In March 2017 it was announced that the Food Agility consortium will be funded with $50 million over 10 years through the federal government’s highly competitive Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) program.

The Food Agility CRC aims to accelerate innovation across the agri-food value chain with digital technology. Bringing together the food industry, big technology and service providers, researchers, and state and federal governments, the consortium is led by the Knowledge Economy Institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), together with QUT and Curtin University. Past AIFST Chair Dr Anne Astin PSM is the inaugural Chair.

Becoming Australia’s Next $100 Billion Industry

Australia has enormous opportunity as a food producer. World population will grow to 9.6 billion by 2050 driving food demand. As incomes rise in emerging economies so too does kilojoule intake and, more importantly, a switch to protein. The world is on the cusp of a huge leap in demand for higher-value food products. China alone represents $1 trillion, or 43 per cent of total global food growth by 2050. Monsanto estimates that decision agriculture, using data analytics and real-time recommendations for growers to drive yield improvement, is a US$20 billion revenue opportunity globally. AgTech equity investment across the whole food value chain quadrupled to $4.6 billion between 2013 and 2015.

To be Australia’s next $100 billion industry by 2030 we need sustained structural responses across the food value chain. The issue is not if Australia should pursue this, but how. How do we ensure we get the best value from our food production? How do we harness our reputation for safe and sustainable food while reducing red tape?

In a world where everything is digitally connected, data is a critical asset. Food is no different – yet agriculture has the lowest digital adoption of all industries.

 

What Will Food Agility Provide?

Food Agility has a view of the entire food value chain from a systems perspective. The CRC will identify opportunities to leverage the strengths and capabilities of its diverse partners. Food Agility CRC brings together 54 participants from food, industry, research, technology and government sectors guided by agile methods to achieve our vision.

 

The CRC will develop and use digital technologies including models for sharing data across the food value chain so that:

  • Producers can capture value by responding to rapidly changing consumer preferences.

  • Exceptional quality and food safety records can drive our brand.

  • Environmentally and socially sustainable practices are driven by data.

  • Reduced risks incentivise investment.

  • A digitally capable workforce drives productivity and higher margins.

  • Trans-disciplinary research solves business problems.

  • Industry can access social media and consumer preference market insights.

 

Food Agility will create new tools for export market insights. Faster insights from real-time data and predictive algorithms will help Australian food producers, processors and retailers to more nimbly respond to what the market wants, be more efficient in how they produce and market food, and demonstrate food safety and sustainability to customers.

Tangible industry outcomes will include digital solutions and platforms arising from applied research projects, which will contribute to higher returns to food producers, greater exports and more jobs.

 

Through a collaborative process, we have identified four strategic imperatives (see diagram) that will drive adoption of the digital technology in this vital sector of the economy.

The CRC will deploy digital technologies across the food value chain to reduce the cost of compliance with food safety standards, and to demonstrate the provenance, sustainability and safety of that food to enable industry to leverage Brand Australia (clean, green, safe).

We will build the human capital required to innovate in dynamically changing markets through our educational and training programme.

 

How can industry engage with Food Agility CRC?

Food Agility is interested in working with communities to identify challenges across the food value chain. They plan to conduct forums through their three industry network partners: the Australian Farm Institute, Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) and the National Farmers’ Federation.

Grower adoption of technology has traditionally been problematic. This will be addressed by the CRC by adopting agile science methodologies combined with deep engagement with the food sector, to optimise adoption of digital services. This includes:

  • Strong engagement by growers in problem definition and project design so that projects address real business needs.

  • Strong focus on user-led app design and adoption.

  • Incremental deployment of research outcomes, such as algorithms and models, into apps used by growers and the use of app tracking metrics to provide real-time feedback to researchers on usage. This allows for rapid adaption of the interface and research project design if required.

  • Leveraging technology partners’ infrastructure and capability in developing apps and rapidly deploying commercial apps.

New business models for impact

The CRC’s agile development approach will enable teams to deliver on agreed milestones in iterative stages, using market validation to calibrate research and increase success of adoption.

The Food Agility CRC is currently in the very early establishment phase ahead of a July 2017 kick-off.