The federal Government is calling on the nation’s small and medium sized businesses to help develop innovative solutions that can solve national environmental challenges.
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said $12 million was being made available through the latest round of the Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) across five challenges.
“This is a great opportunity for Australian businesses to think outside the box and develop clever ideas that can help solve policy issues within Government,” Andrews said.
“This round of BRII aims to find more effective ways of dealing with challenges that affect our oceans, water and soil quality as well as recycling technologies.”
Not only does this initiative help government agencies with tailored solutions that mean better value for taxpayers, it also gives startups and businesses the chance to develop new products and technologies for the global market.
“Boosting opportunities for businesses to innovate, and doing things more efficiently within government will be crucial as we chart our COVID-19 economic recovery,” said Andrews.
The five challenges for this round are:
Revolutionising agricultural spray application
Turning farm crops into a renewable hydrogen source
Counting fish using advanced technologies
Automating the detection of whales at sea
Turning office trash into energy treasure
Australian startups and small and medium businesses can submit proposals for ideas that address the challenges. Successful applicants will receive grants of up to $100,000 to further develop ideas and test feasibility over three months.
The most successful of these ideas may then be eligible for a grant of up to $1 million to develop a prototype or proof of concept over a maximum of 18 months. Relevant government agencies will have the option to purchase these solutions at the end of the proof of concept stage.
New research in Nature Climate Change provides evidence that rising temperatures are likely to increase crop losses as warmer soils favour the growth of pathogenic soil fungi species.
Researchers led by the Global Centre for Land-Based Innovation at Western Sydney University sampled more than 235 locations with ecosystems that range from forests and croplands to deserts. They found that as air and soil temperatures progressively rise, the types of fungi likely to damage food plant species are also projected to increase over the next three decades.
“Soil-borne plant pathogens already cause hundreds of billions of dollars in crop losses each year”, said Professor Brajesh Singh, a lead author of the research program.
“Our study suggests that common plant pathogens such as Fusarium and Alternaria species will become more prevalent under projected global warming scenarios, which will add to the challenges of maintaining world food production alongside other climate change-driven crises and a burgeoning human population,” Professor Singh said.
The study provides important evidence of not just the prevalence of plant pathogenic fungi, but was also able to use modern DNA sequencing techniques to determine the response of plant pathogens to rising temperatures at a global scale.
This has enabled the development of mapped regions that connect project climate change to crop and ecosystem type to pinpoint where the greatest food security impacts are likely to occur first.
“Combining multiple layers of data offers a very powerful means for pinpointing priority regions,” said Professor Singh.
“Since most soil-borne plant pathogenic fungi are difficult to control with chemicals, we can now focus our adaptation and resilience efforts more precisely by targeting the most at-risk regions. We can advocate for strategies that promote plant and human health, build healthy soils and use non-chemical methods to win the battle between crops and pathogenic fungi,” he said.
Winter crop production is forecast to fall by 3 per cent in 2019–20 to 29.4 million tonnes, down 13 per cent from the production forecast in September.
ABARES acting executive director, Peter Gooday, said the revised forecast reflected early spring conditions that were poorer than expected in most cropping regions, particularly in Western Australia and southern New South Wales.
“Forecast winter production is around 27 per cent below the 10-year average to 2018–19 and is set to fall for the third consecutive year since record high production was achieved in 2016–17,” Gooday said.
“Below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures during spring reduced winter crop prospects in most cropping regions—but the changes in Western Australia and southern New South Wales had the biggest impact on national production prospects.
“High fodder prices and unfavourable seasonal conditions caused some crops planted for grains and oilseeds production to be cut for hay in regions with low levels of soil moisture at the beginning of spring.
“For the major winter crops, wheat production is forecast to decrease by 8 per cent to around 15.9 million tonnes, 35 per cent below the 10-year average to 2018–19. Barley production is forecast to increase by 4 per cent to around 8.7 million tonnes, 3 per cent below the 10-year average to 2018–19. Canola production is forecast to fall by 4 per cent to around 2.1 million tonnes, 35 per cent below the 10-year average to 2018–19.”
Gooday said according to the latest three-month rainfall outlook issued by the Bureau of Meteorology, summer rainfall is likely to be very much below average in most parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales.
“A combination of the unfavourable summer outlook and very much below average levels of soil moisture at the end of spring means summer crop production is forecast to decline by 52 per cent to around 1.2 million tonnes, which is 69 per cent below 10-year average to 2018-19
“Area planted to summer crops is forecast to fall by 49 per cent in 2019–20 to around 535,000 hectares, driven by significant expected falls in area planted to grain sorghum and cotton.”
New wheat variety Havoc will make a substantial jump in hectares at Allan Griffith’s Carnamah farm this season, going from a modest trial in 2018 to half the wheat program in 2019. Griffith, who grows wheat, barley and canola at 2400-hectare property, Dunromin, said the increase was due to Havoc’s quick maturity and high yield.
“We usually start dry seeding in May, as Havoc matures a week earlier than Mace, which is ideal for us,” he said.
Griffth obtained one tonne of Havoc seed to test against his commercial varieties Mace and Chief.
The Havoc was seeded at a rate of 43kg per hectare over 23ha, while Mace accounted for 70 per cent of the crop and Chief 30per cent. When they finished harvest in the first week of December, the results were in – 75 tonnes were stripped off the Havoc plot for an average yield of 3.26t/ha. The Chief yielded 3t/ha and Mace 2.8t/ha.
“Havoc was the highest yielder, had low screenings and was better to handle due to its shorter canopy. We were very happy with it, so this season’s program will be 50:50 Havoc and Chief.
“We missed out on good September finishing rain, but with the yields up and the price up, it was probably the best season on record for this area.”
The 75t of Havoc will be seeded to 700ha at 65kg/ha this season, with the same allotted to Chief. Mace will be stored as backup seed. This year will be the 82nd for the Griffith family at Dunromin – a property that was originally setup for livestock by Griffith’s father, Ernie, in 1937. Griffith took over the farm when his father retired in 1976 and now focuses solely on crops.
Havoc is marketed by Pacific Seeds, bred by LongReach Plant Breeders and is now free to trade farmer-to-farmer.
A new study indicates that the global narrowing of diversity in crop types present major challenges for agricultural sustainability across the world.
The study, carried out by an international team of researchers led by University of Toronto assistant professor Adam Martin, used data from the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to look at which crops were grown where on large-scale industrial farmlands from 1961 to 2014.
They found that within regions crop diversity has actually increased. But, on a global scale more of the same kinds of crops are being grown on much larger scales.
Martin said that the large industrial-sized farms in Asia, Europe, North and South America are beginning to look the same.
“What we’re seeing is large monocultures of crops that are commercially valuable being grown in greater numbers around the world,” said Martin, an ecologist in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at U of T Scarborough.
“So large industrial farms are often growing one crop species, which are usually just a single genotype, across thousands of hectares of land.”
Soybeans, wheat, rice and corn alone occupy almost 50 per cent of the world’s entire agricultural lands, while the remaining 152 crops cover the rest.
It’s widely assumed that the biggest change in global agricultural diversity took part during the so-called Columbia exchange of the 15th and 16th centuries where commercially important plant species were being transported to different parts of the world.
But the authors found that in the 1980s there was a massive increase in global crop diversity as different types of crops were being grown in new places on an industrial scale for the first time. By the 1990s that diversity flattened out, and that diversity across regions has been declining ever since.
This decline in global crop diversity is an issue for a number of reasons, Martin said
“If regional crop diversity is threatened, it really cuts into people’s ability to eat or afford food that is culturally significant to them,” he said.
Further, the increasing dominance by a few genetic lineages of crops means that the global agricultural system becomes increasingly susceptible to pests or diseases.
Martin said he hopes to apply the same global-scale analysis to look at national patterns of crop diversity as a next step for the research. Martin adds that there’s a policy angle to consider, since government decisions that favour growing certain kinds of crops may contribute to a lack of diversity.
“It will be important to look at what governments are doing to promote more different types of crops being grown, or at a policy-level, are they favouring farms to grow certain types of cash crops,” he said.
Researchers have pioneered a new method to rapidly recruit disease-resistance genes from wild plants for transfer into domestic crops, a technique which could revolutionise the development of disease-resistant varieties for the global food supply.
The technique called AgRenSeq was developed by scientists at the John Innes Centre in Britain working with colleagues in Australia and the US. The research has been published in Nature Biotechnology.
The result speeds up the fight against pathogens that threaten global food crops, including wheat, soyabean, maize, rice and potato, which form the vast bulk of cereals in the human diet.
Professor Harbans Bariana from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences is a global expert in cereal rust genetics and a co-author of the paper.
“This technology will underpin fast-tracked discovery and characterization of new sources of disease resistance in plants,” Bariana said.
The current research builds on previous collaborative work done by Professor Bariana with the CSIRO and the John Innes Centre. It used two wheat genes cloned by this international team as controls and Professor Bariana conducted the phenotype assessments for the study.
AgRenSeq lets researchers search a library of resistance genes discovered in wild relatives of modern crops so they can rapidly identify sequences associated with disease fighting capability.
From there researchers can use laboratory techniques to clone the genes and introduce them into elite varieties of domestic crops to protect them against pathogens and pests such as rusts, powdery mildew and Hessian fly.
Dr Brande Wulff, a crop genetics project leader at the John Innes Centre and a lead author of the study, said they had found a way to scan the genome of a wild relative of a crop plant and pick out the resistance genes needed in record time.
“This used to be a process that took 10 or 15 years and was like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Wulff said.
“We have perfected the method so that we can clone these genes in a matter of months and for just thousands of dollars instead of millions.”
The research reveals that AgRenSeq has been successfully trialled in a wild relative of wheat – with researchers identifying and cloning four resistance genes for the devastating stem rust pathogen in the space of months. This process would easily take a decade using conventional means.
The work in wild wheat is being used as a proof of concept, preparing the way for the method to be utilised in protecting many crops which have wild relatives including, soyabean, pea, cotton, maize, potato, wheat, barley, rice, banana and cocoa.
Modern elite crops have, in the search for higher yields and other desirable agronomic traits, lost a lot of genetic diversity especially for disease resistance.
Reintroducing disease resistance genes from wild relatives is an economic and environmentally sustainable approach to breeding more resilient crops. However, introgression of these genes into crops is a laborious process using traditional breeding methods.
The new method combines high-throughput DNA sequencing with state-of-the-art bioinformatics.
“What we have now is a library of disease resistance genes and we have developed an algorithm that enables researchers to quickly scan that library and find functional resistance genes,” said Dr Sanu Arora, the first author of the paper from the John Innes Centre.
Wulff said that the study’s results demonstrate that AgRenSeq is a robust protocol for rapidly discovering resistance genes from a genetically diverse panel of a wild crop relative.
“If we have an epidemic, we can go to our library and inoculate that pathogen across our diversity panel and pick out the resistance genes,” he said.
“Using speed cloning and speed breeding we could deliver resistance genes into elite varieties within a couple of years, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”
Equinom, a seed tech start-up, is combining natural breeding techniques with proprietary algorithms to produce high-functioning, non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO) seeds that have a superior nutritional profile while also boosting crop yield.
The cutting-edge technology creates a next-step ecosystem directly connecting food companies to the supply chain, in turn bringing greater transparency and paving the way for more responsible sourcing of high-value plant protein.
Equinom helps to produce high-quality protein on less land with less water consumption and reduced crop waste – a crucial issue when it comes to maintaining a sustainable food supply. The firm also helps develop consistent product and affordable pricing to ensure farmers’ incomes. Equinom’s tech experts used DNA sequencing and algorithms to discover various genomic crop characteristics. Then, through careful selection, breeds for seeds that maximize a plant’s natural abilities. This technology enables production of non-GMO grains and pulses, including chickpeas, sesame, and soy, that possess substantially more protein with better functionality than varieties currently on the market. The technology also led to the discovery of rare varieties and traits that existed in nature but had been lost in years of breeding.
“The plant-based protein mega-trend has driven food companies to create more and more tasty, nutritious plant-based products,” says Gil Shalev CEO for Equinom. “However, meeting demand has presented challenges due to poor organoleptic properties inherent in many plant protein ingredients. The high investment required to develop new, profitable varieties using conventional breeding, coupled by slow throughput, poses more obstacles.”
Equinom successfully implemented a multi- tiered program:
Defining the product – Equinom works with food companies to define their desired target seed attributes, including, protein load, taste, color, and nutritional score.
Crossbreeding – The desired qualities are sought in singular seed varieties or developed through crossbreeding.
Optimised genetic code -The target product is formulated using a proprietary algorithm that runs millions of genomic combinations in silico (via computer modeling), in order to identify seeds with the highest nutritional potential.
Equinom’s new ecosystem brings multiple benefits Equinom’s advances in computational breeding could lead to attractive rewards for all involved along the agri-food chain. Farmers can grow more sustainable crops from seeds tailored to desired specifications, and reap the benefit of better economies-of-scale as crop yield potential is dramatically enhanced.
Likewise consumers and food companies are now able enjoy products of a higher nutritional value at competitive prices. This project has also served to connect farmers with food ingredients companies who in effect have come into closer contact with the entire supply chain through constant tracking and monitoring bringing greater transparency and traceability.
“A food company that depends on legumes of a certain composition may have to wait anywhere between five to ten years under traditional methods,” explains Itay Dana, director of marketing at Equinom. “Today, working in concert with the food company, we can design a target product with all the desired characteristics of taste, quality, and nutrient composition within two to three years.”
Equinom’s advanced economical breeding techniques exemplifies how genomics could be instrumental in overcoming some of the tremendous technical challenges that the agri-food industry has been facing in its efforts to supply the market with plant-based protein-rich products and seed oils, particularly in the face of a huge social rejection of GMO crops.
Greater plant-protein diversity in the long term The company has expressed its long-term goal moving the agri-sector into a new sustainable, more profitable phase, and to engender more plant-protein diversity. Currently, 90% of cultivation of protein crops is concentrated on soy and wheat. The technology also reduces the anti-nutritional factors (ANF) inherent in plant proteins already at seed level. This, in turn, increases the proteins’ bioavailability, making them more nutritive and more fully absorbed in the gut.
To date, Equinom has signed a number of contracts with global leaders in the food industry. These include a multi-year contract with Sabra Dipping Company, LLC, US (a joint venture of PepsiCo, US, and Israel’s Strauss Group), as well as a commercialization agreement with Mitsui & Co. of Japan.
Recently, Roquette, France, signed a partnership with Equinom for the development and sourcing of new pea varieties with high-protein content. In addition to this new collaboration, Roquette and Equinom’s current shareholder Fortissimo Capital, Israel, will jointly invest US$4 million in the company to support its further development, bringing the company a total of US$10.5 million in investments.
The extended dry weather conditions have impacted ANZ business, with the 2018 financial year EBIT contribution from ANZ now anticipated to be between $5million to $10m (LY$51.6m).
These seasonal conditions have also impacted the mix of products sold, with growers buying lower margin functional products over higher margin differentiated products.
The limited demand for crop protection products across Australia has led to increased competition and high inventory levels – resulting in significant margin pressure.
By the 20th of July, following feedback from Nufarm teams, it was determined that the market had reached a turning point.
It is now considered unlikely that a viable crop season will occur in many parts of the country and the expected demand for post emergent products will not eventuate.
Given poor demand in the 2018 financial year, there will be an overhand of inventory. Grower demand will depend on a return to normal summer conditions in the 2019 financial year, but the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a dry spring.
Anticipated low levels of demand, coupled with the current over-supply, is expected to constrain sales and margin into 2019.
Despite the drought conditions, Nufarm remains confident it has retained market share in Australia, in line with the long term strategic objective.
Nufarm expects Net Working Capital for the group, at the 31st of July, to be $200m-$300m higher than last year.
This reflects the high inventories in the Australian business due to the difficult seasonal conditions and the higher receivables in the Northern Hemisphere countries resulting from the delayed seasons in those markets.
For decades, American agriculture has been a paragon of productivity, churning out record crops at a steady clip. We have exported both our farm products and our way of farming around the world, and global production has risen relentlessly.
Yet now there is concern that even this is not enough. The United Nations projects that the global population will increase from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.7 billion in 2050. This growth will be concentrated in the world’s poorest countries, where standards of living are set to rise rapidly, increasing demand for resource-intensive meat and dairy products. Together, these trends are heightening fears that the world’s cupboards may run bare in the coming decades.
This scenario leads to the nearly ubiquitous assertion that we must double world food production by 2050, which is widely repeated by agribusinesses and scholars alike. This claim is often coupled with calls to reduce impacts on the environment even as food production ramps up. The common prescription is for a “sustainable intensification” of agriculture that both increases yields and reduces the harmful side effects of tilling and fertilizing billions of acres of land.
But do we really need to double food production? And what will it take for agriculture to be sustainable?
In an analysis published in BioScience, my coauthors and I offer a recalibrated vision of sustainable intensification. We conclude that food production does not need to double by 2050, which would require unprecedented growth, but instead needs to continue increasing at roughly historical rates. We also highlight quantitative goals that indicate the scope of agriculture’s environmental challenges.
Lower food production targets
Our analysis updates the two most widely cited projections of food demand, one by U.S. scholars and the other from the United Nations, using the most recent available data. Both of these studies used a baseline year around 2005, which made sense at the time they were published, but global cereal production jumped 24 percent between 2005 and 2014. So, we updated the baseline to 2014. We also factored in the most recent U.N. population estimate for 2050, which is higher than the estimates used in the original studies.
Based on our projections, the world will need only 25 percent to 70 percent more crop output in 2050 than was produced in 2014. This includes grain used to feed livestock and, to some extent, grain used for ethanol production.
We did not question the approaches of the original studies. Indeed, the differences between the two studies’ approaches reflect some of the main uncertainties inherent to these long-term projections, including different scenarios of future economic growth and different assumptions about how growing wealth will affect human diets.
Food production will still need to keep growing to meet our updated goal of a 25 percent to 70 percent increase, but at an annual rate that is closer to the historical average. Hitting these lower targets will put much less strain on the global agriculture system – and the land, water and air that supports it – than doubling production. To double output, we would have to boost food production more rapidly than ever before, driving increases in soil tillage, fertilizer and pesticide use, and water withdrawals for irrigation.
New focus on environmental goals
This additional breathing room may be critical, because our analysis also shows that agriculture’s environmental footprint must shrink drastically to safeguard the ecosystems that humans rely on. We reviewed quantitative goals for agriculture’s environmental performance that are tied to specific outcomes for ecosystem function.
Similarly, nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin creates a massive dead zone every year in the Gulf of Mexico, suffocating aquatic life and impacting commercial and recreational fishing. Reducing the dead zone will require cutting this pollution – which predominantly comes from agriculture – to about half of its historical baseline. Despite decades of effort by farmers and conservationists, annual nutrient loads remain stubbornly high.
Given these challenges, it is good news that the world’s appetite in 2050 may not be as voracious as some estimates have indicated.
The path forward
Our revised food production and environmental goals are just the beginning of a new approach to sustainable intensification in agriculture.
More research is needed to refine the projections of food demand in 2050 and identify options for flattening the demand curve while enhancing human health. Regional studies are also needed, so that areas poised for rapid population growth can plan for their future food needs. And new research can draw clearer links between environmental impacts and ecosystem outcomes, so that farmers and the public can make informed decisions about the costs and benefits of different ways of farming.
Meeting both production and environmental goals will be a monumental task, especially in the face of new challenges such as water shortages, pesticide resistance and the changing climate. However, clear targets may help farmers, researchers and policymakers focus on the right long-term challenges.
Congress has just begun hearings on the 2018 farm bill, which will set policy for five years of agricultural production, conservation and research. The new bill can support research efforts aimed at refining and achieving agriculture’s long-term goals. Just as important, it can begin transforming farm subsidy, crop insurance and conservation programs to help farmers make changes on the ground.
With our lower food demand projections in mind, there is an opportunity to start providing incentives for farming practices that keep soils covered with living plants year-round, store more carbon in the soil and prevent nutrients from entering waterways. More broadly, these lower targets create space for a new conversation, one focused not on doubling production, but on developing a new food system that keeps people fed while focusing just as much on keeping ecosystems healthy.
Researchers at the University of Surrey and University of Queensland have developed a revolutionary new crop protection technique which offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to genetically-modified crops and chemical pesticides.
The breakthrough research, published in Nature Plants, could have huge benefits for agriculture and positively impact communities around the world. Plant pests and pathogens are estimated to reduce global crop yields by 30 to 40 per cent a year, constraining global food security. At the same time, the need for higher production, regulatory demands, pesticide resistance, and concern about global warming driving the spread of disease all mean there is a growing need for new approaches to crop protection.
The researchers have found that by combining clay nanoparticles with designer ‘RNAs’ (molecules with essential roles in gene biology), it is possible to silence certain genes within plants. The spray they have developed – known as BioClay – has been shown to give plants virus protection for at least 20 days following a single application. When sprayed with BioClay, the plant ‘thinks’ it is being attacked by a disease or pest insect and responds by protecting itself.
The latest research overcomes the instability of ‘naked’ RNAs sprayed on plants, which has previously prevented them from being used effectively for virus protection. By loading the agents on to clay nanoparticles, they do not wash off, enabling them to be released over an extended period of time before degrading.
The BioClay technology, which is based on nanoparticles used in the development of human drug treatments, has a number of advantages over existing chemical-based pesticides. Since BioClay is non-toxic and degradable, there is less risk to the environment and human health. It can also be used in a highly targeted way to protect crops against specific pathogens.
Professor G.Q. Max Lu, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey and co-author of the research paper, said: “This is one of the best examples of nanoparticles being effective for biological molecular delivery with a controlled release rate for combating diseases in plants or animals. The same nanoparticle technology invented and patented in my laboratory at the University of Queensland was used for effective targeted drug delivery. It was licensed to an Oxford-based pharmaceutical company and is now being commercialised for drug development.”
“I am very pleased to see the exciting results of this project and the publication of our research in the prestigious Nature Plants journal.”
The research paper, ‘Clay nanosheets for stable delivery of RNA interference as a topical application to protect plants against viruses’ is published in Nature Plants on 10 January 2017.
The research was led by researchers Professor Neena Mitter and Professor Gordon Xu at the University of Queensland in collaboration with Professor Lu of the University of Surrey.
Scientists leverage smart technology to support farmers and improve food safety: globally every year there are several billion Euro losses to cereals and other crops through fungal infection, which also causes harm to human health from toxis (mycotoxins) produced by these moulds.
In a new initiative that is being funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme, a group of scientists, engineers and IT specialists have teamed up to provide knowledge transfer to farmers and other decision makers in the food and feed chains.
Using smart technology available on phones and tablets, decision-making tools will be made available to the agricultural and food communities to guide them in taking the most cost-effective actions to minimise fungal infection and mycotoxin formation.
Advice will be given in real-time and customised to the individual situation taking into account numerous factors including climatic conditions as a means of forecasting potential fungal infection.
The ICC will be responsible for the dissemination of information on the project and its results to a wide audience.
The coordinator of the project, Professor Rudolf Krska from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, who launched the project on 8 March 2016 said “This exciting MyToolBox Project has the potential to save tens of millions of Euros per annum in reduced crop losses, as well as achieve reductions in dietary exposure to mycotoxins, which is immeasurable in terms of benefits to human health”.
Of the 23 partners from 11 countries including China, there is a strong industry presence reflecting the practical significance of this project. Dr Michelle Suman, a world leading manufacturer of pasta in Parma (Italy) and a member of the MyToolBox team said “This project could make a real difference to the cereal processing industry with the potential to reduce losses of wheat and maize during milling and produced safer products with lower levels of mycotoxins reducing human exposure.”