Food sensory technology project and other projects to get Government cash

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 15th May 2013

In the month leading up to this week’s Federal budget, a number of announcements have been made about Federal government funds being available on a selective basis for food-related projects.

Recently,  the Australian Research Council announced that the Tasmanian-based sensory-monitoring technology company, Sense-T, would receive a significant funding injection from the Federal government for Sense-T’s Pathways to Market project.

The Sense-T project would receive $2.5 million funding under the Federal government’s Industrial Transformation Research Hub scheme. This adds to the $7.6 million Sense-T has already raised for the project from industry and research organisations .

As part of the five year project, Sense-T will collect real-time data about the conditions under which food is  produced, processed, transported, stored and sold. That information will be available to consumers, producers and distributors to verify and improve the quality of food products.

The project is supported by organisations in Australia and overseas (a list of project partners is below). There will be 26 full-time equivalent positions delivering the project, with the vast majority of workers based in Tasmania.

Vice-Chancellor of University of Tasmania (UTAS), Professor Peter Rathjen said the project played to the strengths of the University and the State.

“The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture is ranked among the best in the world for this type of research and we recently announced a new Centre for Food Innovation in Launceston.

”Tasmania will be the place to come to pursue research in technology and sustainable development, food safety and agriculture. That research brings investment, highly skilled jobs and a head start for Tasmanian producers and businesses who will be the first to benefit from research.”

The Pathways to Market project will initially focus on two food products and track their distribution through the supply chain and into Asia. Researchers will delve into what consumers want to know about where their food comes from and how it affects what they buy. This information will be available to producers, processors and distributors to help them bring new products to market.

The project also involves the development of low-cost sensors that can be embedded in packaging to help manage food throughout the supply chain. Researchers will create web and phone apps for businesses and consumers, making the results of research available to the community.

Sense-T Director Ros Harvey said the initiative would put Tasmanian research and skills at the very heart of global action to secure food supply to a growing population.

“By 2050, there will be nine billion people in the world. How to feed those people is an increasingly urgent question. The Pathways to Market project will help drive environmental sustainability, safety and innovation in food supply chains.

“It’s unique because it will develop new techniques and technologies that measure the whole supply chain from paddock to plate. When that information is aggregated together, we can begin to develop ways to measure natural resources just like we measure finances, “ Ms Harvey said.

Australian food manufacturing to see Government research and training dollars

The Federal government also said that Australia’s food industry will be the first to benefit from a $23 million Federal Government scheme to address challenges in storage, processing, manufacturing capabilities and product opportunities.

The funding, which will go to four research hubs and four training centres, will be part of the first round of the Australian Government’s Industrial Transformation Research Program.

Successful first round projects include securing the future of Australia’s dairy industry, innovative wine production, aquaculture, and increasing Asian export opportunities. Food companies Kraft Foods Australia, The Smith’s Snackfood Company Limited, Simplot Australia Ltd, SunRice, Goodman Fielder Ltd, Pepsico ANZ and Campbell-Arnott’s are among the successful applicants.

The Program is part of the Government’s Industry Innovation Precinct initiative, which supports industry-research partnerships to boost the competitiveness of Australian industries.

A total of $14.5 million will go to the successful four research hub proposals, while $9.3 million will be distributed across four training centres.

Contributions from partner organisations toward the research hubs will total an additional $10.4 million in cash and $11 million in-kind, with $1.3 million in cash and $4.2 million in-kind for the four training centres.

The Government said the second round of the program will continue to address research priorities in food storage, food processing, food manufacturing capabilities and product opportunities. It will also target product design and development, manufacturing techniques, and firm organisation and management.

“Dedicated research hubs will bring universities and industry partners together to work on small and large research and development projects,” said Greg Combet, Federal Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation.

“By working in industry settings in the hubs, researchers see first-hand the issues facing Australia’s industries. They can then apply their creativity and research to tackle these issues,” Mr Combet said.

Cash welcomed by AFGC

The Program has been welcomed by grocery representative body the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC).

“Innovation is of critical importance to Australia’s $110 billion food and grocery manufacturing industry,” said Gary Dawson, AFGC CEO. “This important investment will be a significant boost to Australia’s potential to become a food manufacturing hub for the Asian Century,” he said.

The AFGC said that “enhanced collaboration” between research agencies and the food manufacturing was the key to “unlock the innovative capacity” of Australia’s food manufacturing sector.

“We are encouraged that the Government recognises that it has a role to play in backing the innovative capacity of Australian food manufacturers in its undertaking to prioritise the sector in future funding rounds,” Mr Dawson said.