As part of the New Zealand Bioeconomy in the Digital Age project, James Turner and a team of researchers from AgResearch and DairyNZ examined barriers to digital uptake on New Zealand farms, the thinking being you can’t solve a problem until you know how big it is, what it looks like, and crucially their relationships to one another.

Barriers and opportunities

Technology’s potential to transform agriculture in New Zealand is (theoretically) limitless. But barriers – some obvious, others less so – need to first be overcome to affect real and beneficial change.

The team of researchers from AgResearch and DairyNZ examined barriers to digital uptake on New Zealand farms. In a review of academic literature related to digital agriculture, they identified over 20 unique and interconnected barriers whose impact can be different depending on the stakeholders.

AgResearch Senior Scientist, James Turner

This told us that it is not enough to address one barrier alone. It also means that different stakeholders – farmers, technology providers, processors, consumers – experience different barriers.

James Turner


Technical obstacles included capturing, sharing, and collating data and the challenge of doing something of value with it.

Financial barriers included the immediate cost of the technology, but there is also a “technological lock-in effect” where farmers are reluctant to adopt new technologies because of the investments they have made in existing technologies (including in learning how to use these technologies).

Many other barriers were neither technical nor financial. These include:

  • Reluctance to share data for fear of opportunistic exploitation by partners in the supply chain. For example, where processors might use farm data to penalise farmers for poor farm practices.
  • Outdated data standards and regulation, which cause concerns about privacy and who captures value from data collected – is it the technology provider or processor with less benefit to the farmer? Who is farm data being shared with, and for what purposes?
  • Concerns about the negative impacts of digital agriculture on farm roles, jobs in the agriculture sector and changes to what it means to be a farmer.
  • Societal-level barriers. The first is about what the greater use of digital agricultural technologies could mean for the future of farming. In other words: through whose eyes is the promise of digital agriculture actually being seen?

Connecting industry with technology

For some in the agri-food sector, particularly policy makers, scientists, processors, and technology developers it is viewed as innovative, modern, and offering farmers the ability to provide extra care for animals and the environment.  However, for others, particularly farmers and consumers, it is viewed as promoting large scale, high-volume, and efficiency-driven industrialisation of farming that commodifies animals and exacerbates the disconnect between humans, animals, and the land.

This includes perceptions about the negative influence of big agritech on farmers’ ability to farm the way they want to. For example, in the past many farmers had the right to fix their own tractors but some are now reliant on the equipment companies to do this, due to the complex software and technology in the tractors, repair restrictions and IP provisions.

NZBIDA's former project lead Dr Mark Shepherd said, “The work of James and his team illustrates what a huge undertaking it is going to realise the transformational potential of digital technologies in the New Zealand agricultural sector. It’s as much about people as about the technology:  farmers, processors, society (consumers and citizens), and the technology companies. These stakeholders, and in our New Zealand livestock systems, the animals themselves, have different, and at times competing, needs.”

Opportunities for innovation

To tackle this huge undertaking there are three opportunities to innovate differently, which are being included in the NZBIA programme:

  • Broaden the view of what is valued beyond maximising production and financial outcomes, to include ethical, environmental, and other concerns.
  • Accompany the development of digital technologies with corresponding data governance and standards and business models that are transparent, inspire trust, and share benefits of digital technologies among supply chain stakeholders.
  • Design and develop technologies to directly respond to and address stakeholder (not only end-users) needs and barriers to uptake.

Research Team

The team consisted of Álvaro Romera, James Turner, Diana Selbie, Roxanne Henwood, Martin Espig, Mark Wever and Callum Eastwood (DairyNZ).

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