SCIENCE FICTION is becoming science fact in Australia’s quest to exterminate so-called ‘superbugs’ that can decimate livestock – now robots are being enlisted into the program.
Australian Pork Limited is being funded to the tune of $1.3 million, under the Federal Government’s Rural R&D for Profit program, to boost Australia's trade reputation by demonstrating the low antimicrobial resistance status of this country’s farm produce. They are using the funds to investigate the use of hi-tech laboratory robots to define the low level of antimicrobial resistance risk in pigs and chickens within Australia’s supply chains.
“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), or superbugs resistant to antibiotics, is a serious global problem that is a major public health issue worldwide,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce said.
“Minimising the development of resistance in livestock and companion animals is an important priority for industry. This research project, led by Australian Pork Limited, will investigate the use of high-tech robots to define the low level of antimicrobial resistance risk in pigs and chickens within our supply chains.”
Laboratory robots can work quickly, precisely and cost-effectively, as part of the industry-wide project to gather information and help farmers demonstrate their low AMR risk status. This is expected to give Australian farmers a competitive advantage internationally.
“Specialised robots will be used to isolate, count and characterise large numbers of bacteria from animal faeces,” Mr Joyce said. “The robots will be used to identify and grow thousands of individual bacteria to determine the presence and distribution of antimicrobial resistance at both the herd and national level.”
Mr Joyce said Australian agriculture was a world leader in the fight against development of superbugs.
“Australia is a global leader in minimising risks of AMR spreading, due to the foresight of the government with industry not permitting the use of several antibiotic classes in livestock,” he said.
Australian Pork Limited CEO, Andrew Spencer said the Australian Government's support for this project, which is significant for both humans and animals, anwould demonstrate livestock industries as responsible citizens.
“The outcome of this project will enable industry to provide hard evidence to back claims and to show leadership credentials, which in an AMR aversive world will be an important point of differentiation,” Mr Spencer said.
He said while there was a limited overlap in antimicrobials between human and animal products it was essential that all parts of the puzzle contribute to the solution.
Mr Joyce said, “The project will help monitor on-farm control measures to reduce the presence of antimicrobial resistant organisms across pork and chicken meat industries, with the potential for the project to be used as a model in other animal sectors and for ongoing surveillance.”
He said the $180.5 million R&D for Profit program was part of the election commitment to increase R&D funding for practical projects, “to increase farmgate returns and capture global market opportunities”.
WHEN accomplished Australian fruit producer, Queensland-based Pinata Farms launched its new venture BerryWorld Australia, its teams knew they were not faced an agribusiness challenge so much as a retail marketing one.
BerryWorld Australia has been established as a premium brand introducing new breeds of specialty strawberries into the Australian and New Zealand markets.
BerryWorld Australia is a joint venture between global berry breeder and marketing company, BerryWorld Group, and Piñata Farms. It was established in 2016 to grow and market proprietary BerryWorld varieties exclusively in Australia and New Zealand.
When BerryWorld strawberries landed on supermarket shelves for the first time recently – in a heat-sealed 350g punnet aimed at winning shoppers’ attention, before they have even eaten a berry – they caused something of a sensation.
The square punnets, made of standard 100 percent recyclable PET (polyethylene), present BerryWorld strawberries in a single layer with the barcode at the base for easier scanning. Heat-sealed film is perforated with eight air vents to keep fruit cool and fresh in-store and after purchase.
BerryWorld Australia managing director, Gavin Scurr, said the new line achieved several significant points of difference for strawberry marketing.
“If we’re launching a premium brand, we want as many points of difference as possible, from packaging and presentation, through to berry taste and appearance,” Mr Scurr said.
“Australian strawberries are generally sold in 250g or 450g punnets and there are some 1kg punnets. We’ve decided on a 350g punnet to give Australian consumers more choice. Globally, it’s already a size that is instantly associated with strawberries. We’re confident Australian consumers will appreciate it as a convenient, family friendly size.”
Pre-printed film was also more aesthetically pleasing than labelled lids, Mr Scurr said.
“As few Australian strawberries are consistently sold in heat-sealed punnets, this will be a positive change for strawberry consumers. Heat-sealing, which is standard in berry production throughout Europe, not only keeps fruit fresh, but it is tamper proof,” he said.
Mr Scurr said the BerryWorld Australia packaging would also deliver production and cost efficiencies and energy savings.
“Heat-sealing utilises approximately 30 percent less packaging materials than a punnet with a lid.
“Heat-sealing has also been shown to perform slightly better in maintaining fruit weight up to purchase. With strawberries, there’s always a slight margin of weight loss after packing. To achieve the 350g weight by the time of purchase, we allow for loss by slightly overpacking, typically by about 20 grams per punnet.”
Mr Scurr said automated heat-sealing would also create significant production efficiencies in the packhouse because the film could be applied faster.
Once opened, the punnets are not re-sealable. However, re-sealing is an option BerryWorld Australia would consider in the future, Mr Scurr said.
BerryWorld Australia’s raw packaging materials are imported from China and manufactured to specification by Victorian-based packaging producer, Multisteps Industries.
BerryWorld strawberries are grown and packed at Queensland-based Piñata Farms, the growing arm of joint venture company, BerryWorld Australia. A customised production line has been installed at the Wamuran packhouse to pack the specialty berries.
Strawberries are sorted and hand-packed into punnets prior to heat-sealing.
BerryWorld Australia negotiated with retail partner, Woolworths, to display strawberries in the fridge section of supermarket outlets, rather than the lounge where other Australian strawberries are displayed.
“Berries last longer if they are chilled,” Mr Scurr said. “Fridge placement is another point of difference. Other future BerryWorld Australia lines, such as raspberries and blackberries, will also be found in the fridge,” Mr Scurr said.