Australia plays a major role in feeding the world
This article is part of our series on Science and Research Priorities announced recently by the Federal Government. Here is the series introduction by Australia’s chief scientist, Ian Chubb.
CSIRO Fellow and former Group Executive of Agribusiness and Chief of Division at CSIRO
The agricultural and food industries play a significant role in the Australian economy and are a part of our national identity. The industry is set to continue as the global demand for foods increases over the next 40 years.
These industries, while not a significant part of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), provide jobs in both rural and urban Australia. These industries support rural communities and provide most of the food consumed in Australia. They also underpin our food service and retail sectors. These crops also generate important export revenues and have important interactions with the environment’s soil, water, and biodiversity resources.
The success of the agricultural and food industry has long been a result of technological and research innovation. This is the foundation of our hard-earned reputation for safe, clean, and high-quality food.
As our industries seek to meet the growing global demand for foods, research and innovation are becoming increasingly important. Climate change, land degradation, and biosecurity are all major challenges for producers. They will also need to maintain and increase rates of productivity growth. Processors must remain competitive against low-cost competitors and imports.
Science and research priorities in food recognize the need to research three broad areas, including supply chains, barriers to healthy food access, and enhanced food production.
The agricultural and food industries have such a profound impact on our society that other research priorities, including Soil and Water and Advanced Manufacturing, will also have a significant effect.
The integration of cutting-edge technology and knowledge is a recurring theme in the Food Priorities. It improves the connections between producers, processors, and consumers to respond to changing consumer preferences and temporary opportunities.
This allows us to target our inputs better in production and processing. Not only is this better for profitability, but it also helps to manage biodiversity, land, and water resources. It also allows for the reduction and reuse of waste streams.
Director of the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub and Associate Professor at The Melbourne School of Engineering and Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute at The University of Melbourne
The new research priorities are aimed at addressing key issues that face Australian food producers. These include primary production, manufacturing after the farm gate, distribution, and export.
Exporting Australian food products into distant markets in Asia requires that they be safe, stable, and have a long shelf life. New technologies in packaging and preservation could help both domestic and international distribution.
Australian manufacturers could benefit from research on clean, sustainable production and provenance to compete more on quality than on price.
The sustainability and profitability of manufacturing can be improved by new methods for recovering water and other byproducts. Food waste can also be recycled and reduced across the supply chains. The Food Priorities do not mention energy consumption directly, but new technologies can be used to improve energy efficiency. Environmental Change Priorities may also help the industry adapt.
Priority A for Advanced Manufacturing highlights the need to scale up, de-risk, and add value to Australian-made products. This research could stimulate development and process innovations. Healthy Australian foods include some nutritional aspects.
Priorities are aligned well with the new Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre, which is aimed at improving access to international supply chains and markets. These priorities will also build upon the research networks and strengths that the Australian Research Council has established through its Industrial Transformation Research Program and allow for broad multidisciplinary contributions.
Director of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative at the University of Western Australia and grain farmer Kojonup, Western Australia.
I welcome and applaud the fact that Food, Soil, and water are among national research priorities. Food is more important than ever before for a world that is growing rapidly. Australia is already a major exporter of food, and with the support of research and development, we will be able to contribute significantly more to feeding the rest.
Australia has a competitive advantage in the production of clean, high-quality grains, dairy products, and meats, which are destined for international markets, including booming Asia. There are still many challenges to overcome, and R&D is needed if we want to deliver more quality Australian food.
We can only sustainably increase production by using creative R&D to make the most of our fragile soils and limited water resources. We must increase the efficiency of our Australian rain-fed agriculture to combat climate change.
In contrast, we still have a lot to learn about irrigated farming in order to maximize the potential of this system in northern Australia. There is a growing momentum to boost food production in Northern Australia. There are many opportunities but also challenges. R&D must be supported.
Australia needs to determine how it can build, label, and profit from its clean, green, and ethical foods. Due to our high costs, all sectors need to embrace and develop new technologies, including robotics for production and food products.
The research and technologies of precision agriculture and robots are what require the most attention if Australia wants to significantly and sustainably increase food production in Australia and feed the world.