Australia’s place at the Global Table

September 19, 2019

Global Table brought an international event focussed on food and agriculture to Melbourne. The event was a huge success with over 3,000 delegates from 29 countries. So, what impression did our international guests leave with about Australia and our core strengths in food and agriculture? More to the point, are we making the most of our core strengths in the global arena.

We largely think of ourselves as a producer and exporter of food and fibre. The current value of farm-gate production is about $60B, and we aspire to grow it to $100B. This goal has already become a motivator, catalyzing work to drive innovation and adoption, as well as a re-think of how our agricultural innovation system works and what we can do to future-proof it. Our strength in production is what has helped us to attract events like Global Table.

At our best though, we can only feed 100M people. As a producer, we face some big challenges. The most recent ABARES report predicts farm gate output will fall by 5%. This is due largely to climate variability. And while it’s clear that many farmers are feeling the devastating impact of drought, it is also true that we are a world expert on producing food efficiently and sustainably in a highly variable climate.

And while it’s clear that many farmers are feeling the devastating impact of drought, it is also true that we are a world expert on producing food efficiently and sustainably in a highly variable climate

The Global Table visitors- domestic and international investors, corporate agribusinesses, and entrepreneurs- who got to see a window into Australian agrifood products hopefully also saw our emerging agrifood tech ecosystem and the innovations we’re creating. Whilst there are limits to how much food and fibre we can produce, there is no limit to the size of the knowledge economy for our innovations. There is no more important time than now to make this a national priority.

Our place at the “global table” is to be the best and most successful provider of innovative solutions for the sustainable production of nutritious food and high-quality natural fibers. No country in the world could claim to have a better starting position than Australia.

Our place at the “global table” is to be the best and most successful provider of innovative solutions for the sustainable production of nutritious food and high-quality natural fibers.

It will take time, collaboration, challenging our existing mental models and ways of doing business, and above all, effort to maximize the economic opportunity in front of us. Here are a few ways we can get started.

5 opportunities to secure Australia’s place at the global table

Start talking ourselves up

We are a world-class agrifood technology innovator, and we produce world-class startups who compete globally. Let’s celebrate our wins, like the recent international fundraise by FluroSat; Swarm Farm’s 3rd place in the Future Agro Challenge; Data Farming being accepted into the highly competitive Terra accelerator program; and the acquisition of AgDNA by CNH.

These are all amazing achievements. Our status internationally is a function of both our collective success and how much noise we make about that success. So go make some noise.

Continue to invest in building the ecosystem

There are also many great accelerator and incubator programs that support early-stage agrifood innovation in Australia. All these programs need support and access to mentors and industry experts, both international and domestic.

Attracting international attention and building our ecosystem go hand-in-hand. The main job of the ‘Australia for Agriculture 4.0’ Task Force is to highlight our strengths and help others navigate the system.

We need to continue to invest in ways to make doing business with Australian agrifood innovators, easy. So jump in and be part of the action.

Act like a region to attract more investment

The current proportion of international agrifood tech investment that makes its way to Australia is tiny — less than 0.2% of the 2018 total of nearly $17B (according to AgFunder). What attracts investors is access to deal flow. Neither Australia nor New Zealand have enough deal flow alone, and both are a long way (literally) from most investors.

When we collaborate as a region, we look exactly like the sort of maturing ecosystem that will attract investors. This year’s evokeAg conference attracted a large and well organized New Zealand delegation. The recently launched ANZ Agritech Council is building on that cooperation and has support from global agtech players as evidence of its potential.

So let’s worry less about the size of our slice, and work together to grow the pie.

Encourage more domestic investors too

In addition to attracting international investors, we can tap into the massive pool of local capital as well. Australian super funds are increasing their allocations to venture capital, and we are starting to see that make its way into agtech.

Artesian has been leading the way with its collaboration with Hostplus. As we see the emergence of funds like Grain Innovate and Tenacious Ventures, there are more opportunities for super funds to contribute.

In addition to providing exposure to this new investment opportunity, there is great potential for impact investing as agrifood innovation delivers a range of ethical, sustainability, and clean energy outcomes.

Encourage leadership to double down on our core strength

Climate adaptation is a major challenge globally, and in Australia, we desperately need leadership to support the required changes. The Australian Farm Institute and Farmers for Climate Action have called on the Australian Federal government to do far more. The report “Change in the air: defining the need for an Australian agricultural climate change strategy” highlights major opportunities for rewarding farming practices that simultaneously improve agricultural production, develop new innovations, and deliver important ecosystem services with low-carbon outcomes.

This is another key area of expertise and innovation that can be applied globally. Technologies that help in the adoption of new practices, and that measure and manage improvements in soil carbon and natural capital outcomes with have major global applications.

The knowledge opportunity won’t last forever

As Major General Michael Jeffery, from SoilsForLife, recently noted on the popular program Landline [10:20], there is a massive opportunity for Australia to create a knowledge economy based on our unique understanding of the challenges facing the globe in agricultural production.

Our place at the Global Table is to take that knowledge to the world, to be part of solving some of the most pressing challenges facing the global population, and to receive a major economic bonus for showing how it’s done. Let’s get started.