Science and innovation are stretching the boundaries of what’s possible

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By Michael Beer, AgriFutures Australia General Manager, Business Development

Innovation and ingenuity have long been a part of the Australian agricultural system. We are renowned not only for generating ideas from within, but also adapting international science and research to suit our climate and landscape. Similarly, we have become successful at customising equipment and technology to meet the challenges of the Australian sector. Pair this tradition of innovation with our ability to communicate and connect with the rest of the world, and we are seeing an increased appetite for innovation that stretches the boundaries of possibility.

We can readily cross-pollinate to bring different ideas and disciplines together and we can globally window shop to discover solutions that can be plugged into Australian food and fibre production. Our local research is influenced by international consumer trends and policy shifts, such as Europe’s increased focus on animal welfare and sustainability. An increasingly entrepreneurial focus has also pushed our research and innovation to solve the issues that people and industries face.

Expanding our understanding of what is possible, we see that the future of food in particular will move beyond conventional categories and blur boundaries between flavour, nutrition and physical form[1]. For example, now we are considering the micronutrient Omega-3 as a building block that we can mix and match to deliver on broader nutrient needs. Its potential uses are not just about human health through supplements or nutraceuticals but also as an efficient source of feed for aquaculture and livestock industries.

In a world where innovation is pushing the boundaries of possibility, the role of science and research is to validate. For example, where there is the idea to use the structure of decommissioned oil rigs as seaweed nurseries or wind turbines, it is science that will determine how it is possible. Similarly, there is research underway into how we can store carbon on the seabed. We know that the structure of the seabed mimics soil in many ways, so now we are exploring if and how we can sequester carbon in this structure.

Science is not only about making new discoveries, it’s about finding new applications for existing technologies, and using satellites in Australian agriculture is one example[2]. This idea began as a natural progression upwards from the now mainstream drone technology to explore what else could be put to work from above.

[1] Future Forces – A ten-year horizon for Australian agriculture

[2] New frontiers: agriculture sets sights on space technologies

Looking to the mining industry and defence force we discovered a broad potential for space technology in agriculture and forestry, including for high-definition mapping, scanning and surveillance. As the number of satellites grows so too does the scope of coverage and new opportunities emerge to use the technology for biosecurity, natural resource management, natural disaster responses and surveillance.

At AgriFutures Australia, we see our role in the science and innovation landscape as bringing researchers and developers closer together with users. We take an enabling approach, where if we can provide the right information, bring the right people together and identify any barriers to adoption then we can help make innovation work in a practical sense.

Understanding barriers to technology uptake is one of the features of a recent pilot program we have started – AgriFutures Australia Producer Technology Uptake Program[3] – working closely with 20 producer groups to trial technology solutions and kick start adoption. We are finding that producers’ focus is often on making their current tool, technology or system work better, rather than looking to the next big innovation for their industry. While there is a strong appetite for and aspiration towards adopting innovation among producers, we are now seeking to better understand the barriers that exist – be they time or lack of tech support or external pressures – so the sector as a whole can overcome them.

Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) like AgriFutures Australia sit at a crucial cross-section of producers, researchers and government and it is our responsibility to drive the adoption of boundary-pushing research, science and innovation to benefit Australia’s rural industries.

[3] Twenty producer groups awarded funding to support technology adoption journey

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