The sectors offering Australia the most benefit in coming years are agriculture and food, water, energy and horticulture. The vital ingredient for success is a close collaboration between the ‘golden triangle’; government, private industry and universities and research  institutes, both at home and internationally.

These are the central messages of Dr Aalt Dijkhuizen, a leading authority on international agriculture and food, who explored these concepts further during his visit to Australia this week.

Formerly the President and Chairman of Wageningen University & Research Centre in the Netherlands, Dr Dijkhuizen is a pre-eminent agricultural thinker and leader with extensive international experience in science and private industry.

Dr Dijkhuizen has been brought to Australia by The Gardiner Foundation. He is holding meetings in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra with a cross section of opinion leaders in the food and agricultural sector, including an address to the National Press Club today.

“Australia does not give its agri-food sector the merit it deserves in terms of its place in the economy’s future development,” he said.

“It’s not a new message that in the next 30 to 40 years the same amount of food has to be produced as during the past 8,000 years. Moreover, increasing wealth in formerly poorer countries will mean a strong increase in the global demand for safely produced high-quality protein. I see this as a tremendous opportunity rather than a doomsday scenario,” said Dr Dijkhuizen.

To meet this largely underestimated opportunity, Dr Dijkhuizen described the need for an improved model of effective innovation in the agri-food sector which results in ‘doing more with less’ through improved productivity and efficiency, and through value-added product development that works for the economy and the environment.

“Based on overseas experience I believe Australia could accelerate food security and export outcomes with improved cooperation at the highest level among government, private industry and knowledge institutes; comprising the ‘golden triangle’, which would be best encouraged through more government support for R&D and collaboration,” he said.

“This partnership culture is not as evident in Australia as I have seen in other countries. While this culture is immensely beneficial, it doesn’t happen automatically and there is a strong role needed from government to stimulate policies and projects in which all three partners benefit,” he said.

In 2014 Dr Dijkhuizen became President of the Dutch Topsector Agri & Food, a collaboration and innovation network between government, private industry and universities and research institutes. More recently, he established the Holland Centre in Shanghai to support Dutch agrifood companies doing business in China.

“The Australian R&D community and academic institutions are world class but I am not sure Australia currently has the necessary alignment of all major stakeholders involved outside of the ‘cooperative research centre’ model, which is limited by its domestic focus and short term nature.”

“Successful partnerships need to be at a very senior level, selective and international and intended to last long term.”

Dr Dijkhuizen also noted that sustainable food systems will need to become more intensified. “Increasing productivity and efficiency is key for the environment as it reduces the amount of resources needed for the production of one kilogram of food and hence reduces the 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is the most productive and efficient farmers who are producing the most sustainable food.”

“One technology that I expect may well warrant further scaling out in Australia due to the abundance of land, combined with water and soil deficiencies, is high technology greenhouses.

They offer the ability to establish the optimal climate and to include the latest technology. We find that they are 15 times more productive per cubic metre of water,” he noted.

“The areas of opportunity for collaboration are improved breeding, including the use of genomics and where necessary biotechnology, high tech management such as precision farming using sensoring and GPS, post-harvest technologies to minimise waste and maximize taste, and through new raw materials such as insects and algae protein for food, feed and fuel.”

“A new high-level innovation model could bring unprecedented opportunities and commercial benefits – even more so if the government supports R&D and additional international collaboration,” he said.