We need a new stump jump plough to be food bowl for Asian century

Australia needs to be more innovative - that's a popular cry of politicians and others. But let me take you back to 1878. "That's an awfully long time ago," says Louise, who's always trying to ignore the effects of age, even if they have benefits.

Australia needs to be more innovative - that's a popular cry of politicians and others. But let me take you back to 1878. "That's an awfully long time ago," says Louise, who's always trying to ignore the effects of age, even if they have benefits.

But trendmeister Charlie, who knows that a great tomorrow is just yesterday re-lived a whole lot smarter, describes the trouble that early farmers had clearing the land to create the great southern Australian wheat belt.

All the conventional European agricultural methods and tools for producing the new colony's staple food were rendered useless by the good old Mallee root. Realising that wheat production was critical to its young population, the South Australian government posted a reward of £200 to anyone who could invent a way of being able to turn root-infested plains into fields of essential food - wheat.

It was the trigger for an invention that was, in many ways, the beginning of Australian innovation: the stump jump plough - a contraption devised by Richard Bowyer Smith and according to Fulbright scholar Donald W. Meinig it worked like "a ship in a storm". And as a result, southern Australia became a food bowl for a booming new country as well as a massive export industry.

I'm grateful for our great agricultural ancestry because one of those early farms planted an olive grove in 1942 as a measure against trade interrupted by war. "Fair enough," says Louise the Bon Vivant, "our salads had to be able stand on their own two feet."

"And essential for a Mediterranean diet which adds two years to your life," says Charlie.

I've recently bought one of these historic 70-year-old trees to be transplanted to the foothills of Mount Buller where I have a cabin. So I have a personal debt to the stump jump plough.

But where to now? We keep hearing we're on the edge of greatness with the rise of Asia. And we have heard for years about the need for Australia to enter a new age of innovation.

Sure enough, the federal government has released its industry and innovation statement that promises a billion dollars to kick things along, but it's got to start to turn into real products and services that have lengthy lives of their own. And that means we have to give some real emphasis and commitment to what's truly home-grown. And I mean literally.

I've got one food client who was saying that Asia is screaming out for the protein that we can produce for them. He explains that the middle class on our doorstep is already a huge market. KPMG estimates that Indonesia had a middle-class population of 50 million last year.

In its report of April last year titled The Rise of the Middle Class in Asian Emerging Markets, KPMG noted the middle class of Asia more than doubled to become at least 56 per cent of the population between 1990 and 2008.

It also quoted Boston Consulting Group research predicting a middle-class population for China of 400 million by 2020.

There are many things we can say about the tastes of middle-class populations, but one thing is indisputable - every last one of them wants to taste clean, protein-rich food.

With the biggest spurts of the mineral boom all but over and a struggling motor industry, it's time to get focused on industries that will deliver us prosperity for generations to come.

Food and agriculture have got to be right up there along with tourism. Already 2010-11 Bureau of Statistics figures show that the agriculture sector plus accommodation and food services employ 1.4 million Australians compared to 900,000 in all manufacturing, which of course includes food processing anyway.

The government says it has put up a billion so it's time to make it work; particularly as its much-touted free trade agreements leave so many doors firmly shut.

Who's going to do a Google with food? Where is the stump jump plough of the 21st century that is going to be our "ship in a storm" of economic waves that we simply have to navigate safely and quickly?

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