Rabobank appoints new group executive with extensive knowledge of food and agribusiness sector

Rabobank Australia and New Zealand has appointed Karin van Selm as group executive for wholesale banking.

In her current role, as the bank’s general manager of corporate banking, van Selm provides for the increasingly complex requirements of Rabobank’s large corporate clients operating in the food and agribusiness sector.

She’s worked in her current role with Rabobank since January 2016.

Rabobank Australia and New Zealand managing director Peter Knoblanche said van Selm was ideally placed to take on the position of group executive to ensure a seamless continuation of the expansion and development of Rabobank’s wholesale banking operation.

READ: Shift in rankings of companies listed in Rabobank Global Dairy Top 20

“Karin has extensive experience and exceptional understanding of the corporate banking needs of major companies involved in the food and agricultural sector,” said Knoblanche.

Rabobank is one of Australia’s largest agricultural banks and a major provider of specialist corporate financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector.

Van Selm worked in structured finance at ING Barings, before moving to Australia in 2005, from the Netherlands.

She then joined Westpac, where she worked in various roles in the banking consumer and agribusiness team.

She holds a Master of Laws, specialising in international tax and economics.

Van Selm said the future opportunities for Australia and New Zealand’s corporate food and agribusiness were exciting, with both countries producing world-class agricultural produce and with rapidly-growing export markets.

“That said, businesses in the F&A sector are challenged to remain competitive in the various commodity markets, faced with increasing costs of labour, water, energy and insurance, as well as stricter regulatory environments,” she said.

“Rabobank, with its both global and local reach in food and agriculture, and its deep understanding of the various segments of the agri market, is well positioned to enable, facilitate and connect our clients in the value chain and support them with their growth ambitions,” said van Selm.

She will start the new role on the 1st of August, taking over from Els Kamphof, who has been appointed to head the regional wholesale banking operations in the Netherlands and Africa.


NSW government offers more funding for drought-stricken farmers

The NSW government has released a $500 million emergency drought relief package as 99 per cent of NSW is in drought.

This takes the total support to more than $1 billion, as farmers struggle with the worsening drought.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said farmers were facing one of the driest winters on record, resulting in failing crops, drastic water shortages and a diminishing supply of fodder to sustain livestock.

Farmers had told Berejiklian they needed urgent help, she said.

READ: Dry weather in Australia significantly impacting crops

“To date we have already committed $584m in drought support, most of which is focused on preparation for drought conditions. However, conditions are now so dire that further support is needed to address the more immediate needs for farmers and their communities until the drought breaks.”

The major feature of the emergency relief package is about $190m for the introduction of drought transport subsidies.

The subsidies cover up to 50 per cent of the full cost of transporting fodder, water for stock and livestock to pasture, slaughter or sale.

The NSW government will offer a transport subsidy of up to $20,000 per farm business.

The relief measure will also be back-dated so farmers can access additional subsidies for freight expenses incurred since January 1, 2018.

Deputy premier and minister for regional NSW, John Barilaro, said the drought had quickly worsened across the state because June and July were drier than expected.

Farmers are sourcing fodder from interstate, as local supply has deteriorated.

“We said we would constantly reassess the conditions and relief measures, and the fact we’ve now increased our drought-relief package to over $1b is a reflection of how serious this drought is, and how much we value the health and wellbeing of our farming and regional communities,” said Barilaro.

“We have backdated this relief measure to the start of the year when the drought intensified, especially in the Upper Hunter and Western NSW. This means eligible farmers who made the decision to destock earlier this year will still benefit from this new relief package.”

Minister for primary industries Niall Blair said waivers were in place on local land services annual rates, fixed charges on water licences, registration costs for class one agricultural vehicles, and interest on existing farm innovation fund loans.

“We know many families are also having to bring in water for domestic use, which is why we have also set aside additional funding for this essential service. The package we have has to be fair, it has to be equitable and it has to be able to be adapted to all types of farming businesses right across NSW.”

Corangamite Shire’s agribusiness sector gets funding boost from government

Corangamite Shire’s agribusiness sector is getting a funding boost from the Victorian state government.

On Wednesday, Minister for agriculture, Jaala Pulford, announced a $260,000 investment from the government for three projects in Corangamite as part of the Local Roads to Market program.

The Corangamite upgrades are three of 39 projects worth $24 million that will be delivered under the second round of the program.

Pulford said the program supported communities that relyed on farming to ensure produce was delivered to market safe and on time.

READ: Wimmera Mallee road upgrades boost agribusiness in Vic

“These investments will boost the productivity farm businesses and their supply chains and put them in a better position to compete in international markets,” she said.

The grant, along with a co-investment from Corangamite Shire Council and industry, will fund infrastructure upgrades to enable and improve the access for heavy vehicle freight from the farmgate to arterial roads.

The three projects include a $200,000 upgrade to the intersection of North Robilliards Road and Timboon-Nullawarre Rd, which will allow heavy vehicles and traffic to safely navigate the intersection.

The project will also install an advanced warning signal to improve road visibility and safety for milk transport.

Tomahawk Creek Rd, up to the farmgate of Heytesbury Stockfeeds, will be widened and sealed for $40,000 and $20,000 will go to upgrading the intersection at Noskin and Browns Rd for heavy vehicle freight from Timboon Goat Farm.

Gayle Tierney, a member for Western Victoria, said the upgrades would improve agribusiness and supply chain productivity, as well as the country road network for all users.

Island Road funding to boost Koo Wee Rup’s agribusiness

Cardinia Shire’s agriculture sector will soon be transporting better quality produce to market, more efficiently with support from the Victorian state government.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford today announced a $90,000 investment from the second round of grants through the Labor Government’s Local Roads to Market program.

Pulford said, “The Koo Wee Rup community knows Agriculture is one of this state’s most important industries and we’re delighted to work with growers and local councils to deliver these grants.”

“Our farm businesses and their supply chains will see improved productivity and be in a better position to compete in international markets because of this investment.”

“These upgrades will improve agribusiness and supply chain productivity and improve the country road network for all users.”

The grant, along with a co-investment from Cardinia Shire Council and industry, will construct and seal the last remaining section of Island Road in Koo Wee Rup.

The Island Road upgrades will seal the gravel section, reduce dust contamination and bruising during transportation, and improve the quality of produce freighted from farms and parking sheds in the area.

Koo Wee Rup and the adjoining Dalmore area produces most of Victoria’s asparagus. More than 7,500 tonnes of produce grown, picked and transported to market each season, with over 60 per cent exported to Asia.

It will be especially beneficial for local primary producers near this section of unsealed road, who transport millions of dollars in produce on the road each year.

The $25 million Local Roads to Market program is a key pillar of the Labor Government’s Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund and supports rural, regional and outer-suburban councils to improve road transport connections.

The Island Road upgrade is one of 39 projects worth $24 million to be delivered under the second round of the program. The first funded 29 projects worth $22.2 million across regional and rural Victoria in 2017.


Funding boost for sustainable agriculture research

The National Landcare Program aims to reinvigorate the agricultural sector as well as look at sustainability in managing one of Australia’s key resources – its land. The total funding package announced in this round is more than $27 million and the University of Sydney’s funding share for its projects will augment its existing work in rural regions and agriculture and its long relationship with regional communities.

The Sydney Institute of Agriculture (SIA) DigiFarm Hub project in Narrabri received $2.37 million in funding to develop its education platform for stakeholders including farmers, agribusiness, and schools to experience the latest ag-innovation thinking relating to soil health, robotics and digital agriculture, cropping and livestock systems.

Led by Associate Professor Guy Roth, Director of the Plant Breeding Institute Narrabri, the DigiFarm project represents the next stage in the development of the University of Sydney’s research farms in North-West NSW. The project team also comprises Professor Iain Young who will take up his role as Dean of the Faculty of Science on 12 July, and Professor Alex McBratney, Director of SIA.

Three years ago, the University acquired L’lara, a 2,000 hectare property neighbouring the I. A. Watson Grains Research Station. L’lara is a typical mixed cropping (60 percent) and cattle (35 per cent) farm with some remnant native forest (5 percent).

Professor Alex McBratney said this was a strategic investment by the University in regional infrastructure for sustainable farming systems research.

“The new digitally-enabled agriculture will always have its foundations in sustainable and profitable production through sensors, argonomically-relevant big data, autonomous systems and recognition of the opportunity to adapt to climate change,” Professor McBratney said.

DigiFarm links the best research and proactivity on the university farms to a network of 10 satellite commercial farms across north-east NSW (including, Moree, Edgeroi, Bellata, Boggabri, Gunnedah, SpringRidge, WeeWaa).

“DigiFarm will lead the way to help farmers get the best out of their soils for the growth of food and fibre,” McBratney said.

“This network develops the University’s ‘Knowledge for Service’ philosophy across the region; SIA’s aim has always been to develop new knowledge to help the country move forward,” he said.

Professor Iain Young said the investment was testament not just to the importance of ongoing sustainable land management and innovative agricultural practices but also to the world-class work out of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture.

“DigiFarm has the potential for application for land management world-wide; we are immensely proud of our research and teaching and building long-lasting relationships with our communities,” Professor Young concluded.

Wimmera Mallee road upgrades boost agribusiness in Vic

The Wimmera Mallee’s agriculture sector will soon be transporting produce to market with the Victorian state government’s Local Roads to Market program.

Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford had announced the $5.54 million through round two of the program to widen a dangerously narrow 1.5 kilometre-section of Minyip-Banyena Road in the Yarriambiack Shire to improve access for heavy vehicles to cart grain and other produce.

It’s one of 17 local road and bridge upgrades across eight shire councils in the region that will share in nearly $10 million to improve heavy vehicle access from the farmgate to arterial roads, receival centres and transport hubs.

The grants will be used to widen and seal roads, improve the load bearing capacity of bridges and intersection works, and fund the following key projects in the Wimmera Mallee region:

  • $1.3 million to seal and widen roads that service the large grain community in the Yarriambiack Shire.
  • $1.2 million for the Yeungroon Road and Birchip-Corack Road projects in the Buloke Shire, improving access for B-Doubles to grain storage facilities and to transportation hubs like the Geelong port.
  • $750,000 for the Meridian South Road Widening project to widen and seal a further 6 kilometre section of road, improving the quality of produce transported from the region to the arterial network, as well as bypassing the townships of Mildura, Irymple and Red Cliffs.
  • $700,000 for the Antwerp-Woorak Road and Rainbow-Nhill projects, improving access to markets for heavy vehicles in the Hindmarsh Shire and the broader region.
  • $548,000 for the Annuello-Wemen Road and O’Connor Lane projects to improve roads for almond and produce farms in Swan Hill Shire.
  • $687,000 in the Northern Grampians Shire for three projects to upgrade bridges and an intersection as well as bridges in the Logan area to support local piggeries and farms.
  • $128,500 to complete the final stage of the Wonwondah-Dadswells Bridge Road upgrade in Horsham Shire and $90,000 to support Gannawarra Shire to improve access to the Quambatook grain receival centre.
  • The Wimmera Mallee upgrades are part of 39 projects worth $24 million under Round Two of the program. Round One funded 29 projects worth $22.2 million across regional and rural Victoria in 2017.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford said, “The Local Roads to Market program is supporting farming communities throughout the Wimmera Mallee, ensuring their top-quality grain, livestock and vegetable produce makes it to market as quickly and safely as possible. These important road and bridge upgrades will improve the competitiveness of agribusinesses across the Wimmera Mallee and improve the safety of country roads for all users.”

Orchard expansion to bring jobs to Gouldburn Valley

A family owned and operated orchard in the Goulburn Valley will get funding from the Victorian state government.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford announced that Vigliaturo Orchards will receive a grant from the government that will see the company expand, upgrade and employ more people.

Pulford said, “We’ve worked closely with this business to facilitate investment, which will create new jobs right in the Goulburn Valley.”

Vigliaturo Orchards is a family-owned business in Ardmona that grows, packs and markets apples, pears and stone fruits and has received support from the Labor Government under the Regional Jobs Fund.

The $1.8 million expansion of its fruit packing and export facility has created 12 new full time equivalent jobs.

The project has doubled the size of the packing facility, developed additional cold storage and controlled atmosphere capacity, and enabled the purchase and installation of digital grading and packing technology.

The expansion and new technology will increase the company’s daily fruit handling and packing capability from 100 bins to 180 bins.

The Labor Government is supporting projects through its investment funds dedicated to regional Victoria, which focusses on building critical infrastructure, creating jobs, investing in communities and supporting new and emerging industries.


Hybrid mega-pest threatening global food crops

CSIRO scientists have confirmed the hybridisation of two of the world’s major pest species, into a new and improved mega-pest.

One of the pests, the cotton bollworm, is widespread in Africa, Asia and Europe and causes damage to over 100 crops, including corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

The damage and controlling the pest costs billions of dollars a year.

It is extremely mobile and has developed resistance to all pesticides used against it.

The other pest, the corn earworm, is a native of the Americas and has comparatively limited resistance and host range.

However, the combination of the two, in a novel hybrid with unlimited geographical boundaries is cause for major concern.

The CSIRO researchers in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA  provides clear evidence of the hybridisation of the two moths in Brazil.

“A hybrid such as this could go completely undetected should it invade another country,” Research Director leading CSIRO’s Biosecurity Risk Evaluation and Preparedness Program Dr Paul De Barro said.

“It is critical that we look beyond our own backyard to help fortify Australia’s defense and response to biosecurity threats.

“As Australia’s national science agency, we are constantly looking for new ways to protect the nation and technology like genome sequencing, is helping to tip the scales in our favour.”

While a combination of insecticides currently controls these pests well in Australia, it is important to study the pests themselves for sustainable long-term management world-wide.

The scientists confirmed that among the group of caterpillars studied, every individual was a hybrid.

“No two hybrids were the same suggesting a ‘hybrid swarm’ where multiple versions of different hybrids can be present within one population,” fellow CSIRO Scientist Dr Tom Walsh said.

The bollworm, commonly found in Australia, attacks more crops and develops much more resistance to pesticides than the earworm.

A concerning finding among the Brazilian hybrids was that one was 51 per cent earworm but included a known resistance gene from the bollworm.

Lead author of the paper Dr Craig Anderson, a former CSIRO scientist now based at The University of Edinburgh, believes the hybrid study has wide-ranging implications for the agricultural community across the Americas.

“On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65 per cent of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” Dr Anderson said.

Most farmers recognise need to upskill

Farmers’ business management and leadership skills will increasingly become the key determinant in running successful agricultural operations in Australia, Rabobank CEO Peter Knoblanche has cautioned the industry.

Knoblanche, who heads one of Australia’s largest agricultural banks, said traditional farming skills had been “relegated to a given” for the country’s current and emerging rural entrepreneurs, as they navigate an increasingly complex, volatile and competitive – but also potentially much more rewarding – market place.

“The time when farmers just had to be good at production alone to run a successful farming business is frankly completely behind us now,” he said. “Those skills are a given. The best operators and those who will succeed and thrive into the future are those who are also exceptional business people and leaders.

“Being a good farmer is not just about growing and managing your crops or livestock well. As farmers are well aware, it is a very complex industry which involves everything from cutting-edge financial management through to commodity hedging and other risk management strategies to supply chain management, consumer research and marketing, the use and application of ag tech, human resource management, governance and sustainability management – to name just some of the elements.”

Speaking on the opening of applications for this year’s Rabobank Business Management Programs, Knoblanche said Australian farmers were increasingly recognising the importance of investing in and developing their own strategic business skills and other capabilities.

A recent survey undertaken by the bank had shown that nation-wide, more than two- thirds of farmers reported that upskilling through education and training had an important role to play in better managing their farm business, with the majority having an appetite to further develop their knowledge and skills in business planning and management and emerging technologies.

Knoblanche said approximately 70 per cent of those surveyed indicated upskilling through education and training was important to improve management of their farm business. This was across a range of commodities and farm sizes, but more recognised among farmers with operations generating gross incomes of $500,000 and above.

While in commodities, the strongest interest was shown to be among cotton and beef and sheep producers.

Rabobank’s two annual Business Management Programs – the Farm Managers Program for up-and-coming farmers and the Executive Development Program for experienced farm business owners or senior managers – are designed to equip primary producers with the building blocks to take their business to the next level.

Kangaroo Island seed potato and lamb producer Peter Cooper (pictured), graduated from the Executive Development Program (EDP) in 2017.

Recognised as a future leader in the potato industry, Cooper took out the prestigious Rabobank Potatoes South Australia and Ruralco Industry Award in 2016 which included a scholarship to attend the EDP.

Cooper said the opportunity to attend the program had come at the optimal time, as his business had recently gone through a period of change and while he knew the direction they were heading in, it was important to formalise that planning.

“I will say that in that first week I did feel a little overwhelmed. It really made me realise that although I thought I had nailed down our long-term plans I still had a lot of work to do,” he said.

“The program forced me to get my plans down on paper, it showed where I had holes in my information and the bits that weren’t as comprehensive as they needed to be.”

Cooper came to the program following a period of substantial expansion and diversification. Starting the seed potato business in 2009 on returning to his family’s farm ‘Parnlee’, he has since grown the business to now produce 1000 tonnes of seed, which are sold primarily to Mallee and Riverland potato growers.

He has also succeeded his parents on ‘Parnlee’ and has purchased a neighbouring property. Following such a period of change, Cooper said the opportunity to step outside of his business could not have come at a better time.

“Having a comprehensive business plan in place has provided a huge amount of advantages for our business,” he said.

“One of the key advantages has been that I am better able to focus my efforts on what needs to be acted upon now, rather than wasting my mental energy on things that don’t need to happen for the next few years.

“I’ve also started benchmarking my whole enterprise and have joined a benchmarking group with other sheep producers on Kangaroo Island to share information and continue to improve our enterprises.

“I actually thought I had a handle on finances before attending the program, but I wasn’t doing the work in such a comprehensive way.

“I feel confident now that if we wanted to borrow more money and expand further, we would be able to easily present a case to increase our finance. And having that information within grasp will potentially provide us with an edge in future investments.”

Both courses run as residential programs. The 2018 Farm Managers Program will be held from June 17 to 22 in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. The first week-long module of the Executive Development Program will be staged from August 19 to 24, 2018, with the second week-long module scheduled for July 14 to 19, 2019.


Rabobank makes new board appointment

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group has announced the appointment of Jillian Segal AM to its boards.

Ms Segal, a respected company director with extensive regulatory and legal experience, joins the boards of Rabobank Australia & New Zealand’s major operating entities – Rabobank Australia Limited, Rabo Australia Limited and Rabobank New Zealand Limited.

Part of the global cooperative Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist food and agribusiness bank, Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is one of Australasia’s largest agricultural banks and a major provider of corporate and business banking services to the region’s food and agribusiness sectors. The bank also operates online retail savings and deposits business RaboDirect in both countries.

Announcing the appointment, Rabobank’s Australian & New Zealand chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden said Ms Segal’s extensive board experience across the private and public sectors, including in financial services – coupled with a career-long background in governance and law – made her an “ideal fit” for Rabobank’s Australian and New Zealand boards.

“We are truly delighted to have Jillian join the Rabobank boards,” he said. “She is one of Australia’s most accomplished and highly-regarded directors, and sought-after for her expertise in business, governance, banking, financial regulation and education. We are very pleased Jillian will now bring this expertise to Rabobank, as the bank further grows and develops in Australia and New Zealand’s burgeoning agricultural sector.”

Ms Segal previously served as a commissioner and later deputy chair at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and as a director of ASX Limited and National Australia Bank Limited, as well as board chair of the Australian Banking Industry Ombudsman, among a number of other board positions.

She currently holds a number of non-executive positions, including deputy chancellor of UNSW Australia, chair of the General Sir John Monash Foundation and the Australia- Israel Chamber of Commerce (NSW), directorships with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the Grattan Institute and Trustee of the Sydney Opera House Trust.

Ms Segal was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2005 for services to business law, particularly in the areas of financial services reform and market regulation, and awarded a Centenary Medal in 2003 for services to society through business leadership. Ms Segal holds a BA LL.B from the University of New South Wales and has a Masters of Laws from Harvard Law School.

Ms Segal takes the seat on the Australian and New Zealand Rabobank boards left vacant by retiring former Rabobank Australian chairman Bill Gurry.

Sir van der Heyden paid tribute to Mr Gurry, who served on the Rabobank’s Australian and New Zealand boards since 2005, and as chairman of Rabobank Australia since 2009. A highly-experienced company director, Mr Gurry had held a number of senior roles in the financial services industry, including executive chairman of UBS Australia, CEO of Potter Warburg and managing director of National Mutual Royal Bank.

“Bill has made an outstanding contribution to Rabobank in both Australia and New Zealand over the past 13 years, overseeing more than a decade of extraordinary growth in the business,” he said.

In addition to chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden, Ms Segal joins other directors of Rabobank Australia & New Zealand – Anne Brennan, Andy Borland, Berry Marttin, Sander Pruijs, Geerten Battjes and Peter Knoblanche (managing director Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group and CEO Rabobank Australia).

Kiwi agtech company secures funding for UV crop enhancement

BioLumic, creator of the world’s first crop-yield enhancement system using UV light, has announced the close of $6.34m in Series A funding.

This significant round of financial backing comes from leading global AgTech investors Finistere Ventures and Radicle Growth acceleration fund, along with Rabobank’s recently-launched Food & Agri Innovation Fund and existing investors from across New Zealand.

Addressing the global need for increased agricultural crop yields, BioLumic treats seedlings and seeds with its proprietary ultraviolet light systems. Its patented technology precisely applies UV light treatments to deliver long-term crop benefits — including improved crop consistency, increased yield and disease resistance.

Already in commercial trials with large-scale produce growers around the globe, BioLumic has worked with large-scale produce growers and processors in United Kingdom, California and Mexico achieving yield gains of up to 22 percent. Further commercial trials are underway in Spain and the United Kingdom.

“Light is an extremely powerful biological tool that can safely manipulate plants without the concerns associated with genetic modification or chemical usage” BioLumic CEO Warren Bebb said.

“BioLumic is the only company using light as an ag treatment at the beginning of a plant’s life. Exposure to a short-duration treatment of UV-enriched light at a critical stage in a plant’s development turns on characteristics to help the seed or seedling more effectively defend itself against disease or pest attacks, and more efficiently use water and nutrients from the soil for its entire lifespan.”

BioLumic was founded by Dr. Jason Wargent, a world-renowned photobiologist specialising in UV/plant interactions, and spun out of leading AgTech research from Massey University in Palmerston North with support from local incubator BCC and seed funding from MIGAngels. The technology is the result of more than a decade of Dr. Wargent’s research into UV photomorphogenesis, a process whereby a
precise UV treatment induces plant root and leaf development and activates secondary metabolism.


Automatic grape harvesting with 3D technology from ifm

With EasyPilot, the manufacturer of multi-equipment carriers and harvesters, Grégoire, has created a sensor-assisted automatic line guidance system that boasts a precision of 3 cm without needing a GPS position signal.

A great success: and ifm has played a role in it.

No other beverage holds so many secrets and divides so many opinions as wine. Wine: The Italians claim it as their national beverage, and the cup of the everlasting covenant of the Christian faith is filled with it – for in wine is truth: “in vino veritas”. One truth about wine is that it is necessary to harvest grapes to produce it. And in our days which are marked by technological progress, the most important question is: man or machine?

The romanticised image of the grape harvest, which we often see in movies and which will surely have inspired one or the other Hollywood star to buy their own vineyard, actually looks quite different in reality. Considering that in Germany alone the average citizen drinks about 20 litres of wine per year, it becomes quite obvious how much work has to be done in how little time by about 80,000 German winemakers who cultivate and harvest wine on an area of about 102,000 hectares.

How is it possible to be successful against this background?

Success through technology: Many winemakers use state-of-the-art harvesting machines like grape harvesters instead of manual labourers. Grape harvesters offer various advantages. One hectare, for example, can be harvested in 3 to 5 hours. Achieving the same result with manual labour requires 40 to 60 workers.

How does an automatic grape harvester function?

The French company Grégoire is a manufacturer of grape harvesters. Their grape harvesters can additionally be equipped with an automatic line guidance system: the “EasyPilot”. This system boasts a precision of 3cm without depending on satellite signals.

The grape row is detected by ifm’s O3M 3D sensor system. It analyses the scene in front of the harvester “point by point” using ifm’s patented PMD technology (time of flight). By creating a digitised version of the scene in front of the machine, the general properties of the vines can be gathered and visualised in abstract form. Inaccuracies caused by vine branches from the side or high grass can be excluded.

While the grape harvester moves over the vines, it creates a tunnel beneath the driver’s cab. This tunnel is provided with glass fibre rods that create vibrations. These vibrations shake the vines, so that the grapes fall off. They tumble on a conveyor belt that transports them to a collecting container. A fan removes unwanted elements such as leaves and tiny branches. There is another sensor that looks down from above and that is mounted in a central position under the cab of the harvester. This sensor is directed at the bottom and determines the height and thickness of deposits. When the signal is processed, a guiding track is generated that visualises the grape row as a model. This model is used as a basis to calculate the ideal route for the harvester to take. When the machine is in the grape row, the driver starts the EasyPilot via the screen in the cab. Once the system is started, all the driver needs to do is have an eye on the operating speed and the tools – everything else is taken care of by the system. When the end of the grape row is reached, a visual and acoustic signal will inform the driver that the harvester needs to be turned around to move along the next grape row.

There were times when the time for the grape harvest was ordained by the government. Today, winemakers can decide for themselves, and with the grape harvesters from Grégoire, grapes can be harvested at any time – even at night.

Innovation pays off: Grégoire have won the innovation award for their new automatic line guidance system EasyPilot that is based on the O3M sensor system from ifm. The automatic grape harvester will be presented at the SITEVI, an important trade fair dedicated to viticulture.

The result of a long history. And the beginning of another success story for ifm: After they had adopted ifm’s 3D sensor technology, Grégoire also became fascinated with other ifm products, such as our controllers. Thanks to the grape harvest project, Grégoire has become a huge ifm fan.

The application was successfully implemented by ifm France.

Teff: from ancient grain to gluten-free food products

Teff (Eragrostis tef) is the world’s smallest grain and one of the oldest plants, originating in Ethiopia at least 5000 years ago. It is a major food crop in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Outside Ethiopia, teff is grown in Nevada and Idaho, USA, with about 1,200 acres grown each year. Apart from the McNaul family, it has been grown in Australia in experimental quantities in areas of Tasmania and around Tamworth in northern New South Wales.

Teff is a gluten-free wholegrain and as such it has the potential to become in high demand as suitable for consumption by gluten intolerant and health conscious consumers.

Teff’s nutritional content

The scientific literature shows that teff is highly nutritious. Its protein content typically ranges from 8.7 to 11 per cent, similar to wheat, and it has a good balance of amino acids.

Teff flour has a high fibre content (8 per cent dry basis) – several times higher than wheat and rice, higher than sorghum, lower than oat and rye. It also contains the fermentable fibre, resistant starch.

The high fibre content is thanks to its small size. The bran and germ aren’t separated during the milling process thus it’s always consumed in wholegrain form.

Teff is also a good source of minerals and vitamins. It’s high in iron – around two or three times higher than wheat, barley and sorghum. It is also high in calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and magnesium. Teff presents in various colours, from white to brown, which is due to the high content of phenolic compounds.

Outback Harvest and product development

Rice has been the traditional crop for NSW Riverina farmers, son Fraser and father Shane McNaul, and they also grow corn and a variety of winter cereals and legumes. But they decided a couple of years ago they needed to diversify their cropping program to become more sustainable and innovative.

The agriculturally rich and diverse Riverina, with its warm to hot climate and ample water supply, makes their farm the perfect place to grow the ancient grain emerging onto the Australian market, teff.

The McNauls planted two varieties of teff, brown and ivory, three years ago. They started a company, Outback Harvest, and approached CSIRO and Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) to help them develop Australian-grown, gluten-free teff baked goods and extruded snacks that could bring this nutritious grain into the mainstream western palette.

“Without CSIRO and FIAL all we’d have been able to do would be a grain and a flour product,” Fraser said.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do the value-added products so in the long term we’re vertically integrating and that’s helping us out as farmers.”

Fraser has moved to Melbourne to concentrate on developing packaging, marketing and distributing the first retail products, which have been endorsed as gluten-free by Coeliac Australia and Coeliac New Zealand.

Food applications and new markets

Teff flour is traditionally used to make injera (fermented flat bread), kitta (sweet flat bread), chibito (unleavened kitta in balls) and anebabro (double layered kitta).

Unlike flat breads, because gluten is essential to form the spongy texture of baked leavened bread, developing acceptable bread texture with gluten-free flours is an on-going challenge for food technologists. Bread high in teff flour appears to be no exception. Further research into thickening agents or structural ingredients would be needed to successfully develop a gluten-free bread with a high proportion of teff flour.

Teff grain and flour are being imported to the US, Europe and Australia from Ethiopia into the health food store and supermarket sectors and used for making biscuits, cakes, flat breads and muffins in the home. Brown teff produces a darker coloured flour that has a chocolate-like look and taste to it and so is ideally suited to a product like muffins. The ivory teff produces lighter coloured flour with a nutty flavour and is perfect for something like pancakes.

Value-added teff products such as ready-to-eat or convenience foods for retail markets or at commercial scale are emerging. At the time these products were under development for Outback Harvest, there were no others on the market in Australia, although some have come on since.

Owing to its documented nutritional properties, potential new markets for teff could include specialty products for weight management and high nutrient content products like baby food, traditional medicines or supplements. 

What CSIRO did

The aims of this work were to demonstrate it was possible to prototype several new gluten-free products using teff as the main ingredient, and to investigate the impact of teff flour on the texture, colour and flavour of new products. CSIRO developed muffin premixes, bread and a crunchy extruded ball, which has potential as a new snack product or breakfast cereal. The McNauls have just commercialised the muffin premix and launched it onto the retail and wholesale health food sector nationally, and in cafés in Melbourne, Geelong and the Surf Coast in Victoria. Other products CSIRO developed are currently being patented.

“There’s been a lot of interest in the products because they’re Australian-grown and certified gluten-free,’ Fraser said.

“With CSIRO’s expertise in food innovation and new product development, and their facilities and expertise helped make it all happen,” Fraser said.

“We’re also looking at other value adding opportunities like snack bars, tortillas and flat breads, and exporting to Asia.”


CSIRO gene silencing technology continues to benefit agriculture worldwide

RNA interference (RNAi), a technology patented by the CSIRO, has given the world potatoes that don’t go brown, animal feed that’s easier to digest, safflower with high oil content and more.

Global forestry company, FuturaGene is the latest of public and privately funded organisations worldwide to license the technology which enables scientists to reduce or switch off the activity of single genes, with enormous benefits, especially in agriculture.

CSIRO has provided research materials to 3700 laboratories around the world and has issued more than 30 research and commercial licenses for RNAi to-date.

FuturaGene, a leader in plant genetic research and development for sustainable plantation forestry, will utilise RNAi technology to develop more resilient forestry crop varieties, primarily eucalyptus and poplar.

Technologies for preserving and enhancing yield in renewable plantations are an imperative for meeting growing wood demand in the face of climate change and increasing pest and disease threats, while preserving natural forests.

Other uses of RNAi technology include developing potatoes that don’t go brown, animal feed that’s easier to digest and an improved industrial oil.

Senior Research Scientist with CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Ming-Bo Wang, was one of the scientists involved in RNAi’s development in the mid-1990s, and together with colleague Peter Waterhouse, received the 2007 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for the work.

“One of the projects we were working on at the time was with the potato chip industry; we were trying to develop a virus resistant potato,” Dr Wang said.

“We discovered that when plants are attacked by viruses they use double-stranded RNA to mount a counter-attack.

“We realised we could make use of this ‘virus immune’ response to develop a mechanism that would stop individual genes from passing on information.

“At first we didn’t think much of it but when we realised we’d uncovered a fundamental mechanism for silencing genes, we knew there would be widespread applications.”

The RNAi mechanism was used by US company, Simplot to develop the “Innate” potatoes which bruise less than other potato varieties.

The potatoes also produce less acrylamide, a chemical which can accumulate in starchy foods such as potatoes when they are cooked at high temperatures.

Simplot is hopeful non-browning potatoes will reduce the costly and environmentally damaging issue of waste in the industry.

Forage Genetics has licensed RNAi to develop an animal feed that is more easily digested.

Alfalfa (or lucerne) is an important source of cattle feed in many countries.

One major challenge for farmers is that if harvested late, alfalfa can contain high levels of lignin, the fibrous material that is important for binding cells, fibres and vessels in plants.

Animals are unable to digest lignin.

HarvXtra alfalfa has up to 20 per cent less lignin, making it much more digestible for cattle. It can also be harvested seven to 10 days late without sacrificing quality.

CSIRO itself has made use of RNAi to develop a safflower seed oil that contains over 93 per cent oleic acid, a valuable component in industrial chemicals and lubricants.

Super high oleic oil safflower is being commercialised by GO Resources.

Dr Wang said that while there are more recent gene editing tools, RNAi will have a major role to play for many years to come because of its ability to silence multiple genes at the same time and tone down the expression of essential genes without killing a plant.

He said that CSIRO was continually developing new tools, technologies and techniques to improve RNAi delivery, potency and ease of use.





Committee appointed to review livestock exports

​An expert Technical Advisory Committee has been appointed to review the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).

Deputy Secretary at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Malcolm Thompson, said the ASEL was critical to the export of Australian livestock.

“We want to maintain Australia’s reputation as a world leader in animal welfare standards and as an ethical and reliable trading partner for quality protein,” Mr Thompson said.

“The ASEL standards have underpinned very strong animal welfare outcomes, with the mortality rate for Australian livestock exported by sea on a downward trend since 2006.

“This committee will work closely with a Reference Group of key stakeholders, including Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council, the RSPCA, livestock producer bodies and the Australian Veterinary Association to ensure the standards consider livestock industry innovation and development, along with the latest animal health and welfare research.

“We have representation on the committee across different facets of the trade, with an independent chair, two animal welfare experts—including a current researcher and an eminent veterinarian—a regulatory design specialist and a livestock industry expert.

“This will ensure we have skills and expertise on modern animal welfare and livestock management practices and research, along with a commitment to best practice regulation to deliver clearer and simpler standards.

The members of the Technical Advisory Committee are:

Dr Chris Back – Chair

Dr Teresa Collins – Animal Health and Welfare Expert

Dr Hugh Millar – Animal Health and Welfare Expert

Mr Russell Phillips – Regulation Specialist

Mr Kevin Shiell – Livestock Export Industry Expert.

Committee members are appointed for two years and will commence their work immediately, with public consultation to start in early 2018.

Agriculture now largest contributor to national GDP growth

Australian agriculture has emerged as the fastest growing sector and the largest contributor to national GDP growth in 2016-17, cementing its position as one of the economic powerhouses driving the nation.​

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said the agriculture sector grew the fastest of all 19 industries in 2016-17—up a formidable 23 per cent—particularly driven by the grains and livestock industries, but with other agricultural industries also performing strongly.

“Australian agriculture contributed 0.5 percentage points of the nation’s total 1.9 per cent growth over the course of the year, an outstanding contribution given the size of the sector compared to total national GDP,” Minister Joyce said.

“The Coalition Government has a real vision for Australia’s agriculture sector and from day one we have delivered practical policies and genuine investment to turn the show around and transform agriculture in this nation.

“I hate to think what the state of agriculture and the support for our farmers would be under Labor, I don’t even think they have an agriculture policy—have nothing to say on the subject.”

Agriculture contributed over $50 billion in exports in 2016-17, just under 14 per cent of our total goods and services exports. This is up from $41 billion five years ago.

“While grains and livestock products each contributed around $10 billion each to this export performance, other agricultural industries are also billion dollar performers. For example, in 2016-17 our pulses exports to the world were worth over $3 billion, wine exports $2.4 billion, nuts exports $822 million and citrus over $330 million,” Minister Joyce said.

“Australia has seen great growth in produce to markets such as India. India is going nuts for Australia’s nuts with value of almond exports up over 50 per cent for the first half of 2017. Chickpea exports to India increased by almost 90 per cent in 2016-17 to a record value of $1.1 billion.”

Minister Joyce said strong growth has seen China overtake the US as our most valuable market for wine for the first time ever. Wine exports to China totalled $596 million in 2016–17, a 43 per cent increase on the previous year.

“The Coalition Government has delivered strong agriculture policies, including opening up market access for Australian producers to some of the nation’s most important export markets, including free trade deals with China, Japan and Korea,” Minister Joyce said.

“Through the Coalition’s $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper we have been working to create a better business environment for farmers, and to build the infrastructure needed to support continued growth—through a whole raft of policies, which our agriculture sector is responding to with enthusiasm.

“These policies and investments have provided a solid foundation for growth, and it is great to see how effectively Aussie farmers are capitalising on the opportunities on offer to increase production and exports.”

WA hits out at Canberra after missing out on agricultural funding

The Western Australian Government has claimed more than 1,500 of the state’s workers will miss out on long-term jobs after the Federal Coalition Government declined the State’s funding application for two important irrigation projects from the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.

According to the WA government, the two projects were the Myalup-Wellington project and the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme.

It is understood in the statement that in June 2017, the state government wrote to Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce to confirm it would commit $56 million for the two projects to secure a sustainable water supply for growers and support agricultural jobs in WA’s South-West.

Each project had committed funding from the private sector and the State Government’s commitment was subject to the Federal Government funding.

The state government reiterated in it’s statement that it’s financial commitment to the projects remains the same and the WA continues to be committed to securing funding from the Federal Government.

“This is yet another snub to Western Australian taxpayers from the Federal Coalition Government,” said WA Water Minister David Kelly.

“Yesterday’s decision by the Federal Government means more than 1,500 Western Australians have missed out on long-term jobs.

“I am incredibly disappointed by the Federal Government’s decision.  After all, it was the previous Western Australian Liberal National government that made a pitch for Federal funding in the first place,” said Kelly.

Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said, “This is extremely disappointing for growers in the South-West:  we prioritised these projects in our review of Royalties for Regions because they were job creators for the region.

“We have a realistic goal to double the value of our horticultural output in WA but we need real investment from the Federal Government to be able to reach that potential and create new jobs across regional WA.”

Drone and sensor technology coming to Australian farming

Australia’s agriculture sector will benefit from the use of the latest digital technology including drones and long-range sensors as part of a new industry partnership.

Agribusiness, Ruralco, has linked up with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop data-driven solutions for more efficient and sustainable farming.

Around $1.5 billion is invested each year in agricultural and rural R&D in Australia and contributes towards an annual 2.8 per cent productivity growth over the past three decades.

Through a series of projects to be rolled out in coming months, the partnership will draw on CSIRO’s expertise in data science research and engineering, and a proven track record of agricultural innovation.

Combined with Ruralco’s on-ground network, the partnership offers potential to deliver new digital solutions to farmers throughout the country.

The joint areas of focus for CSIRO and Ruralco will include:

  • Exploring the potential of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones in long-range livestock detection to improve muster effectiveness
  • Nutrient and fertiliser management in areas of high conservation value, such as the Great Barrier Reef
  • The development of long-range sensing to automate and streamline operations, including water management, livestock safety and security
  • Adaptation of geospatial tools to provide an interface between Ruralco customers and their advisers, making use of real time data for improved decision making and planning.

Travis Dillon, CEO and managing director of Ruralco, said he was delighted to be working with CSIRO to improve farm practices and better manage the environment.

“Drone technology is facilitating data-driven decision making in agriculture,” he said. “Farmers can better analyse issues which affect productivity and sustainability such as: effective nutrient delivery; plant growth; and combat bio-security issues such as invasive species and pest infestation.

Ruralco is well positioned to deliver innovative technology through our 600 national outlets. Aligned with American company PrecisionHawk, farmer-friendly apps also analyse agricultural data in the US, South America and Europe.

Adrian Turner, CEO of CSIRO’s data innovation group Data61, said that his team has deep, globally recognised capability in robotics, remote sensing and data analytics.

“This partnership is an example of us teaming up with Australian industry to help them capitalise on the next computing cycle, at the intersection of data and domains like agriculture,” he said.

“Our work in cyber physical systems, machine learning and analytics, software and computational systems and decision sciences will all play a role.

“Our technologies are capable of storing and distributing data efficiently and reliably over long distances. More importantly, we are helping to make remote sensing accurate, robust, secure and trusted.

Agriculture in Australia­ a sector that has always embraced innovation­ is worth more than $50 billion and grew by $3.1 billion in 2015-16.

Dr Dave Henry, digital agriculture lead with CSIRO, said he was looking forward to working with Ruralco on furthering digital agriculture to support the continued growth of Australian agribusiness.

“It’s early days with the use of drones in agriculture and this partnership with Ruralco will allow us to explore and quantify those situations where the use of drones will aid farmer decision-making in livestock and cropping,” said Dr Henry.

“Perfection” now just the starting point for Australian fruit and veg

Australian fruit and vegetable growers have been warned by a visiting US horticulture expert that while the quality of their produce is “better than ever before”, the demands of the average consumer now starts at “perfection”.

In Australia this month to meet with local growers, Rabobank’s California-based senior fruit and vegetable analyst Dr Roland Fumasi (pictured) said the list of qualities that buyers were looking for in fresh produce continued to grow and had changed markedly in recent years.

“Consumers now expect the quality of their fruit and veg to be 100 per cent perfect, 100 per cent of the time,” Dr Fumasi said.

“They expect it to taste amazing, look good and to be extremely convenient and they want this all year-round. And that is just the starting point.”

Dr Fumasi said to gain customer loyalty, growers had to appeal to the deep-seated values of consumers.

“When you look at the buying habits of the middle-class consumer, not only do they now want a high-quality product – they are also looking for staunch food safety, transparency regarding production, sustainable farm practices that leave a lighter footprint on the environment and assurance that farmers are looking after their employees.

“And while these consumer demands are increasing, farmers are now also producing their fruits and vegetables in a more complex environment than ever before, with rising labour costs, water issues, changing environmental policies and government red tape.”

With challenge comes opportunity

While acknowledging the challenge of delivering “perfect” produce, Dr Fumasi insists there is a lot of opportunity to be had for farmers intent on meeting these demands.

“While this trend for high-quality, ethically-produced food is most evident in developed markets, it is also increasingly being seen in developing markets,” he said.

“Along with the rise in the global population we are also seeing a massive increase in the world’s middle class, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Within the next 10 years or so, it is predicted that 66 per cent of the world’s middle- class population will live in the Asia-Pacific and it is in this group of people where we see the biggest growth in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.”

Dr Fumasi concedes that food safety and consistent quality are still the biggest drawcards for Asian consumers willing to pay a premium for Australian produce but that their demands are likely to catch up with western markets very quickly.

“When you look at developing Asia, we are seeing the market catch up at an incredible rate, so it is only a matter of time until there is a major sector of this market that has the same demands as local Australian markets,” he said.

Online shopping drives transparency

According to Dr Fumasi, the retail trends of grocery shoppers in the US have become increasingly fragmented and the same trend is being witnessed in Australia, particularly among millennial buyers.

“The younger generation seem to be very comfortable purchasing from a variety of retail sources including traditional retailers, farmers markets, and value retailers such as Costco and of course buying online,” he said.

“In the US we have grocery websites that have gained good traction because of their reliability, convenience, traceability and for their ability to share background stories on the produce they sell.

“At the ‘click of a button’ not only are you able to select from 20 different tomatoes, but you can also see where they were grown, how they were grown and by whom, along with nutritional information and recipe ideas.

“Customers are also able to leave reviews, so if the product isn’t up to scratch it won’t be long until the negative reviews start pouring in.”

Dr Fumasi said while big retailers were starting to understand the importance of telling the backstory of the produce they sell, it was also up to farmers to be proactive in engaging with their customers.

“Australia has an excellent reputation for producing safe, delicious, attractive produce and that brand equity is a good platform to build a conversation with customers,” he said.

“Being able to be as open and transparent as possible with an audience and giving them an insight to exactly who you are and what you do, will not only gain loyalty for your brand but is likely to reflect positively on the industry as a whole.

“Today’s consumer has an extensive list of demands from producers and the technology to find the information they want at their fingertips, so it is important that the Australian fruit and vegetable industry is proactive in engaging this consumer and telling its story, before someone else does.”

Responsible for analysing the North American fresh fruit and vegetable industries, Dr Fumasi combines a background in agribusiness research with international market development and finance experience in the agriculture industry.

Farmer Power launches new fund raising campaigns

Farmer Power,  has just launched two fund raising campaigns in partnership with APCO Australia to help promote and fund an educational campaign for the public and as a signal to the government to inform them on the issues within the dairy industry.

According to the news release by Farmer Power, they have said that the financial hardships that farmers are facing will not stop at Victoria but will also eventually impact on everyone, both personally and financially, if it is not addressed.

It has been reported across several news sources that rural businesses in dairy farming regions are in trouble with farmers being in debt. This was speculated to be due to the trickle-down effect of last year’s dairy crisis.


These campaigns are aimed at gaining assistance from the business fraternity in supporting Farmer Power in their endeavours.

They are also aimed at building support from both the public and businesses to bring about positive change for Dairy Farmers, but not only dairy farmers, but also regional businesses and rural communities which are all being directly  impacted by this crisis.