Our multidisciplinary research coalesces around four research concepts, complementary to industry megatrends.
The transformative power of technology is the major, cross-cutting, all-pervading force of change in agriculture. Agriculture will (as will all sectors), be changed over time by the emergence of the Internet of Things and big data analysis. New technologies in genetic research will change plant and animal breeding. This will impact the kind of research, education and outreach that is needed from the University of Sydney to realise this digital transformation, but it will also change the way that research, education and outreach is accomplished.
There is growing global demand for high quality food and fibre, driven by 'a hungrier world' and 'a wealthier world'. To meet the rising demand, yield gaps in all sectors of agriculture must be closed, farm productivity must be improved, and innovative new ways of growing food and fibre must be developed (eg, urban agriculture). While these are first world industrial challenges, there is also a need for technology and skills transfer to developing nations to help solve problems of hunger and inequality.
Resilience refers to the need to build capacity across a wide range of areas to ensure the ongoing, sustainable and smooth growth of the agricultural sector, to manage risk and withstand the shocks and disruption that often occur. Building economic resilience is critical. Finding ways to improve farm gate returns is a key policy goal of the Australian government. Increasing the profitability of agriculture is often a precursor to improving resilience in other areas. The ability to forecast and prepare for potential future risks, shocks and disruptions to agriculture and to build economic resilience will rely on strong scientific and evidence-based research.
Provenance refers to the transparency and availability of information across the entire supply chain for food and fibre, including how it is grown, processed and marketed. This is enabled by information technology. Provenance will become an increasingly critical aspect of consumption, with three key driving concerns: health, environment and ethics. The research challenges in this space require interdisciplinary approaches to develop transparent supply chains; improved standards of production, processing, delivery and marketing; and the linkages between food production, soil, animal and human health (the ‘One Health’ challenge). Building social licence in the agricultural sector is at the heart of this challenge.
Agriculture is about people. Connectivity recognises the need for connected vibrant producer communities and more importantly the need for strong two-way connections between consumers and producers. Our research focuses on understanding grower and consumer communities and gauging and enhancing their interactions. By enabling connected grower-consumer communities we hope to enhance the sustainability and overall quality of agricultural products and landscapes, adding value to both products and the environment and improving the wellbeing of growers and consumers.
A team of University of Sydney students gained second spot against teams of researchers in the AgData Challenge hackathon, with a PhD student also leading the winning CSIRO team.