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AgTech uptake boosted from paddock to plate in South Australia

Government research bodies in South Australia (SA) are actively boosting the application of agrifood tech from paddock to plate through an innovative program that funds demonstration farms, producer-driven programs and a food pilot laboratory to provide proof of concept products to industry.

SA’s Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) is the key economic development agency responsible for growing primary industries and driving regional development, and it provides research, development and extension (RD&E) services through the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

PIRSA’S Dr Robyn Terry has anecdotal evidence from SA producers that seeing technologies in action on demonstration farms or watching them working online in a virtual tour has a powerful impact.

“We’ve been working to showcase different technologies such as water monitoring, that can reduce the need for staff and vehicles to do water runs but also make water use more efficient,” said Dr Terry, PIRSA’s AgTech Program Manager, Major Programs and Regions.

“A producer was agisting cattle on a property 100km away from home, so he invested in a water tank monitor. He was at the property that day and the tank was fine, but that afternoon the monitor suggested there was a problem.

“He thought it must be faulty but it was very hot weather, so he sent a worker to check again and it was bone dry. Without the monitor he wouldn’t have made that trip again for a week and the cattle would have been in trouble. He went out and bought four more!”

It's just one example of the gains being made by PIRSA’s innovative attitude to building an AgTech community of practice through providing independent testing on four demonstration farms across the state and on private farms on Kangaroo Island.

Dr. Terry and the team at PIRSA have listed on growAG. to reach a broader audience and invite AgTech developers and suppliers to express their interest in the program offering a platform to deploy their products on the farms. 

This opportunity offers partners exposure through virtual tours of the AgTech demonstration farms and through industry events for networking and engagement within the South Australian agricultural community.

This initiative isn't just about deploying technology; it's about fostering collaboration and ensuring that the technology deployed is not only effective but also user-centric. If you're an AgTech provider looking to make a tangible impact and validate your innovation in the industry, reach out to the team to connect, showcase, and collaborate with primary producers. 

Find out more here.

New AgTech Producer Groups learn collectively

Dr Terry is excited about the next phase, PIRSA’s new AgTech Producer Groups Program, designed to upskill and support producers in the use of AgTech for industry-specific improvements.

AgTech Producer Groups will be led by a facilitator and meet at least three times over a 14-month period to create a plan for what the members collectively want to learn. The format, content, and delivery will be tailored to suit members’ knowledge, skills, and areas of interest.

“We had a broad range of Expressions of Interest from different primary industries for the Producer Groups and we think the peer-to-peer learning environment will be beneficial for producers. This program is something you can’t do without input from the farming systems groups and facilitators that pull it together,” Dr Terry said.

“They’re all regionally based groups from multiple primary industries, and once they’re underway we’ll be excited to disseminate the results of their work.”

This opportunity is currently listed on growAG., open to individuals or groups of producers in South Australia who are eager to explore and engage with new AgTech solutions.  With a focus on upskilling and supporting producers in utilising technology for industry-specific enhancements, this initiative targets all primary production sectors, including livestock, viticulture, horticulture, aquaculture, broadacre, forestry, and other commodities. 

Find out more here. 

Photo Credit: Rachael Lenehan phtography at an AgTech Demo Day in SA

Food Pilot Lab presents pathway from paddock to product

PIRSA’s work in the paddock has a complementary pathway that leads to the plate, in the form of applied research at its $2.5 million Food Pilot Laboratory at SARDI’s Waite campus in Adelaide.

The lab offers innovators in food tech the opportunity to develop new products and demonstrate scalable food processes for a range of raw materials and ingredients, both animal and plant-based.

Head of the lab, Dr Maria Saarela, said the aim is to increase the value-adding, food manufacturing and export opportunities for raw materials across Australia, to develop new prototypes of food such as cereals and pulses, dairy and seafood.

“We’ve worked with the Fight Food Waste CRC to develop alternative uses for field peas that didn’t look nice enough for the fresh market. We created new flavour profiles, analysed functional foods benefits such as reducing the levels of anti-nutritional compounds, and analysed high protein concentrate opportunities,” explained Dr Saarela, Research Director in Food Sciences with SARDI.

“In another project we partnered with several groups including Woolworths to assess the viability of recovering protein, fibre, and other components from green leaf waste at supermarkets, and successfully developed a novel technology for manufacturing leaf protein from the vegetable wastes.

“To have these alternative pathways where you can process commodities after a weather event or a surplus and sell them as a value-add provides independence for growers in a volatile commodity market.”

PIRSA is currently offering established or scale-up food companies and food tech innovators, the opportunity to partner with them to develop, test, trial, or validate food products at the South Australian Research and Development Institute's (SARDI) food pilot laboratory.

Find out more on growAG. here. 

Growers have opportunity to add value for all seasons

Dr Saarela said the Food Pilot Lab offers food tech innovators the opportunity to develop new products, demonstrate scalable food processes, and explore shelf-life issues or labelling and food safety, as well as working on smaller scale projects with fellow universities and the CSIRO.

As consumers embrace plant-based foods more, Dr Saarela said the time is right to enhance the AgTech and research capability to increase the processing of grains and pulses into added value products.

“We have seen the collapse of the hype around plant-based protein and the vegan market is small, but the general population still wants to make their diet a little bit healthier by adding plant-based foods.

“Right now, there are lots of pulse-based products on supermarket shelves that are imported – why aren’t they Australian-grown food? The answer might only need a few months of food product development work, rather than a three-year program,” she said.

Growers need to be aware of how value-adding can benefit them, said Dr Saarela.

“Growers’ resources and time are limited but it would be good to do something together to promote this. Look at baked beans, for example, it’s just a supermarket product but the market is fairly big, and it’s all imported,” she said.

“The risk is thinking ‘too fancy’. Growers could easily be involved in the low hanging fruit. Look at the market, what’s in there and where it is coming from, and is there a niche for that?”

Dr Robyn Terry sees engagement as the key component to enable producers to make the right adoption or investment in AgTech.

“Often at field days they feel they get the ‘perfect’ tech and a company pitch, so they value the independence of the demonstration farms and simplified ROIs, like reductions in labour and vehicle use.

“Some producers look at it and say ‘Yeah, that’s great’ but their decision to invest is based more around prosaic things like creating a better work/life balance – meaning if AgTech gives them the security to check irrigation or water supply remotely, then they can go on holidays with the family!”

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