Taking an innovative approach to food
Professor Andy Lowe
The University of Adelaide has appointed Professor Andy Lowe as its first Director of Food Innovation. So what is food innovation and why is it in focus?
South Australia is world renowned for its food and wine. Our state produces 80 per cent of Australia’s premium wine exports and 50 per cent of the nation’s total wine production. Just as impressive, our food and agricultural products are of the highest quality in terms of safety, aesthetics and nutritional value.
It’s an enviable position that is worth investing in, given the importance of the sector to the South Australian economy.
“When we think about food and its production and where we can innovate, some obvious areas such as farming, food processing and transportation come to mind, but innovation in food covers a lot more activities than you may think,” says Andy.
“We have researchers across our five faculties working in food innovation.
“We have scientists working in crop and animal production, including new kinds of healthy grains and pulses and new breeds of livestock. We have economists performing economic and supply chain analysis; engineers focusing on processing and production improvements; health scientists working on improved nutrition; and, in arts and social sciences researchers looking at food appreciation, food labelling and the perception of genetically modified foods.
“A quick stocktake of expertise across the University shows we have over 260 academics involved – we really have the predominant expertise in South Australia.”
Food innovation is not new to the University. The Waite campus, which was established following a generous bequest of land by pastoralist Peter Waite in 1913, is recognised internationally for its strengths in plant science and breeding, landscape and soil science, wine and viticulture, and food research.
“At Waite, and in consultation with industry, we have produced over half the commercially grown grain varieties in Australia, including varieties with improved baking characteristics for bread, and wheat varieties for improved pasta,” explains Andy.
The University’s FOODplus Research Centre, based at Waite and in partnership with the Faculties of Sciences and Health and Medical Sciences and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), is linking health researchers with plant and animal scientists, growers and producers to develop food that can deliver real health benefits, such as increasing omega 3 in eggs.
“Researchers from FOODplus, Waite, the Robinson Research Institute and the Centre for Global Food and Resources have established a partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University and China Agricultural University in China through the Australia-China Joint Research Centre of Grains for Health, to develop healthy grains to reduce the risk of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases,” says Andy.
The University has also added additional areas of expertise, including responding to the demand for healthier food options locally, nationally and overseas. Researchers at the Centre for Global Food and Resources are working closely with industry, scientists and governments in over 12 countries on research which addresses economic, policy, agribusiness and social issues affecting global food systems.
The Roseworthy campus is another jewel in South Australia’s food and agricultural crown. With a history dating back to 1883, the campus is renowned for excellence in dryland agriculture, natural resource management and animal health and production.
The campus includes partnerships with TAFE, Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) and the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI). In addition, it is home to the State Government’s Constellation in Animal Science – a 10-year vision for science, technology and innovation in South Australia – and several Cooperative Research Centres.
Food Innovation at the University of AdelaideThe Roseworthy campus also houses the Davies Research Centre, which is actively working to reduce environmental footprints, improve cattle genetics, welfare and meat quality. The centre is leading several international research and development programs in ruminant science, notably in the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Italy, China and Indonesia.
“Roseworthy campus is a leader in breeding programs for cattle, pigs and sheep," says Andy.
Undoubtedly innovative food research like this is delivering great benefit to the food industry.
“The University is working closely with government and key food industry groups to bridge the gap between new innovation, which is being generated in this state by the research organisations, and the ability of food producers to be able to take it up,” says Andy.
In his new role, Andy will build relationships with external industry partners and connect researchers with partners who can benefit from their expertise.
“With a well-coordinated approach, we can ensure that our innovative research is linked up with industry partners who can help realise benefits, which will ultimately lead to growth and innovation, supporting new jobs in the state’s food sector.
Research partners include:
> Mondelez International
Finance and sales
> Duxton Asset Management
> Piper Alderman
> Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association
> Ashton Valley Fresh
> Beston Global Food Company
> Fleurieu Milk Company
> SunPork Fresh Foods
> Sundrop Farms
> San Remo
> Thomas Foods
> Feast! Fine Foods
> Spring Gully
> Coopers Brewery
> Allied Mills
Andy Lowe has been at the University of Adelaide for 11 years, most recently as Director of the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity. He comes from an environmental science and sustainability background, and has experience in crop genetics.
He has held a number of roles in his career, including Head of Science for South Australia's Department for Environment and Acting Director of the South Australian Museum, and has led a number of national and regional research programs, including Associate Science Director of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).
Andy has collaborated with over 300 researchers from nearly 100 institutes and 30 countries, leveraged over $100 million in funding over the past 10 years and has extensive experience in commercialising research.
Story by Kelly Brown
Photo by Russell Millard