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Digital transformation of Australia’s food industry

The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO announced that the Food Agility CRC will be funded with $50m through the Federal Government’s Cooperative Research Centres program to fast-track the digital transformation of Australia’s food industry.

The bid consortium is led by the Knowledge Economy Institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), together with QUT and Curtin University. Dr Anne Astin will be the inaugural Chair.

“UTS is proud to be working together with the Australian Technology Network of universities and our colleague regional universities on the Food Agility CRC,” said Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President, UTS.

“We are excited to be bringing one of our key strengths – data science – to a critical sector for Australia. We also bring our proven transdisciplinary research approach to the important challenges in food and agriculture: combining data science with the disciplines of law, social science, engineering and business.

“Australia has one of the most advanced agricultural industries in the world. We look forward to working hand-in-glove with the food and agricultural sector to advance the sector, and demonstrate how innovation is crucial to providing opportunities and prosperity for all segments of Australian society,” Professor Brungs said.

UTS Industry Professor and establishment CEO Dr Mike Briers AO said, “Global food production needs to double by 2050 and the opportunity that presents to the Australian food industry is enormous. Yet we are lagging our international competitors in preparing for a digital future.

“The Food Agility CRC, backed by government, will be an independent, trusted intermediary to accelerate research adoption and commercialisation – including ag tech start-ups – to improve digital services to the sector,” Dr Briers said.

The Food Agility bid raised over $160m in commitments for the proposal and has 54 partners across the food value chain – including 15 technology providers, 11 food production companies, 7 service providers, 7 research providers, 6 regional development agencies, 5 government agencies and 3 industry networks.

“Our unique combination of partners across the value chain will fast-track the digital transformation of Australia’s food and agricultural sector,” Dr Briers said.

“Food Agility will use contemporary, agile and user-centric design principles, combined with deep engagement with the food sector, to optimise adoption of digital services,” Dr Briers said.

Projects currently underway include, in horticulture:

Food Agility consortium partners are using the internet of things to improve the shelf life of bagged lettuce which is dramatically affected by its water content when harvested. Combining on-farm data with data from processing and retailers optimises those harvesting decisions. Just one day of shelf life dramatically improves yields and reduces food wastage, worth billions to the food industry.

In food export markets:

Food Agility are working with the food and agribusiness growth centre Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) to develop a Market Insights & Information portal which will use real-time information from a number of sources to produce qualitative and quantitative insights to support businesses interested in entering new markets, both domestically and overseas.

In finance:

Food Agility is working to provide viticulturists with better and more timely information so they can benchmark themselves and identify opportunities to improve farming practices, reduce costs and improve the quality and yield of their produce.

Professor Bronwyn Harch of QUT will be Food Agility’s Research Director.

“Our research framework is designed to deliver commercial value, to build capacity across the food value chain, and optimise the research investment,” Prof Harch said.

“Our research programs will create digitally-enabled solutions by focusing on three critical components – hardware, software and liveware. That means addressing the sensor and communication technologies that underpin data across food value chains; transforming poorly designed, utilised and connected data into information and insights for decision making; and ensuring best practices are integrated into the workflows of governments, industry and consumers, and building a capable workforce,” said Professor Harch.

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