FERMEN Tasmania chair Kim Seagram AM said she believes the creation of regional clusters can transform Australia’s agriculture value-add sector and reduce the barriers for regional businesses to enter the market and develop a scalable product.
Ms Seagram told ABARES Outlook online that the Fermen Tasmania business plan is a model which could help build other cluster facilities as well as inform processors and producers across the country.
Clusters are regional groups of in interconnected businesses, research institutions and government organisations that work to establish resources, knowledge and relationships to support the growth of small to large businesses.
Fermen Tasmania was conceived about seven years ago to capitalise on the benefits of using fermentation to value-add a range of products from wheat and barley to vegetables and milk.
Ms Seagram said Centre for Food Innovation (CIF), which is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania, CSIRO and Commonwealth Government’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation, kick-started the project with help from Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL).
She said CIF consultants researched the industry in Tasmania and found that a targeted hub would be more effective than a generalised facility.
“Rather than have a big centre for food innovation, they realised that we need a network of things across the north of Tasmania,” Mr Seagram said.
“We are very good at growing some of the best produce in the country, just not very good at value-adding it.
“They recommended a centre for fermentation for Launceston and also a centre that would provide some packaging, bottling and other capabilities like that.”
Wide reach of fermentation
She said having fermentation be the centre of the hub will allow multiple sectors to make use of the facility.
“We didn’t want to be a general centre, we wanted to focus on something that was going to have an impact that has synergies throughout that specialisation.
“The applied science of chemistry and microbiology is really quite applicable across all the fermented food and beverages.
“It will be an incubator facility which will have a winery side, a brewery, dairy, commercial fermentation kitchens and a sourdough bakery in there.”
Ms Seagram said the project last year received $7.5 million in funding from the Australian Government’s Building Better Regions program and has secured $5.1 million in private funding.
“We are needing to secure the last bit of state funding and we are doing so work to be able to satisfy the state government on that front.”
Advantages of cluster model
Ms Seagram said the group that worked to develop the hub found that using collaboration through the cluster economic model would reduce the cost and skill barriers for new businesses.
“We realised that natural tendency towards collaboration was the thing that was going to be that real innovation driver,” she said.
“It was going to allow people to share their expertise and allow others to grow alongside them rather just holding their cards close to their chest.
“Unless you have people working together and solving each other’s problems, you don’t get those sparks of innovation that you would just from isolation.”
Opportunities to duplicate Fermen model
Ms Seagram said Fermen Tasmania is already in the process of collaborating with other cluster projects around the country.
“In the spirit of collaboration between clusters, we have actually shared our business plan with the food and agriculture network in the central coast.
“They are developing a beverage creation facility around our business model.
“The more we can collaborate together through the cluster work the faster we will be able to achieve because we are still not very good at value-adding.
“We need to get much better at it.”
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