Food Futures Institute

Centre for Crop and Food Innovation

Centre Director: Professor Rajeev Varshney
Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia


About the centre

The Centre for Crop and Food Innovation is ideally placed to capitalise on new technologies and investments in crop agriculture. It provides both strength and depth to undertake research on major broadacre and horticultural crops to improve yield, quality and enhance tolerance and protection from biological and environmental stresses, and encompasses cutting edge R&D in crop Agri-Bio, Agri-Tech and Food Tech.

The Centre works to keep Australian farmers competitive in the world marketplace, and undertakes research in crop genomics, genetics, transgenics, gene editing, molecular biology and physiology, soil and water management, new agricultural technologies including remote sensing and robotics, and the developing area of food technology.


News from the centre


The centre’s core research areas

Our research has six integrated themes – Crop Production, Crop Quality, Crop Protection and Biosecurity, Innovative Production Systems, Food Technology and Pathways to Impact.


Crop Quality

Our research is targeted at enhancing crop quality to keep Australian grain producers competitive in the world market. For example, for wheat we focus on improving protein content and baking quality.

For barley, we address factors which reduce quality and work to understand the basis of traits which improve malting and brewing quality for the production of beer.


Crop Production

Across wheat, barley, lupin and potatoes, we continue to undertake pre-breeding research to develop new varieties with increased yields in poor quality soils and under conditions of environmental stress.

Our research focus spans the latest molecular technologies to field agronomy, including molecular and physiological studies to improve tolerance to heat stress, improve nitrogen use efficiency, frost and heat tolerance, contributing to new varieties, irrigation and nutrients, soil health, and pest and disease management.

Close up of green wheat crop

Crop Protection and Biosecurity

We use new breeding technologies to understand fundamental interactions between crop pests and diseases and their host plants, and use this information to develop novel forms of resistance.

Our emphasis is on genetic resistance to pests and diseases and innovative methods for their control, including use of ‘cold plasma’ as a potential new post-harvest treatment for pest and disease control.


Innovative Production Systems

We concentrate on data science, digital and precision farming, remote sensing, monitoring yield, miniaturised real-time sensors for monitoring crops and soil health, and novel technologies and techniques for improved water and nutrient use efficiency.

Our newer activities include digital agriculture, delivering value for farmers from the ‘big data’ generated by new sensor and monitoring technologies, and on farm robotics, with the aim of making farming more efficient, economic, and internationally competitive. These areas combine engineering, process control, artificial intelligence and their applications on farm, extending to automated hydroponics, protected and vertical farming.


Food Technology

With increasing interest in new and novel foods, our research is extending beyond production and traditional quality measures to add value to food products.

Research in this area ranges from developing advanced technologies to enable longer shelf life for export, identifying and reducing anti-nutritional compounds in foods; nutritional profiling of new to market foods like quinoa, and replacing animal proteins with plant proteins and adding value to food products.

Grain spilling out of wicker basket

Pathways to Impact

We engage with the grains, pastures and horticultural industries, together with exporters, food processors and other end-users to ensure that our research outputs translate into industry best practice, community engagement, vocational training, and evidence-based government policy. The latter includes training in ‘Science Diplomacy’ to support harmonisation of international regulations for the products of ‘New Breeding Technologies’.

Making use of the advanced enabling facilities of the Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, activities include private and public sector engagement, ensuring delivery of genetic products, know-how, training in new practices and services, and the commercialisation of research outputs.


Key researchers

Professor Rajeev Varshney

Professor Varshney is a Clarivate Analytics’ highly cited researcher in the field of Agricultural Science, specializing in genomics, genetics, molecular breeding and capacity building in developing countries. He is engaged in discovering, developing, and delivering innovative R&D solutions to tackle wicked problems facing global agriculture.

Professor Varshney has made significant contributions to improving food security in Asia and Africa by creating genomic resources of major “orphan” tropical crops. He has initiated and led major international programs that are creating and delivering superior crop varieties to some of the world’s poorest farmers.

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Professor Richard Harper

Professor Harper has a PhD in Soil Sciences, spending over 20 years with the Western Australian Government and Industry working on science and policies to reduce the effects of both increasing soil salinity and climate change in plantations, farms and forests.

Richard has received accolades including being a member of the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee (2015-2016) and is President of the Australian Council of Agricultural Deans

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Professor Chengdao Li

Professor Li is Director of the Western Crop Genetics Alliance, a Joint Venture between Murdoch University and the Western Australia Agriculture Authority.

Professor Li has worked extensively in both Australia and Canada. His research focuses on improving crop breeding efficiency by combining conventional breeding, genomics-assisted breeding, double haploid genetics and most recently, gene editing technologies

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Professor Richard Bell

Professor Bell is Deputy Director of the Centre for Crop and Food Innovation and a specialist in soil fertility and land management. He works nationally and internationally, particularly in the Indo Pacific region.

Professor Bell has published more than 200 refereed articles and much of this work focuses on the mineral nutrition of crop plants, soil management and the rehabilitation of degraded agricultural land. His international research has focused on village scale soil, crop and water management, particularly in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam.

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Professor Michael Jones

Professor Jones has a distinguished international career spanning Australia, the UK and USA, and is Foundation Director of the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre and Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology. For five years he was a member of ABAC, the Australian Biotechnology Advisory Council, which advised Commonwealth Government ministers on national biotechnology policy.

He recently reviewed agricultural R&D for the Government of Mauritius and advised on the establishment of the Mauritius Biotechnology Institute. He is now a member of the Office of Gene Technology Regulator Expert Reference Panel.

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Associate Professor Vicky Solah

Associate Professor Vicky Solah’s research sits at the interface between food and nutrition science with an emphasis on linkages between food composition and structure, how food is produced and processed, and human nutrition.

Her research is closely aligned with industry in Australia and internationally. Dr Solah is proud to have collaborated on research projects involving food and health in Australia (NHMRC with UWA Perth, Sydney University, CSIRO Canberra), Japan (dairy), China (noodles and oats), Turkey (bulgur), Singapore (steamed bread), India (chapatti) and Canada (viscous polysaccharides and fibre).

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