Big Australian Cooperative Research Centre to help lead agriculture to a carbon-free future

A new agriculture research hub – with the highest level of funding ever for this type of model – has been launched in Queensland to assist farmers with the transition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s tough for farmers to be at the bottom end of the food chain. But that’s where they are when it comes to reliable – and cheap – energy.

Many agricultural businesses operate at the loose ends of hundreds of kilometres of wires. Others must regularly truck in diesel to fuel generators and machinery.

Both are subject to soaring costs. And that’s before the increasing demands of disaster mitigation. Carbon emission reductions projects, although theoretically attractive financially,  are sometimes considered an optional cost.

But they are problems the $70 billion sector must overcome, especially as it strives to become a $100 billion industry by 2030.

Now, a new $300 million effort, based on the industry-academia Cooperative Research Centre model, has been initiated in Queensland to tackle the practical challenges this drive poses.

The University of Queensland, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries – and a consortium of 73 industry partners – have formed the Zero Net Emissions Agricultural Cooperative Research Centre (ZNE-Ag CRC).

The Federal Government pitched $87 million towards its funding pool – making it the largest Cooperative Research Centre in the concept’s history.

Matthew morell image lyndon mechielsen square 1
Matthew Morell

“Reducing emissions across Australian agriculture is a significant challenge given the diversity of agricultural products we produce, the unique challenges presented by our environmental conditions and the need for new technology to drive emissions,” says interim CEO Professor Matthew Morell.

But the Federal Government’s research and development investment body, AgriFutures Australia, stated in its October annual report that these challenges mask an opportunity.

“On-farm renewable energy systems present an affordable and low-carbon pathway for primary producers and agribusinesses to remain globally competitive,” its industry research found.

AgriFutures Australia Manager for National Rural Issues Jane Knight says there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But research points to a set of potential pathways primary producers can take – and the business cases backing each.

Agriculture can be net zero

“Battery electric and hydrogen fuel cells are the dominant technologies expected in future heavy machinery and equipment markets,” Ms Knight explains.

“We’ve seen evidence in the freight sector where prime movers have been retrofitted for battery electric operation, with electric trucks achieving a 300km range for between $14-$42 in comparison to a $116 diesel equivalent.”

It’s a promising win-win scenario.

But AgriFutures concedes the economics of scale that apply to the agricultural sector could pose unanticipated constraints.

Such hurdles are what the new CRC hopes to identify and overcome.

“This commitment of industry to this CRC is particularly important, demonstrating the leadership the sector is taking in finding economically viable mechanisms to drive to a zero net emissions future,” says Morell.

Early results are expected.

“We’ll provide coordinated tools for industry and benchmarks to assess emissions footprints as the first part of a more coordinated and rigorous set of approaches,” he says.

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The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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