Wrightson swaps Swanni for biotech future

Wrightson must surely have shucked off its stock-and-station image with its latest public announcement.

Wrightson must surely have shucked off its stock-and-station image with its latest public announcement.

In September Wrightson said it had formed a partnership with Auckland-based Genesis Research and Development, a six-year-old biotechnology company predicted to become the darling of both the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges. Genesis is researching treatments for asthma, the skin disease psoriasis, tuberculosis and multiple forms of cancer.

Wrightson and Genesis will work together to develop new pasture grasses intended to increase productivity on New Zealand farms. The companies will own the intellectual property jointly.

But Wrightson has been at the forefront of new initiatives not only in the knowledge economy, but the dotcom community as well.

Wrightson was one of the first New Zealand companies to establish an ambitious but full-scale retail presence on the internet with Wrightson Online (www.agnz.co.nz). The site offers online purchasing and a wide range of services.

Through the Genesis link Wrightson wants a jump in livestock productivity -animals growing bigger, faster - of 40%. Genesis' work in grass genetics may also make it possible to apply the knowledge gained to the areas of human medicine, the field of nutraceuticals (health additives) and animal health.

Wrightsons chief executive Dr Alan Freeth says New Zealand has "long been seduced by what it considers are the sexy new industries that have evolved out of the internet and other high-tech developments.

"But the real pioneers will be the land-based industries that use the knowledge economy to increase productivity."

Genesis' eventual entry into the share market could give it a capitalisation of about $148 million. The extra funds will be used on R&D carried out by the 110-staff company. As well as Wrightson, Genesis is working with the Dairy Board, HortResearch, AgResearch and several overseas companies in Britain, Japan and the US. Genesis chief executive Jim Watson calls the agreement an example of the "changing face of New Zealand agriculture".

The deal is a good example of how the new whizz-bang companies, rather than working at the opposite end of the spectrum from agriculture, are looking for pole position when it comes to working in the primary production sector.

For Freeth, biotechnology is a key factor in New Zealand's agriculture future.

What he sees, what farmers see but what the rest of New Zealand often fails to see, is that farming is a business first and a lifestyle second.

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