Agribusiness M&A activity up, as are PE ratios

AGRIBUSINESS mergers and acquisitions specialists InterFinancial have logged a recent uptick in price-earnings (PE) ratios in the sector.

Through to the end of November, the food and agribusiness sector tracked by InterFinancial and informed by research through S&P Capital IQ, showed multiples had increased over the quarter and reached the 19.5 times PE in November. That is a significant lead over the ASX200 average PE of 17.6x. 

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Growers harness precision agriculture in on-farm trials

WESTERN Australia’s South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA) – as part of the ‘Do it yourself (DIY) Precision Agriculture’ project funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) – has published working examples of precision agriculture in practice to assist farmers.

SEPWA’s new publication, Calculating return on investment for on farm trials, contains case studies and examples of how Western Australian growers have used precision agriculture (PA) tools to implement and measure on-farm trials. 

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Australia’s commercial log plantations yield less

THE Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) is forecasting a decrease in the  future log availability from Australia’s commercial plantations.

In its report, Australia’s plantation log supply 2015–2059, released recently by the acting executive director of ABARES, Peter Gooday, the volume of plantation logs harvested from Australia’s plantation estate has been shown to consistently grown over the past decade. It now accounts for 85 percent of all logs harvested in Australia. 

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Piñata Farms develops ‘substrate’ strawberries to fill seasonal gaps

QUEENSLAND strawberry producer, Piñata Farms, has been picking its first substrate-grown strawberries at Wamuran on the Sunshine Coast, after venturing into substrate production over winter.

Managing director Gavin Scurr said the quality of fruit produced using the substrate method had so far exceeded expectations. 

“The eating quality is superb and the berries have a vibrant colour with a natural sheen,” Mr Scurr said.

“Because they’re growing under polytunnels, they’ve stayed warm throughout winter and that’s resulted in brighter, cleaner fruit.”

Piñata Farms grows winter strawberries at Wamuran and summer strawberries at Stanthorpe, southern Queensland, for year round availability. Fruit is produced both in the open field and under polytunnels. Substrate strawberries grow in coconut coir on tiered shelves.

Mr Scurr said the Albion variety, which Piñata Farms had produced for some time, was the chief variety being grown in substrate. US-developed varieties, Portola and San Andreas were being trialled.

“As the substrate harvest progresses, all indications are for a positive outcome,” Mr Scurr said. “We’re hoping to keep producing substrate fruit at Wamuran for several months yet.

“By then, harvesting will have begun at Stanthorpe, leading to peak production in November. There should be a plentiful supply of Piñata strawberries right through until Christmas.”

Mr Scurr said he expected the field-grown harvest at Wamuran to end by early October, depending on the weather. 

“Once the temperature reaches 30 degrees, it starts to get challenging as it’s too hot for the fruit.”

Mr Scurr said it had been a tough season for Queensland strawberry producers with yield down about 20 percent on a per plant basis across the industry.

“That's due to an unseasonally warm autumn which delayed planting for many growers and resulted in plants being less robust than usual,” he said.

However, early substrate results at Wamuran had buoyed hopes for a good start to summer production, he said.
“Wamuran's climate means we can produce field-grown and substrate strawberries progressively from now on, with the aim being to extend the season as late as possible to fill a supply window in October and November.

“At Stanthorpe, both field and polytunnel crops produce at the same time, so we’ll aim to produce fruit earlier there, so there’s no drop in the total yield between the farms.”

Piñata Farms has selected three new European-bred varieties for commercial trials following Mr Scurr’s recent visit to some of Europe’s best strawberry breeders. Depending on the outcome of trials, they will be commercially produced in 2020.

“We’ve selected two winter varieties to grow at Wamuran,” Mr Scurr said. “Both have a better yield while maintaining flavour. The variety we’ve selected for summer production has been specifically chosen to fill a supply window in the April-May period.”

Mr Scurr said varietal selection was key in Piñata Farms’ quest to produce strawberries outside the traditional Queensland strawberry season.
“The industry would produce three times as much fruit in September than in October. We’re trying to plug gaps at both ends of the supply period by looking at varieties and matching them to growing methods and growing regions.”

Piñata strawberries are available at leading supermarkets in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.




University of Sydney Robotics Centre helps revolutionise Australian horticulture

AUSTRALIA’s first learning and development hub for horticultural robotics has been opened at the University of Sydney.

Located within the university’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR), the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (HICRIS) is designed to become a hub for horticulture robotics in Australia. The other major university centre for agricultural robotics is located at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane. 

ACFR was officially opened by Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston, on October 6. 

ACFR will initially host two projects in robotics and autonomous technology that aim to increase farm efficiencies, drawing about $9 million in funding from Horticulture Innovation.

The robotics project Evaluating and testing autonomous systems developed in Australian vegetable production systems, will involve designing, building, demonstrating and evaluating robotic platforms and technologies for different farming operations across varied growing regions in order to prove operational effectiveness.

The decision support project Using autonomous systems to guide vegetable decision-making on-farm will further develop technologies to reduce production costs and increase on farm productivity in the vegetable industry, in particular brassica, lettuce and baby leaf.

Minister Ruston said both of these projects build upon previous work by the ACFR, which developed a robotic system named Ladybird — an engineering prototype that has been successfully deployed on-farm to demonstrate crop intelligence and crop manipulation.

​“There are already tangible outcomes from the work done right here. I know there will be many more in the years to come,” Ms Ruston said.

“A future generation of students will be trained right here and will take their place as leaders in the horticulture industry, and researchers here will oversee the creation of world-leading technological advancements.

“The centre will support the horticulture industry in defining and monitoring its strategic objectives around robotics and related technologies, and provide opportunities to interact with other agricultural industries interested in robotics.

“Innovation and science are critical for Australia in driving growth and creating jobs — and I'm certainly proud to be part of the Turnbull Coalition Government that has a focus on exactly that,” Ms Ruston said.

 “All industries now face an increasingly fast-paced technological landscape. Horticulture is certainly no exception.

“The results of the work you do here will have broad-reaching benefits for Australian horticultural industries—they will benefit from improved information about production, more precise application of inputs, increased productivity and ultimately, reduced costs and higher returns at the farmgate,” Ms Ruston told researchers and students at the official opening.​



Rural R&D for Profit round opens with $30m

RURAL Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) across the country are being encouraged to apply for up to $30 million in new funding for cutting edge research to boost productivity and returns across the agricultural, fishery and forestry industries.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said round three of the Research and Development (R&D) for Profit program would help drive agribusiness innovation. 

“The Coalition Government knows how critical R&D is to productive and profitable industries and with new opportunities opening up in global agriculture, through the Coalition's various free trade agreements, producing high quality food to match consumer tastes and preferences is paramount,” Mr Joyce said.

“A previous project funded under the programme, the Multi-scale Monitoring Tools for Managing Australian Tree Crops project led by Horticulture Innovation Australia, uses the latest imaging and robotics to help mango, avocado and macadamia farmers to predict fruit quality and yield, and to monitor the health of their trees.

“The Smarter Irrigation for Profit project, led by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, aims to boost the profits of 3,000 cotton, dairy, rice and sugar irrigators by achieving a 10 to 20 per cent improvement in water use efficiency.

“Meat and Livestock Australia are also delivering a project that uses advanced measurement technologies such as x-ray and 3D digital imaging to more accurately determine meat yield and eating quality across the beef, sheep and pork industries.

"Consumers are benefitting at the supermarket with a selection of avocados with less bruising, the perfect head of broccoli for your family, sweeter oranges with less acidity and juicy mangoes for your summer salad, just some of the results achieved through rural research and development,” Mr Joyce said.

“Advances made in the agricultural sector are great examples of how RDCs, researchers and producers getting together and identifying common challenges and areas of research produces tangible results for the producer as well as the consumer.”

Round 3 projects will need to address one or more R&D priority areas: technology to enhance innovation of products, processes and practices across the supply chain; biosecurity to improve understanding of pest and disease pathways; soil, water and managing natural resources to manage soil health, improve water use efficiency, sustainably develop new production areas and improve resilience; adoption of R&D focusing on flexible delivery of extension services that meet producers’ needs.

“Fostering industry and research collaboration is a key focus of the programme and RDCs must team up with one or more RDC, research or industry partner. Strong collaboration across sectors will promote innovation and growth for the industry as a whole," Minister Joyce said.

* Note: Applications for this round closed on December 6. Future rounds will be announced in 2017.



The Manufacturing Toolbox expands into Agriculture

THE Manufacturing Toolbox – has a new partner – the Agriculture Toolbox –

Both Toolboxes are designed to help Australia’s manufacturing and agriculture business leaders develop, build capability and showcase their products and services to new markets, both local and overseas. 

The Toolboxes are free to join. You can then upload introductory information on your business into the Manufacturing or Agricultural Showcase – an online catalogue where Australia’s manufacturers and primary producers can present their products nationally and to the world. 

The Toolbox showcase already has visitors from China and Taiwan spending an average of 20 minutes looking at manufacturers on the site, with visitors from 50 countries in all.

In response, creators Digital Business insights (DBi) -- a Brisbane-based group which specialises in business and economic development through digital technologies -- is now creating specific showcases for major overseas markets.

The Toolbox showcases DBi has developed working with country business and trade councils to showcase the sectors of most interest to them – food, biotech, 'green', smart machinery, circular economy, ICT and more.

You can subscribe to these Toolboxes to be able to promote and showcase your products and services to markets within Australia and overseas, plus the subscription provides 10 editions and full digital access to Business Acumen magazine, which offers subscribers priority editorial access. The base subscription is just $199 a year.

So, give yourself an unfair advantage and join the Toolbox today.

For more information, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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