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The challenge

Capturing sustainable production and value creation opportunities

Substantial increases in food, protein, oil and fibre production will be needed to meet the future demands of the growing world population. This demand will have to be achieved sustainably without any significant increase in arable land area. In Australia, the farming of broadacre and horticultural crops will also need to adapt to the predicted impacts of climate change, such as an increased frequency and intensity of droughts and heat.

Despite these challenges for Australian farmers there is optimism in the agriculture and food sector in Australia as new opportunities emerge to export food and fibre to expand nearby Asian markets. The growing Asian middle classes are demanding healthy, protein-rich, safe foods sustainably and ethically produced. Thus, there is an opportunity to increase national revenues by designing future crops that directly command higher prices at export or are suited explicitly to value-adding via onshore processing before export.

Meeting looming production and sustainability challenges and capturing emerging value-creation opportunities will require the breeding of future crop varieties that incorporate new breeding technology packages that impact across the value chain, spanning farms, agri-food businesses and consumers.

Our response

Cutting edge breeding technology innovation producing future crops

CSIRO has brought the multi-disciplinary skills and capabilities it possesses together with Australian and international science and commercial partners to bear on the challenge of producing future crops. Crop researchers in CSIRO Agriculture and Food work within several significant new CSIRO science initiatives.

These include Future Science Platforms (FSPs) such the Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence FSP and the Synthetic Biology FSP and the larger nation-leading Missions such as the Future Protein and Drought Resilience Missions. Collaboration is further enhanced by participation in multi-organisational crop science networks such as the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility and the Centres of Excellence for Plant Success and Translational Photosynthesis. Partnerships with Rural Research and Development Corporations, commercial breeding, biotechnology and seed companies, and vertically integrated food companies provide relevance to the research and clear paths to market.

New machine learning and artificial intelligence approaches to select high-performing crop prototypes from diverse plant populations are examples of cutting-edge crop science under development. These digital technologies enable rapid, accurate, automated, integrated analysis of crop performance attributes and crop genome sequence information. Crops to meet the demand for plant-based protein-rich foods are being developed within collaborations between food scientists and breeders using new breeding technologies such as gene editing. Synthetic biology is being applied to create new engineered crop plants that contain complex gene cassettes. These applications of synthetic biology could enable, for example, nitrogen fixation by plants to reduce emissions-intense fertiliser inputs, durable crop resistance that could avert future plant disease pandemics, and novel naturally pigmented plant fibres for high-value textile markets.

The results

Novel crop products in the marketplace

Together with industry and research partners, CSIRO's crop breeding teams have developed many commercial crop varieties of cotton, cereals, oilseeds, pulses, grapevines and sugarcane in Australia. For example, over the past 30 years, CSIRO's cotton breeding program has bred over 100 varieties of cotton for Australia, achieving world-leading yields. These CSIRO cotton varieties have also been deployed in Europe and the Americas.

In addition to crop variety development, CSIRO's breeding technologies, such as genes as selection markers and crop progenitors with valuable crop attributes, have also been used by diverse commercial breeders to produce many new varieties. For example, new wheat varieties providing growers with options in managing frost- and heat-damaged crops predicted to be more prevalent with changing climates.

Australian and international companies have developed several new food and beverage products from CSIRO's plant technologies, many with enhanced human health attributes such as high-fibre cereals and gluten-free barley.

New engineered omega-3 oil producing canola crops have now been released by commercial partners for both healthy human diets and as a plant-based aquafeed that reduces pressure on the ocean fish stocks traditionally used for feed in aquaculture. These recent examples of successful product delivery demonstrate an ongoing strong commitment to developing future crops that will continue to meet Australian and global sustainable production and new market opportunities.

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