Armidale is set to become a high-tech food hub following the Future Foods Systems Co-operative Research Centre (FFS CRC) successful bid for funding when Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews announced a grant of $35 million over 10 years, with an extra $149.6 million in cash and kind provided by 57 CRC partners.
An initiative of NSW Farmers, the FFS CRC seeks to optimise productivity of regional and peri-urban food systems. It will invest in research in taking new products from prototype to market, and for developing efficient provenance-protected supply chains from farm to consumer.
We will be also working closely with Armidale Regional Council and other CRC partners ...Professor Brian Sindel
Professor Brian Sindel co-ordinated UNE's participation in the CRC bid. He said UNE would contribute expertise across a range of disciplines to support increased agricultural productivity and profitability.
"We will be working with producers like Costas Guyra Tomato Exchange to further improve its production and recycling systems, and assisting new horticultural industries, and industry partners like Oz Medicann and Stump Jump, to produce new food and pharmaceutical products in the region," Prof Sindel said.
"We will be also working closely with Armidale Regional Council and other CRC partners to explore how infrastructure projects like the Armidale Airport Precinct and water pipeline from Malpas Dam to Guyra can support a new food hub in the New England region."
Armidale Regional Council Mayor Simon Murray said the funding announcement was an extremely welcome next step in a combined campaign to significantly boost the region's food industry.
Council has given a commitment to provide considerable support for the research centre ...Cr Simon Murray
"Council has been working closely with UNE and other agencies to explore and facilitate opportunities to capitalise on this region's massive potential for food production," he said.
"Agri-business is one of the pillars of Council's own Armidale Region Economic Development Strategy, which is driving recent Council initiatives such as the Malpas Dam to Guyra water supply pipeline and the Armidale Regional Airport business park.
"Improvements to the regional airport are also linked to our strong push to establish the region as one of the nation's leading agri-business hubs."
Councillor Murray said while the Future Food Systems Co-operative Research Centre will have a national focus, having it located in Armidale will be a major asset for this area.
"Council has given a commitment to provide considerable support for the research centre, including marketing and networking with industry partners," he said.
Costa's corporate affairs manager Michael Toby said they would support research to examine viable recycling solutions for green tomato vine and leaf waste to turn it into a valuable composting material for use in other agricultural enterprises. This will enhance the circular economy of tomato by-products in the Armidale regional food hub. Collaboration will occur with UNE's expertise in composting, the Armidale Regional Council's 'City to Soil' program, and the StumpJump Foundation to use compostable alternatives to plastic consumables within the glasshouse growing system.
Costa will work with researchers from UNE to look for alternative insect pollinators and improvements in pollination practice.
Costa will work closely with UNE and other CRC partners to facilitate a coordinated education and training program for skilled professionals in protected cropping and expose more students to the opportunities within the industry. Costa is also keen to be involved in postgraduate programs (Honours, Masters and PhD) to solve industry problems and have students undertake placements.
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said the CRC will provide the research and development needed to accelerate modernisation of the agricultural sector and forge sustainable supply of trusted, nutrition oriented goods that leverage Australia's reputation for quality, safety, and high regulatory standards.
"This really is exciting news for farmers. Demand for high value food goods creates massive opportunities for farmers and for new food industry clusters in regional towns," Mr Jackson said.
"Congratulations to David Eyre, who heads research and innovation at NSW Farmers. David has played a pivotal role in bringing together a diverse group of over 60 research, industry and government partners with a common future food vision."
CRC chair and NFF president, Fiona Simson, said sophisticated technology and stronger collaboration across the supply chain was needed to increase export readiness and scale in booming global markets for trusted fresh foods and advanced precision nutrition goods.
"Investment in high-tech, sustainable regional agrifood systems, co-located with airports to enable rapid freight, is central to reaping the rewards presented by domestic and Asian markets for value-added, provenance-protected healthy foods," she said.
"Not just new technology but new partnerships, business models and true customer focus is key to future growth in our industry."
Five other food hubs are planned, one each in Liverpool and Coffs Harbour in NSW, Mildura in Victoria, Peel in Western Australia and Darwin.