As one of the few research-intensive universities worldwide located in a subtropical environment, UQ is a global leader in agriculture and food science research in subtropical and tropical production systems. UQ’s vision is to improve the productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of tropical and subtropical food, fibre and agri-business industries.

The School of Veterinary Science, the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences (SAFS), and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) combine to give UQ’s research grouping powerful breadth, critical mass and extensive industry linkages. Established as a UQ research institute in partnership with the Queensland Government in 2010, QAAFI has attracted more than 40 new researchers, adding significant impetus to research in plant, animal and food science at UQ.

UQ’s research has a direct impact on the technological development of the Australian agricultural and food industries and on our understanding of the relationships between production, food, markets, nutrition and health in Australia and internationally. Our researchers are proud recipients of some of Australia’s most prestigious awards and accolades in this field, and include: a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science; the Excellence in Drying Award for Transfer of Fundamentals into Practice; the Alsberg-French-Schoch Memorial Award for Starch Science (Professor Mike Gidley); and the Food Hydrocolloids Trust Medal. In 2012, Professor Graeme Hammer was awarded the Farrer Memorial Medal in recognition of his pioneering work in crop modelling for plant breeding and crop improvement.

Research occurs at:

  • Faculty of Science
  • Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI)
  • Institute for Molecular Bioscience
  • Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
  • Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology (EAIT) 

UQ has particular expertise in the areas of: 

  • Cereals
  • Horticulture
  • Food Science
  • Farming Systems
  • Animal Production
  • Animal Health and Welfare
  • Next Generation and Renewable Fertilizers 

Agriculture and Food Sciences in brief

  • More than 70 full-time equivalent researchers
  • More than 300 PhD and MPhil students in 2014
  • More than 1000 publications since 2008
  • More than $95.5 million in research funding since 2008
  • Horticultural Production received the highest possible rating – well above world standard – in the 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia exercise. Crop and Pasture Production and Fisheries Sciences also rated ‘above world standard’.

UQ Agriculture and Food Sciences is supported by state-of-the-art investments including:

  • The Queensland Animal Science Precinct: providing the ability to work with small animals up to livestock in conditions up to PC2
  • The Animal Genetic Laboratory: undertaking much of the genotyping for the Australian beef Industry. 

Highlights of UQ Agriculture and Food Sciences

Cereal production contributing to global food security

UQ researchers are at the forefront of genetics, physiology and mathematical modelling to pursue adaptive traits and incorporate them in cereal germplasm to increase productivity, profitability and potential growth of the sorghum, wheat and barley industries nationally and globally. Sorghum breeding research at UQ has a long history and is recognised worldwide as a leading source of germplasm, contributing to commercial cultivars in Australia, USA, Europe and South America.

Sorghum is Queensland’s largest cereal crop and is vital to the rural economics of north-eastern Australia. It also feeds 500 million people worldwide and is a staple food in sub-Saharan Africa. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $4 million over four years for UQ and DAFFQ’s sorghum crop improvement research team to improve the drought tolerance of sorghum and enhance breeding capacity in sub-Saharan Africa. Our collaborations include Beijing Genomics Institute, gene discovery with Texas A&M and USDA, and training and capacity building with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. 

Sustainability is also enabled by research into next generation and waste derived fertilizers. This research, funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation as well as the food and wastewater industries will improve profitability of agriculture while reducing environmental impacts and enabling local manufacture of fertilizers. 

Benefiting the Australian food industry and community health  

UQ researchers are working closely with the Australian and international food processing sector, and have developed a strategic partnership with the Australian Food and Grocery Council to enhance the training of food scientists including the establishment of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre across SAFS, QAAFI and the School of Chemical Engineering (EAIT).

Current research at UQ seeks to understand the fundamental mechanisms underpinning the consumer-perceived, nutritional and processing properties of foods covering a diverse range of product types. Particular strengths are in dairy science (eg Industrial Transformation Research Hub with Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd), starch science, plant-based foods (eg ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls), food ingredient encapsulation technologies, food structure design and rheology, and metabolomics for food quality.  

Improving the productivity and sustainability of tropical and subtropical agricultural systems

UQ’s world-leading science provides improved management of soils, weeds and risks to enhance the profitability and sustainability of subtropical and tropical grain, sugarcane and cotton production systems. It also provides new varieties, planting material of a high health status, improved disease management practices, and product diversity to enable a long-term sustainable and profitable Australian tropical and subtropical horticulture industry. 

  • A UQ-led team has developed a comprehensive research program aimed at protecting Australia’s $450 million banana industry, currently under threat from endemic and exotic pests.
  • Research on the use of BioClay for crop protection (Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Award) employs ‘trigger-released’ clay nanoparticles to deliver dsRNA, targeting invading crop pathogens and pests.
  • UQ is a core partner in the development and application of the Agricultural Production Systems Simulation platform (APSIM), which is now used world-wide to underpin research, development, and policy analysis in crop production, farming system design and climate risk.
  • In the last 40 years, approximately one third of global arable land has been lost due to degradation. UQ research has focused on means of increasing the productivity of crops in acid soils, with current research revealing how acid soils exert their toxic effects on plants.
  • A major threat to the sustainability and productivity of the northern Australian landscape is the spread of woody weeds, particularly in pastoral systems. Research into the phenomenon of naturally occurring instances of dieback has resulted in the development of a technology to harness the fungi associated with this disease as a bioherbicide, now licensed to a start-up company (BioHerbicides Australia Pty Ltd). 

Improving the competitiveness and sustainability of the animal agriculture industries

UQ uses high impact science to advance the productivity, and economic and environmental sustainability, of the tropical and subtropical livestock industries. UQ has strong working relationships with industry: support for this area of research comes from organisations such as Meat and Livestock Australia or from other industry partners and is directed towards both strategic and near-term impacts for producers in Australia. Another significant source of funding is the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) with UQ scientists engaged in ACIAR projects spanning both Asia and Africa.