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CSIRO’s Food & Agribusiness Roadmap looks at emerging technologies to drive future growth

Image credit: CSIRO

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia has released its Food & Agribusiness (F&A) Roadmap. Two focus areas for the roadmap are keeping a greater share of food processing onshore and better differentiating Australian food products are major themes.

The report identifies five trends in the global sector which the sectors in terms of consumer demand and business models: 1) A less predictable planet (Limited resources, further constrained by more severe and  unpredictable climate events and more potent microbes, pests and diseases); 2) Health on the mind (ageing population, rising levels of chronic disease and increasing social awareness around health and wellbeing); 3) Choosy customers (rising wealth, increasing choice and greater market access); 4) One world ( food and beverage value chains becoming increasingly global); 5) Smarter food chains (the use of big data and more sophisticated e-commerce platforms).

The roadmap notes that technological innovation, whether driven by public or private research communities, will be key to unlocking future growth in the sector. It looks at five areas specifically which would play an important role in the Australian F&A sector’s future.  

Traceability and provenance

Rising product fraud, non-linear value chains and increasing requirements from overseas customers for authenticity and transparency are driving the demand for increased traceability and authenticated provenance claims. Assuring provenance can assist in avoiding or minimising fatalities and illnesses attributed to inferior product substitution as well as create additional capacity to export as fraudulent suppliers are removed from the market.

Blockchain: Blockchain coupled with smart contracts can be applied to automate and digitise business transaction. It can also be used for tracking whether the package has been opened or tampered with at any point along the value chain and whether duties were paid. This technology is not suited to products that undergo transformation off-shore and investment in significant digital infrastructure is required.

DNA testing: DNA barcoding can be used for certifying both origin and quality of raw materials, and detecting adulterations. Genetic markers can also be added to foods for traceability purposes.

Isotope analysis: Isotopes are atoms of an element with the normal number of protons and electrons, but different numbers of neutrons. Many elements found within F&A produce possess these natural variations. Identifying these locally specific variations can assist in mapping products to regions, but not down to the individual plant or animal. This would require a virtual global library of isotope ratio fingerprints.

Barcoding and image recognition technologies: Some product lines and businesses have shifted much of the additional information demanded by customers onto 2D QR codes (looking like squares or rectangles) that can be scanned by a consumer’s smartphone and hold significantly more information than the slowly disappearing 1D barcode. DataBar barcodes are used in fresh produce at the point of sale to provide information around weight and expiry date but could be extended to include more provenance information. Image recognition technologies could allow products to become their own digital barcode.

Food safety and biosecurity

The report highlights the food scares and distrust in the safety and authenticity of local products in certain Asian markets. Ensuring consistent product, reliable supply and regular and transparent assurance that Australian food products are safe would allow them market access and also enable the charging of premium prices and decreases the potential for non-tariff barriers. Ideal solutions could be a combination of advanced production processes and rapid real-time testing to identify contaminants before they spread or reach the end-customer. Data analysis and modelling will be key.

Advanced packaging

Sensors can monitor environments to ensure products are kept within required temperature conditions. These can be linked to labels which change colour depending on temperature or time. Active packaging can be used to release preservatives in a controlled fashion or absorb moisture and odours during transport.

Hybrid high pressure processing

High pressure processing (HPP) is used routinely in almost 00 industrial units worldwide, mainly for cold pasteurisation of smallgoods, meals, beverages, dips and sauces. A thermal treatment can be combined with HPP, retaining most of the HPP benefits relating to shelf-life and quality, with the additional benefit of inactivating the toxic bacterium Clostridium botulinum.

Microwave assisted thermal sterilisation

This uses microwave at a frequency of 2450 MHz to heat products to sterilisation temperatures, resulting in a shorter heating time compared to conventional processing techniques and improves retention of sensitive nutritional components, flavour, texture and appearance, and improves energy efficiency.

Blockchain and bio-sensing

Biosensors detect a biological element (enzymes, whole cells etc.) and relay the information through an electrical, optical or thermal signal. They can detect harmful microorganisms or chemical and physical contaminants. Blockchain can be coupled with biosensors to timestamp a range of information and report reliably how the product is changing over time.

Market intelligence and access

SMEs face challenges in obtaining market intelligence. Industry and government bodies provide some level of public information but it is typically high level and scattered.

Using sensors to track products through complicated opaque international value chains can help businesses understand, exactly where their product ends up, who the end onsumer is and how the product is being used.             

Machine learning technologies can be used to monitor customer orders and better understand purchasing decisions. They could also potentially remind custiomers when they are due for a new order and make recommendations based on previous orders.

E-commerce remain largely unutilised for perishable products due to their shorter shelf-life. Digital infrastructure will be a critical enabler to support e-commerce, provenance and market access for extended shelf-life perishable goods.

Collaboration and knowledge sharing

Collaboration is essential for generating scale, efficiency and agility. Decentralised production and geographic clustering of peer businesses can be used to enhance knowledge sharing, resource flows and scale. Research, ancillary services, supply chain partners and education can be also part of the clusters. Another important area would be identifying potential international collaborations.

Skills

Increasingly, multidisciplinary skillsets will be required. For example, staff could combine deep technical knowledge with an understanding of supply chains, relationship management skills and experience with digital platforms.

More urban-based F&A jobs will be created,while currently the regional and rural location of many businesses is a disincentive to young graduates. The sector will be increasingly reliant on a flexible workforce and adoption of sophisticated automation processes and mechanisation, requiring specific education and training.

The report mentions that it is not essential for all skills gaps to be addressed through tertiary education. Recent industry inputs suggest that people without F&A experience, but holding  STEM generalist degrees or degrees that provided them with general business skills such as commerce, law and marketing, make for good hires.

Access the complete report here

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