Four Queensland agrifood tech startups to watch
As Queensland ramps up its ambition to become a “world-leading agtech destination”, a growing number of innovative local players are bursting onto the national scene. Here’s four that stole the spotlight in Startup Alley at evokeAG. 2023.
Queensland is fast gaining a reputation as the birthplace of an expanding number of “agripreneurs”, that is innovators who are creating cutting-edge technology transforming the agricultural landscape.
That view was underscored by the state’s minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, as he unveiled Queensland’s five-year AgTech Roadmap in February 2023, which promises to accelerate the development and adoption of technology in the state’s $24 billion agricultural sector.
“Queensland-made and serviced agtech innovations are highly sought after,” Mr Furner said, noting the state’s agricultural advantages which he said positions Queensland to become a “preferred destination for world-leading agtech development”.
“We want growers and producers to be the early birds – the first to adopt revolutionary new technology, and the first to bring new products and services forward for Queensland to export to the world,” he added.
When viewed alongside other strands of the Sunshine State’s big innovation push in the lead up to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, such as the $142 million landmark Advance Queensland Innovation roadmap announced in July 2022, it seems there’s never been a better time for local agtech innovators.
Among the many startups breaking into the Queensland scene, four budding agtech businesses were on display as part of this year’s startup alley at AgriFutures evokeAG.2023 in February. While each solves a very different challenge, the swift rate of adoption of their products shows all have the potential to flourish.
Agbot – pushing manual water level checks into the past
Founder: Phil Livingston
Brought to market in May 2022, Agbot is putting an end to the time-worn chore of physically checking water tank levels across a farm.
Designed and manufactured in Queensland by technology startup Gasbot, Agbot is a remote monitoring system, providing a virtual way for farmers to keep an eye on their farm’s water use – in tanks, troughs, dams and irrigation systems – as well as diesel and liquid fertiliser levels.
The system uses robustly designed sensors that can be monitored from anywhere on the planet, via satellite and using a simple app. Agbot can alert farmers to abnormalities in water levels, in near real-time, thereby offering the benefits of reduced fuel and time spent on manual water runs, along with quicker responses to potential animal welfare issues.
As commercial sales climb, the startup is also working to expand Agbot’s capabilities, including offering a larger range of sensors and connectivity solutions.
Rainstick – zapping up a high-tech mushroom boom
Founders: Darryl Lyons and Mic Black
Named a “deep-tech gamechanger” by the CSIRO, Cairns-based startup Rainstick is combining traditional knowledge and bioelectricity to turbocharge fungi and plant production.
Paying homage to the natural phenomenon whereby plants thrive after thunderstorms, Rainstick co-founders Darryl Lyons and Mic Black have created a system that mimics the bioelectric effect of lightning to deliver targeted electrical frequencies to fungi to stimulate certain biological functions.
Trials of their “lightning generator” on cultivated shiitake mushrooms have found the tech substantially increases both its harvest speed and yield. It also inhibits mould spores, providing a chemical-free solution to stopping mould, often the cause of serious productivity loss – and overuse of fungicides – among commercial mushroom growers.
The startup, which formed in 2022, is now running on-farm trials to create a scalable, commercial product. At the same time, its founders are looking beyond the mushroom industry, with lab trials underway on a variety of seedlings, including wheat, barley and canola.
TruckTracker – keeping an eye on livestock as they travel
Founders: Jack Travers and Shane Rendoth
Created by Brisbane-based business Direct Livestock, TruckTracker is a mobile app that allows buyers and sellers of livestock to follow their progress from paddock to destination.
From the moment the animals are loaded on a truck, the app can be used to monitor the vehicle’s location in real-time, tracking its safety and timeliness.
Beyond peace of mind, TruckTracker offers a raft of operational efficiencies, such as improved traceability, reduced dependence on paperwork via fully automated trip reports, and easier compliance with primary duty obligations in the heavy vehicle chain of responsibility laws.
In a first for the industry, the app also facilitates better in-transit animal welfare outcomes and reporting, providing livestock owners and purchasers assurance their cattle are being checked and looked after throughout the journey and allowing transport companies to demonstrate the quality of their service.
During recent trials, TruckTracker data has been shown to help identify issues causing dark cutting and bruising to animals during transport, prompting in-transit improvements which have saved producers and processors money.
LYRO Robotics – revolutionising picking and packing
Founders: Dr Nicole Robinson, Dr Juxi Leitner and Norton Kelly-Boxall
Brisbane-based startup LYRO Robotics has created the world’s first autonomous robots that can pick up fresh produce from a conveyor belt and pack it precisely into boxes – a job previously thought too delicate to be handled by a machine.
Founded in 2019 by researchers from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision after winning acclaim in the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge, the robots use a combination of artificial intelligence, computer vision and advanced grasping technology.
The solution – which is helping address the pressing problem of labour shortages in the food supply chain – is sold as “robotic-packing as-a-service” with customers facing no upfront capital cost, instead paying for how much the robot packs. The machines can be up and running within an hour, working side-by-side with people to pack a variety of produce, such as zucchinis, avocados and pineapples.
While LYRO Robotics has so far focused on scaling to reach farmers across Australia, co-founder Juxi Leitner says the startup’s tech stack – “the brain, the eyes and the hands” – can be applied to a wide range of warehouse packing scenarios beyond agriculture.
Agbot, Rainstick, Truck Tracker and LYRO Robotics were selected to participate in Startup Alley at evokeAG. 2023 in Adelaide and joined a cohort of Queensland Delegates. Applications for Startup Alley are now open. Lear more about the opportunity here. Sign up for event updates and fresh articles about the innovators and start-ups transforming our agrifood sector here.
Learn more about the Queensland Government’s investment to drive agtech adoption and the QLD companies driving innovation in the sunshine state.