farmer, a grower, a techie, a developer or just like tinkering in your shed, we want to hear from you,” says Mat.
“We want farmers and growers to see themselves as being able to create positive change. The Rural Innovation Lab is a positive platform which is an antidote to the uncertainty farmers are facing at the moment.”
The Rural Innovation Lab is funded by the Provincial Growth Fund until December 2019, however it is planned that partnerships developed over the course of the year will leverage the RIL within the Manawatū-Whanganui to an ongoing programme; and with the view that the RIL concept may be taken to other regions of New Zealand.
To find out more about the Rural Innovation Lab, contact them now on or phone 021 191 3231.
Images from a recent Rural Innovation Lab networking event at the Farm Cave in Palmerston North.