Looking back at 2017: top 10 advancements and achievements in agriculture

As many are looking ahead to what 2018 may hold, we thought we’d give a quick rundown of the incredible achievements and technological advancements made in the agricultural space over the past year, and perhaps what the future may hold for the industry and technology. Even if crops around the country were not quite of the 2016-17 volumes. If you have a key achievement that you think is missing get in touch!

So without further ado here are our top 10 for 2017!

10: Launch of the Invisible Farmer

The recognition of the role of women in agriculture through the launch of the Invisible Farmer project was a fantastic way to kick off the year. The three-year project aims to tell the stories of women in agriculture and:

  • create new histories of rural Australia
  • reveal the hidden stories of women on the land
  • learn about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture
  • stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future
  • develop significant public collections that will enable far reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy.

We’re looking forward to hearing the stories of more and more women and their involvement in agriculture as the project continues on.

9: Record value of wool sold

Over $3.1 billion of wool was sold in 2017, breaking the record for the highest value of wool ever sold on the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX). As for the volume, the Australian Wool Testing Authority tested more than 160 million kilograms of wool so far this season (6 months in) up almost 8 million kilograms on the same six month period last season. The incredible surge in price and volume sold is said to be primarily driven by strong demand from China. Read more here.

The wool industry has had its ups and downs over the years, and to see it so successful over the past year has been very exciting.

8: Launch of Cultivate Farms

Encouraging youth to study agriculture is one thing, but making farms and farming accessible to young people who often have little in the way of capital is another complex story!

Cultivate Farms launched earlier this year and is helping connect youth with outgoing retired farmers, whilst providing the necessary capital involved in acquiring and managing a farm. The program includes on the farm training in business and management skills as well as ongoing professional development. The enterprise provides an additional succession strategy for farmers too.

7: SproutX’s first accelerator program

SproutX, a Melbourne-based startup incubator for agricultural companies, launched its first accelerator program with 11 teams in the portfolio. These 11 include:

Click on each of the above links to find out more about the individual companies involved in the accelerator.

6: Breakthrough in the management of wheat stem rust

On the genetics side of things, researchers from the University of Sydney and CSIRO led a team including the US Department of Agriculture, Rothamsted Research and Minnesota University in developing a diagnostic test for stem rust that takes hours instead of days. It enables rapid DNA analysis of the stem rust in question, providing an indication if the strain is able to overcome a rust resistance gene.

“It’s like an ongoing arms race – we’ve got to keep one step ahead of this changing pathogen”

Professor Robert Park

The test could save the Australian agricultural industry up to $1 billion annually in lost yields due to the disease. The discovery has worldwide ramifications for food security too, as many areas fall prey to the disease that can cause up to 90 per cent yield loss.

5: Big Data platform for development agriculture

In 2017, CIAT launched the Big Data Platform to provide global leaders with open data, build collaborations, and demonstrate the power of big data analytics to enhance the impact of international agricultural research.

Data without analysis, collaboration and action is useless so the platform is a great move forward in managing and capitalising on the vast quantities of data collected around the world. Collaborative efforts in the space are sure to help improve food security and its potential and significant achievements already has earned it a place in the top five.

The smart and effective use of data will be one of the most important tools for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Big data represents an unprecedented opportunity to find new ways of reducing hunger and poverty, by applying data-driven solutions to ongoing research for development impact.

4: Agriculture as the largest contributor to Australian GDP growth

Results released by ABARES on 7th September 2017 showed that in the 2016-17 period, agriculture was the largest contributor to GDP growth. Moreover, the industry prevented two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction and as a result a technical recession.

These data illustrate the economic importance of agriculture to the ongoing prosperity of Australia and the figure is only set to grow. Projections are suggesting the industry will reach a value of $100 billion by 2030. Developments listed here are just some of the fantastic ways this significant target can be achieved, particularly in the face of climate change and more adverse weather events.

3: Development of speed breeding

Plant breeding has historically been a very long and slow process limited by the growth rates of plant populations. Attempting to introduce complex plant traits into a population and then deliver a homogenous final product ready for commercial production take anywhere between 7 and 20 years. So discovering a type of plant breeding technique that can deliver six generations of crop in just a single year is mind boggling, and a discovery that will deliver innumerable benefits for food production and food security.

The paper was published on the 1st of January this year, but the work has predominantly been done in preceding years and 2017 and so luckily makes it into the 2017 list. The full paper is accessible in Nature and is well worth a read.

Here’s Dr Lee Hickey describing the finding.

2: #Youthinag and the Youth Ag Summit

The theme of youth in agriculture was a recurring one in 2017. Many social enterprises, organisations and people have seen the importance of the next generation in this space and have launched their own ways of encouraging youth into an agricultural career. Even the World Food Prize recipient Akinwumi Adesina shared his views on capitalising on the large population of youth in Africa and encouraging them into taking up a career pathway in agriculture by “making agriculture cool again”.

The importance of this movement cannot be understated, as the principles employed in this space will ensure the global industry maintains its sustainability. Cracking the youth in ag problem around the world will deliver incredible improvements in food security, agricultural productivity and food waste, and is the main driver behind what AgriEducate does. It’s why youth in ag has earned itself second place in our list for 2017.

A few organisations we’ve come across are listed below:

The Youth Ag Summit represents these initiatives in the coming-together of 100 like-minded young individuals (under 25) from around the world. They discussed important matters facing the industry globally and how best to achieve a food secure world in the face of rising global challenges.

Check out the site for more information and to read the stories from those that attended.

1: National Agriculture Day

The drive behind National Agriculture Day from everyone in the industry summed up the positive and passionate focus of the Australian agricultural industry. It was a logical culmination of the push for greater interest, acknowledgement and understanding of the importance of agriculture in the life of every single person living in Australia.

While just early beginnings for the day (with a few hiccoughs), it is a significant positive force in spreading the love for agriculture in the broader community, and one we hope continues to grow. Having a focal point for everyone in the industry to get behind, ensures that a clear and unified message can be delivered where it is needed.

There are so many more incredible things that have happened during 2017 that we haven’t listed here. Things such as a new professional development and accreditation scheme by the Ag Institute Australia, access to many new markets, the launch of our very own essay competition (if we may say so ourself) and numerous other advancements in technology and production techniques.

And in 2018 we can look forward to an updated definition of genetic modification by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, improvements in weed detection and mapping technology and release of omega-3 producing canola among many other things!

So happy new year from the team at AgriEducate and all the best for 2018.

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