The Examiner

Driving change: how technology and collaboration fuels innovation in two WA agribusinesses

Members of the Intergrain team. Picture supplied
Members of the Intergrain team. Picture supplied

This is branded content for CommBank

Innovation in the Australian agri-food industry continues to deliver benefits, from improved yield and farm productivity to gathering unique data and insights that unlock opportunity for producers and businesses right through the agri supply chain.

As new solutions emerge, collaboration remains key for agtech to reach its full potential to deliver results.

Agtech at the forefront of cereal breeding programs

According to Tress Walmsley, CEO of InterGrain and long-time CommBank customer, when people think of agtech, plant breeding isn't generally top of mind.

But as one of the leaders in cereal breeding in Australia, this Western Australia company is at the cutting edge of integrating agtech throughout their entire breeding process.

"Cereal breeding programs generally take around 10 years to finalise," Ms Walmsley said.

"It's a lengthy process with many steps, from development in our glasshouses, to field and quality testing and grower trials.

"We're always looking to hit three targets with a successful breed: improved yield, good agronomics including drought tolerance and disease, and third, ultimately the cereal grain, has to deliver a good end product."

Tress Walmsley, CEO, Intergrain. Picture supplied
Tress Walmsley, CEO, Intergrain. Picture supplied

Ms Walmsley said to ensure the quality and viability of the end product, he used technology to their advantage.

"Wheat is five times more genetically complex than a human, as it is made up of significantly more genes, but only recently have we been able to gain a better understanding of its genotypic and phenotypic data," she said.

"The adoption of agtech tools such as genotyping, drones, or thermal imagery to detect plant stress, have all dramatically increased our ability to assess different gene impacts.

"It means our processes are rich with data and insights, and this has been a game changer for our breeding programs."

She adds that collaboration with other leading agribusinesses, such as seed design companies, tertiary partners or government-led organisations means they can target what their research should be addressing.

"We want to continue to be at the forefront of cereal breeding, whether that be gene editing, biometrics or other new breeding technologies, collaborating throughout the entire process ensures we're connecting with the growers and delivering varieties that are tailor made for them and their regions," she said.

"Financial partners, like CommBank, are critical for us to keep our programs running, too. We've been working with them for nearly 15 years and have had an outstanding relationship from the get-go thanks to their expert, tailored advice and support.

"The structure of our business means our revenue comes in ebbs and flows, but the bank has been able to accommodate this and support us no matter what position where in.

"The opportunities the bank has been able to provide us with networking, connecting and collaborating with our industry peers has also been extremely valuable."

Chris Vas, General Manager, Food Innovation Precinct Western Australia. Picture supplied
Chris Vas, General Manager, Food Innovation Precinct Western Australia. Picture supplied

Precinct delivers collaboration opportunities across supply chain

Western Australia's premier location for agri-food innovation, Food Innovation Precinct Western Australia (FIPWA), opened in 2023, and General Manager, Dr Chris Vas, says the precinct has big goals to help build a robust and vibrant food and beverage manufacturing sector out of the west.

"FIPWA was developed with a clear goal in mind, to help drive business growth, develop new products and exports, and transform Western Australia's food and beverage manufacturing industry," Dr Vas said.

"Our three key pillars of innovation, collaboration and production, each play an equally important role in fostering a successful agribusiness sector.

"We want the precinct to be seen as the one stop place for producers, or those in the agri supply chain, to workshop and stress test their ideas to see where they could go.

"From R&D, to manufacture, as well as business services, it's all here for them to access."

With FIPWA in its first year of official operation, during which time it received the National Economic Development award for Partnerships and Collaboration, Dr Vas said a key part in its success was connecting and collaborating with the supply chain of agrifood production.

"Getting producers and industry groups involved has been quite critical," he said.

"We've been working with grower groups and individual farmers to help identify where their pressure points are, or what opportunities they would like to see us explore. They then use this insight to identify new technologies and drive productivity at the farm level.

"Some standouts we've seen come through the precinct include an indoor vertical farm pioneering the growth of speciality crops and an indigenous brewing company that has produced its first export shipment to South America from the doors of the precinct.

"We're hoping with evokeAG putting a focus on industry in the west, we'll see even more interest in the precinct from both domestic and international businesses."

An aerial view of the Food Innovation Precinct Western Australia. Picture supplied
An aerial view of the Food Innovation Precinct Western Australia. Picture supplied

Agtech adoption and development of new technologies are critical to Australia's agricultural sustainability, profitability and resilience. CommBank is committed to collaborating with leading agribusinesses to better understand the products and services the sector needs to keep moving forward.

Events like evokeAG 2024, Asia Pacific's premier agrifood innovation event, of which CommBank is a silver partner, are critical in fostering those connection and collaboration opportunities in our industry. For more information about the event and CommBank's panel sessions, click HERE.

This is branded content for CommBank