Highlights from the Food Agility Summit 2021

April 1, 2021
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Blog

Highlights from the Food Agility Summit 2021

Which Australian agtech company will be the next Bitcoin? How has COVID19 changed consumer behaviour? What will it take to protect our agrifood sector from cyber security risks?

April 1, 2021
-

The Food Agility Summit 2021

Which Australian agtech company will be the next Bitcoin? How has COVID19 changed consumer behaviour? What will it take to protect our agrifood sector from cyber security risks?

These are some of the big questions raised by speakers at the Food Agility Summit 2021. Over two thrilling afternoons on March 15 and 16 Food Agility welcomed over 300 virtual guests to our online portal to hear from expert panels and speakers exploring the biggest challenges and opportunities for Australia’s agrifood sector.

“Disruption underestimates what exactly we’ve been through in the last twelve months,” noted Woolworths Chair Gordon Cairns in his opening keynote address How COVID Changed Consumer Behaviour. Those changes went beyond initial panic buying, Mr Cairns said. It accelerated the shift to online shopping, putting Woolworths online customers years ahead of projections, and also led to significant increases in consumer interest in sustainability and corporate action on climate change.

To earn and maintain customer trust Mr Cairns said Woolworths was commitment to “radical transparency”.

“You work on the principle that the customer is educated enough to make the right choices. If we do that, then we’re better together.”

The impact of ethical consumers was felt well beyond the retail sector, as Tony Mahar (National Farmers Federation), Molly Harriss Olson (Fairtrade) Sonia Nazaretian (Microsoft) and Raphael Woods (Market Advisory Group) discussed in the panel The Rise of Sustainability, Climate Change, and Carbon Markets as Supply Chain Drivers. Consumers expect companies to take the lead in creating not just better products, but a better world. Microsoft’s Sonia Nazaretian said ‘we’re working very closely with our ecosystem –  government, customer, partner, academia, and even our competitors – to make true progress.’  

Australia’s agtech scale-ups soared in an exciting panel Hunting Unicorns in a Burgeoning Australian Agtech Industry, chaired by The Yield’s Ros Harvey. Agtech, the panel agreed, is a separate but parallel industry to agrifood, and will be vital in meeting the challenge of feeding a world with 10 billion inhabitants by 2050. While the average Australian may think of agtech as far-removed from everyday life, in fact, said Justin Webb (AgriWebb), “[feeding the planet] is a technology problem. It’s a productivity issue that technology can solve.”

When asked how to encourage more local investment in agtech, Tenacious Ventures’ Matthew Pryor set the discussion boards buzzing with his answer: “Ring up your super fund and demand that all of your super get invested in sustainable agriculture and technology that supports sustainable agriculture.”

The Global SMART Farm Network panel showcased four Sustainable, Manageable, Accessible, Rural Technologies (SMART) Farms from around the world. As the global network continues to evolve, players from beyond the university sphere are coming to the fore. So, does that mean university based SMART Farms a thing of the past? Not according to James Benkie, Dean of Werklund School of Agriculture Technology in Canada. In fact, Mr Benkie says, “I truly believe we’re helping students create the next great mental model for agriculture.”

While the rapid digital transformation of the agrifood sector delivers exciting new opportunities, it also exposes our sector to novel risks. We were honoured to be joined from the US by Dr Molly Jahn, Program Manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for an incredible keynote address Cybersecurity in Food Supply Chains. Dr Jahn’s meticulous exploration of the layers of ‘cascading risk’ faced by modern industrial systems painted a powerful portrait of and the ‘unmodeled peril’ our agrifood system may face from cyber-attacks and technology failures.

From risk to opportunity, the panel Flipping the Research: What Does True Industry-Led Collaboration Look Like and How Can We Make it Happen? brought together industry giants Kellogg’s and Meat & Livestock Australia with the University of Technology Sydney and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. The panel were united in their view that effective collaboration between sectors was crucial to reaching the $100b industry by 2030. As for how to make that happen? According to Chris Stevens (Kellogg’s) the critical component is communication, especially when priorities did not naturally align between parties. Citing the Cool Soil Initiative, which helps grain growers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase soil health, Mr Stevens said the project was “an example of exactly how you can get an industry-wide collaboration to achieve a net outcome which is going to benefit our farmers.”

Attendees at this year’s summit can return to the portal any time in the next 12 months to view all the panels and presentations again, including the demonstration of the new Virtual Research Environment, Food Agility’s exciting Project Showcases, the Post-Graduate Showcase, and Agtech Alley.

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