As the world wakes up to the significant challenges presented by feeding a growing global population, CEA (Controlled Environment Agriculture) is gaining traction as a method to grow more food with less resources.
Tauranga-based company Bluelab has been recognised for business success in providing tools that help CEA growers rise to the global demand for more food grown in a sustainable manner.
In the New Zealand International Business Awards by NZTE, Bluelab took home the Supreme Award. The Excellence in Digital Commerce Transformation Award, and runner-up in the Best Established Business and Innovation in Covid Response categories, Bluelab staff were “thrilled and grateful” for the recognition.
A record 53 finalists made it to the last stages of the competition, with winners chosen by an independent judging panel skilled in growing businesses internationally.
Bluelab has previously been awarded the Excellence in Innovation Award at the same awards in 2019.
Chief executive officer Greg Jarvis purchased NZ Hydroponics in 2000, which he restructured and renamed Bluelab.
Years of experience
Before Bluelab, Jarvis had more than 18 years of experience in management through his time at Dow AgroSciences, Fernz Corporation and Balance Agri-Nutrients.
Recognising the opportunity in the electronics arm of NZ Hydroponics, Jarvis helped the company double-down, building electronic meters, monitors and controllers to enable growers to accurately measure and control parameters pH, conductivity, and temperature.
“It soon became apparent the really significant growth opportunities were lying in Europe and the United States, and this was prior to greenhouse operations there really scaling up.”
Since then, Bluelab has grown into an internationally recognised industry-leader in the CEA industry, with 98 percent of the company’s output being export. North America has one of the most developed CEA markets, with the rest of the world following suit.
Forecasts indicate that the CEA market will grow at 18.7 percent CAGR to US$172 million by 2025.
“We are now seeing more and more crops venture indoors to controlled environments.
“Even if you look locally at what we do in New Zealand with blueberries. Many growers are moving away from being field-grown and tend to have a high level of protection, with sophisticated irrigation and fertiliser systems.”
Issues around fertiliser costs are also compelling producers to try and find the peak of their controlled crop’s production, minimising waste.
“There has to be an economic incentive for a grower to invest in CEA operations.
“We save them dollars by helping them save on water use, and delivering more general information on nutrient inputs, stopping them putting more on than they need.
“They end up with much greater certainty of yield and in the final crop’s quality.”
The future of Bluelab lies in innovating customer-centric hardware and software alongside the expanding CEA industry. Bluelab develops all its technology in house and has worked in partnership with Callaghan Innovation and Lincoln Agritech.
Lincoln Agritech instrumental assistance
Lincoln Agritech was instrumental in helping develop the company’s latest piece of equipment to prototype stage.
With the majority sale of Bluelab last year to Pioneer Capital and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, Jarvis is confident about the company’s ability to access capital for future innovation and expansion.
For a company that started with less than a dozen staff and now employs 120, including 15 offshore, and Jarvis said Bluelab has no reason to not be located in Bay of Plenty. He is also encouraged by the growing level of agri-tech companies the bay hosts.
Competition between companies for staff has heated up significantly amid the covid border shutdown, and he is looking forward to a loosening of migration and offshore staffing ability in coming months.
“The Bay holds significant opportunities for the exceptional talent we see in New Zealand and the world.
“There is an exciting ecosystem developing here around technology that can compete with career opportunities offered in our major cities.”