Australia can – and should – be getting a larger piece of the global AgTech activity. Ben van Delden, Head of Agri-Food Tech provides insights from his trip to Israel as part of the Agri-Food Trade Mission.
The AgTech question Australia must confront squarely in 2017 is what do we want to be: a builder, a buyer, or a bystander?
Already there are some great Australian AgTech ideas making an impact here and internationally. Australian startups are working to apply technology such as sensors, precision technology, farm management software, robots, online marketplaces for labour and assets, drones, and herd management technology to improve yields and quality, and reduce farm costs.
Yet despite Australia’s competitive advantages – relative available space, six different climatic growing conditions, scale of production capacity, comparable quality scientific research capability and proximity to consumer markets with whom we hold favourable free trade agreements – there remains a significant opportunity for Australia to take action and make itself a global builder of AgTech technologies and innovation.
When looking for a true global stand-out, it is hard to look past Israel, one of the world’s fastest growing AgTech markets. We know Israel has perfected citrus cultivation for its desert conditions, extended the shelf life of regular cherry tomatoes, and revolutionised irrigation with drip technology. Israeli scientists are producing crops achieving a USD1 million per kilogram price point and working on making 3-D printable chicken meat a reality!
It is vital that we in Australia are cognisant of the keys to success in one of the leading global AgTech markets and focus on how we might further adapt our local FoodTech and AgTech ecosystem to capitalise on our unique market advantages.
|Culture of Innovation||1. Shine more light on Australia’s quiet science and technology achievers – seek ways to better tell our own stories of innovation at airports, public spaces and institutions.|
|Access to capital and investing in innovation||2. Redirect some of Australia’s public innovation funding to fill the seed funding gap in the market – help de-risk innovation and encourage a safe to fail mindset.|
|3. Explore the merits of licensing government incubators for AgTech and FoodTech, which would create competition for the licences.|
|4. Create a regenerative framework for publicly funded innovation – to recoup funds invested in startups upon successful commercialisation and introduce a multiplier factor for successful sale of IP to offshore investors. This would promote greater alignment of support between government agencies and industry innovators.|
|Open doors||5. Provide research direction to Australian universities, research development corporations and state departments of agriculture via commercialisation KPIs and some shorter grant periods to promote ‘sprint’ innovation.|
|6. Refresh the incentive models so researchers are remunerated for the successful commercialisation of research, where the prize is the outcome from the research not the research grant itself.|
|7. Enable 3-month research exchanges to Israeli universities and research bodies such as the Agricultural Research Organisation, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv University so that Australian scientists can gain an understanding of working in that ecosystem.|
|Co-operation and collaboration||8. Establish a national network of AgTech hubs. The Israel trip reinforced the need to create AgTech hubs, a key recommendation of the previous KPMG Powering Growth1 report. It also taught us that we need to promote discussion about the lessons from trying and failing, not just the sugar coated successes.|
|9. Closer co-operation with the global AgTech industry provides key advantages, including allowing Australian entrepreneurs to draw on leading international research to help build local AgTech businesses with global reach.|
|10. Invest in bringing developed AgTech solutions from overseas and adapt them to the local environment. Develop joint AgTech research partnerships and demonstration sites to showcase the science and technology, underpinned by research, government and industry relationships between Australia and Israel.|
Read the report for more insights from Ben van Delden, Head of AgTech on his trip to Israel as part of the Agri-Food Trade Mission, organised by the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce NSW branch.