AUSTRALIAN farmers can now forecast grain yield at the touch of a button, thanks to a new smart phone app developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

The innovation, known as Graincast, allows growers to estimate yields ranging from a single paddock, right up to their entire farm.

“Having a yield forecast can help farmers with crop input management, setting yield targets, diagnosing yield constraints, risk management, marketing decisions, forward selling and more,” CSIRO scientist Roger Lawes said. 

“The app is easy to use, and growers need to input just three pieces of information – the paddock they want analysed, the crop grown last season and the crop they plan to grow or are growing in the current season. That’s it.”

Dr Lawes said it was the only app that gave instantaneous soil, water and yield information at any time without the need for substantial user input.

“It means growers can make better informed crop and paddock management decisions – in near real-time – like never before,” he said. 

The app was developed by CSIRO scientists in response to feedback from grain growers about what they needed, and what they liked about their job.

“They told us that they wanted something that was mobile, quick and easy to use,” Dr Lawes said. “They didn’t want to be told what to do, they just wanted the key information so they could decide what was best for them. So that’s what we built.

“The Graincast app helps growers with their crop decision-making instincts.”

Dr Lawes said Graincast draws on information from satellites, climate forecasts and sensors to estimate historical crop yields, yield potential and crop species.

Crop models are combined with soil maps to create yield forecasts for the Australian continent. This information comes from the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia, the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) crop model, MODIS and LANDSAT satellites, as well as other sources.

The data is brought together in CSIRO’s newly constructed data platform and output to a smart phone for agricultural businesses to quickly acquire information about production without the hassle of identifying soil types, calibrating models, searching for satellite information or trying to interpret complex data.

Protecting privacy of businesses and the opportunity for users to withdraw at any time was an important feature when designing the app, Dr Lawes said.

He said, in an Australian first, the smarts behind the app enabled various other industry players such as advisers, bulk handlers, marketers, commodity forecasters and insurers to forecast grain production at the regional and national scales.

Gaincast is part of CSIRO’s Digiscape Future Science Platform, which is harnessing the digital revolution for Australian farmers and land managers.

The app is free by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

research.csiro.au/graincast.

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THE FIRST first national program designed to encourage consumers to shop for fresh produce at their local independent retailer aims to unite the fruit and vegetable industry and reward consumer loyalty.

A Better Choice program is a  joint initiative by Fresh Markets Australia (FMA) and the Central Markets Association of Australia (CMAA). The bodies are working in alliance with industry partners on branding and co-promotional activities. 

The program supports 500 independent fruit and vegetable retailers nationally, who supply more than half of the fresh produce sold across Australia, by engaging consumers and highlighting the benefits of shopping at independent retailers. 

FMA chairman Shane Schnitzler said the national program “would benefit growers, wholesalers, retailers and associated fresh produce businesses for generations to come”.

“A Better Choice offers retailers the opportunity to come together and share the benefits of a national marketing strategy to shape a positive future for independent retailers, the central markets and local farmers who supply them,” Mr Schnitzler said.

“This program has been developed following in-depth research and feasibility studies to learn more about consumers’ shopping habits and what matters most to them when it comes to purchasing fruit and vegetables.”

A national consumer sentiment survey found the key motivators for consumers to shop at their independent retailer were the freshness of produce (92%), supporting a local business (90%), and trust in the quality of the produce (86%).

However, more than 88 percent of people surveyed still chose to shop at supermarkets due to the perceived convenience.

“Whether it’s in the form of social media, flyers or in-store activities, our message to consumers is that when you see the ‘A Better Choice’ logo you can be assured that you are buying only the freshest produce that has been grown right here in Australia,” Mr Schnitzler said.

FMA works alongside the Central Market System which is made up of over 15,000 growers, supplying wholesalers in the major marketing and distribution hubs in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Newcastle.

Mr Schnitzler said the Central Markets were connected to every link in the supply chain and provided the critical connection between growers and consumers to bring the freshest produce to Australian tables.

Brisbane Markets Limited CEO Andrew Young believes a national program will educate more people about the benefits of shopping at independent retailers.

“Better Choice is really just that, a better choice for retailers, consumers and the industry. Australian growers produce excellent quality fresh produce and the A Better Choice program will help to highlight to consumers how they can better support local fresh produce growers and independent retailers,” Mr Young said.

A Better Choice was launched at Hort Connections, the annual industry conference and trade show for buyers and sellers from every segment of Australia’s fresh produce and floral supply chain, in June. 

FMA is an advocacy group for Australia’s produce wholesalers and independent retailers, representing more than 430 wholesaling businesses who supply 50-60 percent of the fresh produce sold across Australia. Membership comprises Market Chambers across six states including Brismark (Brisbane), Marketwest (Perth), South Australian Chamber of Fruit and Vegetables (Adelaide), Fresh State (Melbourne), Newcastle Markets (Newcastle) and Freshmark (Sydney).

The Central Markets Association of Australia (CMAA) was formed in 2001 to provide a peak body for the six wholesale central markets around Australia. Collectively, these wholesale central markets supply over 4 million tonnes of fresh produce each year, worth an estimated wholesale value of $7 billion. CMAA members include the Adelaide Produce Market, Brisbane Markets, Market City in Western Australia, the Melbourne Market, Newcastle Market and the Sydney Markets.

E-mail:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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TWO North Queensland mango growers contracted to produce the specialty Honey Gold variety for fruit producer, Piñata Farms, are innovating, expanding and investing in technology in their quest to set new benchmarks for product quality.

Mareeba-based Honey Gold Grower of the Year 2018 award winners, Maurice and Madeline Cetinic of Crocodile’s Choice and Sam and Kylie Collins of Blushing Acres have implemented significant farm developments to equip their businesses for growth of the specialty mango line. Honey Gold already holds about 10 percent of the Australian mango market.  

Crocodile's Choice has about 11,300 Honey Gold trees under cultivation and employs up to 60 seasonal workers during the six-week harvest between December and January. Of its 60 hectares, about 35ha are devoted to Honey Golds. The farm also produces Kensington Pride and Keitt mangoes.
Owner Maurice Cetinic said Crocodile’s Choice was investing in a solid future with Honey Golds after nearly a decade of producing the variety in commercial volumes.

“Next season, we’ll have two harvesting aids, manufactured in Mareeba at a cost of $400,000, in the orchard,” Mr Cetinic said. “We’re hoping to plant an extra 3000 to 4000 trees in the next two years and, by 2019, we aim to have a fully automated irrigation system. The future's looking bright.”

RECORD SEASON

His confidence follows a record Australian mango season in which Crocodile’s Choice produced about 20 percent more Honey Golds than the previous year. Mr Cetinic attributed this to young trees reaching maturity and favourable growing conditions.

Mr Cetinic said he was “chuffed” to receive Piñata Farms’ major growing award, announced at the annual Honey Gold Congress in Bundaberg in May.

“We planted our first Honey Gold tree in 2002 after we were introduced to the variety by a visiting mango industry spokesman,” Mr Cetinic said.

“We were immediately impressed with the variety’s attributes including its dark apricot colour and red blush, its firmness, fine texture and distinctive taste. As experienced mango growers, we immediately knew it had legs.”

Piñata Farms later bought the rights to the variety and Crocodile’s Choice was among the first third-party growers to produce fruit for its first commercial year in 2009.

“As individual growers, we apply best practice but we also don't leave anything to chance in terms of nutrition, pruning or spraying. We do what we have to do and then some,” Mr Cetinic said.

“The soil in this region is pretty poor, but mangoes seem to love it. Every two weeks we have a pest management scout look over the crop and we follow any recommendations to a tee.

“Having a company such as Piñata Farms to market your produce makes all the difference. We love growing mangoes and while we concentrate on growing, Piñata Farms works hard to achieve the highest possible returns.

“It’s great to know what you’re doing is working and that you’re at the top of your game. We hope to get close to the mark every season.”

BLUSHING ACRES

About 30 contracted third-party growers were in contention for the award, which recognises fruit quality, growing practices, communication and commitment to long-term plans for variety, according to Pinata Farms managing director, Gavin Scurr. 

Blushing Acres was among the first producers in the Mareeba region to adopt optical grading technology and in-line labelling in 2014, Mr Scurr said.

Blushing Acres owner, Kylie Collins said the grading technology had achieved significant benefits in operational efficiency and product quality and had provided a return on investment in its first year.

“The Compac InVision system, made to our specifications in New Zealand, is programmed to look at every part of an individual piece of fruit and reject fruit that doesn’t meet customer standards. It also grades for weight and is consistently accurate,” Mrs Collins said.

“It was a significant investment as we had to extend the shed and set up mirror-image lines to accommodate it. However, the efficiency we’ve achieved has been worth it.

“In this past season, we processed 94 percent premium fruit and our ability to pack more premium fruit increases our returns. The quality of fruit this past season was also spectacular and that was a result of good practices on the farm.

“We’re also using an in-line labelling machine which labels fruit automatically - and consistently – as presentation with a premium line such as Honey Gold is paramount.

“These technologies have saved us five or six people a day (in labelling), and two or three people a day (in grading). We need to ‘teach’ the software what to look for and we need to train our packing staff to support the technology, but the labour savings have been enormous.”

Mrs Collins said Blushing Acres also introduced three harvesting aids, manufactured at nearby Tolga last season.

“This, along with Sam’s attention to detail in the paddock, contributed positively to our high premium pack-out,” she said.

“If technology can reduce labour and improve our lifestyle, we’re all for it.”

Blushing Acres has about 7,000 Honey Gold trees under cultivation. It also produces other Calypso mangoes and avocados, outputting usually 48 pallets a day. The family business won Pinata Farms 2017 Honey Gold Grower of the Year award.

Piñata Farms is Australia’s exclusive producer of specialty Honey Gold mangoes, harvesting the specialty variety in five states between November and March.
Mr Scurr said Pinata Farms had always been a technology adopter and industry innovator. 

He applauded growers’ efforts to adopt technology to improve product outcomes where feasible.

“Automation needs to be part of farming’s future landscape, particularly when Australian labour costs are so high. From automated irrigation to drones to monitor crops, anything that reduces farm inputs is attractive.”

www.pinata.com.au

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THE GROSS VALUE of farm production is forecast to increase to $61.4 billion in 2018-19, up from $60.5 billion in 2017-18 according to the ABARES Agricultural Commodities report, and well above the 10-year average.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, barley, horticulture, lamb, milk, wheat and wool production values are all expected to rise.

However, farm export earnings are forecast to be $47 billion in 2018-19, 2 percent lower than the forecast $47.8 billion last year and 4.4 percent down on the peak of 2016-17. Even so, higher export earnings are expected next year for beef and veal, cheese, cotton, lamb and wool.

The ABARES report pegged livestock production value to rise 3 percent in 2018-19 to $30 billion. Lamb and wool production are forecast to contribute strongly to growth, driven by price growth and a depreciating dollar. Australian dairy is expected to grow in value, reflecting increased production.

The value of crop production is forecast to remain unchanged at $31 billion. Australian wheat production is forecast to rise 3 percent in 2018-19 to 21.9 million tonnes from the 2017-18 levels.

Australian sugar production is forecast to increase by 2.8 percent to 4.8 million tonnes in 2018-19 in the face of falling world prices. Australian beef and veal production is forecast to increase 2.5 percent to 2.3 million tonnes.

Export earnings for fisheries products are forecast to increase to $1.6 billion, after increasing by 10 percent in 2017-18. Australian cotton exports are forecast to increase by 6 percent in 2018-19 to 963,000 tonnes.

The value of wool exports is forecast to increase 9 percent to $4.7 billion in 2018–19.​ 

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said dry seasonal conditions during autumn had seen a shaky start to the crop season in eastern Australia, however overall crop value should remain unchanged.

“Farm production is on the up, thanks to strong demand for Aussie lamb, wool and cotton across our international markets,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Farm exports are expected to reach $47 billion in 2018-19. Cotton exports are forecast to rise by a huge 18 percent to $2.6 billion thanks to world consumption outpacing world production, lifting prices.”

He said the 9 percent forecast growth in wool exports were due to limited growth in the world supply of fine and superfine wools, lifting prices.

“Lamb exports are forecast to rise by 10 percent to $2.3 billion, while the value of beef and veal exports is forecast to increase by 2 percent to $7.8 billion,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Our farmers are already benefiting from current free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea, and will get better access to key markets through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“To ensure our farmers see the benefits of our free trade agreements I recently announced six additional agricultural counsellors to be on the ground in markets where we are negotiating free trade agreements.

“Some of our farmers are really copping it as drought conditions roll on and that’s why recently I announced $20.3 million to extend the Rural Financial Counselling Service to 2020,” he said.

“The Farm Household allowance remains on the table as an option for those doing it tough, helping over 7,900 since it was launched in 2013. Farmers must not self-assess for this service but should seek advice through the Department of Human Services.”

www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-commodities-report

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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.

www.qut.edu.au

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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.”

www.flurosat.com

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

AgriFutures Australia and startup.business have combined to deliver an education program called AgriFutures startup.business 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, startup.business. 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 startup.business 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 startup.business 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”.

Startup.business 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”.

Startup.business 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.

www.agrifutures.com.au

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