Vertical and horizontal networks in food chains and rural areas interact on rural development through a potentially global reach. This paper adopts a knowledge systems framework incorporating networking dimensions to explore problems of supply chain reorganisation. In New Zealand this framework is being applied in agri‐industries through the input of research institutes, partly in response to buyer‐driven pressures for supply chain realignment and production to more precise specification. The paper reports on networking interventions by AgResearch in the farmer‐processor relation in two New Zealand export food chains (dairy and meat). Findings from the Learning Challenges Project where focus groups are used to conceptualise and define aspects of the chains and to ascertain knowledge networking dimensions point to the potential of networking methodologies as policy tools.