The Greater Whitsunday region is adopting innovative practices to food production (Source: Unsplash)
Producers, manufacturers and investors from around the world are keeping a close eye on the Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday (MIW) region for opportunities in future foods.
Some of the innovation associated with future foods may seem futuristic but the reality is they are happening now. Think of sugarcane bagasse processed by the Mackay BioRefinery into animal feed or meat products grown by writing DNA in a laboratory instead of raising livestock on a farm.
But a large portion of future foods comes down to just being smarter about how we extract value from what we already have and preserving what would usually end up in landfill.
In a recent Future Foods webinar by the Department of State Development Tourism and Innovation, Member for Mackay and the Assistant Minister for Treasury, Julieanne Gilbert highlighted the region’s large feedstock and workforce capabilities makes it a “production corridor” for the state of Queensland.
“Manufacturers want to partner with agricultural producers and innovators to attract R&D, support cropping and develop the machinery to support the [future foods] industry.
“Mackay is the best place to be at the moment and we will be the centre that will lead the industry in Queensland,” Ms Gilbert said.
In the MIW region, GW3 leads the future foods conversation through the MIW Bio-Futures Steering Committee, which is at the forefront of exploring opportunities in the regional bio space.
GW3 CEO Kylie Porter, who facilitated the webinar with attendees from across the globe, said the region has the potential to lead the industry of future foods.
Ms Porter said moving forward GW3 and other key bio-futures stakeholders will continue to pursue bio-futures and future food as key focus industries for the region.
“It is great to see our region is so well represented and I think this is indicative of the excitement and enthusiasm that this region has for the potential of bio-futures,” Ms Porter said.
Changing the way we approach food production will mean it won’t be uncommon to see plant and animal-based foods on the supermarket shelves.
Millions of tonnes of agricultural resources such as plants, animals, fungi and even the humble single-cell bacteria can be used to produce nutritious, healthy and environmentally friendly food.
But what about microorganisms like algae or single cell organisms like bacteria? What products can we develop here in the region that customers would want to buy and what’s our strategic competitive advantage?
Well, our tropical climate is home to millions of species of bacteria and some of our meat and vegetables are already coated in healthy bacteria to keep them fresher for longer.
South African BioScience company Pharmamark is a company that has found a way to turn algae and other microorganisms into omega-3 -- the building block for heart development -- to be used for baby formula through a process of fermentation.
Algae can also be used to create other useful products like vegetable oil, animal feed and even industrial applications like cosmetics, but with some of Queensland’s smartest researchers on the hunt for more applications, we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible.
A lot of these new products made from microorganisms sound almost science fiction, but the reality is this industry is booming with an estimated value of $3 billion to the Australian economy.
And the consumer demand both within Australia and the emerging markets of Asia couldn’t be greater.
Our region features a number of sugar mills, biorefineries and major ports making us the perfect part of Queensland to serve as a food basket for the rising middle class of Asia who place a premium on Australian made produce.
“Whether we’re talking biofoods, agriculture or even tourism, we need to embrace a transformational mindset and grow foundational digital and ICT skills to support a reimagined future,” Ms Porter said.
Former Queensland Chief Scientist, CSIRO’s Dr Paul Birch believes Industry 4.0 requires a “combination of broad skills and deep skills” but learning how to work across scientific boundaries is “just as important”.
“Workforce development is something that comes up frequently for a lot of companies internationally, so it’s something we must focus on moving forward,” Dr Birch said.
While the science behind the viability of future foods is now proven, the urgency to communicate the opportunities to the wider regional community and industry groups is now apparent.
Customers are becoming more conscious of the environmental and social impacts of their purchases and are making more choices about the clothes they wear and the food they eat that align with their values and expectations.
This trend presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Greater Whitsundays’ residents who can leverage the region's future food capabilities and trade competitively to a growing population due to our proximity and reputation among Asian consumers.
The Greater Whitsundays region has the resources to make this happen, but to build the capabilities needed to grow the industry, take our communities on a journey of transformation and invest in the skills of tomorrow’s workforce.
To learn more about the future foods industry and how your business can get involved, click here to watch the webinar.