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Ag News

Helping transform Agriculture...by sensing and connecting data

  • By: "Prime" Ag News
  • Mar 12, 2018

By Laurie Bonney

The Australian Research Council Pathways to Market Industrial Transformation Research Hub at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) is interested in how 'big data' and the Internet of Things affect the way our premium produce is grown, transported and purchased.

Pathways to Market aims to be an exemplar to Australian agriculture of how to build international competitiveness through targeting niche markets with premium products and rigorous attention to product quality, provenance and food safety.

We focus on the entire value chain to deliver practical solutions that enhance value creation.

In today’s competitive global markets the unit of competition is the whole value chain rather than individual businesses. Every product is only as competitive as the chain that produces and delivers it to market.

Although agriculture and fresh produce lead the world in adopting production technology, they’re among the last industries to adopt new IT and management techniques such as ‘Big Data’ or prescriptive data analytics.

Pathways to Market aims to change that. It’s showing how science can deliver value to consumers and value chain partners that will improve global competitiveness and access to markets.

Consumers around the world are demanding greater transparency about the produce they are buying and eating. They want confidence about where it comes from, how it was produced, and importantly, if it is safe. Being ‘clean and green’ is not a competitive advantage but a license to be in the game!

Pathways to Market is focused on premium food exports, specifically to Asia and the US. From a production perspective, we’re looking at aspects of food quality, traceability, and maintaining the natural capital of the production environment, all of which involve additional sensing capability.

This project is developing new sensors using new UTAS chemical technology with a commercial partner to monitor the status of the soil and water environment and Gallagher Australia have provided on-farm technology for monitoring animal performance. UTAS microbiologists have also developed food stability sensors and are aiming to work on enabling them to constantly adapt and improve using machine learning.

These data are combined with existing public and private data sets to generate information for producers and processors to make better decisions about on-farm production, processing, distribution and retailing that delivers the quality consumers demand.

The natural capital work stream is looking at farm-level data to support valuations and risk analyses as well as to underpin the broader environmental credentials of food products.

Pathways to Market is also comparing a range of telemetry technologies that will enable on-farm and sensors through the supply chain to deliver real-time data from remote areas to purpose-built dashboards to improve decision-making within supply chains and enable all participants to realise enhanced value.

Further down the value chain, the research has studied the consumer choice factors underpinning their purchasing decision and developed software that enable suppliers to design products that deliver the value consumers want.

This data generation, visualisation and sharing is allowing us to identify opportunities to solve challenges, make better decisions and create real impact.

However, some of the most exciting work is being undertaken in a traceability and anti-counterfeiting research for the Southern Rock Lobster industry in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. This will limit any potentially detrimental effects of Harmful Algal Blooms and could also reduce counterfeiting in the lucrative Chinese wedding and Japanese sushi markets where the Southern Rock Lobster are regarded as the best in the world. This part of the Pathways project is developing the first traceability system for any Australian wild-catch seafood product and so has great potential for application to other seafood species.

Having the ability to demonstrate in real time, the provenance and quality of food is an extraordinary opportunity for producers who are working to establish, capture and maintain premium status to create and sustain value in overseas markets.

We ensure our research outputs are evaluated and refined in collaboration with our commercial partners to optimise the benefits for their businesses. “For example, the food stability model we’ve developed – including a predictive beef spoilage model - has significant potential for efficiency and loss-mitigation in distribution and storage.