April Director’s message

Nutt family farm in Black Rock, SA.

In recent decades, rural industries have been able to develop a range of technologies that greatly increase the efficiency, safety and sustainability of food and fibre production. Central to many of these has been the deployment of satellite-based technologies that deliver remote sensing, connectivity and geolocation capabilities to the rural sector. Looking forward, there are exciting opportunities for satellite-based technologies to help drive innovation across the agri-food value chain, so long as we are clear about where maximum gains can be achieved, and where barriers to adoption limit technology uptake. We also need to identify the technologies and applications that are suitable for the Australian context. It was with these issues in mind that an interdisciplinary team at ANU has – over the past several months – worked with AgriFutures Australia to produce a major report that assesses the impact and potential of space-based technologies in the rural sector. The report provided an excellent opportunity for the ANU to harness its world-leading capabilities – across several discipline areas – to explore the depth and breadth of opportunities from space-based technologies, document current use cases, and to outline the opportunities space-based technologies present the rural sector, both now and into the future. 

The AgriFutures report was a truly collaborative effort, bringing together staff from the Research School of Earth Sciences, School of Engineering, School of Art & Design, Institute of Space, Institute of Water Futures and Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology. I want to specially thank Martin Amidy (CEAT Senior Fellow – AgTech Innovation) and Sarah Adams (CEAT Business Development Manager) for leading consultations with industry stakeholders and ensuring that the report is written in a way that is accessible and relevant to industry stakeholders. 

The AgriFutures report was produced under their National Rural Issues (NRI) Program – a program whose stated goal is to produce “thought-provoking and horizon-scanning research to inform debate and policy on issues of importance across rural industries” (Michael Beer, General Manager, Business Development, AgriFutures). The program aligns perfectly with CEAT’s Mission of building partnerships and capability to enable researchers, industry, government and end-users to collaborate and innovate. In the future, expect to see CEAT working with a range of researchers and stakeholders to help unpack the complex challenges facing the rural sector, as well as help develop solutions to those challenges. 

Early this month, the Deputy Prime Minister (Hon. Michael McCormack) and Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management (Hon. David Littleproud), announced that a bid by Charles Sturt University for a Southern NSW Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub was successful. ANU – through the Institute of Water Futures and CEAT – is proud to be a Tier 1 partner in the Hub consortium. The Hub will receive $8M over four years as part of the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund, with the consortium contributing an additional $11.9M in financial and in-kind contributions. The Hub provides ANU with an exciting opportunity to use its expertise to address local drought resilience research and innovation priorities. Other partners in the Hub are: Farming Systems Groups Alliance, First Nations Governance Circle, Local Land Services, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Rural Aid, University of Canberra and University of Wollongong.

April was also a period during which CEAT was pleased to contribute to a submission from the ANU to the University Research Commercialisation consultation commissioned by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.  The submission highlighted the importance of adopting a ‘mission’ approach to address complex issues of national importance and to deliver industry and societal impacts. The submission supported the development of initiatives that improve translation and commercialisation of university research outputs. In this context, I was pleased to see the submission include a box highlighting how CEAT is helping the ANU to translate and commercialise its world-leading research. 

Finally, April was also a month where my wife and I went on a 10-day holiday, visiting Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges and a family farm in Black Rock, just south of Orroroo. Orroroo is located close to the Goyder Line which marks the transition between environments suitable for reliable cropping and those only suited to grazing. While the region received good rainfall in September 2020, they have had less than 20 mm since Christmas. Clearly, in such places, farmers need tools/strategies that increase soil water content/retention, and which improve crop water use efficiency.  At Black Rock, we spent four days with Morgan and Joy Nutt and their children. The Nutt family has been in the district since 1849 – a testament to their resilience, hard work, and ability to farm through extended dry periods.  In the coming years, it will be fascinating to see how their farm embraces new satellite-based technologies, noting that there are lots of opportunities for technology to be embraced on the farm, both for current and future generations of the Nutt family. 

Make sure you read the articles in this month’s newsletter.

Thank you.

Owen Atkin, Director, CEAT.

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