Director’s message

As we approach the end of 2023, it is my pleasure to announce two key changes to the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology (CEAT) that will come into effect in the new year. 

From 1 January 2024, CEAT will become the Agrifood Innovation Institute (AFII). When CEAT started in 2018, our focus was on addressing agricultural challenges by harnessing ANU expertise in plant, environmental and computing sciences, engineering and technology development. Through time, we realised that there was an opportunity to utilise ANU expertise across a broader range of disciplines (including social sciences, business and economics, law, policy and regulatory frameworks) to address a wider range of agrifood challenges facing society, industry and the environment. 

With the University having committed to invest $12 million in the CEAT Innovation Institute for a further five years, the time is right to rebrand from CEAT to AFII. This new name is an acknowledgement of how our scope has widened from a focus on ‘agri-technology’ to one where we are using the full interdisciplinary capabilities of ANU to address complex regional, national and global agrifood challenges. 

As an ANU Innovation Institute, AFII will invest in initiatives that:

  • develop an entrepreneurial culture that promotes the translation of ANU research knowledge for societal benefit
  • support researchers to build new partnerships with the agrifood sector
  • invest in new models of biological, technological, social and policy innovation that change how ANU researchers work with industry
  • harness the full interdisciplinary capabilities of ANU to address complex national and global challenges that threaten the resilience, stability and growth of the agrifood sector
  • help shape national and global debates about how to meet increasing global demand for nutritious, abundant food that is produced in ways that are environmentally sustainable
  • provide graduate students with a wider range of career opportunities. 

With the rebrand comes an increasing need for ANU to deepen connections with industry and innovation networks beyond our campus. With that in mind, I am pleased to announce that Associate Professor Alison Bentley is soon to join ANU, both as AFII Deputy Director and as a Group Leader in the Research School of Biology. In her most recent role, Associate Professor Bentley was Director of the Global Wheat Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, where she focused on developing wheat germplasm with superior productivity and climate resilience. She is a crop scientist who works at the interface of genetics and plant breeding; she combines fundamental/blue-skies research with applied work targeting the needs of farmers around the world. Prior to joining CIMMYT, she was Director of Genetics and Breeding at the National Institute of Botany (NIAB) in Cambridge, UK. She is a superb advocate for the importance of wheat, being awarded the prestigious 2023 Borlaug CAST Communication Award and the 2024 JBS Haldane Award. Through her leadership of the Women in Crop Science network, Associate Professor Bentley has helped drive the promotion and championing of females throughout their research careers. She is a strong advocate for the application of interdisciplinary approaches to address global food security challenges, and I am looking forward to working with her as AFII strives to harness the interdisciplinary capabilities of ANU to address these challenges.  

I can also announce that we have a new AFII Board, which includes members from the corporate sector bringing significant industry and innovation ecosystem experience:

  • Victoria Taylor (Chair) is Head of Sector Building at Cellular Agriculture Australia, Non-Executive Director of Horticulture Innovation Australia and WaterNSW, member of the NSW Rice Marketing Board
  • Ben Fargher is Lead of Cargill Environmental Markets in the APAC region. He previously held various Managing Director roles in Cargill’s North American grain and oilseed supply chain business over several years, and was CEO of the National Farmers’ Federation
  • Hebbat Manhy is Head of Deep Technology at Cicada Innovations, member of the NSW Smart Sensing Network Advisory Board and Monash University’s Faculty of Robotics and Automation Industry Advisory Board
  • Rob Gordon is the former CEO of SunRice, Non-Executive Board Director of the Inghams Group (Chair, Risk and Sustainability sub-Committee; Member, Finance/Audit Committee), and is a member of RaboBank’s Agribusiness Advisory Board. 

Together with an excellent group of ANU senior executives (Professors Ute Roessner, Kiaran Kirk, Amanda Barnard, Darren Halpin and Kate Henne), these external Board members will help guide AFII to achieve its vision and mission in the coming years. 

As we close off the CEAT brand, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to CEAT’s past success, with a shout out to past members of the CEAT Governance Committee, current and past staff members, CEAT Hub members, colleagues at ANU and CSIRO, and collaborators in industry and government that we have interacted with over the past five years.

Finally, we still have some office space in our Innovation Hub located on the ANU campus. If you have a business with an agrifood focus that would benefit from unique access to ANU researchers and infrastructure to support your R&D and growth, please get in touch with the CEAT/AFII team at [email protected]. We also welcome interest from businesses headquartered outside Australia with an interest in being based at ANU, in our nation’s capital. 

Wishing you a safe and happy holidays, and we look forward to collaborating with you as the Agrifood Innovation Institute in the new year!


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