Scientists call to future proof Oz farming sector

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A plan to establish a $100 million fund to boost Australian agriculture and protect it from climate change and disease was today released by the Australian Academy of Science.

The 10-year plan is one of five developed by the Academy, and outlines strategies to capitalise on emerging technologies to create digital paddocks, which optimise planting, water, fertilisers and herbicides for crops by drawing from a range of data sources.

This, it says, would help boost productivity and profitability while future-proofing Aussie farmers against climate change factors and major disease outbreaks.

Dr Jeremy Burdon, the chair of the Academy’s National Committee for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, says the proposed translation fund, if supported by private and public equities, would fast-track investment into the industry’s development of applications.

The proposal also outlines plans to strengthen Australia’s agricultural research to improve productivity and efficiency while facing environmental challenges.

"Australia has repeatedly faced invasions of plant and animal diseases that once established consume large amounts of resources in order to regain control," Burdon says. "Yet there are, unfortunately, plenty more to come.

"We know, for instance, that it’s only a matter of time until we see an outbreak of an aggressive invasive species such as the Varroa destructor mite that would devastate bee colonies and crop pollination."

The report says that key research areas most likely to contribute to the advancement of Australian agriculture in the coming decade are: development and exploitation of genomics, agri-intelligent technologies, big data analysis, clever chemistry, coping with climate variability and change and metabolic engineering.

Integration of these activities will see four major science-based outcomes: increased productivity through integrated farming systems, enhanced biosecurity, maintenance of a sustainable resource base and increased value through quality and market advantage.

"If the status quo is maintained, Australia will be unable to marshal well-coordinated research teams to prepare for and respond to these kinds of shocks," Burdon says. "This will dramatically impact the Agriculture Minister’s vision to turn our agricultural sector into a $100 billion sector by 2025."

The development and exploitation of genomics has already seen success in the cotton industry, with the creation of bollworm-resistant cotton thanks to the help of genomics.


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