Australian scientists call for A$1bn public-private agri fund

The fund should back private sector fund managers and speed the commercialization of emerging agri tech and practices in the country.

Australia should establish a A$1 billion ($760 million; €675 million) agricultural fund to back private sector fund managers investing in emerging agriculture practices and technologies, a report by the country’s National Committee for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has said.

The committee said that a public-private fund should be established to “invest in promising agricultural discoveries and fast-track their commercialization into new and improved Australian products and services in domestic and international markets.” The scientists said the fund should “select appropriately qualified and experienced fund managers to stimulate private sector investment at the early stage of agricultural research translation.”

The group said that an investment level of “$100 million per year with a 10-year planning horizon would realistically be expected to make substantial progress” towards Australia’s successful future as a major agricultural nation.

The 10-year plan said investment now is crucial to help overturn a lack of early-stage agricultural investment in the last two decades, pointing to a fall in research and development investment across Australia from around A$230 million in 1995 to around A$120 million in 2012.

A variety of risks are facing the agri sector in Australia, according to the scientists, from climate change, which will require a need to “identify change scenarios and plan accordingly so Australia can maintain an efficient agricultural system that can predict and adapt to changes in real time,” to declining soil quality and the likely arrival of the varroa mite, an event which could cause an up to 90 percent decline in fruit size and set across the country.

The plan says key areas for investment that would help boost productivity in the face of these threats include genomics, greater use of intelligent sensors and surveillance, and capitalizing on big data so farmers are provided with information in “a readily understandable form, for example as clear decision-support tools. Failure to do so will result in significant lost opportunities.”