Nestlé expands plant-based burger range

Nestlé is expanding its plant-based food range in the US and Switzerland.

The launches come just days after Nestlé announced its ambition to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, including by offering more plant-based food and beverages.

In both countries, Nestlé is launching plant-based burgers and grounds, with ingredients and recipes customised to meet local tastes. All the products look and cook like raw beef and provide a juicy, meat-like taste and texture.

In the United States, Sweet Earth Foods has announced the launch of their newest products, the Awesome Burger and Awesome Grounds. Both deliver on the taste and texture of beef with the environmental and nutritional benefits offered by plant-based proteins.

READ MORE: Plant-based protein worth $25 billion by 2030

The Awesome Burger is made with yellow pea protein, resulting in a burger that is high in protein and fiber. Sweet Earth’s Awesome Grounds will provide the same plant-based protein in a ground version that allows greater flexibility to cook various meals and sides, such as meatballs and tacos. Acquired by Nestlé in 2017, Sweet Earth has over 60 plant-based products in their portfolio.

In Switzerland, Nestlé is introducing its Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger and the new Garden Gourmet Incredible Mince. The two add to the already expanding Garden Gourmet range in Switzerland, which also includes many ‘veggie-centric’ options. The burger is made from soy and wheat protein and the mince from soy protein. Both contain natural plant extracts – beetroot, carrot, and bell pepper – and vegetable fats including chopped coconut oil.

The new Garden Gourmet Incredible Mince is just as versatile and juicy as ground beef. It is easily shapeable, making it perfect to create balls or skewers that can be seasoned to taste. It can also be crumbled up in a pan, for example to make a delicious Bolognese sauce or ‘Chili Sin Carne’.

How to keep the crunch in low-fat chips

University of Queensland chemical engineers have developed a new method to analyse the physical characateristics of potato chips in a bid to develop a tastier low-fat snack.

Professor Jason Stokes said while a low-fat potato chip might reduce guilt, many people don’t find the texture as appealing.

“A key challenge in the food industry is reducing the amount of sodium, added sugar and saturated fat without sacrificing the taste, flavour, texture and mouthfeel in food and drink,” Stokes said.

“Even subtle changes in the composition of processed food and drink can alter the consumer’s acceptability of a product for reasons that are not well understood, which compromises healthy choices.”

Professor Stokes worked with flavour scientists including senior research fellow Dr Heather Smyth, USA researcher Dr Stefan Baier – now at Motif Ingredients – and former UQ postdoctoral researcher Dr Michael Boehm who now works at PepsiCo, Inc.

The team has been developing a more objective method of analysing the potato chips at four stages of simulated eating.

“We wanted to simulate the entire eating process, from first bite, to the break down and softening of chip particles and finally swallowing the clumped mass of chip particles,” he said.

The researchers used the results to design a lower-fat chip coated in a thin layer of seasoning oil, which contained a small amount of a food emulsifier.

In tests with sensory panellists, the seasoning oil made the low-fat chip more closely resemble the greasiness of a full-fat one, but it only added 0.5 per cent more oil to the low-fat product.

Professor Stokes said he had worked with all manner of food and drink.

“Whether they be considered solids, powders, soft solids, semi-fluids or liquids, primarily the aim is to improve the efficiency of ingredients in oral processing and improve health benefits

Digitisation makes for more productive and sustainable farming

Progressive digitisation is increasingly important in the farming industry: data-supported targeted application of fertiliser and crop protection products, soil analysis sensors and autonomous operation are just a few of the buzz words in the current discussion around Farming 4.0 and smart farming.

“Smart Farming can support more productive and sustainable farming via an accurate and resource-efficient approach,” said Dr Jan Regtmeier, director product management at Harting IT Software Development. Regtmeier demonstrates application of the Harting Mica and its benefits for agriculture. The Edge Computer controls processes and procedures seamlessly and records all of the relevant data. “This gives farmers security, also creating consumer trust,” Regtmeier said.

Two application scenarios show how Mica gathers data. In the first one, Harting Mica  records data from two sets of scales, which are used to weigh tractor and trailer, recording the weight of maize delivered. The tractor is also given a single ID to ensure that it is uniquely assigned to the crop area. The data recorded is processed and sent to the Cloud for further evaluation. In the second application scenario, Mica records data during the critical mashing process. The data is then used for process optimisation with data analytics.

“Data-supported farming allows for new approaches, ensuring sustainable food production now and in the future,” explains Dries Guth, principal innovation manager and Head of the IoT Innovation Lab at itelligence. Data collated via sensors, from the soil and farming machinery and satellite imagery and fed into intelligent systems supports not only yield optimisation, but also the resource-saving application of water and crop protection products. “It is also about exploring new forms of food production, as we are now seeing with the successes in Urban Farming and Vertical Farming for example,” said Dries Guth.

“The potential for smart farming is huge,” says Regtmeier with conviction. “The farming industry has only just begun to make use of digitalisation.”

Retail robotics launched in ice-cream store in Melbourne

 Niska, an Australian start-up company pioneering retail robotics, is bringing retail robotics to Australia for the first time with its ice-cream store. Scheduled to open in Melbourne this September, Niska offers a unique experience with Australian-made gourmet and artisan ice-cream served a team of robot attendants Pepper, Eka and Tony. 

The robots harness advanced robotic technology to create an innovative customer experience filled with meaningful interactions from the moment a customer steps into the store.

Niska will showcase world class service and high-quality ice cream and toppings, with flavours including; Salted Caramel, Vanilla, Hazelnut, Rocky Road, Rainbow, Cookies and Cream and much more.

“We’re excited to bring a new offering to Melbourne’s bustling food scene and we can’t wait for everyone to experience Niska and meet our robot team. It is set to become a must-do experience for anyone living in or visiting Melbourne,” said Anton Morus, Director of Niska.

“There is no better place to take the kids these school holidays. They can experience world class robotics and enjoy delectable ice-cream in a safe, exciting, interactive and fun environment,” Morus added.
 
“Robots serving single scoops is great fun and a real feather in the cap for Victorian innovation,” said Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade, Martin Pakula.
 
“There is amazing work going on here in areas like robotics and artificial intelligence – and the ice-cream’s also pretty good,” he said.


A recent report by Deloitte highlighted the importance of unique offerings such as Niska, by stating that bricks-and-mortar retailers are realising the importance of creating unique and curated merchandise offers, an exciting and entertaining atmosphere.1

Kate Orlova, Niska CEO and co-founder, said the company aims to revolutionise the retail space. “For us, ice-cream is just the beginning. We’re looking to expand the robotics into other areas of retail. The future is here and it is exciting! We look forward to changing the retail game and pioneering retail robotics.”

Visitors will also have the chance to take selfies with Pepper, Niska’s social humanoid robot, and their delectable ice cream, and make use of the many photo spaces within the store.

Niska is now open and is located at Tenancy 20, Crossbar Building Federation Square, Melbourne 3000

Australian scientist awarded fellowship for work in biotech solutions for food security

The CSIRO’s ON and the Menzies Foundation named three of Australia’s most innovative scientists as recipients of the 2019 Menzies Science Entrepreneurship Fellowship.

Established to support the nation’s most talented science entrepreneurs in the early stages of commercialisation, the Fellowship awards recipients with $90,000 to fully dedicate themselves towards their new venture and focus on making their enterprise goals a commercial reality. The recipients of the 2019 Menzies Science Entrepreneurship Fellowships are:

  • Dr Melony Sellars, a global shrimp expert and co-founder of Genics, a startup securing global food production through smart pathogen detection and breeding selection. Melony and her team are working on solving real-world problems through developing and applying novel biotech solutions to revolutionise today’s farming practices to deliver global food security for the future. The company is currently conducting trials around the world.
  • Dr Simon Gross, a leading optics and telecommunications expert and CTO of Modular Photonics. This startup manufactures a series of glass chip micro devices that significantly increases data transmission rates. Simon and his team’s award-winning technology offers solutions for upgrading and future-proofing legacy multimode fibre networks.
  • Dr Jinghua Fang, a materials scientist and founder of AloxiTec. Forty-five per cent of fresh produce is wasted every year, resulting in a significant cost across the value chain, especially in Australia’s export market. AloxiTec is hoping to reduce this wastage, creating specialised packaging to extend shelf life and improve the freshness of fresh produce without refrigeration and chemical contamination.

“At ON, we believe that every sector of society – from philanthropy to academia and government – has a crucial role to play in supporting science, research and innovation in Australia. This Fellowship program is an example of our deep commitment to unearthing research in science and steering it towards commercialisation. Each recipient was chosen based on their entrepreneurial capacity and the immense potential of their ideas.  I look forward to following the journey of these incredible scientists as they shape the future for Australia and the world,” said CSIRO ON Program executive manager David Burt.

READ MORE: Recalls on the rise: five signs of a lagging food safety culture

Menzies Foundation believes philanthropy can play a unique role in sparking discovery and innovation in Australia. We are passionate about investing in our country’s future science leaders and giving them the runway to ensure that their research has an impact in the world.  We look forward to sharing their entrepreneurial journey,” Menzies Foundation CEO Liz Gillies said.

2019 ON Impact Awards winners announced
CSIRO’s ON has also announced the winners of this year’s Impact Awards. The inaugural awards celebrate the diversity of the program’s alumni and recognise the value they create for Australia and the world through their innovations.

This year’s winners include: Emesent, which have created autonomy technology for industrial drones; Genics, a new pest detection system that cuts costs and time delays for Aussie prawn farmers; and Diffuse Energy which have developed new tech that is pioneering small-scale wind generation.

The full list of categories and winners:

  • Social Innovation: RapidAIM (award sponsored by Hitachi) – real-time information of insect pest detection in your orchards & farms
  • Future Industries: Bee Innovation (award sponsored by Austrade) – a radar-like sensor for bees which is able to identify, track and report bee pollination activity across the orchard and field in near real-time
  • Securing our Future: Genics (award sponsored by AusIndustry) – securing global food production through smart pathogen detection and breeding selection in prawns
  • Jobs & Growth: Emesent (award sponsored by Curious Thing) – drones that use Hovermap technology to automate the collection and analysis of critical data in challenging underground environments
  • Health & Wellbeing: Noisy Guts (award sponsored by McR) – acoustic belt that records gut noises over time so doctors can accurately screen and diagnose gut disorders
  • Sustainable energy & Resources: Diffuse Energy (award sponsored by Singularity University) – renewable technologies that will enable a shift to a more self-sufficient energy model for anyone wanting energy equality
  • People’s Choice: Silentium Defence — passive radar technology that will allow Defence Forces to maintain their situational awareness without advertising their presence

 

 

Rotary Dryer Roaster for nuts and meat snacks

The latest innovation in roasting technology from Heat and Control, the Rotary Dryer Roaster (RDR), will provide snack and prepared food operators with an end-to-end solution for the dry roasting of nut, seed and dry meat products like beef jerky.

The RDR multizone convection dryer/roaster system uses the technological advances in dry roasting so food processors can continuously process high volumes of foods.

“This latest addition to Heat and Control’s catalogue reinforces our strength in thermal food processing technology and provides snack and meat manufacturers with even more options, as well as confidence, that they can consistently produce high-quality product,” said Jim Strang, CEO for Heat and Control International.

“We have been offering the latest technology and the highest quality equipment since 1950, and the Rotary Dryer Roaster is the latest example of our continued commitment to develop solutions that empower our customers,” said Strang.

RDR for nuts
The RDR advances Heat and Control’s snack line capability, enabling food manufacturers to take advantage of the cost saving benefits a single source supplier can offer with a solution for seasoned and coated nut snacks, including frying, dryer/roasting, seasoning, coating, conveying, weighing, packaging, case packing, inspection, and controls.

The RDR gives operators control to dry or to roast in a continuous, gentle, and sanitary manner with optimal quality and uniform results.

“The RDR provides high volume convective airflow combined with gentle rotary motion that ensures that all product is uniformly treated with heated air. Operators have full control over the roasting or drying process variables, enhancing the finished products’ colour, flavour, and texture,” said Greg Pyne, Heat and Control sales manager, Australia.

“While this is new equipment for the industry, processors see the potential,” explained Pyne. “They recognise the benefits of the continuous process, the consistency and repeatability of the process, and the savings resulting from reduced labour and floor space requirements.”

Unlike static rack ovens, as product is gently tumbled in the RDR, heated air circulates through the product bed to facilitate uniform drying/moisture removal or roasting. The design handles the raw product in a continuous, high-density manner through a unique flighted drum that ensures positive motion.

Features include a drum design that facilitates continuous first-in-first-out product flow and independent fans and burners in multiple convection zones, which provide complete process control that can be tailored to various products. An externally mounted drum drive design provides access for internal clean-in-place piping and nozzles which provides for automated thorough cleaning.

RDR for meat products
Along with nut products, the RDR is also suitable for applications such as the drying of meats and poultry to create jerky and meat chips, as well as drying pet products to create food and treats.

While Australia has yet to see the same levels of growth as other markets for natural/protein based snacks, consumers are looking for different food options, with demand for jerky on the rise. According to intelligence agency Mintel, the UK and US have achieved 50 per cent growth in the jerky market from 2011 through to 2016. Australia is poised to follow suite for similar growth, with a wave of niche, start-up operators entering the market. Australia is also home to the fourth largest paleo-market in the world.

Jerky snacks are rich in protein, and are becoming more readily available in retail outlets and online as a substitute for cooked meats. Different product flavours, such as chili and lime, teriyaki or smoky chorizo, are also attracting consumers into seeking jerky as a protein rich option when its snack time.

Globally, the meat snack market was worth $6.4 billion in 2017, and is estimated to exceed $29.5 billion by 2025, according to PR Newswire. The growing middle class across Asia are seeking more premium meat-based snacks that are sold in accessible locations for time-poor customers. As the Australian beef market has a reputation in Asia for being a high-quality product, there is demand for the export of Australian beef jerky products, providing manufacturers the opportunity to grow their business internationally.

One of the biggest issues in jerky production is lack of efficiency in the drying process, due to the amount of time it can take to dry the product with consistent taste and quality. Food processors can expand their portfolio to capitalise on new opportunities because the RDR gives operators control to dry or to roast product in a continuous, gentle, and sanitary manner with optimal quality and uniform results.

First pea genome to help improve crops of the future

A global team including scientists from The University of Western Australia has assembled the first genome of the field pea, which provides insight into how the legume evolved and will help aid future improvements of the crop.

The study, published today in Nature Genetics, has important implications for global nutrition and the sustainability of crops, with field peas providing an important plant-based protein source for human food and animal feed.

Professors David Edwards and Jacqueline Batley from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences and UWA’s Institute of Agriculture were co-investigators in the research and said that the field pea had a much larger and more complex genome compared to other legumes.

“The pea genome assembly spans about 4.45 thousand million letters,” Edwards said. “But it’s only with relatively recent technological innovations that we’ve been able to sequence and assemble such large genomes.”

READ MORE: Ag-tech app solutions delivering better results for farmers

Batley said the research built on pioneering concepts of inheritance developed by Gregor Mendel, a 19th century monk.

“With the pea genome sequenced, we can now start to understand the basis for the variation which has evolved,” Batley said.

“Mendel analysed the inheritance of different pea traits such as wrinkled peas, and he demonstrated that these traits were passed on from one generation to the next, a foundation for Darwin’s later discoveries in evolution.”

“More than 150 years later, we’ve now assembled the pea genome and can start to understand the DNA basis of the inheritance observed by Mendel.”

This research was supported by the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation and by the Australian Research Council.

TAFE graduate loves role at AEGIC

Baking whiz and TAFE NSW student Sabrina Lim knows precisely what she needs to progress her career.

After graduating university in 2016, Sabrina landed a job as a food scientist in baking at the prestigious Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC), researching and testing Australian wheat varieties.

Australian wheat has an excellent reputation and is in demand in international markets, especially in Asia. About 65-75 per cent of Australia’s total wheat production is exported each year.

“My role at AEGIC Sydney involves a variety of tests on wheat varieties, working with cakes, sponges and bread, researching how different flours perform in terms of texture and crumb structure,” Lim said.

When an opportunity to expand her skills and knowledge of baking at TAFE NSW Ryde came up, she leapt on it.

“Each year AEGIC runs the LA Judge Award for Baking Apprentice of the Year, and one of the judges was TAFE NSW teacher Denise McCallum. She suggested I enrol in the Certificate III in Retail Baking to expand my skills.”

Lim completed the Certificate III one day a week while working and is grateful she was able to fit her study around work and home life.

“I’ve always been a keen home baker, and the TAFE NSW course gave me fun, practical experience working with different baked goods. The knowledge I gained has helped round out my understanding of how different varieties of flours can be used to produce different results.”

The grains industry makes an essential contribution to the Australian economy. In 2017–18, production of grains, oilseeds and pulse crops accounted for around 21 per cent ($12.8 billion) of the total gross value of farm production and about 23 per cent of the total value of farm export income.

AEGIC increases value in the Australian grains industry by gathering, analysing and sharing market intelligence the industry needs to breed, classify, grow and supply grain that markets prefer. AEGIC has offices in Perth and Sydney staffed by leading industry experts. Facilities include research laboratories, a pilot mill, pilot bakery and commercial analytical laboratories.

Lim’s supervisor at AEGIC said, “The skills Sabrina acquired at TAFE NSW have made her a valuable asset to us.”

“The cake and pastry knowledge Sabrina gained through TAFE NSW has been especially appreciated. Sabrina is a joy to work with and perfectly complements our team.”

Lim said her teachers at TAFE NSW gave her the drive she needed to succeed and provided compelling and engaging course content.

“The teachers at TAFE NSW were incredible and took an interest in what I was doing at work and encouraged me on a personal level to succeed. I also run training courses as part of my job and have adapted my own teaching style based on the methods of the teachers I had at TAFE NSW.”

Western Sydney to put lab-grown meat on the menu

Western Sydney could become a national base for the production of meat grown from animal stem cells under an ambitious plan supported by the NSW Government.

NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment and Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, said North Parramatta startup VOW has been supported with a $25,000 Minimum Viable Product grant from the NSW Government to develop its cell-cultivated meat technology.

“In a world first, VOW has created the first ever cell-cultured kangaroo meat grown from stem cells taken from a kangaroo,” Mr Ayres said.

“Western Sydney is the perfect base for Australia’s first cultivated-meat startup to take forward a global scale opportunity to generate a new food industry together with high-tech jobs in cell-based agriculture.

“We are on the doorstep of Asia and, with Western Sydney Airport now underway, the potential to develop a world class laboratory to manufacture high quality cultivated meat exports is massive. I look forward to seeing a flourishing industry.”

READ MORE: Monash University researches why people find some foods disgusting

VOW has been co-founded by two entrepreneurs, former Cochlear design lead Tim Noakesmith and George Peppou from startup accelerator Cicada Innovations, to grow meat for consumption from animal cells.

“There is growing demand for meat globally with population growth and with rising middle classes in developing nations consuming more protein.

“Growing meat sustainably from stem cells will have a fraction of the footprint of traditional livestock farming in terms of land use and water use and there is no need for culling animals.

“We’re building a team of scientists, designers and technologists all on a quest to meet the world’s protein demands for the future in a sustainable manner. But we are not in competition with traditional livestock farming.

“There is plenty of room for traditional meat as well as plant-based and cell-cultured meat to provide greater choice for consumers.

“We hope to build a full scale factory in Western Sydney that will eventually mass produce many tonnes of cell-cultivated meat each year for Australia and for export.”

Mr Peppou said VOW was also building the biggest “Noah’s Ark” cell library in the world with cell samples that can be used to develop new food experiences.

“At the moment we have only domesticated for food production less than 1% of what’s in nature so there are many unlocked food secrets to explore in the other 99.6%,” Mr Peppou said.

“Nature has incredible diversity so there is great potential to create new food experiences. Our cell library will discover and catalogue new flavour, texture and nutritional profiles that we can also combine to create amazing new food experiences.

“We have kicked off collaboration discussions with some top tier Australian chefs to design their own high impact dishes using cultivated meats, and will work with food regulators to hopefully have our first premium product available by the end of next year.”

Research partnership established for WA grains industry

Western Australia’s grains industry is set to benefit from a $48 million scientific research partnership between the Western Australian government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

A major new research program will attempt to unlock the potential of WA’s grainbelt soils and exploratory projects to boost oat, canola, lupin and pulse production and value for WA growers.

The WA government has committed $25 million over five years for the WA-based projects led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s research arm.

The funding commitment includes $22 million to overcome soil constraints and develop transformational soil technologies.

A further $3 million will help examine new opportunities for the WA grains industry, including a fresh approach to matching genetics for early sowing opportunities for oats, canola and lupins in key environments.

“Scientific research is key to helping our growers change and adapt to produce better crops, increase productivity and export competitiveness, and in turn support our regional economies and communities,” said Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

“This industry is hungry for technology to address Western Australia’s unique conditions and market challenges while striving for record growth like this season’s impressive 17.9 million tonne harvest – our second biggest crop ever.”

The six projects include:

  • Re-engineering soils to improve water and nutrient flow to crops;
  • Increasing farming system profitability and the longevity of benefits following soil amelioration;
  • Increased grower profitability on soils with sodicity or transient salinity in the eastern grainbelt;
  • Optimising yield and expanding the area of high-value pulses – lentil, faba bean and chickpea – in Western Australia;
  • Evaluating milling oat varieties and optimising profitability from early-sown oats; and
  • Expanding the sowing window for canola and lupins.

Western Australia’s grains industry is estimated to have injected $7 billion into the WA economy this season, by far the state’s biggest agricultural export and underpinning many rural and regional communities.

New study examines the dangers of crop monocultures

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.

Study establishes new method of developing disease-resistance in crops

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.”

Federal funding announced for aquaculture development in northern Australia

A $420,000 project funded by the federal government aims at expanding the aquaculture industry in northern Australia.

The Northern Australian Aquaculture Industry Situational Analysis has been commissioned by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia.

Over the next 12 months, researchers from James Cook University will work with the CSIRO, Blueshift Consulting, the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association, Australian Prawn Farmers Association and the Indigenous Land Corporation to develop a comprehensive aquaculture plan.

Federal resources and northern Australia minister Matt Canavan announced details of the project – to be led by James Cook University – in Townsville.

“Aquaculture is already worth more than $240 million a year in Northern Australia but we believe it can be further expanded and this study will help map out future developments,” Canavan said.

“It will examine issues including market and investment opportunities, jobs and skills, biosecurity, animal health, and environmental considerations.”

Federal member for Dawson George Christensen said he welcomed funding for an emerging industry in the region.

“Aquaculture is a growing industry in centres like Bowen and the Burdekin and I have met with a number of current and prospective proponents in recent years,” Christensen said.

“There is the potential to create hundreds of jobs in regions that desperately need them, and this investment by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia in putting together a plan for future developments will be welcomed with open arms.”

Canavan said Northern Australia is well-placed to benefit from growing world demand for sustainably sourced seafood farmed in freshwater and marine locations.

“Australian aquaculture production grew by more than 50 per cent between 2006–07 and 2016–17 to almost 94,000 tonnes, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

“National aquaculture production in 2016-17 was $1.3 billion. That included $120 million in Queensland, $90 million in Western Australia and $34 million in the Northern Territory.

“Those figures are good but I want to see aquaculture in Northern Australia grow further, providing jobs and income for northern communities in often remote areas.”

Canavan said this is the third aquaculture project funded by the CRC for Developing Northern Australia.

“It highlights the strategic importance of the aquaculture industry to growing jobs and opportunities in Northern Australia,’’ he said.

“Overall, the Coalition Government’s has committed $75 million over 10 years to the CRC for Developing Northern Australia for industry-led research collaborations in agriculture and food, health service delivery, and Traditional Owner-led business development.”

ANU research uses satellite data to predict drought

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have used new space technology to predict droughts and increased bushfire risk up to five months in advance.

The ANU researchers used data from multiple satellites to measure water below the Earth’s surface with unprecedented precision, and were able to relate this to drought impacts on the vegetation several months later. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Siyuan Tian from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences said the team knew they needed to move into space to get closer to understanding the complex nature of drought.

“The way these satellites measure the presence of water on Earth is mind boggling,” Tian said.

“We’ve been able to use them to detect variations in water availability that affect the growth and condition of grazing land, dryland crops and forests, and that can lead to increased fire risk and farming problems several months down the track.”

Co-researcher Professor Albert van Dijk from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society said combining these data with a computer model simulating the water cycle and plant growth enabled the team to build a detailed picture of the water’s distribution below the surface and likely impacts on the vegetation months later.

“We have always looked up at the sky to predict droughts – but not with too much success,” van Dijk said.

“This new approach – by looking down from space and underground – opens up possibilities to prepare for drought with greater certainty. It will increase the amount of time available to manage the dire impacts of drought, such as bushfires and livestock losses.”

The drought forecasts will be combined with the latest satellite maps of vegetation flammability from the Australian Flammability Monitoring System at ANU to predict how the risk of uncontrollable bushfires will change over the coming months.

The team used the GRACE Follow-On satellites, which were developed by American, German and Australian scientists. ANU Professor Daniel Shaddock led the Australian team.

Dr Paul Tregoning from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences said the GRACE space gravity mission provided a measurement of changes in total water storage anywhere on Earth for the first time.

“Combined with measurements of surface water and top soil moisture from other satellites, this provides the ability to know how much water is available at different depths below the soil,” he said.

“What is innovative and exciting about our work is that we have been able to quantify the available water more accurately than ever before. This leads to more accurate forecasts of vegetation state, as much as five months in advance.”

Designing and building a facility in Asia: What you need to know

Australian food and beverage manufacturers open processing factories in Asia for many different reasons – cheap labour, being closer to markets, lower running costs.

Wiley is a company that has spent many years building up its portfolio of building projects in Asia – Thailand and Indonesia  are just a few countries where they have built facilities for a variety of FMCG food specialists. Wiley’s first Asia project was 1995 for Nestle Indonesia, who where going through an expansion phase on several sites in East Java – a condensed milk factory was built quickly followed by a Milo factory and then by others including factory upgrades and central distribution centre.

Wiley brought some innovations to their projects, which provided better hygiene controls, sped up construction  and reduced ongoing maintenance. An example of innovation was concrete tilt-up walls to a warehouse which made construction faster and eliminated the maintenance of repairing plastered blockwork.

After its start in Indonesia, Wiley designed some ‘signature’ facilities in the Philippines, particularly a large commissary for leading Filipino fast food company Jollibee.

There are many preconceived ideas – some true, some not so much – when starting up a factory in the most populous continent on the planet. For a start, there are still standards that have to be met. Maybe they’re not as stringent as those in Australia? Not necessarily so says the company’s advisory services director, Andrew Newby.

“We build to international standards or specific client requirements when building overseas,” said Newby. “A country like Thailand considers itself the kitchen of the world. They export to Japan, Europe and all over the planet so they have to meet high standards. You look at the workmanship level when building in Asia – the finishes – as to being similar to Australia. We look at how they might improve the way they do things, and, in some cases, we do have a lot of supervision when building as to how they carry out tasks. I find that supervision is a really strong factor in achieving great finishes.”

Wiley business development manager, Michael Fung, backs up that assertion. “When starting a project, I would advise to have somebody up there who can manage the delivery. Having an Australian supervisor is a good idea,” he said. “If you leave all the dealings with a local contractor you don’t know what you are going to end up with.”

Dealing with local government can vary from country to country. While there might be an impression that a lot of these places have third-world infrastructure, they still have construction standards that have to be adhered to, licenses that have to be put in place, approvals and other bureaucratic necessities that must be met. A key factor for food and beverage processors have to take into consideration is risk. What are the local issues? Is the government reasonably stable? Is the workforce reliable? What are the local labour laws and how will they affect my business? Fung also says that sometimes companies get caught up with the setting up and forget about the commercial aspects.

“You have to look at how they operate,” he said. “Things like bank accounts, what you need to have in place before you even go over there. Take Indonesia and Thailand for example. The differences doing business in those two countries is significant. There are differences in paid-up capital requirements to setup business. Then there are business set-up costs. It is that up front advice that they need to get from lawyers and accountants before they get their foot in the door of the country that needs sorting out and we often assist with.”

Is it easier doing business in one country compared to another? Yes and no, says Newby. It’s more to do with how the country sees itself with regard to food manufacturing than any clear set of rules designed to make things easier or harder for the companies involved.
“It is about making sure you are ready,” said Newby. “For example, Thailand has a very active board of investment. They will give you a lot of help to set up a new business. Whereas you might not get that in Indonesia because they are not such an export-driven country. So, it’s important to look for incentives.”

Then there are the reasons a company is going there to Asia in the first place. Is it to export back to Australia? Export that country’s produce around the world? Depending on what you are going to do relates to which is the best country to erect a factory.

“It’s all about supply chain,” said Newby. “It’s about what you are making. Is your raw material available in that country? Because every country is different. What are you producing? Does it make sense to build in that location? If you’re not really sure then we can help a client decide the geographical location within Asia where it makes sense to be. You have to also look at where ports are located, airports – things like that.”

Wiley is a company that has many years’ experience building facilities on the continent. This experience can go a long way to helping companies just starting their journey in Asia, especially when it comes to scoping a new project.

“It is important to get a company, or someone, with experience building facilities there,” said Wiley communications manager, Rachael Hedges. “We can start right from the beginning through our business advisory unit – from identifying what country you should go into. What is the business risk? What is the business position for going there? We make sure there is due diligence and that the company’s future planning is in the right spaces and places. Then our delivery team can partner with local suppliers and subcontractors and make sure they are getting the right advice to get the right outcome.”
And how are things looking there at the moment? Wiley is at pains to point out that the whole region – depending on wants and needs – is open for business. However, the big player in the arena – China – is never far from anyone’s thoughts. Still, opportunities abound everywhere said Newby.

“The areas that I’ve seen pretty good growth in are the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia,” he said. “With Indonesia for example, it has got a population of 230 million. There is a really strong domestic need for food there. Whereas Thailand has 60 -70 million people but is a big exporter because the government has been very proactive in supporting the food industry. Some Asian countries are building strong connections to China.

“As the infrastructure gets better in Asia, it is going to open up. You are then going to see more trade, which those governments are trying to do with the ASEAN (Association of South-east Asian Nations) agreement – trying to break down trade barriers in the region so labour and goods can cross borders easily.”

How does Newby feel about the near future with regard to growth, especially for Australian companies thinking of dipping their toes in the food and beverage processing market?
“Some economists say that at the moment the Asian economies are sluggish, but this view only makes sense when compared to the double-digit growth that the region experienced in previous economic cycles,” he said.

Growth rates in the ASEAN area for example are still forecast to be somewhere between 5-9 per cent in 2019 and when combined with the big populations in Asia, it is unlikely that demand for high quality food and beverages will be declining anytime soon.

CSIRO maps out Australia’s food future

New technologies could see us eating algae-based sources of protein, developing allergenic-free nuts and tolerable varieties of lactose and gluten, and reducing environmental impact through edible packaging.

Speaking at the launch during the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology’s (AIFST) 50th Anniversary Convention in Sydney, Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Craig Laundy , highlighted the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in driving new economic growth in the industry.

Keeping a greater share of food processing onshore and better differentiating Australian food products are major themes across the Roadmap, which calls on businesses to act quickly or risk losing future revenue streams to the competitive global market.

Developed with widespread industry consultation and analysis, the Roadmap seeks to assist Australian food and agribusinesses with the desire to pursue growth and new markets.

Deputy Director of CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Dr Martin Cole said Australia was well positioned to act as a delicatessen of high-quality products that meet the needs of millions of informed and discerning customers both here and abroad.

“Australian businesses are among the most innovative in the world, and together with our world-class scientists, can deliver growth in the food and agribusiness sector amid unprecedented global change,” Dr Cole said.

“Less predictable growing conditions, increasingly global value chains and customers who demand healthier, more convenient and traceable foods are driving businesses to new ways of operating.

“Advances are already being made through the use of blockchain technology and the development of labels that change colour with temperature or time, or are programmed to release preservatives.

The Roadmap was developed in collaboration with the government-funded food and agribusiness growth centre: Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL).

Recently, FIAL launched their Sector Competitiveness Plan, which outlines the over-arching industry vision to grow the share of Australian food in the global marketplace and the necessary strategy to achieve the vision.

“With the growing Asian middle class, Australia is in the box seat to take advantage of the many emerging export opportunities,” FIAL Chairman Peter Schutz said.

“Consumers are looking for differentiated products that cater to their needs.

“This is especially exciting for Australian food and agribusinesses which have the capability to respond with customised and niche products.”

Currently, Australia exports over $40 billion worth of food and beverages each year with 63 per cent headed for Asia.

Dr Cole explained that Australia is a trusted supplier of sustainable, authentic, healthy, high quality and consistent products.

“We must focus on these strengths and enhance the level of value-adding to our products,” DrCole said.

“Recent Austrade analysis shows early signs of such a shift, as for the first time in Australia’s history value-added foods have accounted for the majority (60 per cent) of food export growth.”

The Roadmap outlines value-adding opportunities for Australian products in key growth areas, including health and wellbeing, premium convenience foods and sustainability-driven products that reduce waste or use less resources.

Five key enablers for these opportunities are explored in the Roadmap: traceability and provenance, food safety and biosecurity, market intelligence and access, collaboration and knowledge sharing, and skills.

These enablers align with FIAL’s knowledge priority areas that are central in helping the food and agribusiness industry achieve its vision and deliver increased productivity, sustainable economic growth, job creation, and investment attraction for the sector.

The Roadmap calls for improved collaboration and knowledge sharing to generate scale, efficiency and agility across rapidly changing value chains and markets.

“To survive and grow, the challenge facing Australia’s 177,000 businesses in the food and agribusiness sector is to identify new products, services and business models that arise from the emerging needs of tomorrow’s global customers,” Dr Cole said.

New strategic plan to shape the future of sugarcane research investment

Sugar Research Australia (SRA) has released its new five-year Strategic Plan, following an extensive development and consultation process with growers, millers, government investors, and other stakeholders.

SRA CEO Mr Neil Fisher said SRA has listened to its investors and is responding to their call for SRA to deliver research that has a real impact on-farm, at-mill and in the communities and environment in which the sugarcane industry operates.  This brand new Strategic Plan allows SRA to addresses the challenges and opportunities facing the Australian sugarcane industry with a focus on research where SRA can have the most impact.  In short, SRA aims to deliver research that has a transformational impact on the profitability, sustainability, and resilience of the industry.

“Through our consultations, our investors were clear that they need SRA to be delivering tangible outputs and outcomes for sugarcane growers and millers,” Mr Fisher said. “Our investors, through the Strategic Plan, have identified particular areas of attention and investment for SRA in coming years, which includes improving the efficiency of the sugarcane breeding program, improving adoption and communication, enhancing soil health while minimising nutrient run-off, and continuing to work on the yellow canopy syndrome dilemma.

“The bottom line is that SRA exists to help put more dollars in the back pocket of growers and millers, who underpin regional jobs and economies in large areas of Queensland and NSW.

“SRA is committed to being accountable for our investment, and we do that through measuring and reporting on our performance. Our Strategic Plan has clear measures of success, and we are accountable to these measures through an annual Performance Report, and an Independent Performance Review every three years.

“SRA has also consulted widely with our Commonwealth and State Government investors, and our Strategic Plan aligns with the National Sugarcane Industry Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) Strategy, the Commonwealth Government’s Science and Research Priorities and Rural Research, Development and Extension Priorities, and the Queensland Government’s Strategic Objectives for investment in the sugarcane industry.

“What sets this Strategic Plan apart from our previous plan is the establishment of four goals that underpin our research investment. These are: drive profitability, improve sustainability, enhance capability, and strengthen organisational excellence.”

The Plan also has nine specific Key Focus Areas (KFAs) for SRA’s investment: optimally adapted varieties, plant breeding and release; soil health, nutrient management and sustainability; pest disease and weed management; farming systems and harvesting; milling efficiency and technology; product diversification and value addition; knowledge and technology transfer and adoption; collaboration and capability development; and organisational effectiveness.

“Each year, our Strategic Plan is enacted through an Annual Operational Plan, which has also now been released for 2017/18,” Mr Fisher said.

“These plans ensure SRA is positioned to lead, partner and invest in research, development and adoption activities that will enable growers and millers to remain profitable and our industry resilient over the long-term.”

Arrow Energy set to fix manufacturers’ energy woes

Arrow Energy has announced plans to double the production capacity of its Tipton gas project in Queensland amid an east-coast industrial gas shortage.

The planned expansion of Arrow’s Tipton operations is expected to involve 90 new wells in the initial phase and another 180 wells over the next 25 years.

It will also include new gathering lines, an upgraded water treatment facility and four new compressors.

“This project continues the development of the Arrow resource which will see more gas in the market,” said Arrow Energy CEO Qian Mingyang.

The project follows investment of more than $600 million by Arrow in its Surat Basin infrastructure, including $500 million towards its Daandine expansion project commissioned in late 2016 and more than $100 million to expand capacity at its Daandine and Tipton fields.

“We only hope that the other states follow Queensland’s lead and open up gas reserves to help fix the energy crisis households and businesses, especially manufacturers, along the eastern seaboard are facing,” said Mingyang.

Freeze dried food could be the answer to food waste

According to a story on ABC Online, freeze-dried food could be the solution to saving billions of dollars worth of wasted produce.

Australians dispose of $10 billion worth of food every year and according to Foodwise, with $2.76 billion of that is fresh produce.

Queensland food processor Freeze Dry Industries has fast become an outlet for local farmers looking to make money off crop that would otherwise go in the bin.

“Freeze-drying is a very scientific process, which has origins with NASA as space food,” CEO Michael Buckley told the ABC.

“My inspiration came from the pure joy of the technology in attacking waste, because I hate the thought of us throwing out beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables.”

However freeze drying is not cheap, with freeze-drying machines starting from $300,000,” he said.

Buckley told the ABC he was convinced that consumers are prepared to pay more for the experience of eating a freeze-dried snack.

For farmers, the option of earning money from a waste product, despite the cost, is an incentive for many growers.

Despite the challenges, Buckley expects the interest in freeze-dried fruits to increase, largely driven by demand from the likes of “the health food industry,’ he said.

Aussie wines set for German markets

 

More than 100 Australian wineries were recently on show at one of the world’s biggest industry events in a bid to further boost surging exports.

The Wine Australia exhibit at ProWein 2017 which was held from March 19 to 21 in Germany featured 500 wines from 76 wineries across 39 varieties and 34 Australian regions, including the premier regions of South Australia.

The Dusseldorf event is considered one of the world’s most important international wine fairs and will include more than 6300 exhibitors from 60 nations.

Australia is the world’s fifth largest wine producing nation in 2016 and is experiencing a strong run of export success on international markets, particularly for premium wine in North America and China.

In the 12 months to December 2016, the value of Australian wine exports grew by 7 per cent to $2.22 billion and volume increased by 1 per cent to 750 million litres.

The average value of exports grew by 6 per cent to $2.96 per litre, the highest level since 2009 driven by a 10 per cent growth in bottled exports, mostly at higher price points.

South Australia is responsible for 50 per cent of Australia’s annual production including about 75 per cent of its premium wine.

Much of this premium wine comes from the South Australian regions of Barossa and McLaren Vale, and South Australian wineries attending ProWein include d’Arenberg, Elderton, Fox Creek, Langmeil.

 

 

 

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