Thinking outside the (agriculture) box to drive ag innovation
‘We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.’ These immortal words by Albert Einstein, ring true for the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC) as it looks beyond its traditional agritech and agrifood contacts to approach innovation with more agility.
As the Research and Development Corporation for Australia’s red meat processing industry, AMPC’s main priority and motivation is to deliver value back to meat processors, which are typically multi-national organisations or large private companies.
AMPC’s new 2020-2025 Strategic Plan is the driving force behind a refreshed pledge to work closer with industry to oversee research that will take the sector forward – and make it easier than ever for new contacts from outside the sector to work alongside them.
At the end of 2020 AMPC met with levy paying members on a mission to ‘recalibrate’.
“We didn’t want to be overconfident that we knew all the problems, so we opened it up to the members,” said AMPC Program Manager for Advanced Manufacturing, Stuart Shaw.
“We found out what the real pain points were for them and then cross referenced that with what we thought the pain points were.”
“We could identify the big issues, discuss the types of innovations or technology that could address those issues, as well as update them on the projects we are already working on that could be of benefit to them."
As well as members, AMPC also had strategic sessions with local and overseas tech providers, and dozens of universities and research groups.
“You’ve got stay close to the people you’re serving and want to work with,” Stuart explained.
“We all have to understand that everyone’s needs are a little bit different – but we’re looking for common areas where we can apply our skill sets and that of the provider networks who are trying to overcome these hurdles with us.
“This process helped us to really understand where the needs were, and we looked at what we’d done in the past.
“That’s when we started using LinkedIn to reach out to new providers – and it has steamrolled from there.”
Setting the challenge, searching for solutions
At the start of 2021 through the business focused social media platform LinkedIn, AMPC issued an Innovation Challenge around Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML), setting out three specific challenges in a search for solutions.
“Ultimately we’re trying to find groups that are tech providers that are not involved in our industry,” said Stuart.
“We are articulating our needs really clearly and bringing in new words like ‘gamification’ when we’re setting our challenges. This has meant we are attracting new tech and innovation providers that have never been involved in the red meat industry before.”
LinkedIn callouts for ‘solution providers’, have helped to highlight industry issues, ranging from automated knife sharpening to meat traceability, featuring sample application forms for funding and development plans.
Stuart said the approach is simple yet strategic – led by AMPC’s Senior Program Manager On-Plant Innovation, Sean Starling.
“We are making the process as easy as possible because we’re not looking for a new tech provider who knows everything about our industry – we simply want them to know there are opportunities for them to work with us,” said Stuart.
“We’re being clear around what R&D steps we’d like to see taken towards commercial adoption and making sure the provider can see the bigger picture around what we want to achieve.”
Casting a wider net
Stuart said for too long Australian agriculture has relied too heavily on the same section of the industry, with the same, traditional skill sets.
Now, AMPC is working hard to change that mentality and drawing upon transferrable skillsets from external industries.
“My background is the automotive industry – so what I’m doing now with the red meat industry is based on what I’ve learnt from another industry that has applications in the meat processing sector,” he said.
“There may be a technology that’s developed for aerospace for example that we can see advantages in using that technology in the meat industry. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here in Australia if it’s already being done somewhere else in the world.”
“It’s an approach that we see growAG. really supporting and enacting already in its efforts to make those local and global connections.
“In a perfect world we’d have all the answers in Australia but that’s not always the case, which is why we’re working with people from Europe, Asia and the USA and Canada.”
The power of potential
Stuart said while AMPC is realistic in its understanding that not every idea is going to work every time, they are focused on R&D efforts that have clear potential.
“We know that every project is different, expectations can change, and the length of the R&D path can be long,” he said.
“But you’ve got keep the spotlight on things that have potential – otherwise there’s no point. We need to believe it’s going to be successful to go down the R&D road.”
As they say though, there’s no such thing as a bad idea.
“I want to hear from people who think they’ve got a fit to fix a problem for industry. If you’ve got an idea, we’ve never heard of – we want to hear it.”
AMPC have the following commercial opportunities listed on growAG. looking for research and commercial partners:
- Red meat bone belt automated monitoring solution
- Waterless lamb frenching: reducing 210,000 knifing path actions per shift to zero
- 'Steak to primal' traceability (software or hardware)
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