New Zealand-based Agritech company Onside has secured government co-investment of $4 million to expand and accelerate the development of its biosecurity technology.
Onside’s biosecurity software, Onside Intelligence (OSI), uses data from a range of sources and clever algorithms to construct an intricate rural network that’s able to map potential disease pathways and predict where incursions are likely to occur.
The $4m investment over four years will come from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund. Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said development and expansion of Onside’s biosecurity readiness and response app will allow mapping and prediction of disease incursions in a much faster way than we’ve had to date, “which could save New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars by helping the speed of a response.
“Our investment together with Onside’s $6 million contribution means a quick scale-up and adoption by the sector. The more farms that use Onside, the more effectively and accurately we will be able to manage future biosecurity risks,” Damien said.
Onside co-founder and CEO, Ryan Higgs, said the company began in 2016 in visitor management and health and safety, providing a simple digital check-in tool to keep track of farm visitors, contractors and remote workers. It has since evolved into providing comprehensive operations software for task management, compliance and more for all rural sectors, including viticulture, horticulture, agriculture and contracting businesses servicing the rural sector.
With all the data being soaked up, a big network of movement information across properties and the rural sector is constructed, and Ryan said Onside worked with MPI and others on powering that platform for use in tracing disease pathways.
With the Mycoplasma bovis programme, OSI provided alternative data that could be used to supplement NAIT and offer additional insights on how the cattle disease was spreading.
“We also worked with transport companies moving cattle around,” Ryan said.
The app is relatively simple to use, Ryan said. Onside’s digital check-in feature logs movement on and off properties to make connections. This data allows rapid tracing of plants and people, which becomes vital in managing risks.
When the data is aggregated at a high level, the software’s algorithms can help figure out where a disease or pest is more likely to spread next, and thus guide precautionary measures.
The clever maths and network science behind Onside’s software has come from a New Zealander that Ryan studied with at Cornell University, New York, and who now works as a scientist at Google.
Onside is headquartered in Christchurch, but has operations in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and its data science leadership is based in New York.
“Understanding the risk of a biosecurity incursion is a complex problem in large networks so we have sought out the best scientists in the world to work with us,” Ryan said.
Onside has also recently partnered with Kiwifruit Vine Health (KVH) to implement technology that will power their Plant Pathway Plan, a programme designed to protect the $4 billion kiwifruit sector from future incursions.
KVH CEO Leanne Stewart said the solution and tool the project will offer is “going to add great value to growers, and improve day-to-day best biosecurity practice in a simple, innovative way”.
In addition to its biosecurity technology, Onside provides a comprehensive digital toolkit for farms, orchards, vineyards and contractors to streamline operations and ease the burden of compliance. Onside is currently used on over 14,000 properties across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.
Onside was awarded the Bio-protection Research Centre Science Award at the 2020 Biosecurity Awards and is a finalist for Start-up of the Year in the 2022 High Tech awards.
Damien O’Connor said as a trading nation and one with an abundance of unique plants and wildlife, “biosecurity is fundamental to our economic security.
“Primary sector exports are supporting the growth of the economy, which is bigger than even before COVID. This is why we are continuously improving our systems to stop incursions from occurring, and ensuring we have the ability to quickly stamp them out if needed.”