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UTS-led consortium funded for digital services to food industry

7 March 2017

$50 million funding for new Food Agility CRC. Image: unsplash.com
A new Food Agility CRC based at the Faculty of Engineering and IT has secured $50m of funding over ten years through the Federal Government’s Cooperative Research Centres program.

The successful bid consortium is led by the Knowledge Economy Institute, established in 2015 in FEIT, together with QUT and Curtin University.

“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," said Dr Mike Briers AO, establishment CEO, and UTS' first Industry Professor.

“The Food Agility CRC, backed by government, will be an independent, trusted intermediary to accelerate research adoption and commercialisation - including agTech start-ups - to improve digital services to the sector."

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, seven service providers, seven research providers, six regional development agencies, five government agencies and three 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."

Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President, UTS,  acknowledged how the Food Agility CRC extends UTS' working relationships with the Australian Technology Network of universities, and our colleague regional universities. 

"We have one of the most advantaged agricultural industries in the world and look forward to working to advance the sector, and demonstrate how innovation is crucial to providing opportunities and prosperity for all segments of Australian society.  We will do this by bringing one of our key strengths – data science – to this critical sector, and by applying our proven trans-disciplinary research approach to the important challenges in food and agriculture: combining data science with the disciplines of law, social science, engineering and business," he said.

Food Agility CRC projects currently underway include:

  • Horticulture: consortium partners are using the Internet of Things (IoT)  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, reduces food wastage, worth billions to the food industry.
  • Food export markets: we are working with the industry 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.
  • Finance: 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.

Dr Anne Astin will be the inaugural Chair and Professor Bronwyn Harch of QUT is the Research Director.

“Our research framework is designed to deliver commercial value, to build capacity across the food value chain, and optimise the research investment. Research programmes will create digitally-enabled solutions by focusing on three critical components - hardware, software and liveware - 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 integrating best practices into the workflows of governments, industry and consumers, building a capable workforce,"  Prof Harch said.

Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh will be an independent Board Member, and says the Centre provides Australia with the opportunity to match and surpass the capabilities of global competitors, and optimise the enormous potential the sector holds for the Australian economy.