Telling shoppers where their meat came from and guiding farmers to use fewer chemicals is paying off for Hamilton-based Rezare Systems.
The software development and consulting company focuses on the primary sector. Up until 2004 the company was the software development unit within AgResearch, when it was spun-off and subject to a management buyout.
The business is headed by MD Andrew Cooke, who is also lead consultant for a number of its projects. Though Auckland-born, Cooke has spent much of his life in Hamilton, gaining a computer science degree at Waikato University and spending 16 years at AgResearch.
“When I started there in my early days I was a technician transferring data on tape from the government shared mainframe at Trentham to Ruakura Research Centre,” says Cooke. “Eventually I became software development manager at AgResearch, then moved to Rezare.”
Rezare, which employs 10 including a staff member in Upper Hutt plus contractors, tends not to sell retail products. Instead, it focuses on bespoke products for the corporate farmers, which are farming companies with typically more than one block or farm, and usually have multiple shareholders or a company shareholder (rather than a single, family farm).
However, two such products have been commercialised, Resolution and Farmax.
Resolution is a GIS-like farm mapping software to help farmers map and plan their farms, such as where to site fences, grow crops and fertiliser use.
Farmax is advanced planning software for farmers, which by planning the use of feed and other products is said to boost the profitability of dairy, deer, sheep and other farmers.
The products are written in Csharp, .Net, Delphi and JADE.
Rezare also has its joint-venture subsidiary, Rural Link, a network build and internet service provider set up with Waikato Link (the commercialisation arm of Waikato University). Rural Link aims to commercialise its wireless network management software and provide broadband to people in rural areas, who would otherwise be stuck with slow dialup or satellite connections.
Cooke sees his competition as either small companies, typically farmers themselves, who sell purely agricultural-based software. As well, there are the large providers, like Gen-i, that sell generic financial, database and operating systems to farmers.
“Our services fit in between these two extremes and are much more sector specific. [There are] databases and data collection systems for agriculture and traceability, or mathematical models of biological processes – such as how pasture grows, how animals respond to feed available, or how to stop nitrates leaching out of a farm system into waterways,” he explains.
Rezare’s customers are based across New Zealand and include the JADE-based sheep database for Meat and Wool New Zealand. For the Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-operative, Rezare software performs “nutrient budgeting” – helping farmers plan their fertiliser use. The company has also consulted for overseas firms.
Cooke says people are increasingly talking about traceability, so customers know where products have come from, as well as biosecurity, which means tagging animals with RFID tags.
“There are real cost issues, as well as some concerns about privacy (making sure the database of IDs can only be used for its intended purpose). However, our work shows there can also be benefits from using these unique tags as an on-farm management tool,” he says.
Environmental sustainability is another issue, with mapping software being used to assist in planning to reduce pollution and the use of fertilisers.
Cooke expects to see pressure from overseas supermarkets wanting to know the New Zealand story about where the food came from and how sustainable was its production.
“They probably don’t need to see a video in the store about each farm – they just want to know that their supermarket or other seller has got the right controls around their food. This means we’ll have to keep stretching and improving our systems. And technology has a big role to play in that.
“We also have quite long and complex supply chains, especially in the meat and wool sectors. Industry structure may yet change over the next few years, but better communications and supply chain technologies will also help” he says.
If you were in Hamilton, you might not believe there was a recession, Cooke reckons. “We’re the busiest we have been for a while, and although things are easing due to the dairy payout, meat prices have strengthened. Talking with other Hamilton CEOs, this seems to be the pattern in this part of the country.”