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Australian agri must focus on R&D, collaboration for maximum benefits

The country's 177,000 businesses in the food and agribusiness sector is to identify new products, services and business models, according to CSIRO.

Continued investment in research and development, as well as greater knowledge-sharing through the creation of regional clusters and business consortia are some of the steps Australia’s food and agribusiness (F&A) sector must take if it is to benefit from the opportunities arising from changing demographics, food scarcity and a growing Asian middle class.

“To survive and grow, the challenge facing Australia’s 177,000 businesses in the food and agribusiness sector is to identify new products, services and business models that arise from the emerging needs of tomorrow’s global customers,” said Martin Cole, deputy director of CSIRO Agriculture and Food, the federal government agency that released a Food & Agribusiness Roadmap to help the sector achieve future success.

Other key enablers CSIRO identified include: traceability and provenance; food safety and biosecurity; market intelligence and access; and employees with multi-disciplinary skills.

Currently, Australia exports over A$40 billion ($31.7 billion; €27.4 billion) worth of food and beverages each year with 63 percent going to Asia.

“With the growing Asian middle class, Australia is in the box seat to take advantage of the many emerging export opportunities,” said Peter Schultz, chairman of Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL), a government-funded food and agribusiness growth center, which collaborated with CSIRO in producing the report.

In addition to a growing middle class in Asia, other trends that Australia’s F&A sector can capitalize on include increasing consumer demand for healthier and traceable food products. According to a CSIRO statement, markets for naturally healthy ($291 billion), food intolerance ($42 billion) and organic products ($45 billion) are expected to grow by a compound annual growth rate of up to 4.5 percent by 2021.

Other value-adding opportunities outlined in the Roadmap include premium convenience foods and sustainability driven products that reduce waste or use fewer resources.

Citing data from the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), Cole said that value-added foods have accounted for the majority (60 percent) of food export growth for the first time in Australia’s history.

“We must focus on these strengths and enhance the level of value-adding to our products,” Cole said.