Raised amidst natural beauty and sustainable living of Great Barrier Island, Nikolai Macnee is now taking those values global. Photo / Supplied

Island Roots to AgTech Innovator

Raised amidst natural beauty and sustainable living of Great Barrier Island, Nikolai Macnee is now taking those values global.

Growing up in an idyllic, eco-conscious community like Great Barrier Island meant Nikolai Macnee witnessed a jarring contrast when he saw the broader agricultural challenges facing farmers. Now, he’s on a mission to scale sustainable practices to help farmers tackle climate change and food insecurity, globally.

“Producing food without harming our environment is central to our values,” says Macnee. His company, Metrovate, is developing New Zealand’s first ‘precision biostimulant’ to enhance plant growth and protect crops using high-tech like 3D modeling and machine learning.

Macnee says producing food in an ethical manner was central to his way of life on Barrier, as was regenerative farming, but he adds that scaling those methods is tough.

“Globally, there is mounting pressure on farmers to clean up their environmental impact. In addition, climate change is driving outsized losses that could lead to national food security challenges that in turn are driving exorbitant pricing.” he says.

“Metrovate’s core value is producing food without harming our environment.”

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“Precision biostimulant” might sound like a Aotea gardener’s worst nightmare, but what it means is a bespoke product that boosts plant growth and health without the side effects of products that many agri businesses that feed the planet currently use.

“Most growth-promoting agricultural products cause an increase in growth to whatever they’re applied to. This could include the weeds and even surrounding flora and fauna that come into contact with it, with potentially harmful ‘off-target’ consequences.” explains Macnee

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“Biostimulants reduce the need for plant growth regulators, herbicides and pesticides.” he says.

“Because they speed up growth, farmers will also require less fertiliser per plant and be able to improve yield naturally without genetic modification.” he adds.

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With the global population projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, the demand for food is expected to increase by 70%. Additionally, the COP goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 adds further pressure on farmers to sustainably boost production.

Metrovate’s biostimulant changes the way plants grow. A combination of technologies enhance nutrition efficiency, stress tolerance and/or crop quality traits such as size, he says.

“Metrovate has developed a computational screening process to ensure the biologicals we produce are effective and safe to apply to crops.” Macnee says.

A grant from the Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) has seen Metrovate open a lab in the Newmarket Innovation Precinct, to bring their product to commercialization.

They are currently raising $1 million in a round led by Sprout Agritech LP and are working with a wide range of growers and suppliers of agricultural products.

Macnee says he wants to blend local roots with global realities, to set new standards for sustainable farming.

“To do this, our tooling needs to improve in a way that doesn’t destroy waterways and rivers or augment our reliance on fossil fuels,” he notes.

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