FluroSat raises $1.5m to ‘seed’ crop health

FLUROSAT, an Australian crop health monitoring startup, has raised $1.5 million to ‘seed’ the next phase of its expansion.

FluroSat is set to bring predictive decision support to Australian paddocks, offering insights produced by adaptive crop growth models learning from experiments on the farm. FluroSat provides thermal and multispectral data that allows farmers to differentiate water stress from nitrogen stress.

Part of the incubator muru-D’s fourth round of startups in Sydney (SYD4), in just 12 months FluroSat has gone from an idea to more than $200,000 in revenue. Investors in this round include CSIRO Main Sequence Ventures, AirTree Ventures and strategic agricultural investors lead by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC).

Alongside the equity funding, Flurosat has successfully secured several grants with the help of Cicada Innovations and its GrowLab accelerator program. 

Founder and CEO Anastasia Volkova said using the FluroViewer platform, agronomists input the results from on-farm tissue testing to calibrate nitrogen maps to their paddocks. FluroSat is gathering hyperspectral image datasets, which can identify crop stress down to specific nutrient deficiencies and early signs of disease. Farmers receive specific and customised yield prediction models using real farm data.

“We are most excited about the experienced investors supporting us, each reflecting major parts of FluroSat’s business: deep-tech, crop health science, data analytics, machine learning and direct connection to growers of high-value crops,” Ms Volkova said.

FluroSat is planning to invest the seed funding alongside recently awarded grants, to bring its novel technologies to a wider market. The seed funding will allow the company to open the platform to a wider Australian market mid-2018 and start trials in the USA.

“Ultimately, FluroViewer will be the only tool of its kind to proactively suggest management strategies and allow users to evaluate the effect and the return of on-farm experiments at a sub-paddock level,” Ms Volkova said.

FluroSat is working on the premise that the future of agriculture is in artificial intelligence (AI) assisted farming, where daily insights and suggestions gathered from satellite and weather data on a paddock level are served to farmers every morning. This should allow farmers to direct attention to impactful decisions throughout the growing season and keep them aware about long-term changes to yield sustainability.

“Australia is a world leader in innovation for the agriculture sectors, tracing all the way back to CSIRO’s origins over 100 years ago,” Main Sequence Ventures partner Michael Zimmerman said. “We are thrilled to be leading the investment in FluroSat, who are bringing together advances in remote sensing, machine learning and crop science to deliver a much-needed solution for industry.”

AirTree Ventures partner John Henderson said, “The future of farming is precision agriculture. Identifying the perfect blend of water, fertiliser and/or herbicide on an individual plant-by-plant basis is a perfect challenge for computer vision and machine learning.

“The result will be hugely improved crop yields. We are excited to be supporting Anastasia and the Flurosat team as they build the toolset for tomorrow’s farmers.”


Blockchain technology to fight food fraud

BLOCKCHAIN technology is being used in a research project designed to track beef ‘from the paddock to the plate’ and protect Australia’s reputation for world-class beef production, based at the Queensland Univeristy of Technology (QUT).

QUT Design Lab professor for Urban Informatics, Marcus Foth said BeefLedger was an industry-led project bringing together design, business, technology, and food research. 

BeefLedger research is being supported by the QUT-based $200 million Food Agility CRC.

Prof. Foth kicked off the program in December last year with a presentation named The Promise of Blockchain for Food and Agriculture at QUT’s Gardens Point campus, joined by Warwick Powell of Sister City Partners, who is also the CEO of BeefLedger Limited.

The seminar also launched the BeefLedger Token (BLT) Pre-Sale – a new digital cryptocurrency for people to contribute to, and participate in, the project.

“The BeefLedger Token, or BLT, is being developed as part of the design and implementation of the world’s first application of distributed ledger or blockchain technology to the entire beef supply chain,” Prof. Foth said.

“It has the potential to revolutionise the industry by limiting price fluctuations, supporting food provenance and preventing food fraud, which is a growing problem in international export markets.

“If you are a consumer of Australian beef in China, Japan or elsewhere, then you are expecting a premium experience and not inferior meat being passed off as Australian, which has been the subject of recent food scandals.
“The BLT will power the BeefLedger Blockchain and provide users with the value-added benefits of access to credentialed provenance data, sale history, consumer feedback insights, disease prevention, streamlining payments, and heightened food security,” Prof. Foth said. 

“So whether you are a farmer, a supermarket, a butcher, a restaurateur, a consumer or another interested party, you will be able to access the entire history of the meat electronically by scanning a barcode or QR Code.”

Mr Powell said BeefLedger was designed to be a wholesale data platform that delivered credentialed food provenance data to consumers, driving value growth for the supply chain as a whole and delivering additional income to producers in recognition of product provenance excellence.

“Our aim is to empower producers to serve the growing middle class markets of Asia, in particular China, and meet the market’s increasing expectations around food provenance and safety,” Mr Powell said.

“BeefLedger supports the strong reputation Australian beef producers already enjoy as safe, clean and green suppliers.

“Beef is an increasingly high-risk industry in terms of brand so it’s critical to be able to prove it is top-quality Australian beef and not a product from a country that has had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

“Our research in China demonstrates consumers will pay premiums for high levels of security and the value that food provenance can add to the consumer experience,” Mr Powell said.

“Chinese consumers also increasingly shop with their smart phone, where scanning QR codes for product information and payments is now commonplace. The paddock-to-plate nature of BeefLedger meets this market expectation so that Australian beef remains at the forefront of Chinese consumer experiences.”

Prof. Foth said BeefLedger would also return benefits to communities in regional Australia as credentialed food provenance lifts the veil between producers and consumers.

“What we hope to see is a fairer and more sustainable supply chain, which is better for everyone – including regional communities – over the long run,” he said.


AgriFutures A partners with

THE Federal Government’s research body AgriFutures Australia – formerly known as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation – is partnering with youth entrepreneur incubator,, to help rural students become next-generation agribusiness innovators.

AgriFutures Australia and have combined to deliver an education program called AgriFutures which teaches school students in rural and regional Australia to solve the problems facing agriculture using innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset. 

Jo Burston, serial entrepreneur and founder of Inspiring Rare Birds, is behind the new venture, It focuses on bringing entrepreneurial learning into the classroom to inspire and equip the next generation to create real social and economic impact.

“Youth globally are our superheroes,” Ms Burston said. “They want to find solutions to problems that previous generations have created and for these solutions to be sustainable, sometimes (developing into) multimillion-dollar businesses.

“They are digital natives who thrive on being connected and, most importantly, don’t see any gender or cultural barriers to success. We must keep these imaginations alive and healthy.”

Ms Burston’s first partnership is with Australian Government-funded research and development body, AgriFutures Australia, to sponsor seven schools across seven states and territories to receive a $7000 education program. These programs will take secondary students “on an immersive journey into the entrepreneurial startup scene to help solve the problems facing agriculture in Australia”.

Australian agriculture produces about impressive 93 percent of the country’s domestic food supply and 1.6 million Australians are employed in ag-related industries, making it the biggest employer in rural and regional communities.

But, Ms Burston warned, the world is changing and the population is growing, “which means we need to work out how to feed more people with less land and less water”.

“For this reason, it is imperative that agriculture in Australia embraces the new technology revolution,” Ms Burston said. “That’s where entrepreneurship and innovation comes in.”

While drones, artificial intelligence (AI), renewable energy, driverless trucks, and remote monitoring of soil and air are now all common factors in Australian farming, there are many clear problems to be solved.

“The industry now needs more tech-savvy kids to help it prosper well into the future,” Ms Burston said. “For this, students will need to prepare for Industrial Revolution 4.0 by gaining the skills highlighted by the World Economic Forum, and the programs are designed to deliver just that.”

She predicted teachers would enjoy delivering these energetic, inspiring and thought-provoking sessions as their students became equipped with a key skill for their business life – an entrepreneurial mindset – and work towards positively impacting Australia’s all-important food security.

AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey said, “We are thrilled to launch the AgriFutures program with Jo and her team. A key objective of AgriFutures Australia is to attract capable people into careers in agriculture, and this program will be a wonderful tool to expose high school students to different ways of approaching national rural issues, and importantly expand their horizons in terms of what a career in agriculture could look like.”

AgriFutures Australia was previously known as the RIRDC and invests in research, leadership, innovation and learning to support industries that do not have their own research and development function, new and emerging industries, and the issues that affect the whole of agriculture.

Mr Harvey said the vision of the organisation was to grow the long-term prosperity of Australian rural industries, which includes partnering and delivering programs and initiatives that attract people to a career in agriculture,” building the capability of future rural leaders, and supporting change makers and thought leaders”. was co-founded by Jo Burston and the late Richard Seymour, former program director of entrepreneurship and innovation at The University of Sydney, on the premise that research shows entrepreneurial firms account for the clear majority of employment growth.

Ms Burston said most young people would probably end up working for entrepreneurial firms – “if they don’t go out and start their own”. programs are designed for 10–17 year olds “to equip the next generation to create real social and economic impact”.

Applications opened in late February 2018 for schools to join the program.


BerryWorld launches premium raspberries

BERRYWORLD Australia, just six months after announcing launching its innovative packaged strawberry range, has launched premium raspberries.

Grown under polytunnels at Stanthorpe, southern Queensland, BerryWorld's first raspberries arrived on supermarket shelves in mid-January. 

Raspberries are the second of three berry lines to be produced by BerryWorld Australia – a joint venture between leading fruit producer Piñata Farms and global berry brand, BerryWorld Group. Blackberries will follow in 2020.

BerryWorld Australia managing director Gavin Scurr said a small volume of raspberries was being picked, with a progressive increase in volume expected in coming months.

"As this is our first crop, we wanted to produce during the traditional Australian raspberry season (November to March), which is the ideal time, climatically, to grow raspberries,” Mr Scurr said. “It makes sense to work with known conditions and market forces. Summer is also when consumers are accustomed to looking for raspberries.
"We'll also be producing raspberries past the traditional peak and leading up to winter. We expect this may be more challenging in terms of conditions, yet we hope consumers will be excited about having quality fresh raspberries for longer."

Mr Scurr said the Australian raspberry scene had changed significantly in recent years and there were more opportunities for producers than ever to shake up the category.

"Raspberries have never been more affordable,” he said. “Sales have traditionally reflected the differences in supply volumes but, with supply being stronger than ever, sales have been competitive.

“There are also several new category entrants, including BerryWorld, driven by the desire to extend the seasonal availability of raspberries for the domestic market.

"This landscape presents us with a chance to change the consumer's perception that Australian raspberries lack flavour and are too expensive.”

BerryWorld Group chief executive officer, Adam Olins, said BerryWorld had a track record of building successful businesses outside the UK.

"We saw an opportunity in Australia for better tasting berries and, in Gavin Scurr, a partner with a similar vision,” Mr Olins said. “Being able to bring our proprietary genetics to the Australian market gives us an opportunity to develop a top tier, quality raspberry offer.

"Our proprietary raspberry varieties have won awards across Europe and we feel Australian consumers will love them as well. Bringing raspberries into the mix expands our branded offer beyond strawberries and gives consumers the opportunity to buy into a broader BerryWorld range.” 

Mr Scurr said BerryWorld Australia was growing a specialty variety from the Edward Vinson breeding program in the UK. The variety is known for its significant flavour attributes.

"It's always flavour first with any fruit we grow and this variety has exceeded expectations for sweetness,” Mr Scurr said. “Consumers will be surprised as there's only a subtle hint of sharpness – quite  unlike other Australian-grown raspberries on the market. We wanted a point of difference with flavour and this variety has delivered.

“BerryWorld raspberries are a classic raspberry red with a glossy flesh. They are firm and have a consistent conical shape. Berry size is comparable or slightly larger than other Australian raspberries.”

Most Australian raspberries are produced in cool-climate regions of southern states with only a small percentage grown in Queensland.

Mr Scurr said BerryWorld raspberries would also be produced at Wamuran on the Sunshine Coast from 2019 and he envisaged contracted growers would produce specialty varieties under licence within two years.

BerryWorld raspberries are available in industry-standard 125 gram clamshell punnets – one of the smallest pre-packs in the Australian fresh retail market – at Woolworths stores in Queensland until May.


Ombudsman backs primary producer loan changes

THE Private Member’s Bill introduced by Federal Member for the Mayo electorate of South Australia, Rebekha Sharkie, should provide legislated protection to small family businesses in a capital intensive industry, such as farming, according to Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell.

The Banking Amendment (Rural Finance Reform) Bill 2018 was introduced to the Lower House on February 27, requesting greater transparency and longer notice periods when lenders make decisions on the conditions of primary producer loan agreements.

“During our Small Business Loan Inquiry, we consulted with a number of small business owners involved in primary production,” Ms Carnell said.

“We identified specific issues associated with lending to primary producers, many of which are family enterprises.

“Unlike consumers, there are currently no regulation protections for small business commercial loans, and there is a significant power imbalance between lenders and farmers. 

“We agree that the threshold for a small farm business debt facility should be revised to $5 million, which is a realistic amount for a primary producer,” Ms Carnell said.

“Lenders should provide borrowers with decisions on loan roll over at least 90 business days before loans mature, so they can organise alternative financing.

“Borrowers also need greater access to information and control in the process of loan security valuation and business reviews.

“This Bill will provide a range of suitable protections for small farm businesses. It reflects the recommendations of the Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers and our Small Business Loans Inquiry.”


Robots help ‘terminate’ antimicrobial resistance in livestock

SCIENCE FICTION is becoming science fact in Australia’s quest to exterminate so-called ‘superbugs’ that can decimate livestock – now robots are being enlisted into the program.

Australian Pork Limited is being funded to the tune of $1.3 million, under the Federal Government’s Rural R&D for Profit program, to boost Australia's trade reputation by demonstrating the low antimicrobial resistance status of this country’s farm produce. They are using the funds to investigate the use of hi-tech laboratory robots to define the low level of antimicrobial resistance risk in pigs and chickens within Australia’s supply chains. 

“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), or superbugs resistant to antibiotics, is a serious global problem that is a major public health issue worldwide,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce said.

“Minimising the development of resistance in livestock and companion animals is an important priority for industry. This research project, led by Australian Pork Limited, will investigate the use of high-tech robots to define the low level of antimicrobial resistance risk in pigs and chickens within our supply chains.”

Laboratory robots can work quickly, precisely and cost-effectively, as part of the industry-wide project to gather information and help farmers demonstrate their low AMR risk status. This is expected to give Australian farmers a competitive advantage internationally.

“Specialised robots will be used to isolate, count and characterise large numbers of bacteria from animal faeces,” Mr Joyce said. “The robots will be used to identify and grow thousands of individual bacteria to determine the presence and distribution of antimicrobial resistance at both the herd and national level.”

Mr Joyce said Australian agriculture was a world leader in the fight against development of superbugs.

“Australia is a global leader in minimising risks of AMR spreading, due to the foresight of the government with industry not permitting the use of several antibiotic classes in livestock,” he said.

Australian Pork Limited CEO, Andrew Spencer said the Australian Government's support for this project, which is significant for both humans and animals, anwould demonstrate livestock industries as responsible citizens.

“The outcome of this project will enable industry to provide hard evidence to back claims and to show leadership credentials, which in an AMR aversive world will be an important point of differentiation,” Mr Spencer said.

He said while there was a limited overlap in antimicrobials between human and animal products it was essential that all parts of the puzzle contribute to the solution.

Mr Joyce said, “The project will help monitor on-farm control measures to reduce the presence of antimicrobial resistant organisms across pork and chicken meat industries, with the potential for the project to be used as a model in other animal sectors and for ongoing surveillance.”

He said the $180.5 million R&D for Profit program was part of the election commitment to increase R&D funding for practical projects, “to increase farmgate returns and capture global market opportunities”.


Strawberries ‘sweetened’ by marketing innovation

WHEN accomplished Australian fruit producer, Queensland-based Pinata Farms launched its new venture BerryWorld Australia, its teams knew they were not faced an agribusiness challenge so much as a retail marketing one.

BerryWorld Australia has been established as a premium brand introducing new breeds of specialty strawberries into the Australian and New Zealand markets.

BerryWorld Australia is a joint venture between global berry breeder and marketing company, BerryWorld Group, and Piñata Farms. It was established in 2016 to grow and market proprietary BerryWorld varieties exclusively in Australia and New Zealand. 

When BerryWorld strawberries landed on supermarket shelves for the first time recently – in a heat-sealed 350g punnet aimed at winning shoppers’ attention, before they have even eaten a berry – they caused something of a sensation.

The square punnets, made of standard 100 percent recyclable PET (polyethylene), present BerryWorld strawberries in a single layer with the barcode at the base for easier scanning. Heat-sealed film is perforated with eight air vents to keep fruit cool and fresh in-store and after purchase.
BerryWorld Australia managing director, Gavin Scurr, said the new line achieved several significant points of difference for strawberry marketing.
“If we’re launching a premium brand, we want as many points of difference as possible, from packaging and presentation, through to berry taste and appearance,” Mr Scurr said.
“Australian strawberries are generally sold in 250g or 450g punnets and there are some 1kg punnets. We’ve decided on a 350g punnet to give Australian consumers more choice. Globally, it’s already a size that is instantly associated with strawberries. We’re confident Australian consumers will appreciate it as a convenient, family friendly size.”
Pre-printed film was also more aesthetically pleasing than labelled lids, Mr Scurr said.
“As few Australian strawberries are consistently sold in heat-sealed punnets, this will be a positive change for strawberry consumers. Heat-sealing, which is standard in berry production throughout Europe, not only keeps fruit fresh, but it is tamper proof,” he said.


Mr Scurr said the BerryWorld Australia packaging would also deliver production and cost efficiencies and energy savings. 

“Heat-sealing utilises approximately 30 percent less packaging materials than a punnet with a lid.
“Heat-sealing has also been shown to perform slightly better in maintaining fruit weight up to purchase. With strawberries, there’s always a slight margin of weight loss after packing. To achieve the 350g weight by the time of purchase, we allow for loss by slightly overpacking, typically by about 20 grams per punnet.”
Mr Scurr said automated heat-sealing would also create significant production efficiencies in the packhouse because the film could be applied faster.

Once opened, the punnets are not re-sealable. However, re-sealing is an option BerryWorld Australia would consider in the future, Mr Scurr said.
BerryWorld Australia’s raw packaging materials are imported from China and manufactured to specification by Victorian-based packaging producer, Multisteps Industries.
BerryWorld strawberries are grown and packed at Queensland-based Piñata Farms, the growing arm of joint venture company, BerryWorld Australia. A customised production line has been installed at the Wamuran packhouse to pack the specialty berries.
Strawberries are sorted and hand-packed into punnets prior to heat-sealing.


BerryWorld Australia negotiated with retail partner, Woolworths, to display strawberries in the fridge section of supermarket outlets, rather than the lounge where other Australian strawberries are displayed.
“Berries last longer if they are chilled,” Mr Scurr said. “Fridge placement is another point of difference. Other future BerryWorld Australia lines, such as raspberries and blackberries, will also be found in the fridge,” Mr Scurr said.


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