Gen-i is likely to apply for Government funding to help set up its RuralZone internet portal, which will provide a single, web-based repository for farmers to store and share farm data. The Telecom subsidiary and its partners — TruTest, FarmHQ and Anzco Foods — may seek funding from the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry's Primary Growth Partnership scheme for RuralZone, Gen-i rural market manager David Walker says.
The scheme was set up last year to support research and innovation in the sector, with $40 million in funding set aside for the next financial year. The minimum grant is $500,000, which must be matched by the private sector. Walker says Gen-i's role will be to provide the back-end infrastructure and software that will allow data to be securely stored and shared. An independent advisory board will be set up to advise on "complex issues" such as who will own the data and the appropriate commercial structure. He says "NZ Inc" will benefit from the initiative. Livestock Improvement Corporation estimated in March that the productivity of the dairy sector alone could be increased by 15 per cent through better management practices that could result from improved information-sharing, delivering an annual gain of $1.1 billion to the economy. Federated Farmers has expressed concern farmers might be exploited by the growing number of businesses that are eyeing the potential of aggregating data from farms. President Don Nicolson has said that it is important farmers hang on to their intellectual property. Walker says Federated Farmers could be involved in setting standards that would apply to RuralZone. It is important RuralZone has the support of Federated Farmers or at least does not run counter to the goals of the organisation, says Brendan O'Connell, business development manager at TruTest. "It is up to them to decide what role they want to play. "If it was endorsed, that's great. They do represent the conscience of farmers."