The consortium is headed by Mike Briers, an angel investor in agricultural IoT company, The Yield, and CEO and co-founder of the Knowledge Economy Institute (KEi), billed as ”the nation’s IoT research and innovation hub.” He was made Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia in the 2016 Queens Birthday Honours. Chair is Dr Anne Astin, a biochemist and forensics expert who received a Public Service Medal in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours for her role in dairy development and in regulation and maintaining food safety standards.”
Food Agility has already garnered support from over 40 organisations, including UTS, Curtin, Charles Sturt, James Cook, South Australia, RMIT and QUT universities, Intel, Microsoft and industrial IoT champion, Bosch. Food Agility says its initial partners have made “indicative commitments to invest over $9 million for the first year with a view to invest over a ten year period subject to demonstrated RoI.”
Should the bid be successful Food Agility would become a company limited by guarantee with its members being the foundation participants.
Food Agility is one of 14 applicants for funding in the current CRC funding round in stage one of the process. These will shortly be whittled down to a short list with applicants required to submit full business cases in stage two by September. The winners are due to be announced in November, and funding to commence in January 2017.
Frank Zeichner, a member of the Food Agility team, said the date for the end of stage one had been delayed by the Federal Election and was expected very soon, but the date for the submission of business cases would not shift, meaning that Food Utility would have to work very hard to co-ordinate the necessary inputs and commitments from all its partners.
Huge potential of Asian markets
Food Agility’s prospectus says its main focus is to help Australia capitalise on the growing market for high quality food with strong provenance among Asia’s growing middle classes. “As incomes rise in emerging economies, so too does kilojoule intake and, more importantly, a switch to protein takes place. Simply put the world is on the cusp of a huge leap in demand for higher-value food products.”
It adds: “Consumers in our markets are showing increasing interest in where food is produced, and in the freshness, safety and quality of food. They want to know where their food comes from, and they want to get the best value.”
Zeichner said: “Australia produces enough food to feed 60 million, but we only have 20 some million people, and we import food. So that has to go somewhere.” (A speaker at Everything IoT’s Agriculture Tech Forum in Sydney this week said Australia produced sufficient food to feed more than 100 million).
Food Agility proposes to research the application of digital technologies to the entire food production and distribution chain to achieve its aims, and to develop mechanisms to better identify and exploit overseas food markets. “Faster and quicker insights from real-time data help us to more nimbly respond to what the market wants, be more efficient in how we produce it and get it to market, and show our customers how safe and sustainable our food is.”
The future of food is digital
It sums up food’s digitally-driven future as
– Producers capturing value by responding to rapidly changing consumer preferences;
– Exceptional quality and food safety records driving our brand;
– Environmentally and socially sustainable practices driven by data;
– A knowledge workforce driving productivity and higher margins;
– Transdisciplinary research solving business problems through co-creation, and
– A dynamic social network that shapes our brand.
Proposed outcomes would include: “digital solutions and platforms arising from applied research projects which will contribute to higher returns to food producers, greater exports, and more jobs.”
Intellectual property created would include “algorithms from data analytics, software code, sensor hardware and informatics, user interfaces, decision support tools for optimisation that will move us from ‘what happened’ to ‘what will happen’ to ‘what is the best that can happen’.”