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The modern handshake: How Research and Development Corporations are approaching agrifood commercialisation

From collaborative partnerships to impact investing and innovation challenges, Australia’s Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) are exploring new ways to accelerate agrifood commercialisation. Here Dairy Australia, Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) and Wine Australia share their strategies, and how AgriFutures growAG. is helping drive impact. 

Being at the forefront of the latest agrifood innovation, research and development (R&D) projects, and commercialisation opportunities is key to enhancing industry strategies and accelerating global impact.

In this dynamic landscape, AgriFutures growAG. has emerged as a vital tool for the agrifood community to better locate up-to-date information and opportunities, help foster connections with partners, and deliver innovation across the supply chain.

Wine Australia has used the growAG. portal to access collaborators for various commercialisation opportunities – a move Paul Smith, Development & Extension (RD&E) Program Manager says has resulted in several leads over the years from partners.

“It’s been really valuable to have the transparency of our projects on growAG. as well as the visibility over other RDC projects. This helps us to meet our transparency requirements and ensures people can be aware of what we're doing,” Paul says.

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Understanding and seeing how other RDCs approach their problems is always valuable, Paul adds.

“There are key opportunities for potential collaboration with Hort Innovation across the table grape sector for example, and shared challenges, such as autonomy in perennial row crops, which we’ve had genesis conversations around,” he says.

Open innovation and capturing market opportunity

The growing market for mid-strength, low-strength and no-alcohol wines presents huge industry opportunities, however it comes with a range of food production technology and regulatory challenges.

Wine Australia is currently exploring alternative pathways and emerging technologies to create high-quality products and taste profiles, but without producing the alcohol in the first place – avoiding the added processing costs of removing alcohol.

Exploring novel production solutions complements Wine Australia’s strategic investment shift into “impact projects”, involving technologies with some proof of concept or field trial work, and building partnerships around those technologies to support business use-cases and market viability.

“It's quite a process to collect the right sorts of partners around a project like that. We see growAG. supporting us, not just for hard commercialisation leads where the product is reasonably matured, but doing work in that messy middle where tech is emerging from the lab, but hasn't quite got the maturity to live in the real world yet. growAG. has the potential in helping us flush out the right partners to build these projects out,” says Paul.  

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Dairy Australia is embracing a similar openness to innovation and ‘non-traditional’ pathways to accelerate value for its dairy producers.

“We’re looking at how we can accelerate opportunities that are valuable to the industry – either independently with innovators, or collaboratively with other organisations that are complementary to Dairy Australia,” says Emily Samyu, Dairy Australia’s Head of Innovation.  

“We’re looking both domestically and globally for innovators in agtech and outside our own sector, whether that be in mining or energy, where innovations can be applied to our dairy industry and tailored towards pasture-based systems.

“We have eight different dairy regions in Australia, each with unique farming systems and climates. Finding solutions that suit all those different types of regions is a challenge in itself.”

As part of its commitment to ‘non-traditional pathways’, Dairy Australia has hosted two successful interactive innovation showcase webinars in the past six months to expose Australian dairy farmers to local and global innovations, educate them about available technologies, and raise awareness of future possibilities.

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Some of the showcase technologies included: Halter, from New Zealand; Alternate Energy Innovations (AEI) SmartBox; Pairtree Intelligence; Farmo’s WaterRat; Livestock Water Recycling, from Canada; and Zetifi.

growᴬᴳ⋅ helps RDCs build partner networks and learnings

Dairy Australia has recently featured three open innovation challenges on AgriFutures growAG.: methane reduction; workforce attraction; and data connectivity interoperability [now closed].

“The objective was to look for innovative solutions to those particular problems to see what's happening out there, and what we weren't already across. It was interesting to see what sort of applications and innovators responded to the challenges,” Emily says.

RELATED: Dairy Australia’s new approach seeks global solutions to shared challenges  

“The growAG. concierge service helped us screen the innovators first that weren’t as relevant, and then redefine the challenges to be more specific around the types of solutions we’re looking for.

“As a result of going through this process with growAG. and building our connections and partnerships within the agritech ecosystem, we are more open to looking at investing in these types of organisations, whether it be financial or non-financial investments.”

Pictured: Fernando Felquer, GRDC

growAG. is also providing value to GRDC to explore more innovative partnership models to support its traditional R&D investment models, explains Fernando Felquer, GRDC Business Development and Commercialisation Manager.

“As an objective of GRDC’s new RD&E Plan 2023-28, we are expanding the way in which we partner,” he says.

Fernando says GRDC has been innovative in its engagement with the startup community through its $50 million investment fund, GrainInnovate, managed by Artesian Venture Partners – supporting over 22 companies in its portfolio, and close to 100 startups through its accelerator programs.

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“The area we’re lacking and where growAG. can help us is in our global expansion and driving that international pipeline. GrainInnovate not only invests in Australian companies but also international companies that can demonstrate value for Australian growers. So we need to develop those international pipelines more, and we see growAG. as a valuable channel for this,” Fernando says.

Strategic investments to drive global value

Fernando notes two strategic investment areas of GRDC’s new RD&E Plan: harnessing existing potential, such as decades of research in genetics, varieties, fertilisers etc; and growth areas to capture market value, such as step changes in productivity, input use efficiency and supply chain optimisation.

“Ensuring that the grower captures more value from their crop is one of the most important areas for us – whether it’s through increased pricing, access to new markets or optimising supply chains – but it’s been a challenging area for GRDC to invest in,” he says.

“The further you get from the farm, and further down the supply chain the harder it is to demonstrate that the grower is capturing the value.

“We believe the solutions might come from outside of the grains industry, even outside of agriculture, and it's an area we need to reach out as wide as possible to capture the innovations, and where growAG. can definitely help us.”  

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“The growAG. concierge team has made great introductions to expand our international reach and in Australia, which is valuable for potential investment opportunities and connecting us with other investors, such as Carrot Ventures,” Fernando explains.

Rebecca Robinson at evokeᴬᴳ⋅ 2024 as a part of the growing global session.

“Through growAG., we met Rebecca Robinson from Kansas State University Innovation Partners at evokeAG. 2024 and had a productive chat, which may lead to future R&D type collaborations; or potential licensing opportunities.”

“There are many commonalities between the Australian and American grains farming systems – and comparing notes with Rebecca on the two different regions, and needs of the different growers is super valuable.

Fernando concludes, “The same global trends affect all grain growing regions – requiring feeding more people with less inputs in a more sustainable manner. So while not all technologies and research, say in Kansas, are transferable and useful in Australia, there’s enough overlap for potential collaboration.”

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