The 2020 AgriEducate Essay Competition Compilation is here!

Last week we announced the winners of our 2020 AgriEducate Essay Competition. University students from around the country wrote about some of the biggest challenges agriculture faces and offered ideas for how their chosen field of study could contribute to creating a brighter future for our food and fibre industry.

To say we were blown away is an understatement. Check out some of the best entries that discuss a range of topics including native grains, right to repair, Murray Darling Basin water policy, funding models and trust in Australian agriculture, to name a few.

You can download the 2020 AgriEducate Essay Compilation or click on the image above. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

Science Category

First
Juliet Garland, University of Sydney | The Potential for Upcycling Brewers’ Spent Grain as a Functional Food Ingredient in Human Foodstuff – The Importance of the Role of Food Science in Overcoming Food Insecurity

Second
Josie Clarke, University of Sydney | Water Woes: producing more with less

Third
Lianna Sliwczynski, LaTrobe University | Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) integration with wheat crops in Victoria

Engineering Category

First
James Elphick, University of Southern Queensland | Machinery maintenance and the right to repair

Second
Dylan Sanusi-Goh, University of New South Wales | Optimising analytical imaging and sensing techniques to improve viticulture outcomes across the Australian Wine industry

Third
Cameron Leckie, University of Southern Queensland | Agriculture in a liquid fuel constrained world

Law, Arts and Social Science Category

First
Jemima Morgan, University of Sydney | The development of agri-funding models in Australia and the utilisation of the personal property securities register as a mechanism of securing loans

Second
Jack Redman, University of New England| How education can help combat the effects of agricultural fake-news

Third
Courtney Nelson, Australian National University | Creating trust in agriculture

Business Category

First
Molly Young, University of Sydney | Importance and Role of Strategic Business Decisions in Ensuring Success in the Food and Agribusiness Sector

Second
Kate Smith, University of New England | Australian agriculture and the constraints of water law in the Murray Darling Basin

Third
Mounika Naramdasu, LaTrobe University | Challenges of Agriculture and Food Security in Victoria

Winners announced for the 2020 AgriEducate Essay Competition

It’s with great excitement that today we announce the winners of the 2020 AgriEducate Essay Competition! Now in its third iteration, the competition is driving engagement with students of all disciplines and agriculture, helping solve some of the industry’s biggest challenges. This year we received entries from 12 universities across Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT!

The competition has four main categories:

  • Science (e.g. agriculture, medicine, life sciences, nutrition)
  • Engineering/IT/Maths
  • Law/Arts/Social Sciences/Extension/Education
  • Economics/Commerce/Business

Tertiary students at any stage of their degree, from any Australian university were eligible to enter and apply their degree-specific expertise to agriculture. Each category had a prize pool of $1000, with $700 for first, $200 for second and $100 awarded for third place entries. The most exciting part, beyond the cash prize, is that each winner will have an opportunity to discuss a career in agriculture with the category sponsor, where each sponsor is a leader in the Australian agricultural industry with expertise relevant to the essay category. This year the sponsors were:

  • Science: Ag Institute Australia
  • Engineering/IT/Maths: SwarmFarm
  • Law/Arts/Social Sciences/Extension/Education: Bailiwick Legal
  • Economics/Commerce/Business: Rural Affinity

In the tremendously tough year that has been 2020, the question incorporated the importance of the agricultural system highlighted by the pandemic. Specifically the question was:

Agriculture and food security around the world is consistently challenged by a range of factors; be they climatic, social, economic, workforce, geopolitical, technological, or consumer and public perception.

Yet the global pandemic has highlighted the importance of agriculture and the food supply chain globally, demonstrating the importance of farmers, agribusiness professionals, researchers and service providers associated with this essential industry.

In this context, identify one major issue affecting agriculture or food security in your region, and tell us how your discipline could be contributing to overcome this issue

So without further ado, the winners of the 2020 AgriEducate Essay Competition are:

Science Category

First
Juliet Garland, University of Sydney | The Potential for Upcycling Brewers’ Spent Grain as a Functional Food Ingredient in Human Foodstuff – The Importance of the Role of Food Science in Overcoming Food Insecurity

Second
Josie Clarke, University of Sydney | Water Woes: producing more with less

Third
Lianna Sliwczynski, LaTrobe University | Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) integration with wheat crops in Victoria

Engineering Category

First
James Elphick, University of Southern Queensland | Machinery maintenance and the right to repair

Second
Dylan Sanusi-Goh, University of New South Wales | Optimising analytical imaging and sensing techniques to improve viticulture outcomes across the Australian Wine industry

Third
Cameron Leckie, University of Southern Queensland | Agriculture in a liquid fuel constrained world

Law, Arts and Social Science Category

First
Jemima Morgan, University of Sydney | The development of agri-funding models in Australia and the utilisation of the personal property securities register as a mechanism of securing loans

Second
Jack Redman, University of New England| How education can help combat the effects of agricultural fake-news

Third
Courtney Nelson, Australian National University | Creating trust in agriculture

Business Category

First
Molly Young, University of Sydney | Importance and Role of Strategic Business Decisions in Ensuring Success in the Food and Agribusiness Sector

Second
Kate Smith, University of New England | Australian agriculture and the constraints of water law in the Murray Darling Basin

Third
Mounika Naramdasu, LaTrobe University | Challenges of Agriculture and Food Security in Victoria


A huge congratulations to all entrants and winners for putting together some fascinating essays on critical issues facing Australian agriculture, particularly in spite of all the challenges that the pandemic has created. The essay compilation, where winning essays are published will be released next week.

Finally, the Essay Competition can’t happen without the fantastic and unwavering support of the volunteer team, who dedicate their own time, money, creativity and diverse set of skills to run this as smoothly as possible. This year the team was coordinated by Nicole McDonald, with assistance from Aimee Snowden, Matthew Champness, Francesca Earp, Matthew Nevison, Rebekah Ash and Guy Coleman.

Essay Competition Tips for Selecting Your Challenge

We hope university students around the country are starting to think about how they’ll address this year’s essay question.

The essay competition requires you to start out by selecting a current challenge facing agriculture and food security that you want to solve. 

What are these challenges?

For those who are new to thinking about challenges in food and fibre we thought we’d give you some tips to start exploring where you might be able to make a difference.

You might want to start by looking at the National Farmers Federation Talking 2030 Discussion Paper and Roadmap. This will let you know where we want to go, and offers some clues for what might need to be addressed to get us there.

Follow news sites dedicated to reporting on agriculture like this. The opinion columns offer insights from those with boots on the ground.

You could get on twitter and follow @AgChatOz or even join in on an #agchatoz conversation that happens fortnightly on a Tuesday. 

If you like to listen to podcasts you can check out ones that discuss what people in agriculture are already doing; some of our favourites are Generation Ag, Humans of Agriculture, Agtech: So What? and AgriFutures EvokeAg podcast. There are a heap more listed on The Farm Table.

Take a look at universities offering agriculture and the course lists that come under these degrees. This way you’ll be able to see what different areas can be of focus when learning about agriculture. You might even consider an agriculture elective in your degree.

Take a step back and think about how you interact with food, fibre and the supply chain everyday. How does your discipline have a role in this? Agriculture expands and delves into so much more than you may initially imagine. Study nutrition or any form of health sciences? How and where our food comes from or is taken to produce supplements and medication has a major impact on nutrition and health. Study engineering/IT/Maths? AgTech, IoT, analysing future markets and more are all important sectors in agriculture.

These are just a few suggestions and there are many other ways for you to find out more about this exciting and vital industry.

Happy exploring and essay writing!

Where are they now? Part 2.

We check in with past AgriEducate Essay Competition winners

This week we caught up with Andrew Reagan and Kitty Cheng to see what’s been happening in their lives since last year’s competition.

You can read up on their prize winning entries here

Kitty came in third place in the Science Category with her essay “Sustainable Intensification (SI) in Agriculture”. She is currently studying a Masters of Environment at the University of Melbourne

What did you write your 2019 Essay about?
Sustainable Intensification

Why did you decide to enter the AgriEducate Essay competition?
 I was actually looking for research opportunities and found this in google search.

What have you been doing in the last 6 months since the competition?
Studying

 Where to next for you?
Finding a job!

What do you hope for agriculture in Australia and around the world?
Cultural shift in reducing food waste, increase of environmental awareness and more localized food systems

What do you think our food and fibre industries will be like in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully better!

Andrew came in second place in the Science Category with his essay titled “Soil Science and Crop Nutrition Management”. He studied a Bachelor of Development Studies (Geography) (Honours) at the Australian National University

What did you write your 2019 Essay about? 
The importance of scientific thinking in agriculture. Specifically, the use of controls when changing land management.

Why did you decide to enter the AgriEducate Essay competition? 
I thought it was a great way to communicate some knowledge I had gained over the years. 

What have you been doing in the last 6 months since the competition? 
I continued with my PhD project and worked on a soil carbon project for a nonprofit organisation in Africa.

Where to next for you?
I just started working for an agtech company and am excited to see it develop in Australia.

What do you hope for agriculture in Australia and around the world? 
I hope we can meet the food demands of the growing population while reducing our environmental impact. I think we can get there by continuing to make technological advancements and by sharing scientific knowledge between different geographies.

What do you think our food and fibre industries will be like in 10 years’ time? 
Less dependent on labour, more strategic with inputs, greater emphasis on traceability.

The 2020 AgriEducate Essay Competition is now opened for entries! For more information head here.

How the rocket fuel equation could change the future of agriculture.

Guy Coleman

“Travelling from the surface of Earth to Earth orbit is one of the most energy intensive steps of going anywhere else. This first step, about 400 kilometres away from Earth, requires half of the total energy needed to go to the surface of Mars.”

Don Pettit, NASA Flight Engineer in The Tyranny of the Rocket Equation

If you have ever watched a rocket launch either via video or been fortunate enough to see one with your own eyes, the sheer quantity of energy required to lift a spaceship off the ground is quite unfathomable. As Don Pettit says above, just exiting the Earth’s gravitational pull requires the majority of total energy required of space flight.

In comparison to your everyday car or even a plane, a rocket with 85% of its total mass as fuel just goes to show how much every additional gram of payload costs in fuel and engineering expenses. While I am by no means even remotely close to a rocket propulsion scientist, this payload mass is defined by the Tsiolovsky rocket equation, which essentially has three key components:

  1. Delta V – the change in rocket velocity
  2. Energy available in the propellant (exhaust velocity)
  3. Propellant:rocket mass fraction
Vehicle Type Percent Propellant
Large ship3
Ute (Pickup truck)3
Car4
Locomotive7
Fighter Jet30
Cargo Jet40
Rocket85
Table 1 Don Pettit lists some of the propellant contributions (by weight) to common transport vehicles. Source.

Setting any two of the three variables decides the unknown one, with the first two often dictating the third (or how much available space there is for payload). Take for example SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. It has a total mass of 549,050 kg and is capable of carrying 4,020 kg to Mars. Space travel is very, very energy intensive.

The implication of all this is that every gram of payload has to be very carefully controlled, with its mass optimised for the role it plays. And not just mass either, very large but light loads (less dense) would require much bigger stowage capacities, themselves would add more mass to the overall design. This incredible requirement for mass (and volume) optimisation has led to some pretty amazing technological advancements in materials science (and of course space travel has led to many tech advances across the board). Take for example space blankets, freeze dried food, water purifiers, memory foam and composite materials for lightweight tank designs. Of course many other inventions covering robotics, satellite communications and tyres have improved our way of life here on earth.

So how does this connect with agriculture? Well people, including astronauts, need to eat. While dehydrated food is still used on the International Space Station (ISS), food has come a long way from the freeze dried food in the Apollo missions. According to NASA, the food quantity is tailored to individuals so excess food is limited. Astronauts receive three meals a day, with condiments such as salt, pepper, sauce and even peanut butter all possible. Even pizza is on the menu on the ISS! This is possibly one of my favourite ISS videos:

But what about if we were to travel to Mars for an indefinite period of time, how would we spend our 4,000 kg payload with respect to food and nutrition? This question requires us to optimise not only production, but have it matched perfectly with the nutrients we require. On Earth, on ground space for sowing crops or grazing animals tends to be the limiting factor, and most production efficiency gains are related to better use of available cleared areas. As the President of Bayer Crop Science, Liam Condon, has said, “agriculture needs to solve the paradox of increasing production and preservation at the same time – literally making more with less.” But shifting this area-optimisation to mass and volume optimisation (is this a production and nutrient density question?) required for space travel leads to questions like:

  1. Are we eating a calorie and nutrient density optimised diet currently?
  2. What does a mass-optimised diet look like?
  3. How do we optimise our new production density equation (think volume/area required) for living on other planets? I.e. how do we use a very small and expensive air locked area to produce as much as we need? Are lettuce leaves going to cut it, or should we produce potatoes like on The Martian?

Fortunately, many brilliant minds have been investigating the efficiency requirements for food production on other planets. A report on How to Feed 1 million People on Mars was released in December 2019, stating:

 Food self-sufficiency can be attained within 100 years with reasonable inputs, but massive amounts of imported food would be needed in the interim. Various strategies can reduce the amount of imported food significantly, balanced against the rate at which pressurized food facilities are constructed.

Kevin Cannon and Daniel Britt, Feeding 1 Million People on Mars. Source.

It helped answer some of the above questions, suggesting lettuce was out and other intensive protein sources such as fake eggs and insects were the most efficient methods of food production. They also suggested food production and distribution on Mars would be dependent on ‘agriculture, biotech and robotics’, exciting to contemplate agriculture as fundamental to interplanetary expansion! It’s not just physicists addressing this question, food and agricultural scientists have also been tackling the challenging problem of self-sustainable, extraterrestrial food production.

A group of Chinese scientists on the Lunar Palace 1 (an experimental design of a possible lunar habitation module based on Earth), found that growing edible crops such as wheat, soybean, carrots, cucumbers and others were capable of feeding 1267 g fresh food per day, with 78% produced in situ. The meal plans used every part of the plant, with non edible waste or meal being fed to insects for insect protein. Some interesting new snack options such as fried yellow mealworm and carrot leaves with sauce were identified as both nutrient and calorific efficient foods! Interestingly, this trend towards insect protein is also occurring on Earth. Companies such as GoTerra in Australia are taking food waste and using it as feed for black soldier flies. Insects are said to have a similar macronutrient content to plants and farm animals, but produce much higher mass per unit area.

This quest to optimise food production in a whole new context is attracting interest and research collaborations from previously distinct fields. If we decide that plants and animals are required for either wellbeing or food purposes, what seeds, larvae, root stocks, soil, fertiliser, water and other key ingredients for food production would we take? This takes optimising agricultural production to the ultimate level, and is why it seems the rocket fuel equation will shape agricultural production on Earth for years to come.

This is what is so exciting about agriculture, and why everyone should be interested in where their food originates and how it is produce. The challenge of producing food in space and on another planet is just one fascinating area that requires input from a whole raft of disciplines. If you have ideas on how we can improve agriculture and food security on Earth (and in space!) then apply for the AgriEducate Essay Competition. Entries have now opened, and close on the 31st August 2020. Head over to the competition page for extra details.

Where are they now?

We check in with past AgriEducate Essay Competition winners

As we gear up to launch the 2020 AgriEducate Essay Competition, we thought it would be great to hear about some of last year’s winners experiences and what’s been happening since they entered the competition.

This week we check in with Cassie Howell whose essay ‘Tucker In: Feeding the World with an Australian Flavour’ took out first prize in the Science category.

Name: Cassie Howell

Degree Studied: Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) majoring in Botany

University: University of Western Australia

What did you write your 2019 Essay about?
I wrote about the potential of Australia native bush foods to be developed into a commercial industry that produces positive nutritional outcomes, environmental benefits and advantages to regional communities across Australia. I think there is an incredible opportunity, both in researching the species themselves and in better engaging with the knowledge of Indigenous people, that could play a significant role in the future of Australian agriculture.

Why did you decide to enter the AgriEducate Essay competition?
I took a semester off university to work, and a few months in found myself missing the intellectual stimulation of working on assignments. I have long been interested in the intersection between agriculture and environmentalism, and wanted to explore an aspect of this in further detail. I found the experience way more enjoyable than normal essays, because I chose the topic and followed my interest areas.

What have you been doing in the last 6 months since the competition?
I was meant to be commencing a year of study and research in Fiji and Singapore on a New Colombo Plan Scholarship, however that plan has been postponed. I have continued working in horticulture and also as a research assistant at Greening Australia, focusing on carbon and biodiversity markets in Australia

Where to next for you?
Next semester I am returning to UWA to commence my honours project in sustainable agriculture. I will be researching the impact of organic amendments on soil-plant interactions in perennial pasture and native plantings. Participating in last year’s essay competition was actually a major factor in my decision to pursue research that combined my interest in regenerative agriculture and biodiversity conservation.

What do you hope for agriculture in Australia and around the world?
I hope that it can become more sustainable, to ensure both food security and the livelihoods of regional and rural communities. I believe that agriculture does not just feed people, but it also nourishes local communities. I also hope that the agriculture industry continues to diversify and evolve towards practices that are sustainable and environmentally-friendly. With the right practices, agriculture can coexist with a healthy natural environment, and indeed I think it is likely to thrive with one. As I focused on in my essay, I do hope that Australia continues to increasingly recognise that potential of our native bush foods and find ways to share it with the world.

What do you think our food and fibre industries will be like in 10 years’ time?
I think that the future food and fibre industries will combine regenerative practise with precision technology to efficiently and sustainably produce nutritious, good quality produce. I think that improved overall environmental management will help to improve soil condition and reclaim unproductive land. I also think that there will be an increase in small-scale agriculture and urban farms that innovatively utilise space to grow food closer to dense population centres. Recent events, particularly the global pandemic, have encouraged the public to think about their relationship with food and the importance that agriculture plays in their lives. Hopefully this results in a greater appreciation of farmers and the importance of agriculture.

You can read Cassie’s winning entry into the 2019 AgriEducate Essay Competition here

What does robotic regulation, native food and Kenyan agribusiness have in common? The AgriEducate Essay Competition!

It’s not often you have the opportunity to read two completely different perspectives on the same topic, authored by emerging leaders in each field and backed by the latest research. Yet in the second iteration of the annual AgriEducate Essay Competition this was exactly the case – Matthew Nevison from the University of Sydney presented a business theory argument for native food production in Australia, whilst Sophie Moss (until recently a student at ANU) wrote on the role of emulating Australian ecosystems and native foods across Australian agriculture for consistent and reliable food production. On a completely different topic, Rex Yuan – Highly Commended in the Law category, wrote on the highly topical regulation and legal framework surrounding autonomous vehicle regulation, discussing the relevant legislation that would govern liability.

These are just two examples from the field of fantastic essays we received, and goes directly to the purpose of this competition – to bring people with ideas and significant degree-specific knowledge together to help plant the path for the future of Australian and global agriculture. A massive congratulations to all entrants for taking the time to consider the application of their knowledge to agriculture.

All the winning essays are published in this compilation – please read through and enjoy the new ideas and passion that emanates from these essays. We at AgriEducate certainly had a blast and are feeling very inspired!

Sponsors

Before we get to the results, a big thank you to the prize sponsors. This competition isn’t possible without their support.
Science – Crawford Fund
Law/Extension – Bailiwick Legal
Engineering/IT – Flurosat

Results

So it’s with great pleasure that we announce the 2019 winners of the AgriEducate Essay Competition.

Science
First Place: Cassandra Howell – University of Western Australia
Second Place: Andrew Regan – University of New England
Third Place:
Kitty Cheng – University of Melbourne

Law/Extension
Highly Commended:
Francesca Earp – University of Sydney
Highly Commended:
Rex Yuan – University of Queensland

Engineering/IT
Highly Commended: Dylan Sanusi-Goh – University of New South Wales

Business
Highly Commended: Matthew Nevison – University of Sydney

Open/Global
Highly Commended: Sophie Moss – Australia
Highly Commended: Denis Ochieng – Kenya

All the winning essays can be read here.


The competition is planned to run in 2020, so don’t miss out on an opportunity to contribute to the industry and have a chance at winning a prize as well. Until next year!

** Please note that these essays represent the opinion (and hard work!) of the entrants and not necessarily the sponsors nor AgriEducate. If you have any questions, comments or would like to be involved in the 2020 competition, please feel free to get in touch at contact@agrieducate.com.au. A massive thank you to Matt Champness and Nicole McDonald who helped run the competition this year as well.

Youth Ag Summit 2019: Bringing people together to help feed the world.

In the natural world, diversity ensures strength and resilience. Weeds use genetic diversity from obligate outcrossing, large variability in inherited genes or mutation to vigorously adapt to selection pressures (herbicides, new environments or tough years). Established ecosystems mitigate the impact of external forces by leveraging the balance between species that thrive under different conditions. Healthy soil is dependent on a diversity of soil microorganisms and a balance of nutrients to prevent outbreaks of disease.

Agriculture itself is a global ecosystem of environment, economics, society and community, so it is only logical that adaptation to a changing climate and increasing production to feed 10 billion by 2050, is achieved through a diversity of people, experiences and approaches. When the day to day of agriculture in any country around the world becomes focused on internal problems or opportunities, the truly global nature of the industry and any potential solutions become obscured.

At the same time, on the ground solutions and production must be locally driven and address real problems faced by those farmers or groups involved in the supply chain. There is no sense in managing soil diseases in Western Australia the same as you would manage them in the Cerrado in Brazil – the science, culture and climate just don’t equate. And so agriculture relishes this global yet local approach, where people from around the world must and do collaborate to find solutions relevant on a local basis.

“The youth in Nigeria are not waiting for their government – they are taking action now”.

Iyaneselou Aliu, 2019 YAS Delegate from Nigeria

The recent Youth Ag Summit (YAS) in Brasilia, Brazil brought together 100 young people from 45 countries to drive global thinking about locally relevant solutions. It was not the country labels that defined us but instead a shared passion for developing the long-term sustainability of agriculture to provide food security for everyone. The Summit took place over three days with themes of innovation, leadership and sustainability generating talking points and providing experiential wisdom. Sustainability in a changing world was a standout idea of the Summit.

Working out a sustainable path to feed 10 billion people by 2050 requires the input from people right around the world, working on so many different projects.

“Can we feed the world without destroying one more tree?

Yes we can.” Rodrigo Santos, Head of Bayer CropScience Latam.

Fun fact: Brazilian farmers must retain between 20 and 80% of vegetation on farm, based on proximity to the Amazon Rainforest and the size of river or water storage on farm. This is covered by the Forest Code.

Analysis of vegetation laws

While the keynotes were certainly highlights, the strength of YAS was the inspiring array of experiences in agriculture with people from student, business, research, policy and advocacy backgrounds right across the world. During a bus ride to dinner a delegate from Mexico was discussing the role of non-government organisations in forming policy at the UN, having started her own. In countries like Australia, it is rare to have such direct conversations with dozens of people from dozens of different nationalities, each making such meaningful contributions. Other delegates from Canada, Indonesia and Nigeria had already formed their own companies driving beneficial change in agriculture, to a problem they weren’t waiting for others to solve.

While driving for innovation and change, it’s critical to keep the end users (farmers and communities in this case) front of mind. Day 2 of the Summit saw all 100 delegates head out to one of SLC Agricola’s farms in the Cerrado region. The 16,000 ha farm produced soybean, corn and cotton with high water and nutrient use efficiency. Cover crops were the norm, rolled and directly sown into as a way of improving soil carbon content and trapping moisture. Experiencing alternative methods of farming beyond your own horizons was well received by all accounts.

In an increasingly polarised world, the refreshing humanity of a shared desire for impactful and beneficial change was seriously life-changing. The experience of stepping outside your defined role as an ‘Australian’, ‘Italian’ or ‘Ecuadorean’ (or any nationality) could only be described as unparalleled in reflective impact. It makes you reconsider your assumed values and approaches, what is important and the global responsibility you carry in everything you do. It’s not that the responsibility is defined in laws or international treaties, but because just a short distance away, over a sea or some land there is a person with the same concerns about their future, their family and how best to navigate a path through. Improving agriculture is a fantastic method for improving society as a whole, communities, environment and leading a path to a future of which we are proud.

These are the stories of a just a handful of YAS delegates, told through their eyes about the interdisciplinary, global nature of agriculture and why their passion continues. The YAS group for 2019 doesn’t end with the conclusion of the Summit. The 100 strong group joins 300 others from the 2013, 2015 and 2017 cohorts driving change in every corner of the globe.

Mildred Jimenez Mexico | biotechnology engineering student | interested in Science communication & Evidence-based policy making

My involvement in the field of agriculture has revolved around promoting the participation of young scientists in science communication initiatives for evidence-based policy making, especially for international regulations on biotechnology. My interest in this area started about three years ago when I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as a youth delegate of the Public Research and Regulation Initiative. The Convention also holds the Cartagena Protocol; which regulates biotechnology and biosecurity in regard to biodiversity; and the Nagoya Protocol, on access to Genetic Resources and equitable benefit-sharing from their utilization. During my participation there, I witnessed how technology can easily get locked up because of the misinformation that surrounds it and that there was a lack of involvement from young scientists in the decision-making process. After that, my colleagues and I founded Youth Biotech, an NGO that promotes youth participation in science communication and evidence-based policy making. We have continued participating in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity  and will continue working on giving young people a voice in the matter, either in big decision-making scenarios as the CBD or locally; because food security is a challenge that needs to be addressed in many different ways. In my case, as a biotechnology engineering student, passionate for science, I have decided that my way of contributing to the achievement of #ZeroHunger is to make sure that the technology that can safely serve this purpose and make people’s life better can ultimately be implemented.

Participating at YAS was an amazing experience. During the event I had the opportunity to interact, brainstorm and make friends with inspiring people who are working on projects that are really making a big impact in their communities; meeting them reinvigorated my passion for this fight and reminded me of why I started agvocating in the first place.

“El primer componente esencial de la justicia social es una alimentación adecuada para toda la humanidad”. – Normal Borlaug

The whole YAS crew!

Digesting the future: Could biodigesters offer a new way forward for renewable energy production?

Ishka Bess is an honour student at the University of New South Wales, investigating innovative new ways to implement biodigesters on the invidiual farm level. After all, animal production means animal waste and biodigesters thrive off this type of organic matter. Ishka is also after survey responses from pig and cattle farmers, so if you have a spare minute fill out the survey here. Over to you Ishka!

A biodigester converts biodegradable waste such as animal dung and green matter to biogas and biodigestate.

This may not sound classy but on a household-level, this offers small-farm holders a unique solution to waste management. While ensuring the safe removal of waste, biodigester technology provides direct returns and benefits to farming households. Biogas is a clean and versatile fuel that can be used for stove-top cooking and lighting. Biodigestate provides an organic fertiliser that can be used on farming land or sold as a source of income. The advantages of household-level biodigesters do however extend beyond their primary outputs, to provide economic, environmental and social benefits.

It is feasible to deliver biogas to 18.5 million, predominantly rural households [1]. Thus, where 38% of the world’s population lack access to clean cooking technology [2] biogas will play a crucial role in the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 7. And, in countries such as Australia where rural and remote farming households have been hard hit by high electricity prices, power blackouts and low-voltage problems, household-level biodigesters provide a low-cost investment in a renewable energy alternative.

Yet, despite a long list of accolades, the long-term adoption of biodigester technology has failed to meet expectations. Several studies have analysed the barriers to biogas adoption and it is evident that we are failing to identify and incorporate the needs and priorities of small-farm holder households in the process of biodigester design, implementation and maintenance. Surprisingly, there is no current decision-support tool to assist decision-makers in incorporating the values and priorities of small-farm holder households across the design and development process.

So, here I am – setting out to do so! Having developed a decision-support model, I will be testing and validating the concept in an Australian context. In order to do so, I am looking to connect with Aussie small-farm holder dairy and pig farmers as well as beef cattle producers to complete a 10 minute survey. With their livestock being primed and ready to support biodigester technology, all contributions would be greatly appreciated.

The survey is accessible here.

References

[1] The World Bank, “The Power of Dung”, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, Washington, 2019.

[2] International Energy Agency, “Energy Access Outlook 2017”, International Energy Agency, Paris, 2017.

The Place of Law in the Australian Agricultural Industry

As we continue through the 2018 Essay Competition winners, we move to Jordan Soresi’s excellent work on connecting the importance of law and agriculture. This category was supported by Bailiwick Legal – a fantastic agricultural-focused legal firm in WA, who have also signed on to support our 2019 competition too. Read on to discover the important connection between law and agriculture.

‘There are no areas in life which are outside of law’

Aharon Barak

This quote by Aharon Barak aptly describes the ability of the law to permeate every aspect of society. The agricultural industry is no exception. Indeed, this essay will argue that there are opportunities for law to improve and grow the industry. Firstly, it will present ways in which legal theories can and are being applied to agricultural practice. It will then argue that the law can boost productivity and sustainability. Finally, it will show that better incorporating law into agriculture can help ensure global food security.

Legal Skills and Theories
There are opportunities to apply legal theories and skills to agriculture. The very existence of agricultural law as a discrete area evidences this. In agricultural law, theories of property, contract and torts reach a crossroads. Fundamentally, these legal skills are necessary in order to protect private property rights and ensure no one is illegitimately encroaching on one’s space; to ensure contractual obligations are fulfilled and discharged adequately; and to provide remedial avenues where there is no formal legal
relationship. In addition to this, it is through law that the State regulates agricultural practice. Given the absolute importance of agriculture as a source of food, legal regulations are necessary to outline requirements of biosafety and –security.

Sustainability and Productivity
Greater legal involvement in agriculture can enhance productivity and sustainability in a number of ways. It can improve sustainability through the enhanced regulation of animal welfare. The current state of regulations is a patchwork of inconsistent standards, which lack scientific grounding and transparency. Furthermore, they manifest an inherent conflict of interest. These standards are headed by government departments, which are in charge of both protecting animal welfare and physically growing the industry. Ultimately, the law can assist and resolve these issues in several ways. The Productivity Commission has suggested the creation of an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare. This would act as an independent statutory agency, which would be in charge of
developing national standards and could develop clear objectives through transparent processes. The creation and maintenance of this proposed body, and its own development of evidence-based standards, are inherently legal in nature. The law is well versed in the establishment of such bodies and in the writing of their quasi-legislative materials. Thus, legal intervention would facilitate and enhance the sustainability of animal welfare in agriculture. Australia can develop a more productive agriculture industry through a greater emphasis on contract law in the space of new technologies. One example of this potential is seen in the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Bill.

Prior to the Bill’s enactment, large data and agribusiness companies would commonly enter standard-form (i.e. one-sided or non-negotiable) terms of agreement contracts with farmers over the use of digital farming technologies. Being nonnegotiable and often containing terms that were not readily accessible or difficult to read, there was a manifest imbalance of power between the contracting parties. The new law is intended to protect small businesses from unfair contractual terms.

Wiseman posits that it will simultaneously protect smaller farming businesses. In doing so, contracting farmers will have more control over the data being collected and better understand where it goes. This should encourage the farmers to work with data companies more enthusiastically, and equally to use new technologies. In turn, such technologies inevitably improve efficiencies and ultimate business productivity. There is also potential for competition law to improve productivity. Producers in the agricultural supply chain are particularly susceptible to power imbalances because of vulnerabilities relating to perishable produce, climatic variation and limited infrastructure. This is exacerbated by the highly concentrated nature of the Australian market. By discouraging large companies with a lot of power from unduly interfering in the market, competition law works to improve efficiencies. Indicative of this are the Harper Review recommendations, some of which were enacted in 2017. The reformulation of s 4613 to include an ‘effects’ test, for example, is directed at making it easier to address market power imbalances and empowering small producers to confront multinationals corporations. Through robust competition law, efficiencies and productivity can be boosted in the industry.

Food Security
Greater legal involvement in agriculture worldwide can contribute to ensuring food security. This is because there is a strong correlation between the law and food security. In order to have a sustainable farm and grow food for themselves consistently, the world’s poorest people must be able to depend on agriculture as a viable and reliable source of income. In order to depend on their land, such farmers must have secure land rights, which equate to enforceable private property rights. This land security can only be achieved through the rule of law. After all, without it, governments can arbitrarily and illegitimately seize land. This leads to uncertainty and means that the poorest cannot use their land in a consistent and reliable manner to sustain themselves. Self-evidently, once someone has secure land rights, they can feel comfortable accessing and controlling their land. This empowers them to grow their own food and use that to generate income, some of which can be re-injected into the process to continue a sustainable cycle.

In addition to being capable of enforcing land rights, governments can use the law to create further frameworks, which support and improve their profitability. An example of this is a legal framework that compensates smallholder farmers and encourages growth. Encouraging people at the grassroots levels of society to partake in the lawmaking process also encourages knowledge of the rule of law to make the above
outlined process a sustainable reality. Global food security is innately tied with the rule of law. In theory, by strengthening the latter, the former can consequently be achieved.

Conclusion
The agricultural sector is essential to Australian society. Improving its efficiencies, productivity and sustainability is a long-term challenge. One way this can become reality is by engaging the law. When considering agriculture globally, it is apparent that the law also has a significant part to play in securing food for the future.