LEADING Australian fruit producer, Piñata Farms, is among nine South East Queensland agricultural businesses collaborating with the University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Agriculture and Food Sciences to provide industry experience to students.

Piñata Farms’ chief financial officer, Chris Jones, said four students based at UQ’s Gatton campus –Alice Freemantle, William Hudson, Glenn Denham and Yoko Lathouly – were reviewing Piñata's management reporting systems as part of the final component in their Bachelor of Agribusiness degrees. 

“A collaboration such as this fosters career pathways into agribusiness and helps us identify potential employees,” Mr Jones said. “Project outcomes also offer fresh perspectives into how we might improve as a business.

“We were keen to get some non-financial metrics in place that we can use to benchmark KPIs against.

“In this specific project, students, working as a team, were asked to review whether current management reporting systems provide timely and appropriate data and devise ideas on how to improve them. They are looking at measures such as what drives price and quality, what other agribusinesses are doing, what industry is doing and what might be useful benchmarks for Piñata as it continues to grow,” Mr Jones said.

The 13-week project began in August, with students to present their report in late October

Piñata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr and North Queensland operations manager Stephen Scurr have had a long-standing relationship with UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences. A 2016 graduate, Reannan Schultz, now works fulltime at Piñata Farms after participating in a similar project in her final year.
“Gavin and Stephen are immensely proud of what their farming business has achieved,” Mr Jones said.

“This project is a way to give back to the agribusiness sector and to support the next generation of farming professionals.”

UQ lecturer in agribusiness at the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Dr Phil Currey, said all students were studying for a Bachelor of Agribusiness. 

While some doing dual degrees, the Piñata Farms' project was the final assessment component of the Bachelor of Agribusiness degree, he said.
“The purpose is to enable students to put into practice what they’ve learned in the previous three years,” Dr Currey said.

“They are referred to a business, they present as consultants and are expected to use their skills to research a problem set by the client and then share their findings and recommendations.
“The objective is to create opportunities for students to be employable by applying theory in a real-world environment.”

Dr Currey said nine south-east Queensland agribusinesses, from a diverse range of sectors including dairy, beef, sugar cane and food manufacturing, were participating in the scheme which involved 33 students. 

“The course is designed so students can choose to work in areas within agriculture that are of specific interest to them," Dr Currey said. “It’s about ensuring UQ provides opportunities for students to gain genuine employment skills while enhancing our reputation as a world-leading agribusiness course provider.

“How the students perform helps UQ understand how the courses work in practice and which areas of earlier study need to be tweaked to provide better outcomes for them and the clients.

“The outcomes are the clients’ to execute. Our aim is to give clients the tools and confidence to make changes,” Dr Currey said.



NEW disease fighting technologies and expanding the emerging Australian native food and medicinal agriculture industries are a major focus of new research funding by the Federal Government.

Senator Simon Birmingham, in his former role as Education and Training Minister, and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud jointly announced three new major research investments, backed by $13.6 million from the Federal Government. The funding is aimed at three emerging sectors of Australia’s agriculture industry that could be “game changers” according to Senator Birmingham.

Sen. Birmingham said Griffith University would receive $5 million for a new Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Hub to develop new technologies to fight disease and reduce the time and the cost of protecting crops and livestock from disease.

“Whether it be Australian lobster farming or our iconic strawberry industry, our agriculture industry will continue to face unique and new risks from disease,” Sen. Birmingham said. 

“In recent years, we’ve seen first-hand the crippling impact disease can have on local farming industries. This is a real opportunity for technology companies and industry to work together and investigate how new machines and robotics can better support our farmers to fight the diseases that threaten their livelihoods.

“The new technologies that will be developed from this hub will not only benefit Australian farmers but also help the start-up technology companies behind these innovations to grow and tap into markets around the world.”

Minister Littleproud said La Trobe University would receive $5 million to establish a new ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture to help further develop the industry in Australia.

“This research hub will give Australia an edge as we build a local medicinal agriculture industry,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Researchers will work with businesses from beginning to give them the knowledge and the right gear to do well.

“The hub will help researchers share ideas on cultivation and extraction techniques, the discovery of new medicines and more. We’re giving a kick start to Medicinal Agriculture.”

Sen. Birmingham also said the University of Queensland would receive $3.6 million in funding for a new ARC Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods, to train and skill specialised researchers in transforming Australia’s native food and agribusiness sector into a global player.

“This state-of-the-art Training Centre backed by the Coalition Government will be a vital spring board for the Australian native food industry onto the world-stage,” Sen. Birmingham said.

“These researchers will use their knowledge and expertise to help local Australian producers set-up their enterprises so they can grow and expand into international markets.

“It’s a major step forward in having Australian produced native foods such as green ants or Kakadu plums offered on the menus of top-end restaurants throughout Asia and Europe.”

The ARC Research Hub for Driving Farming Productivity and Disease Prevention, ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture and ARC Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods are part of the Federal Government’s ARC Industrial Transformation Research Program.

This is part of $180.4 million in new ARC funding announced recently to support 132 new research investments, led by Australian universities.



THE Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) has released a report on how information, communication and technology (ICT) is used in Australian agriculture.

The report also identifies the key differences in adoption between agriculture sectors and between small and large farms.

ABARES executive director, Steve Hatfield-Dodds, said the report presented findings from more than 2000 face-to-face conversations with farmers across Australia. 

Dr Hatfield-Dodds said, “About 96 percent of Australian farmers own and use ICT, and they are investing in technologies that suit their production systems.

“Examples of ICT used on farms range from computers and telephones through to things like GPS guided harvesting equipment.

“Large farms are more likely to invest in and use ICT than their smaller counterparts. For example, on large dairy farms we saw greater investment in sensors and monitoring technology, which is likely to reflect moves towards fully automated milking systems.

“Reported obstacles to adoption of ICT included skills, internet access, cost and availability of useful new technologies,” he said.

“It is evident that new equipment and the data it generates are changing how farms are managed. New ICT will be fundamental to the next wave of productivity growth in Australian agriculture.

“The use of digital agriculture in Australia has the potential to increase productivity through optimising input use, more timely decision-making, labour savings, and improved market access,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.

The full report is at www.agriculture.gov.au/ict-use.

WOMEN who are current and emerging leaders in the horticulture industry can now apply for a leadership development scholarship opportunity valued at up to $10,941 each.

Funded by Hort Innovation and Women and Leadership Australia (WLA), the scholarship grants cover up to 60 percent of the cost of the programs. The funding is specifically designed for women working in the horticultural sector who are emerging, mid-level or senior leaders in their sector and workplace.

Hort Innovation chief executive officer, Matt Brand said the gender disparity within the agriculture industry was well recognised. He said Hort Innovation was keen to support a new era of gender equality and integration across horticulture through strategic levy investment.

“In recent years we have invested heavily in leadership projects encouraging women to take the lead by working with partnering organisations to offer tailored programs designed to build skills and provide leadership training and opportunities,” Mr Brand said. 

“Through the Hort Frontiers Leadership Fund, we have already had 12 women undertake the Masterclass in Horticultural Business training, with five graduations in the last round.

“Our partnership program with WLA has already seen 11 successful graduates from the Women in Leadership project, and there are another three scholarship recipients currently enrolled.”

Scholarship applicants can choose from three courses, the Accelerated Leadership Performance Program, the Executive Ready Program and the Advanced Leadership Program. The blended courses are delivered on a part-time basis over four, seven or 12 months respectively.

Mr Brand said participants would learn skills such as heightened presence and influence, managing team dynamics, driving performance and leading innovation and change.

The funding is available to individuals and groups of employees who own or work within businesses that pay a levy to Hort Innovation.

One of last year’s scholarship recipients, Mardee Cassin, said of the opportunity: “As a young woman in the Australian horticulture industry I applied to the Accelerated Leadership Performance Program to gain practical tools to equip me as I develop myself in my professional career. 

“Participating in the program provided me with exactly that. I am now more confident in communicating and working with a broad range of people both within my current workplace and beyond.”

WLA program director, Suzi Finkelstein said of the program, “We are delighted to be taking this grant program into its second year. Women working in the horticulture sector, or any sector for that matter, deserve to be given every opportunity to excel and take on leadership roles, particularly in industries that are traditionally male dominated and that have significant gender pay gaps.

“Studies show that the more women you have in leadership roles in workplaces and industries, the lower the gender pay gap is for that workplace. Even though this developmental program is only in its second year, I know that we are making a positive and tangible difference in this sector.

“I hear success stories and positive outcomes regularly from past participants. WLA is thrilled to be working with Hort Innovation to deliver real change, and I encourage all horticulture sector women to apply.” 




AGRICULTURE Minister David Littleproud has commissioned Ernst & Young (EY) to develop a strategic vision for the future of Australia’s rural innovation system. 

Mr Littleproud said delivering a shared vision would require extensive consultation and input from a broad range of stakeholders.

“The project will involve more than 450 interviews and 10 workshops and will look overseas at other systems to ensure we capture the latest approaches and leading thinking on research, innovation and agtech development,” Mr Littleproud said.

“EY will consult widely and then develop this shared vision for the future of Australian agriculture, and describe how rural innovation will drive the sector towards this shared vision. 

“I want all players from across agriculture, research and agtech sectors to contribute. 

“The report will look at how to get the most out of Australia’s rural innovation system through spurring cooperation and collaboration, attracting capital from around the globe and developing our research ideas into cutting edge technology. 

“Australia should have a world-class, modern and dynamic rural innovation system which attracts capital and delivers the results of research as real tools farmers can use. 

“Our rural innovation system has helped farmers increase productivity over the past 30 years and needs to continue to do that as we move towards the NFF’s (National Farmers Federation) target of an agriculture sector worth a $100 billion by 2030,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Let’s make sure Australia's rural innovation system is ‘fit for the future’ and improve it through more strategic collaboration, improved pathways to commercialisation and by becoming a more attractive place for investment in research and agtech development. 

"This is not a restructure of the RDCs,” he said. “I want all players across the industry to contribute to this work so we all have a shared vision going forward. This should be something every farmer and farm-related business can be part of and get real benefit from – not a bunch of buzz words which mean nothing and help no-one. 

“It’d be great to leave a legacy which delivers for Australia long after the next election. Nobody ever delivered anything great by focussing only on today.”

The new vision of Australia’s innovation system is planned to be launched early 2019.​



BRISBANE-BASED ethical food business, Food Connect – established to connect local farmers with local buyers – plans to be Australia’s first community-owned food hub.

Food Connect is based at Salisbury on the south side of Brisbane’s and it has become one of the first companies in Queensland to sign up to crowdfunding platform PledgeMe.

Food Connect’s equity crowdfunding move has joined the fast-growing number of companies around the world giving their communities an opportunity to be their investors. 

Food Connect Shed director Robert Pekin started the company in 2005 after he lost his fourth-generation dairy farm. Since then he has been on a mission to create a fairer food system for farmers and buyers. 

“We ethically and transparently engage local farmers to supply ecological food that is in season and super fresh and we pay them about four times the amount of the big food chains, so more of the customer’s dollar goes directly to the growers,” Mr Pekin said. 

“Over the last 13 years, Food Connect has worked with over 80 local farmers, 40 local producers, and generated over $25 million in revenue for the local food economy.

“The warehouse we’ve been leasing for more than 10 years is now for sale and we’ve been offered the chance to buy it.  We know we have the experience to run the space, we just need the funds to help make that happen.”

Food Connect Shed director Emma-Kate Rose said local food hubs were a growing movement internationally.

“We want to start the first one here in Queensland,” Ms Rose said.

“We want the community to come on this journey with us, we want them to be part of a fairer food system, we want them to help make a difference for our local farming community, we want the public to own the infrastructure.

“We realise we could have gone down a more traditional capital raising route but we wanted to offer the shares to a wider, more diverse group of potential investors like the community that has been supporting us for the past decade,” she said.

“We have always been driven by community, it’s only natural to be owned by it too.”

PledgeMe recently expanded to Australia and is Queensland’s first equity crowdfunding business to be based in the state, attracted by the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland HotDesq initiative.

PlegeMe is also one of only nine groups across Australia, so far, to secure one of the ground-breaking crowdfunding licences from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission early this year.

Co-founder Anna Guenther said PledgeMe has had over $28 million pledged to date in New Zealand. 

“We’ve seen everything from a group of local citizens raise $2 million in 32 hours to buy a chocolate company in Dunedin to keep chocolate making skills and jobs in the town, through to the world’s youngest equity crowdfunder, Indy Griffiths, raising $50,000 at 19 years old,” Ms Guenther said.

“Equity crowdfunding is shaking up traditional funding and investment models. In 2017 there was $34 billion pledged through crowdfunding platforms internationally, but by 2025 they are estimating that to increase to over $300 billion.” 

The PledgeMe campaign launched on August 21 and the Food Connect Foundation was successful.

Food Connect Shed Limited is a new public unlisted company and wants to raise between $2 million and $4 million which will represent 90 percent of the company. The shares are priced at $1 per share, and the minimum investment is $500.

Public investors will be able to invest up to $10,000 each. Food Connect Shed Limited will be part owned by the Food Connect founders Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate, as well as the Food Connect Foundation Limited.

Funds raised in this round will be used to purchase the existing warehouse, and if the minimum goal is exceeded the funds will be used to refurbish and retrofit the warehouse. The new company will aim to generate revenue through rental fees and venue hire. The warehouse currently has 12 tenants, with aims of adding 30 new tenants over the next three years.

Investors will own shares in the company that owns the warehouse and manages the tenants in the space.


AUSTRALIAN farmers can now forecast grain yield at the touch of a button, thanks to a new smart phone app developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

The innovation, known as Graincast, allows growers to estimate yields ranging from a single paddock, right up to their entire farm.

“Having a yield forecast can help farmers with crop input management, setting yield targets, diagnosing yield constraints, risk management, marketing decisions, forward selling and more,” CSIRO scientist Roger Lawes said. 

“The app is easy to use, and growers need to input just three pieces of information – the paddock they want analysed, the crop grown last season and the crop they plan to grow or are growing in the current season. That’s it.”

Dr Lawes said it was the only app that gave instantaneous soil, water and yield information at any time without the need for substantial user input.

“It means growers can make better informed crop and paddock management decisions – in near real-time – like never before,” he said. 

The app was developed by CSIRO scientists in response to feedback from grain growers about what they needed, and what they liked about their job.

“They told us that they wanted something that was mobile, quick and easy to use,” Dr Lawes said. “They didn’t want to be told what to do, they just wanted the key information so they could decide what was best for them. So that’s what we built.

“The Graincast app helps growers with their crop decision-making instincts.”

Dr Lawes said Graincast draws on information from satellites, climate forecasts and sensors to estimate historical crop yields, yield potential and crop species.

Crop models are combined with soil maps to create yield forecasts for the Australian continent. This information comes from the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia, the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) crop model, MODIS and LANDSAT satellites, as well as other sources.

The data is brought together in CSIRO’s newly constructed data platform and output to a smart phone for agricultural businesses to quickly acquire information about production without the hassle of identifying soil types, calibrating models, searching for satellite information or trying to interpret complex data.

Protecting privacy of businesses and the opportunity for users to withdraw at any time was an important feature when designing the app, Dr Lawes said.

He said, in an Australian first, the smarts behind the app enabled various other industry players such as advisers, bulk handlers, marketers, commodity forecasters and insurers to forecast grain production at the regional and national scales.

Gaincast is part of CSIRO’s Digiscape Future Science Platform, which is harnessing the digital revolution for Australian farmers and land managers.

The app is free by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Contact Us


PO Box 2144