A $10 million State Government funding boost will increase La Trobe University’s world-leading research capabilities in agriculture and food

A $10 million State Government funding boost will increase La Trobe University’s world-leading research capabilities in agriculture and food, leading to practical solutions and greater sustainability for Australian agriculture and regional communities.

The funding, announced today by Victoria Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas as part of the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF), will be used to fund:

  • Agriculture Production Platform ($3.5 million), to expand La Trobe’s research glasshouses, creating new growth facilities and controlled environment pods. The refurbished glasshouses will provide a unique facility where industry partners will be able to rapidly optimise management and breeding, and use “big data’ to improve yield, quality and plant health.
  • Applied Industry Agri Platforms ($6.5 million), to develop lab facilities and infrastructure to house dedicated plant phenomics growth chambers that are digitally accessible to regional industry, researchers and students. Plant phenomics uses high-tech visual apparatus to detect and link plants’ physical characteristics with genes, such as seed quality in terms of composition and high-value products from medicinal plants.

Announcing the funding at La Trobe’s Research and Innovation Precinct, a core component of La Trobe’s University City of the Future, Minister Thomas said:  “Victoria has some of the world’s best scientists dedicated to helping solve challenges like climate change. We are equipping them with the facilities and apparatus they need to do their work effectively, ensuring solutions are delivered to our farmers sooner.”

La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO said the new facilities, to be completed by September 2022, will significantly advance Victoria’s agri-technology capabilities.

“The Government’s investment in our agriculture research platforms will provide valuable opportunities for La Trobe’s agri-food researchers to engage with industry through services and facilities currently unavailable to most companies looking to translate their research and ideas.”

Professor Dewar said La Trobe was already a recognised international leader in research aiming to improve the production of high-quality foods and plant-based medicines.

“We’re pleased to be expanding our platforms to benefit the sector – from primary producers to manufacturers,” Professor Dewar said.

Professor Jim Whelan, Research Director of the La Trobe Institute for Agriculture and Food, said the new phenomics facility will provide an international edge for Australian agriculture.

“Thanks to this new funding, our facility will also hasten the pace of development of new crop varieties, providing an advantage for Australia in the global market,” Professor Whelan said.

He said La Trobe was developing technologies that will identify novel plant traits and translate these data to crops much faster and with greater accuracy than ever before.

“We will also be able to train the next generation of agricultural researchers in disciplines ranging from engineering, data analyses and integration to plant physiology and bio-technology that will drive innovation in Australian agriculture in the coming decades to ensure economic and environmental sustainability.”

Professor Whelan said growers of the future will rely less on broad scale use of pesticides and other interventions and will be able to market their produce ethical, sustainable, chemical free, and kinder to the environment.

La Trobe University’s Research and Innovation Precinct, in which the new facilities will be located, has already helped establish start-ups and fostered the growth of businesses, including leading medicinal agriculture company Cann Group.

Cann Group CEO Peter Crock said: “It is really exciting to be at the forefront of a new opportunity in agriculture, and we look forward to working closely with La Trobe to leverage this capability. Strict regulations around the world has meant this type of research ecosystem is extremely rare, and it is going to be a significant boost for the emerging industry in Victoria and Australia.”

About Agriculture at La Trobe University

La Trobe research is focused on developing innovative solutions to support local and national agricultural production in a resource-limited world. Our industry partners include PepsiCo, Cann Group, Photon Systems Instruments, Pivot-Incitec, SPEXAI, and CSIRO, as well as AgriFutures and TALGA, who also facilitate the engagement and translation of research to industry.

La Trobe’s Research and Innovation Precinct is home to Victoria’s largest agriculture R&D building: The Centre for AgriBiosciences (Agribio) which brings together La Trobe’s world-class research and the work of Agriculture Victoria in state-of-the-art facilities.

On-site technology includes:

  • Single Cell sequencing technologies through to quantitative plant phenotyping, a range of mass spectrometers for analyses of metabolites and proteins
  • Controlled Environment Rooms and Glasshouses for research on plant growth and responses to abiotic and biotic challenges

Also within the Research and Innovation precinct is the $24 million La Trobe-led Australian Research Council (ARC) Industry Transformation Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture (ARC MedAg Hub).  The Hub combines academic and industry research and expertise to drive better cultivation, breeding and manufacturing practises to support Australia’s medicinal agriculture industry and ultimately improve health outcomes for patients.

About the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF)

The Fund was developed in response to the COVID-19’s impact on Victorian universities. It supports capital works, applied research and research infrastructure projects focused on boosting Victoria’s productivity and economy in the pandemic recovery. The VHESIF has already announced $17m in funding for La Trobe’s Bio Innovation Hub and Digital Innovation Hub and $2.5 million for a new Health and Biomedical Hub at the University’s Bendigo Campus.

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