Zane Sheffield

At just 19 years old, Zane Sheffield from Loxton, has become the youngest CEO in the Riverland region, and he’s making waves in the horticultural industry with his innovative weed-seeker sprayer technology.

About Zane’s Journey

At just 19 years old, Zane Sheffield from Loxton, has become the youngest CEO in the Riverland region, and he’s making waves in the horticultural industry with his innovative weed-seeker sprayer technology.

Agriculture has always been in Zane’s blood; growing up on a fruit block in Loxton, he’s been helping his dad with farm work since he was 8 years old. He came up with the idea for the weed-seeker sprayers by discussing it with his dad and brainstorming ways to improve farming practices.

Zane’s custom-built weed-seeker sprayer uses vision-based artificial intelligence (AI) software to identify and target specific weeds, eliminating the need for blanket spraying of entire areas. This approach not only saves money but also minimises the use of chemicals.

Zane’s journey began when he participated in the Shark Tank program at Loxton High School during year 10. Since then, he has been committed to bringing more technology into the horticulture industry. Alongside his father, Peter Sheffield, and business partner Ben Pankhurst, Zane aims to expand their company, Agtech by Design, into multiple fields of technology.

The Agtech by Design weed-seeker sprayer can achieve savings of up to 60-65% on chemical usage compared to traditional methods. However, he and his team are working on an even more advanced AI system called the species-select system, which can identify individual species of plants, allowing for highly precise targeting of specific weeds. This technology is expected to achieve savings of up to 95% on chemical usage.

Interest in Zane’s innovation has been widespread, with various industries, including mango farms in the Northern Territory and golf courses, expressing interest in his technology. The weed-seeker system can also be mounted on autonomous robots, making it even more versatile.

The Regional Leadership Development Program (RLDP), funded by the Government of South Australia and the Department of Primary Industries and Regions, focuses on enhancing leadership abilities, including communication, understanding leadership styles, mindful leadership, resilience, adaptability, and community engagement. It’s designed as a sustainable framework for leadership skill development in the Murraylands and Riverland region, involving workshops and activities that foster connections and relationships among leaders across various sectors.

The RLDP aimed to address the challenge of developing and retaining leadership capacity in regional communities, specifically focusing on both the quantity and quality of development of leadership skills.

Zane was encouraged to apply for the RLDP through his role as the youngest committee member on the Loxton Community Futures Inc (LCF). LCF is a community group with a mission to bring the community’s ideas and vision into real-life projects benefiting their rural community.

They encouraged him to apply to grow his leadership skills to benefit not only his company but also his role on the board of the committee.

Zane said that at the start of the program, he had a basic understanding of leadership from his experience in sports and other activities. However, he lacked a deep understanding of how leaders can truly influence their teams, both in business and the community.

“My leadership and communication skills, especially in public speaking, have improved significantly over the past year. I’ve also gained valuable knowledge in governance systems, team leadership, company structures, and finance applications.”

“At the start of last year, when we began the program, it was just me in the company. About halfway through, I teamed up with Ben, which is now our company.

What I have learned is helping to bring out not only my skills but Ben’s as well. I have also brought back information and ideas from what I have experienced to benefit the community through the LCF organisation.

It’s been a tremendous help for my development.”

It’s been an incredible year of growth for Zane and his company. Reflecting on how his company is progressing now after completing the program, he said,

“I started with rough business plans and no prototypes, feeling stuck in progressing the business due to my lack of programming and technical skills. Realising I needed a team, I decided to seek help. Through ThincLab, I connected with Ben, who has been instrumental in our progress. Together, we’ve accomplished in six months what some startups take five years to achieve, and it’s just been the two of us.”

And it’s not just business growth, the awards are coming in thick and fast for Zane, such as the Teens in Business Award, joint winner of Rural Entrepreneur of the Year, and most recently, Junior Citizen of the Year.

The program also helped Zane connect with others in and around his community and industry, with many program participants involved in the agriculture industry, such as members of Grain Producers SA, farmers, and potential customers.

“I can now reach out to people and collaborate on projects and ideas. The connections through other RDA members have been really handy.”

“Some of the guys I worked with on our final project; his colleague approached me about organising an agricultural field day. Our goal was to educate kids about agriculture and attract more youth to the agricultural space. Hopefully, we can get something going this year for that.”

The future for Zane is looking bright with an aim to grow his company with a range of innovative products and projects that are pioneering in their field.

“We’re looking to expand internationally, including the American market through partnerships we’re developing. The dream goal is to end up like John Deere, offering advanced technology and products to benefit farmers.”

Zane’s inspirational vision for the future is to help farmers in horticulture to be more efficient and sustainable.

“Personally, I’m passionate about bringing technology from broadacre farming into horticulture. There’s not as much technology in horticulture compared to broadacre.”

The RLDP has been a transformative journey for Zane Sheffield. It has not only honed his leadership skills but also provided him with invaluable knowledge and connections, allowing him to grow his innovative company, Agtech by Design, by leaps and bounds.

Through this program, Zane has evolved from a young entrepreneur to a confident leader who is not only revolutionising the horticultural industry but also actively contributing to his community.

Zane Sheffield Regional Leadership Development Program 2023

Zane with his precision weed sprayer in Loxton

Zane Sheffield Regional Leadership Development Program 2023

Zane awarded Loxton Junior Citizen of the Year 2023

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