AgTech — the wave of emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and biotechnology coming to food and agriculture — has the potential to both benefit Australia’s agricultural sector and create direct economic benefits through commercialisation of new technology.

Examining St Louis, Missouri, a mid-west city with a strong specialisation in AgTech offers insight into how to drive success in Australia's startup ecosystems. 

A new report from the United States Studies Centre's Innovation and Entrepreneurship program looks at how capitalising on strong endowments and drawing together focused investors and corporations has tripled AgTech investment into St Louis since 2016. The authors of the report argue that a stronger focus on innovation infrastructure and encouraging early-stage investment will be key to AgTech success in Australia.  

"Despite agriculture being relatively less important to the United States economy than it is for Australia on a contribution to GDP basis, venture capital investment in AgTech — the leading edge of agricultural technology — is very small in Australia comparatively. Looking to St Louis lets us examine the characteristics of success in a Brisbane-sized metropolitan area and recommend things we can emulate," Director of the USSC's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, Claire McFarland, says.

"By creating the right conditions and encouraging AgTech specialisation, Australia will be well placed to create the technology relevant to agriculture both here and globally and unlock the 25 per cent productivity gains that the adoption of digital technology can bring," says Cass Mao, co-author of the report.

Key points

  • In 2018, Missouri attracted US$75 million in AgTech venture capital while total investment across the whole of Australia was only US$29 million. 
  • Australia should catalyse AgTech specialisation in its existing start-up ecosystems in Sydney and Melbourne by creating AgTech districts to bring together researchers and corporations and connect urban ecosystems to on-the-ground expertise in regions. 
  • Australia should empower lead organisations to identify and close AgTech gaps by making AgTech a more attractive proposition for potential founders. 
  • Australia should focus on attracting external capital and companies.

View report

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