Real World Futures

Disruption on the menu

Date: 02 September 2016

Australia’s food industries are the standout prospect for economic growth over the coming decade, according to most economic analysis.

How they withstand and adapt to digital disruption was the subject of the latest Real World Conversation at QUT this week.

It explored disruption from the paddock to the plate and gave a variety of insights from both QUT and industry experts.

It also offered participants a chance to taste products emerging from the mung bean industry, one of Queensland’s fastest growing agricultural exports.

The conversation, the 11th Real World Futures event, looked at what was happening with robotics, gene editing, crop development, sensors of real-time data and in the kitchens and tables of Brisbane’s restaurants.

And it heard a demonstration of what happens when science and market needs meet in the fresh fruit industry.

That insight came from Professor Roger Hellens of QUT’s Institute for Future Environments who gave away his ambition to use his skills to turn fruits red. Why?  Red was more appealing to consumers who would be tempted to eat more fruit if it was red.

He gave the case study of his work changing the colour of the kiwifruit, offering consumers a choice of red as well as the traditional green.

The result was higher prices and greater demand for the new product.

At a different end of the spectrum, Professor Peter Waterhouse, described his work on bananas and the use of gene editing technology to make it better resistant to disease – and preserve its role in western diets.

Professor Sagadevan Mundree, Director of QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops, described the advance of pulse crops (particularly mung beans) and their ability to satisfy growing needs for protein, particularly in Asia.

And Professor Tristan Perez illustrated the part robots could play at the very start of the process through both weeding and picking, reducing the cost of pesticides and maximising crop sizes.

The external speakers included Ros Harvey, CEO and founder of The Yield, which specialises in the use of technology to help growers increase productivity.

She spoke about its application in the oyster industry where live data gave better insights into when it was safe to harvest oysters and when they should be left in their seabeds.

The same technology also gave restaurateurs and chefs better insight into the origin of their products.

Restaurant critic Lizzie Loel said such information was valued more and more by diners who wanted fresh food, rebelled against waste and were increasingly guided by what they  saw on social media.

And Steven Jones, executive chef of the Brisbane’s Treasury Hotel and Casino, gave insight into one of the Brisbane food industry’s greatest disruptions, the opening of 50 new bars and food outlets at the inner-city Star resort complex over the next five years.

Real World Futures director David Fagan said he had chosen the topic of food because it was a subject close to peoples’ hearts but also central to the success of the Queensland economy.

“Every indicator points to food and agriculture as an ongoing success story for Australia so it’s important we get the technology right to maximise our chances in this market,” he said.

The forum was run in partnership with QUT’s Institute for Future Environments. Its director, Professor Bronwyn Harch, opened the event reminding the audience that technology could reach everywhere.

Content sourced from QUT News Web Service.


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