AgriFutures looks to the skies and beyond for innovation ideas

Science stretches the boundaries of possibility

Opinion
AgriFutures Australia has initiated a Producer Technology Uptake Program that involves 20 producer groups trialing a range of technology solutions and kick-starting adoption.

AgriFutures Australia has initiated a Producer Technology Uptake Program that involves 20 producer groups trialing a range of technology solutions and kick-starting adoption.

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AgriFutures Australia is working with farmers to trial technology solutions to common issues.

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Innovation and ingenuity have long been a part of the Australian agricultural system.

As an industry, the agriculture sector is renowned for generating ideas from within and adapting international science and research to suit our climate and landscape.

Similarly, the sector has been successful at customising equipment and technology to meet the challenges of Australian production and marketing conditions.

Pair the tradition of innovation with the 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 to plug 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, AgriFutures Australia sees that the future of food - in particular - will move beyond conventional categories and blur the boundaries between flavour, nutrition and physical form.

For example, 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 is about finding new applications for existing technologies - and using satellites in Australian agriculture is one example.

This idea started as a natural progression upwards from the - now mainstream - drone technology to explore what else could be put to work from above.

Looking to the mining industry and defence sectors, we discovered a broad potential for space technology in agriculture and forestry.

This includes high-definition mapping, scanning and surveillance.

As the number of satellites grows, so does the scope of coverage and new opportunities 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 to end-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 - 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.

This is the AgriFutures Australia Producer Technology Uptake Program and involves 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. These may be time, lack of technology support or external pressures.

We want the sector as a whole to overcome these challenges.

Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), such as AgriFutures Australia, sit at a crucial cross-section of producers, researchers and government.

It is our responsibility to drive the adoption of boundary-pushing research, science and innovation to benefit Australia's rural industries.

- Michael Beer, AgriFutures Australia business development general manager

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