Co-innovation in action

Co-innovation is a way for research and the primary industries in New Zealand to work together to accelerate the pace of innovation and deliver more profitable growing and farming practices. The AgResearch-led Primary Innovation project is encouraging and sharing ideas to foster co-learning and co-innovation that will create greater economic benefit and a more sustainable future for New Zealand’s primary industries.

Primary Innovation takes a co-innovation approach to deliver this impact. A unique trans-disciplinary team from three sectors – forestry, horticulture and pastoral – and across 11 industry organisations, Crown Research Institutes and universities, including Wageningen University and Melbourne University, has been formed.

Together with a Community of Practice, consisting of 44 industry and government participants, these organisations form an innovation network that is testing and evaluating co-innovation in four past examples of innovation and in action across six ongoing innovation projects. One of the recent examples is the Apple Futures Project, which involved key stakeholders from Pipfruit New Zealand, supply groups, orchardists, exporters, packhouses, Plant & Food Research, government funders (MPI, Trade & Enterprise) and regulators.

Apple Futures was a research and implementation project focused on rising to the challenge of meeting customer-imposed residue requirements in the EU in the mid-2000s. Supermarket customers in the EU had established strict requirements regarding the number of residual chemicals and the amount of each residue on all fresh produce. Apple Futures investigated the residue profile of different agrichemicals under different conditions, and developed new crop protection practices to produce fruit below the customer-imposed maximum residue levels (well below the regulatory levels). Practices were developed and trialled with growers who adopted the technology programme.

Apple Futures was introduced in Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago in 2007, then in Nelson in 2009. By the 2008–09 harvest season, 65% of New Zealand’s export apple crop was produced under the Apple Futures programme. These fruit are residue-free or have average residues below 10% of EU regulatory tolerances, surpassing the residue requirements of over 65 countries.

Nicola Park, a Research Associate with Plant & Food Research, says that the aim of Apple Futures was to produce fruit with ultra-low residues for market advantage ‒ levels that are much lower than those required by overseas regulatory bodies, exceeding the expectation of supermarket customers, particularly in the EU.

“To do this successfully we needed to balance growers’ need for new management regimes with a goal of residue-free production with the need to meet phytosanitary standards and maintain profitable and sustainable orchard management.”

Since then a new research project, Apple Futures II, has been funded by MBIE in partnership with Pipfruit New Zealand, with the aim of developing the practices that would allow New Zealand apple producers to meet the increasingly complicated sanitary and quarantine requirements of global markets. Apple Futures II will broaden, strengthen and enhance the access of New Zealand apples to markets all around the world.

“This project is ongoing and continues using many of the same co-innovation principles that made Apple Futures such a success. The difference is that this time we have the knowledge and understanding about why our first project went so well and can nurture these characteristics within the Apple Futures II project.”

Co-innovation is a systemic approach to facilitating practice change and, more broadly, innovation when addressing complex challenges, like those within the Apple Futures project, both on-farm and in-market. Taking a systemic approach means consideration of the problem within the wider system by:

  • including multiple participants from on-farm and off-farm
  • taking the time to understand the problem from many different views and developing a shared systemic view
  • brokering the bringing together of elements of solutions
  • interactively learning to create knowledge to develop and refine solutions
  • using practical experimentation that challenges current practices and supports change
  • interactively working through cycles of planning-doing-monitoring-reflecting.

Primary Innovation project lead and AgResearch Resource Economist James Turner says that both the Apple Futures and Apple Futures II projects are examples of co-innovation in action.

“Multiple stakeholders were bought together by a broker that created a space where they could learn together from their successes and mistakes, and then learn in the real world by putting that technology into action,” he says.

“Key organisations (Pipfruit New Zealand) and other individuals bought together the elements of strong leadership, funding, coordination and expectation of change that created an opportunity for individuals to innovate. The project also funded ongoing testing and development in ‘real world’ orchards. This led to further refinement of the practices and updating and expanding of the Apple Futures programme.”

James says that solutions emerged, and continue to emerge, from stakeholder and research relationships based on trust.

“In Apple Futures regular ongoing interaction between stakeholders occurred, where they contributed separate knowledge to the project and learnt together from their successes and mistakes. This helped build confidence in the solutions being developed that, in turn, continued to further develop trust and a common sense of purpose.”

Funding of the Primary Innovation Project

Investment in the Primary Innovation project from 2012 to 2017 was $7.5 million (excluding GST) from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, with $990,000 in-kind funding from other industry organisations.