Australia has a $1.6 billion problem. With premium Australian produce becoming increasingly popular internationally, especially in large Asian markets, counterfeiters are cashing in.
The multi-million dollar flood of fake food is so strong that some Aussie brands are pulling out of places like China rather than risking their international reputations.
This comes at a time when farmers are already feeling the pinch of a changing climate and a volatile market.
By 2050, the world needs to feed over 9 billion people. For Australia to increase production while maintaining our competitive advantage, the whole sector must leverage digital technology.
That’s where the UTS-led Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) comes in.
“We want to help protect the Australian brand,” says Professor Ren Ping Liu, Research Program Leader of Digital Agrifood Technologies in the Food Agility CRC. “We are aiming to give Australian agriculture a competitive edge overseas, make them more efficient and more competitive.”
For example, researchers are considering how premium beef exporters could use sensor technology to not only ensure their meat is transported overseas at the correct temperature, but also to provide traceability to buyers.
The Food Agility CRC brings together 54 partners and more than $150 million in funding to tackle the big problems facing Australian agriculture.
Further down the supply chain, they’re trying to help farmers make decisions that benefit their businesses.
Farms are incredibly data-rich environments, with many measurements taken daily or weekly and recorded over long periods. New internet-enabled smart tractors and other digital technologies have accelerated information gathering but, according to Ren, data literacy has not caught up.
“Farmers have to make a huge amount of decisions on a daily basis – when to spray, when to plant, when to harvest. But most don’t know how to use the data that they are creating and they are already flat out.”
Using advanced data analytics techniques, researchers at the CRC are hoping to provide farmers with actionable information, live alerts and updates on smartphones or tablets.
But CEO of Food Agility CRC Mike Briers says that farmer-focused information is just the beginning. “For me, the most exciting projects are those that re-purpose data to create exponential value. For example, can the data that farmers use to make decisions also be used by a regulator to manage product safety, or by a bank to manage risk?”
This holistic approach is already producing tangible results. Oyster farms in NSW have recently deployed underwater sensors that are helping farmers improve their productivity, while providing more accurate food safety information for government, disease risk data for researchers and provenance information for buyers.
The secret to the CRC’s success is collaboration.
“We ensure we have the right people in the room from government, tech, industry and research fields to create a better solution for everyone. We are working with all our partners to do research that delivers maximum impact as quickly as possible,” says Ren.
Australian farmers are working hard. Food Agility CRC is helping them work smarter too.