February Director’s Message

Earlier this month, the ANU Vice Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt, attended a speech at the National Press Club given by the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP.  Joining Prof Schmidt was Dr Larry Marshall, Chief Executive of CSIRO.  Together, they listened to the PM announce a $2.2 billion package to increase commercialisation of research in Australia, through an initiative titled ‘Australia’s Economic Accelerator (AEA)’.  In collaboration with CSIRO Main Sequence Ventures, the AEA will invest in research projects that have high potential for commercialisation in areas aligned with Australia’s National Manufacturing Priorities, including Food and Beverage. Increasing links between researchers and industry will be a central feature of the AEA, with funding available for projects at different stages of industry-readiness.  The PM also outlined an investment in 1,800 industry PhDs and over 800 industry fellows over 10 years.  While implementation of these announcements may depend on who wins the upcoming Federal election, it seems likely that such proposals will become a reality, with both the Government and Opposition advocating for increased commercialisation of our research.     

CEAT welcomes the scale and focus of these initiatives, as they align perfectly with our mission to build partnerships between researchers and industry, and in doing so, help address some of the most complex challenges facing the agri-sector.  Our hope is that the next government couples a focus on commercialisation with investments that also support Australia’s wider research capability, as without a vibrant, world-class research community, the river of ideas into the commercialisation space will eventually dry up.   

On Friday the 18th of February, the Australian Agritech Association (AAA) held its first National Summit, with CEAT supporting the Summit through our foundation membership and sponsorship of the AAA.  In a pre-recorded message I spoke briefly to Summit attendees how, in the coming year, CEAT will work with the AAA to help identify the regulatory settings needed to support and stimulate a vibrant agri-tech industry in Australia that supports our farmers and exports technology to the world.  While our agri-tech industry is small by global standards, there is huge potential for it to grow.  But to achieve that growth, we need to identify the barriers to industry growth, and work on strategies to address those barriers.  CEAT looks forward to working with the AAA to help achieve this goal, and to help connect researchers with Australian agri-tech companies.  

Next month, CEAT will be running its annual strategic planning workshops. We use these workshops to help frame where to invest time and resources in the coming year, and to help map out our longer-term goals.  In the lead up to those workshops, on March 7th we will host a panel discussion on the future of the agriculture innovation ecosystem.  Moderated by journalist and Australian Studies Institute professor, Mark Kenny, the event will seek to understand the barriers to transformative innovation in the agri-sector, and possible ways forward.  Mark will be joined by a diverse guest panel who will give their perspectives on the key challenges facing the sector.  The live event will be video recorded and posted on the CEAT website.  Please keep an eye out on our socials for a link to the video.  

We are also working with Peter Wren-Hilton and Dr Anna Okello to organise a ½ day workshop in Canberra in the lead up to the 2035 Oceania Summit that, COVID-19 permitting, will take place in Auckland from 10-11th October 2022.  The Summit has been designed to provide stakeholders from the Oceania/Pacific region, a chance to meet and discuss how agri-food-tech innovations can help address the threats posed by climate change, to the food system.  The Canberra workshop will bring together industry, research, investors and policy-makers to identify climate-related challenges facing the Oceania/Pacific food system, and ways to develop solutions to those challenges.  Details of the workshop, including an opportunity to attend, will be released soon.   

February was also the month when the ANU announced that Professor Ute Roessner has been appointed as Director of Research Initiatives and Infrastructure portfolio, starting March 7th.  Ute is an acclaimed plant scientist and leader in the field of metabolomics, and was previously Head of Biosciences at Melbourne University.  She will have responsibility for ANU Innovation Institutes, including CEAT.  She will also be responsible for the University’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) facilities – including the ANU node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF).  For the coming year, I will be Director of the APPF at ANU, along with my role leading CEAT.  I thus look forward to working with Ute to further develop industry links, and to ensure that the APPF remains a world-leading capability serving the needs of researchers and industry partners.    

As Martin Amidy takes a period of paternity leave (congratulations!), I am delighted to welcome Dr Robin Fieldhouse back to ANU and to CEAT in particular. Robin brings deep knowledge of, and networks in, the local and national agri-tech innovation ecosystem, as well as long industry experience in process scale-up and commercialisation. Robin will be contributing to all CEAT’s programs, particularly the Research Translation Initiative, as well as to the ANU research and teaching agendas. 

We also welcome Bec Hopkins who has been appointed to the role of Senior Marketing and Communications Officer. Bec has worked in various roles from School Administrator, Human Resources Consultant and most recently as an Alumni and Development Coordinator at the ANU College of Engineering Computer Science.  

Welcome Robin and Bec, very happy to have you both in the team! 

Finally, referring back to Brian Schmidt and Larry Marshall.  Both are keen to develop stronger links between their respective institutions.  While the ANU and CSIRO have and do work together, linkages are not as strong as they were in the past.  A Collaboration Framework Working Group has been established to look at how working together will enable the two organisations to tackle complex issues of relevance to industry.  My hope is that through initiatives such as CEAT (for which both ANU and CSIRO are partners), we find ways to collaborate on high-impact projects that address national priorities, including those of relevance to industry.    

Best wishes. And make sure you read the rest of our CEAT newsletter! 

Thank you.  

Owen Atkin, Director, CEAT 

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