David Loneragan

Challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0 the focus of AUSPACK conference second day

Expert insights on how companies can get on board the fourth industrial revolution were among the highlights of the second day of the AUSPACK 2019 conference being held in Melbourne this week.

According to John Broadbent, founder of Realise Potential, businesses which are slow to adopt Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology will risk being left behind.

Broadbent told the audience that early adopters of this technology will find themselves at a significant advantage once the rest of the industry catches up, while those who delay their uptake will struggle to keep with the pack.

“The longer you kick the can down the road, the bigger the gap becomes,” he said.

According to Broadbent, the nine main use cases for Industry 4.0 and IIoT technology are asset tracking, automation, predictive maintenance, safety and security, smart buildings, customer engagement, data intelligence, product-as-a-service, and agile design processes.

The utility of properly gathering and analysing business data is huge, says Broadbent, and can save businesses time and money,

“How would you feel about sitting in your car with no dashboard, windscreen blacked out, rear view is where you were thirty days ago, and the managing director is in the passenger seat asking are we there yet? You wouldn’t drive like that, but people run their businesses like that all the time,” he said.

Broadbent later facilitated a panel comprising Paul Barber of Lighthouse Systems, Michael Parrington of Pact Group, Richard Roberts of the Open IIoT industry group, and Alan Spreckley from ABB, to discuss practical implementation of Industry 4.0 systems.

Spreckley said one major barrier to adoption of Industry 4.0 is change-aversion in businesses.

“People in general have a resistance to change. They feel too comfortable with where they are and what they have,” said Spreckley.

Broadbent argued that there is never a “right” or “wrong” time to invest, and that businesses need to get on board and constantly update themselves.

“The right time for continuous improvement is always,” said Broadbent. “It doesn’t matter when you’re doing well or not doing well.”

According to Roberts, one crucial early step in embarking on an Industry 4.0 project is forming partnerships, either internal or external, to ensure your business has the skills needed to operate the new technology.

“If you don’t have that expertise, you can look to bring it in, or you can seek out other experts in the area,” said Roberts.

Parrington agreed, saying seeking external help is one way Pact has tried to overcome the skills gap.

“We try to understand what we don’t know, and where we’re not skilled we bring people in,” said Parrington.

According to the next speaker, Peter Hern from Universal Robots, while Industry 4.0 is connecting machines through the utilisation of data and internet connectivity, Industry 5.0 will involve humans and machines working collaboratively.

Hern pointed towards the “cobots”, or collaborative robots, which are produced by his company, as emerging examples of Industry 5.0 practices. Hern emphasised that the developments in automation and robotics shouldn’t lead to fears that human workers employed in manufacturing will be replaced. On the contrary, providing robotic helpers can make existing jobs more productive, safe and efficient.

“What we find is that the human-robot collaboration is actually 85 per cent more productive than humans or robots alone,” he said. “It’s not about replacing human employees – it’s about helping them to do their jobs and stay involved in the process.”

Cobots that are specifically designed to work alongside humans, and according to Hern, can offer benefits such as increased productivity, lower costs, improving quality, boosting innovation, competitive advantage, and reshoring of manufacturing. They also free up human workers from repetitive, dull, dangerous or mundane tasks to focus on jobs that can bring more value to the company.

“Those who are slow to respond risk losing business to others who will embrace the future of manufacturing,” warned Hern.

Wine Australia launching new online strategy to support exports

Enhancing the perceptions of global wine consumers is the goal of new Australian wine website and other consumer-targeted activities from Wine Australia in 2019.

Wine Australia’s new “Australian Wine Made Our Way” brand platform will underpin investments, which are supported by the Australian Government’s $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package.

Wine Australia Chief Executive Officer Andreas Clark said these activities are part of a broader strategy to build perception of and demand for Australian wine and wine tourism among the wine trade and consumers in Australia’s largest and fastest-growing export markets.

“We are excited to showcase the people, places and processes that make Australian wines unique with wine consumers globally,” Clark said.

“Our targeted events, media and education campaigns – such as the recently launched Australian Wine Discovered education program – are amplifying positive sentiment, interest and excitement around the Australian wine category, and building trade and consumer demand for our wine and tourism offerings.”

Clark said Wine Australia was also increasing its presence on social media and e-commerce platforms globally to better speak with consumer audiences.

“In the past, our resources have been largely trade focused,” he said.

“The $50m package is allowing us to step up consumer engagement through digital media and connect with a larger audience.”

Japan allows Northern Tasmanian fruit exports after fruit fly eradication

Northern Tasmania will again be able to export fruit to Japan after Japan reinstated its fruit fly free status.
The news came after work from the Australian agriculture department, which resulted in Japan accepting evidence around eradication of fruit flies from the northern Tasmanian region.
Federal minister for agriculture David Littleproud said although the cherry season had finished, this was still good news for the Tasmanian fruit growers.
“Growers in northern Tasmania can again sell fruit to Japan,” Littleproud said.
“The best thing the Australian government can do for growers is give them options when they sell their produce.
“This means opening as many overseas markets as we can, and keeping them open when we have issues as we’ve had here.
“I congratulate the Australian officials for their hard work.”


Infrastructure grant to help SA apple, pear and cherry growers to reduce energy costs

A grant from the South Australian government will provide over 20 South Australian apple, pear and cherry growers new infrastructure that aims at reducing on-farm energy costs.

The Apple and Pear Growers Association of South Australia (APGASA) is being offered up to $400,000 through the state government’s Regional Growth Fund for a $1 million project to upgrade existing water pumping systems and install solar technology to improve efficiency.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone said the funding will assist in reducing on-farm energy costs with many growers impacted by last year’s hailstorms.

“This Regional Growth Fund project will provide industry wide benefits to South Australian apple, pear and cherry growers with an estimated five per cent crop increase resulting in an additional $1.5 million in farm gate value to the industry,” said Whetstone.

“Not only will this project assist in reducing costs for an industry impacted by consecutive hailstorms but it will create up to 23 full time jobs.

“The project includes upgrades to 42 existing water pumping systems and the installation of solar technology across 22 properties which represents 70 per cent of South Australian growers by production volume.

“I believe the work undertaken by growers through this project could have wide ranging benefits for other horticultural industries that have irrigation as their core in providing greater resilience and sustainability.

“The Marshall Liberal Government continues to support our world class horticulture industries as our primary producers are the backbone of the state’s economy.”

CEO of the Apple and Pear Growers Association of SA Susie Green welcomed the Regional Growth Fund grant as a boost for the industry.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the positive outcomes from this and helping reduce the day-to-day energy costs of running an orchard,” said Green.

The total project investment is $1.03 million, which includes direct industry co-contributions from up to 22 grower businesses, APGASA, and the Cherry Growers Association of South Australia.

The main project partner is Leedn Energy.

Research partnership established for WA grains industry

Western Australia’s grains industry is set to benefit from a $48 million scientific research partnership between the Western Australian government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

A major new research program will attempt to unlock the potential of WA’s grainbelt soils and exploratory projects to boost oat, canola, lupin and pulse production and value for WA growers.

The WA government has committed $25 million over five years for the WA-based projects led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s research arm.

The funding commitment includes $22 million to overcome soil constraints and develop transformational soil technologies.

A further $3 million will help examine new opportunities for the WA grains industry, including a fresh approach to matching genetics for early sowing opportunities for oats, canola and lupins in key environments.

“Scientific research is key to helping our growers change and adapt to produce better crops, increase productivity and export competitiveness, and in turn support our regional economies and communities,” said Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan.

“This industry is hungry for technology to address Western Australia’s unique conditions and market challenges while striving for record growth like this season’s impressive 17.9 million tonne harvest – our second biggest crop ever.”

The six projects include:

  • Re-engineering soils to improve water and nutrient flow to crops;
  • Increasing farming system profitability and the longevity of benefits following soil amelioration;
  • Increased grower profitability on soils with sodicity or transient salinity in the eastern grainbelt;
  • Optimising yield and expanding the area of high-value pulses – lentil, faba bean and chickpea – in Western Australia;
  • Evaluating milling oat varieties and optimising profitability from early-sown oats; and
  • Expanding the sowing window for canola and lupins.

Western Australia’s grains industry is estimated to have injected $7 billion into the WA economy this season, by far the state’s biggest agricultural export and underpinning many rural and regional communities.

Nestlé co-launches Future Food Initiative research program

Nestlé has announced the launch of the Future Food Initiative, a joint research program between Swiss universities and industrial partners. The initiative is to support Nestlé in the development of sustainable food and beverage products.

The Future Food Initiative brings together Swiss academic and industrial partners leading in nutritional science and food technology, including ETH Zurich, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), as well as Swiss companies Nestlé, Bühler and Givaudan.

The initiative encourages food and nutrition research in areas relevant to consumer trends and sustainability, and it includes a postdoctoral fellowship program to promote young scientists. The first research projects will focus on plant-based nutrition and ancient plant varieties.

“We accelerate innovation in collaboration with a variety of external partners, including world-class academia, globally leading suppliers and creative start-ups across the world,” Stefan Palzer, CTO of Nestlé S.A. said.

“To address open scientific questions and challenges related to food trends and sustainable nutrition is key for us as we create tasty and nutritious food for all age groups. As one of the initiators of this important Swiss research initiative, we reaffirm our commitment to further strengthen the unique Swiss research ecosystem for food and nutrition research.”

A significant part of Nestlé’s global R&D organization is located in Switzerland, including Nestlé Research. Nestlé Research employs about 800 people in Lausanne, where it combines fundamental science at the highest level with high-end analytical platforms and strong prototyping capabilities to accelerate the translation of science into innovation. In 2017, Nestlé made an R&D investment of around CHF 1 billion in Switzerland, which corresponds to about 58% of the total Nestlé R&D investment worldwide.

GEA to build China’s largest infant milk formula plant

GEA will build the largest infant formula plant in China for Junlebao Dairy, with commercial production scheduled in the second quarter of 2020.

GEA secured the order from the Shijiazhuang Junlebao Dairy to supply the China’s largest spray dryer for the manufacture of infant milk formula in September 2018.

Junlebao is the largest dairy processing company in the Hebei Province and the fourth largest dairy processing company in China.

The new plant, which is being built adjacent to one completed in 2016, will see GEA supplying wet mixing, evaporation, drying and downstream powder handling. GEA is also responsible for the plant design, project execution, installation & commissioning and automation.

Central to the plant will be the GEA MSD-1600 multi-stage spray dryer, one of the world’s most advanced dryers – combining spray and fluid-bed drying in a three-stage drying process. It has a planned production capacity of 6 tons/hour.

“We’ve worked very closely with Junlebao for years and it has been a real pleasure to see the success the plant we built for the company two years ago has had,” said Leon Han, head of dairy sales in Greater China for GEA.

“The new plant will be the largest of its kind in China and we are delighted to be working with Junlebao again on this exciting project.”

Junlebao said it chose GEA for this major project due to the previous work together in 2016 on a project with a similar scope.

“During the building of the 2016 plant we developed a very strong working relationship with GEA here in China. For this reason, GEA was the chosen partner for the new plant and we’re confident the project will be a success,” a Junlebao Dairy spokesperson said.

Woolworths invests $20 million in Townsville

Woolworths has pledged to invest $20 million into its local store network and distribution centre in Townsville over the next 18 months.

Woolworths will initially be working towards the reopening of Woolworths Fairfield  following significant flood damage at the store over the past week. It will also invest in its cold storage facilities at its Townsville Distribution Centre to hold more fresh food in readiness for future extreme weather events in the region.

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci announced the investment plan in Townsville alongside Queensland Minister for Communities Coralee O’Rourke and emergency relief partners The Salvation Army.

“We’re extremely grateful to our customers for their patience and understanding over the past week. Our teams have worked round the clock to replenish our stores with fresh food and essentials in challenging circumstances, and I thank them for their resilience and dedication to serving the community,” Banducci said.

“We have a long and proud history in Townsville, and this announcement demonstrates our ongoing commitment to invest in the city for the benefit of our customers and team members.

“Importantly, this investment will not only deliver a better local store network – it’ll also help build greater resilience into our supply chain for extreme weather events in the future.”

The announcement comes as The Salvation Army launches an Emergency Appeal in partnership with Woolworths. This Appeal will provide The Salvation Army with the resources to deliver practical support in the wake of the natural disaster.

Woolworths has donated $250,000 to the Appeal. Customers can donate at any Woolworths Supermarket across Australia and donations over $2 are tax-deductible.

Since 2016, Woolworths has run a year-round program with The Salvation Army called S.T.A.N.D to provide Support Through Australian Natural Disasters.

In the last 24 hours, Woolworths has transported more than 550 tonnes of fresh produce, meat and groceries into Townsville via the recently reopened roads and more trucks are en route from Brisbane today.

Jason Strong appointed as managing director of Meat & Livestock Australia

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), the research, development and marketing service provider for the Australian red meat and livestock industry, has announced the appointment of Jason Strong as its managing director.

MLA chair Dr Michele Allan said the MLA Board unanimously supported the appointment.

“The MLA Board is extremely confident that Jason will make an outstanding contribution to MLA and will continue to foster the prosperity of our industry on behalf of the red meat producers we serve,” Allan said.

“He returns to MLA with comprehensive red meat and livestock experience, knowledge and connections – from the farm through to the end consumer – in both domestic and international markets.”

Allan said that Strong was a well-recognised and respected senior executive with extensive skills in commercial and industry business management and administration, supply chain development, meat science and grading, genetics and marketing.

“Importantly, Jason has significant on-farm experience meaning he has a unique understanding of what is expected from MLA on behalf of levy payers. He is focused with a passionate commitment for our industry,” Allan said.

“With a proven track record in building strong teams and developing business opportunities in a number of key markets and corporate environments, Jason was the standout candidate for this highly coveted position.”

Strong said was an exciting time to be returning to MLA, with many opportunities for the red meat industry.

“I am looking forward to working with MLA’s Board, staff, red meat producers and the broader industry to make certain we are best positioned to respond to the challenges and opportunities ahead,” Strong said.

“I want to ensure MLA’s current programs and projects continue to deliver value, but also identify and implement what is required for the future success of the red meat industry.”

Strong will commence in the role on Monday 1 April 2019. Most recently, Strong was CEO of Smithfield Cattle Company, a leading family owned feedlot and cattle supply business. Prior to this he was Managing Director with AA Co.

Strong has also represented industry as MLA’s regional manager in Europe and Russia. He was also responsible for the expansion of the Pfizer (now Zoetis) DNA technology business into new key international markets.

He is also the current Chair of the EU and UK Red Meat Market Access Taskforce and is the past Chair of the Australian Beef Industry Foundation. He also spent 17 years managing and coaching the Australian Inter Collegiate Meat Judging Team.

Strong said that his previous experience with MLA, both within the organisation and as an external partner, meant that he understood the workings and responsibilities of MLA’s industry research and marketing service.

“Since MLA’s formation 21 years ago, our industry organisations have evolved in response to our growing and dynamic industry. However, the responsibility for MLA to deliver on the current and planned programs and projects remains,” he said.

“While many red meat producers and others in the value chain are currently facing tough conditions, MLA will continue to do everything it can to support and enhance the success and global competitiveness of Australia’s red meat industry.”

New study examines the dangers of crop monocultures

A new study indicates that the global narrowing of diversity in crop types present major challenges for agricultural sustainability across the world.

The study, carried out by an international team of researchers led by University of Toronto assistant professor Adam Martin, used data from the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to look at which crops were grown where on large-scale industrial farmlands from 1961 to 2014.

They found that within regions crop diversity has actually increased. But, on a global scale more of the same kinds of crops are being grown on much larger scales.

Martin said that the large industrial-sized farms in Asia, Europe, North and South America are beginning to look the same.

“What we’re seeing is large monocultures of crops that are commercially valuable being grown in greater numbers around the world,” said Martin, an ecologist in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at U of T Scarborough.

“So large industrial farms are often growing one crop species, which are usually just a single genotype, across thousands of hectares of land.”

Soybeans, wheat, rice and corn alone occupy almost 50 per cent of the world’s entire agricultural lands, while the remaining 152 crops cover the rest.

It’s widely assumed that the biggest change in global agricultural diversity took part during the so-called Columbia exchange of the 15th and 16th centuries where commercially important plant species were being transported to different parts of the world.

But the authors found that in the 1980s there was a massive increase in global crop diversity as different types of crops were being grown in new places on an industrial scale for the first time. By the 1990s that diversity flattened out, and that diversity across regions has been declining ever since.

This decline in global crop diversity is an issue for a number of reasons, Martin said

“If regional crop diversity is threatened, it really cuts into people’s ability to eat or afford food that is culturally significant to them,” he said.

Further, the increasing dominance by a few genetic lineages of crops means that the global agricultural system becomes increasingly susceptible to pests or diseases.

Martin said he hopes to apply the same global-scale analysis to look at national patterns of crop diversity as a next step for the research. Martin adds that there’s a policy angle to consider, since government decisions that favour growing certain kinds of crops may contribute to a lack of diversity.

“It will be important to look at what governments are doing to promote more different types of crops being grown, or at a policy-level, are they favouring farms to grow certain types of cash crops,” he said.

Innovative ideas to boost regional economies recognised

Three Victorian finalists have been announced for the 2019 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, which is to be announced in March in recognition of ideas to support Australia’s rural and regional communities.

The award recognises Australian women that use and develop their skills to benefit their industries and communities, including Victoria’s $14 billion agriculture sector.

This year’s finalists include:

  • Carly Jordan, from south west Victoria, who wants to continue developing a migrant resettlement model that assists regional towns to boost their populations and economies.
  • Claire Moore, from Kyneton, who wants to breed a genetically diverse range of queen bees that are healthy and adaptable in a variety of climates to address declining bee colony numbers.
  • Odette Suitor, from Sunbury, who wants to continue developing a grains storage concept to improve the efficiency of grain harvest by taking the concept to industry.

The Victorian winner will be announced at an upcoming ceremony and will receive a bursary of $10,000 to implement her project. The national winner will be announced at an award ceremony in Canberra held on 11 September 2019.

“Victorian rural women are at the forefront of innovation and I congratulate our three finalists who I know will do our state proud,” said state agriculture minister, Jaclyn Symes.

“The Andrews Labor Government is focused on the positive future of women in rural communities and we’re getting on with driving growth in agriculture, creating jobs and supporting the health and wellbeing of our overall regional and rural communities.”

South Australia invests $3 million in wine tourism

The South Australian government has launched a $3 million wine tourism campaign designed to attract international visitors to the state’s wine regions and boost the industry.

At Coriole Vineyards in McLaren Vale today, SA premier Steven Marshall, Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone and Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgway announced the beginning of the “International Visitation Campaigns” in the Barossa, Clare Valley, Limestone Coast, Adelaide Hills, the Riverland and McLaren Vale.

The state Government has committed $750,000 towards the initiative with funding contributions also from Wine Australia, through the Commonwealth Government’s $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package, local government, wine associations and communities.

Premier Marshall said the campaigns are a key pillar in attracting more visitation to South Australia’s wine regions and cellar doors.

“Today’s launch of the International Visitation Campaigns across six wine regions will build on the fantastic work this government is already doing to attract visitors to South Australia,” said Marshall.

“Our world-famous wine regions are an important part of the state’s economy and this campaign will allow them to continue to grow and create jobs for the state.”

Whetstone said the visitation campaigns are a collaborative effort to attract international visitors to South Australia’s wine regions, with a focus on China and the United States.

“Almost 40 per cent of international tourists visit a winery during their stay in South Australia and visitor expenditure supports growth in our regions,” said Whetstone.

“South Australia’s number one wine export destination is China and Hong Kong, with $813 million worth of wine exported in 2017-18, which shows where we can continue to add value to any activities targeted to these consumers.

“Six wine regions across South Australia are utilising the campaign in a number of innovative ways to attract international visitors, including a sommelier exchange, multi-lingual website, wine trail, virtual reality and online marketing.

“Our wine regions are continuing to be innovative and adapt to changing consumer needs targeting consumers looking for premium products.”

In the McLaren Vale, wine exports exceeded $100 million for the first time last year and McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association General Manager Jennifer Lynch said a targeted consumer marketing campaign will continue to build on that momentum.

“This investment and support will generate a notable step-change in our region’s continued international growth in key wine and tourism export markets, and we look forward to welcoming more visitors to enjoy what we have to offer in McLaren Vale,” said Lynch.

Australian walnuts to be sold into India

Australian walnut farmers will now be able to sell into the Indian market following the signing of a market access agreement between the two countries.
Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud said he was thrilled Australia’s walnut growers now had access to India and its 1.4 billion people.
“Many Australians don’t realise a scientific market access agreement is often the hardest part of getting access to a new market,” Littleproud said.
“Getting scientists from two countries to agree on how to stop any threat of diseases or pests being exported from one country to another can be very difficult.”
Littleproud said that the government spoke to industry through the Hort Innovation Australia prioritisation process. Walnut market access was nominated as a key priority.
“Since then our agriculture counsellor in India has worked with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the walnut industry to get this access,” Littleproud said.
“Agricultural counsellors win trade outcomes and that is why we boosted the number of counsellors we have in key markets in the 2017-18 budget.”
The minister said that, with India already a large export market for Australian almonds, there was huge potential for our other nuts to be exported there also. Australia exported over $22.5 million worth of walnuts around the world in 2017-18.
“Around 1.4 billion people live in India – more than 50 times the number of people in Australia – so it’s a huge market we’ve accessed for our walnut growers.”
Trade can formally commence once the import conditions are officially gazetted by India. In the interim, 10 trial shipments of walnuts can be sent to India.

Woolworths wins cider duties dispute

Woolworths Limited has won a tariff dispute with the Australian government following a ruling by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) on its import of Savanna Dry alcoholic cider.

Woolworths had been required to pay duty on the cider after the Department of Home Affairs claimed the product, which features caramelised apple juice, did not meet the specific definitions of a cider under the relevant act. Meeting those conditions would have enabled the company to import the drink duty-free.

The outcome of the dispute turned on AAT deputy president Bernard J. McCabe’s analysis of the NaturBrown caramelised concentrate that is added to the fermented apple juice concentrate during the manufacturing process.

The  Department of Home Affairs said this additive has the effect of taking the product outside of the definition of “cider”.

McCabe said that, following his research of relevant literature – the Cook’s Illustrated “Caramelizing vs. Browning” and Science of Cooking “What is Caramelization” webpages – and evidence from expert food technologist Dr Simon Brooke-Taylor, he was satisfied the product conforms to the definition of cider under the relevant act and overturned the Department’s ruling.

“It has not been transformed into something else; it has just been made more delicious,” said McCabe.

“Nothing has been added; it is ultimately the same thing as the juice concentrate to which it is added.”

McCabe said that in making his decision he was not focusing on how NaturBrown should be classified if it were being imported, but was making “a commonsense determination about classification of the cider product” which required him to reach a view as to whether NaturBrown has been transformed into an additive that is something other than juice or the must of juice.

“I am satisfied from the evidence provided by Dr Brooke-Taylor that NaturBrown is ultimately ‘juice or the must of apples’ for present purpose,” he said.

The AAT decision will save Woolworths about $70 per litre of the cider that it imports into Australia.

Australia records a record trade surplus for 2018

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that Australia recorded a $22.2 billion trade surplus in 2018, the nation’s highest ever for a calendar year.

Australia’s two-way trade in goods and services also hit a record high of $854 billion in 2018.

The results show that Australia delivered 12 monthly trade surpluses in 2018, and 22 in the last 24 months. 2018 was also the first calendar year since 1972 where every month was in surplus.

Increased resource exports including metals, ores and minerals ($94.9 billion) and Coal, coke and briquettes ($66.7 billion), along with rural goods such as meat ($13.6 billion) and cereals ($7.3 billion) helped contribute to Australia’s strong 2018 result.

Natural gas exports grew by 69.5 percent to become Australia’s third largest export.

Australia’s services industries also continue to enjoy strong growth with services exports growing by 9.3 per cent to $92.9 billion in 2018.

China remained Australia’s top trading partner, a position it has held since 2009. Two-way merchandise trade with China was valued at $192.1 billion, or 29 per cent of Australia’s total merchandise trade. Increases in merchandise exports were recorded with nearly all our key trading partners.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham said trade continued to play a critical role in Australia’s continued economic success having contributed over one-quarter of Australia’s economic growth over the past five years.

“Australian farmers and businesses exporters should be congratulated for these strong results illustrating the unabated and competitive edge our exporters have on the world-stage,” Birmingham said.

“Australia now routinely records monthly trade surpluses, and we want to make sure that we keep that trend going in 2019. That’s why we continue to pursue a trade agenda that opens new markets for Australian exporters across a wide range of industries, helping to build a stronger economy and create more Australian jobs.”

Australian lamb slaughter to decline in 2019

Australian lamb slaughter is forecast to reach its lowest level since 2012 as poor conditions that impacted 2018 are expected to continue to affect sheep meat supply this year, according to Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) 2019 Sheep Industry Projections.

Lamb slaughter is forecast to decline 7 per cent in 2019 to 21.2 million head, while sheep slaughter is predicted to be down 16 per cent, to 8 million head, underpinned by substantial drops in marking rates and the culling of large numbers of ewes and ewe lambs.

The national flock is estimated to have declined by over 4 million head, or 6.1 per cent, to mid-2018 and is forecast to experience a further decline of 3.7 per cent by mid-2019 to 65.3 million head, as many producers are forced to continue destocking as they wait for a turnaround in the weather.

The significantly reduced breeding flock and widespread rainfall decencies, suggest fewer joinings than usual and a continuation of below-average lambing rates experienced in 2018.

MLA’s Market Intelligence Manager, Scott Tolmie, said many producers will be hoping for some consistent rainfall this year to help alleviate some of the pressures associated with high feed costs.

“Unfortunately, the current Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) three-month outlook does not point to an immediate reprieve from the current hot and dry conditions,” Tolmie said.

“Considering the substantial moisture deficiencies apparent in many regions, particularly New South Wales, any improvement in conditions would require consistent above-average rainfall over the coming months.”

Tolmie said both sheep and lamb carcase weights were impacted by the tough conditions and high cost of feed in 2018, and this is expected to continue in 2019 with feedstocks depleted and feed demand to remain high until conditions improve.

“The average lamb carcase weight is expected to remain around 22.4kg/head in 2019 while the national average sheep carcase weight is expected to stabilise in 2019, at 23.6kg/head,” Tolmie said.

“A fall in slaughter and carcase weights is driving the 7 per cent forecast decline in lamb production for 2019 to 475,000 tonnes carcase weight (cwt). Mutton production will likely see a steeper drop of 16 per cent to 188,000 tonnes cwt.”

Tolmie said looking beyond the current rainfall deficiencies, a variety of indicators point towards 2019 continuing to be a positive year for sheepmeat prices.

“Fortunately, robust international demand and a low Australian dollar will continue to support Australian exports and, in turn, domestic saleyard prices. Records were broken in 2018 as markets around the world competed strongly for Australia’s high quality sheepmeat,” Tolmie said.

“The expectation for supply, and consequently exports, to decline in both Australia and New Zealand will likely see global competition for sheepmeat intensify in 2019. The conditions that drove strong prices for well-finished stock last year look likely to remain in place in 2019, particularly while conditions remain dry.

“Sheepmeat supply out of Australia and New Zealand – which account for more than 70 per cent of global trade – has been unable to keep pace with strong global demand, led by China in 2018.”

Tolmie said in 2018, Australian lamb exports increased 7 per cent year-on-year to a record 267,000 tonnes shipped weight (swt), while mutton shipments jumped 23 per cent to 180,000 tonnes swt.

“Reflecting a reduced flock and limited supply, 2019 lamb exports are forecast to contract 8 per cent to 247,000 tonnes swt, while mutton is projected to fall 16 per cent to 151,000 tonnes swt,” he said.

Study establishes new method of developing disease-resistance in crops

Researchers have pioneered a new method to rapidly recruit disease-resistance genes from wild plants for transfer into domestic crops, a technique which could revolutionise the development of disease-resistant varieties for the global food supply.

The technique called AgRenSeq was developed by scientists at the John Innes Centre in Britain working with colleagues in Australia and the US. The research has been published in Nature Biotechnology.

The result speeds up the fight against pathogens that threaten global food crops, including wheat, soyabean, maize, rice and potato, which form the vast bulk of cereals in the human diet.

Professor Harbans Bariana from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences is a global expert in cereal rust genetics and a co-author of the paper.

“This technology will underpin fast-tracked discovery and characterization of new sources of disease resistance in plants,” Bariana said.

The current research builds on previous collaborative work done by Professor Bariana with the CSIRO and the John Innes Centre. It used two wheat genes cloned by this international team as controls and Professor Bariana conducted the phenotype assessments for the study.

AgRenSeq lets researchers search a library of resistance genes discovered in wild relatives of modern crops so they can rapidly identify sequences associated with disease fighting capability.

From there researchers can use laboratory techniques to clone the genes and introduce them into elite varieties of domestic crops to protect them against pathogens and pests such as rusts, powdery mildew and Hessian fly.

Dr Brande Wulff, a crop genetics project leader at the John Innes Centre and a lead author of the study, said they had found a way to scan the genome of a wild relative of a crop plant and pick out the resistance genes needed in record time.

“This used to be a process that took 10 or 15 years and was like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Wulff said.

“We have perfected the method so that we can clone these genes in a matter of months and for just thousands of dollars instead of millions.”

The research reveals that AgRenSeq has been successfully trialled in a wild relative of wheat – with researchers identifying and cloning four resistance genes for the devastating stem rust pathogen in the space of months. This process would easily take a decade using conventional means.

The work in wild wheat is being used as a proof of concept, preparing the way for the method to be utilised in protecting many crops which have wild relatives including, soyabean, pea, cotton, maize, potato, wheat, barley, rice, banana and cocoa.

Modern elite crops have, in the search for higher yields and other desirable agronomic traits, lost a lot of genetic diversity especially for disease resistance.

Reintroducing disease resistance genes from wild relatives is an economic and environmentally sustainable approach to breeding more resilient crops. However, introgression of these genes into crops is a laborious process using traditional breeding methods.

The new method combines high-throughput DNA sequencing with state-of-the-art bioinformatics.

“What we have now is a library of disease resistance genes and we have developed an algorithm that enables researchers to quickly scan that library and find functional resistance genes,” said Dr Sanu Arora, the first author of the paper from the John Innes Centre.

Wulff said that the study’s results demonstrate that AgRenSeq is a robust protocol for rapidly discovering resistance genes from a genetically diverse panel of a wild crop relative.

“If we have an epidemic, we can go to our library and inoculate that pathogen across our diversity panel and pick out the resistance genes,” he said.

“Using speed cloning and speed breeding we could deliver resistance genes into elite varieties within a couple of years, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Support workshops to help with flash flood recovery for Victorian farms

A series of Agriculture Victoria workshops will be held in March, targeted at supporting producers recovering from the December flash flooding and ongoing dry conditions.

Two workshops will be held in March in collaboration with the North East Catchment Management Authority (NECMA).

In addition, farmers can contact Agriculture Victoria if they would like to engage in a free one on one consultation to assist in planning for the months ahead.

State agriculture minister Jaclyn Symes said that the Victorian government was encouraging farmers to attend.

“We recognise the significant impact the December flood had on many landholders in Northern Victoria and that’s why Agriculture Victoria has been on the ground from day one, supporting farmers and the community to recover from the flooding,” Symes said.

“In addition to these workshops, Agriculture Victoria is also offering affected farm businesses a one-on-one consultation to assist them to manage the impacts of the flash flooding and continuing dry seasonal conditions.”

Topic experts will present at the workshops on farm water planning and management, planning on-farm fodder production, livestock nutritional requirements and feed budgeting through 2019.

The first workshop will focus on options for farm water management and will be held at Rutherglen on Monday 4 March.

The second workshop will focus on options for fodder production, livestock nutritional requirements, feed budgeting and planning ahead for the Autumn break.

The second workshop will be held in the flood impacted area at Tarrawingee on Monday 18 March.

The Victorian government is currently offering On-Farm Drought Infrastructure Support Grants of up to $5,000 to producers within Northern Victoria, including the shires impacted by the December flooding, to improve drought management and preparedness.

Assistance was made available to flood impacted farmers and the community through a range of mechanisms including Emergency Relief Assistance Payments, which provide up to $540 per adult and $270 per child (up to a maximum of $1,890 per eligible household) to help meet immediate needs, including emergency food, shelter, clothing, and personal items.

Northern Territory declared banana freckle free

Queensland banana growers have avoided a serious biosecurity risk with the Northern Territory today officially declared banana freckle free.

The successful eradication follows a five year joint effort between the Australian, state and territory governments and the banana industry.

Banana freckle is a pest of banana leaves and fruit caused by a fungal pathogen.

Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud said the announcement would boost confidence for Queensland growers and the $1.2 billion Australian banana industry.

“Eradication is a tough business so this is a big win for some 700 banana growers across the country,” Littleproud said.

“Growers were staring down the barrel of up to $24 million a year in additional management costs.

“The disease posed a real threat to the livelihoods of many banana growers but swift action saw it contained to the Northern Territory before it was eradicated.”

The fungal disease isn’t a health risk but does stunt the growth of the plant and causes spotting on the fruit, making it less appetising and harder to sell, Littleproud said.

“Had the disease spread to Queensland strict controls would have been put in place and no fruit would have been able to leave the region to be sold to supermarkets across Australia,” he said.

The federal government contributed $6 million to the national response program led by the Northern Territory and assisted with surveillance, monitoring and response planning.

“The partnership between the Northern Territory and the Australian Banana Growers Council was an essential component of the eradication program. The efforts of banana growers who participated in the program in the Northern Territory should also be commended,” Littleproud said.

“Queensland is the powerhouse of the Australian banana industry. In 2016­­­­­­­­­­–17 North Queensland produced 94 per cent of Australia’s banana production for the year.”