National Farmers’ Federation CEO Tony Mahar announced the launch of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture this week, based at the University of Sydney. The institute has been formed to take a unique ‘roots to shoots’ approach, from the soil science of climate change to robots engineered in concert with farmers and a focus on value-added products tailored to individual shopper’s needs.
Sydney Institute of Agriculture Director, Professor Alex McBratney, said in order to continue to be productive as well as profitable in a changing environment – rather than ‘incremental change’, Australia needs to develop a ‘new agriculture’.
The institute defines ‘new agriculture’ as “a hi-tech, ecosystem-aware, value-added, consumer-connected food production system with benefits for customers, producers and the environment.”
“The Sydney Institute of Agriculture is here to provide solutions and rigorous planning for future food and fibre, assisting farmers to produce the clean, green products Australia is renowned for,” Professor McBratney said.
“We are firm believers in the benefits that will come from thinking small and thinking finer – working out how to get to the detail of separating our food into individualised aliquots and sending these parcels to consumers on demand.”
The Institute aims to cover projects focused on:
- Precision agriculture work (pre-breeding heat-tolerant staples)
- Animal behaviour (including a project looking at cow communication)
- Development agriculture designed to help more than a dozen countries struggling to cope with issues such as drought
- Robots monitoring lettuce fields, expected to be bound for the supermarket in a matter of years
According to Professor McBratney, future-proofing is enabled by developing models based on farmers’ data. He added that new cutting-edge technology based on their research could be available in two years.
“We are building locally, meaningful seasonal forecasting models for rainfall and temperature,” he said. “Agriculture in particular is being changed by the Internet, mobile technology and big data analytics – we are marrying the research of agronomists, engineers, economists and IT specialists with the needs of farmers to develop a new digital agriculture.
“The Sydney Institute of Agriculture is unique in that it brings all these seemingly disparate parts together. Our focus is on ensuring we can continue to feed ourselves and a growing population.”
Source: Creating new agriculture