Food Futures Institute
Sustainable food, forestry and fibre production.
Food Futures Institute
Food security is the challenge of our generation. The Food Futures Institute promotes sustainable use of our limited land and water resources to economically and ethically improve food, forestry and fibre production.
The world’s population is set to grow by two billion people in the next 40 years. Food security is the challenge of our generation. Intensification of agriculture over the last half century has massively increased world food production, but erosion, nutrient runoff, salinity, biodiversity loss and climate change make it clear that we are working with a limited resource base. There are competing pressures on our land and water resources, and we need to manage them sustainably.
Research at the Food Futures Institute centres on sustainable food, forestry and fibre production. We work to improve quality and yield through ecologically sound, economically viable, humane and ethical approaches. Our successes range from MSA certification of beef and lamb quality , double cropping, reduced tillage practices and improved use of saline land and water, to creating better Wagyu marbled beef and better malting barley for beer. Our strengths in production are supported by Murdoch’s recognised excellence in biotechnology, and the only College of Veterinary Medicine in Western Australia.
Murdoch University was founded in 1973 on a strong agricultural base, and we continue to deliver real innovations and improvements for our industry and government partners, both in Western Australia and around the world.
Our research themes and centres
The Centre for Crop and Food Innovation
Our research on major grain and horticultural crops is focused on improving yield and quality, enhancing tolerance and protection from both abiotic and biotic stresses, and developing resilient cropping systems.
The major focus areas are crop genetics and genomics; soil and water management; climate-responsive food production; and innovative production systems and practices, including remote sensing and digital agriculture.
Pastures, Animal Production and Health
We work across the value chain to support the production of meat, milk and fibre for human consumption and use. Our expertise covers the main production animals – beef and dairy cattle, sheep for meat and wool, pigs, goats and chickens. Activities span:
- livestock health, welfare, nutrition, reproduction efficiency and growth
- pasture productivity with an emphasis on legumes and farming systems
- meat science, consumer sensory analysis and carcase imaging technologies
- consumer attitudes.
Key researchers in this area include:
Sustainable farming systems
A global challenge is to increase farm productivity without further degrading water, land and soils. As the changing climate and an increasing population lead to a strain on food production and our ability to meet demand, we are developing innovative ways to optimise crop production, whilst minimising impact on the environment.
This includes our research into harnessing nitrogen (N) fixation from legume symbiosis with nodule bacteria, and directing this ‘free’ N into agricultural systems, thus utilising a more environmentally friendly and cheaper alternative to inorganic N application that has become increasingly popular in recent years.
Key researchers in this area include:
Our research makes a real difference ‘in the field’, because that’s where we do most of it. We have large animal facilities, a veterinary hospital and associated research facilities, 2.8 ha of irrigated, netted field plots, and almost 1 ha of glasshouses in our Crop Research Hub at Murdoch’s Perth campus. We also have four research farms: the 51 ha ‘Vet Farm’ at the Perth campus, and the 40 ha ‘Mundijong Farm’, 80 ha ‘Mardella Farm’ and 203 ha ‘Whitby Falls Farm’ at Mundijong. Research stations for aquatic systems are available at Coral Bay and Bunbury.
Major technology platforms include the State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, the Australian National Phenome Centre, and the Enabling Technologies Centre, supporting omics facilities.
Professor Peter M. Davies
Professor Davies initially trained as a freshwater scientist, researching the management and rehabilitation of rivers and streams largely in agricultural landscapes.
He has published widely in this area including highly-cited, co-authored papers in Nature (e.g. global rivers in crisis).
More recently, he was the Foundation Director of a State Centre of Excellence (Natural Resource Management) and, for over five years, was a Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research in a world top 100, Group of Eight university.
In these roles, Professor Davies developed partnerships and high performance multidisciplinary research teams to address pressing global challenges (e.g. food, water, energy). He has developed research strategy and established international linkages to both industry and the research sector. He was recently the Program Director for Responding to Climate Change in the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) and has a strong commitment to research translation, research impact, better industry engagement and training the next generation of researchers.
Professor David Pethick
Professor Pethick is one of the founders of animal production research at Murdoch. Whilst his research background is in Physiology and Biochemistry, he developed a whole of value chain approach to animal production.
Working with successive CRCs over 20 years (beef and sheep) he, along with teams from MLA and UNE, developed the concept the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) brand. Starting from understanding customer preference, Pethick’s research sought to better understand how from on-farm breeding and husbandry to meat processing and cooking could add value to farm-gate profitability. In 2010, Prof Pethick and colleagues in the MSA pathways team were awarded the Australian Research Council Eureka Prize for Excellence in Research by a multi-disciplinary team.
Prior recognition of the impact of Pethick’s research came in 2005 with the Merial Howard Yelland Beef Industry Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the beef industry and internationally, through the awarding of the French Meat Academy in 2013 (Medaille de L’Academie de la viande) for his contribution to the MSA grading system as an international standard of excellence.
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 moved to Murdoch in 2009 to an Industry Chair, funded by Alcoa, to develop a research program on the potential of investment in carbon mitigation to drive landscape scale changes in soil and water management. More recently, Richard was acting Dean of the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences. Previously, 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.