Wimmera farmers have long been supplying restaurants and food manufacturers with the produce they need to make a living, and now they are being encouraged to do this manufacturing themselves.
The Wimmera Development Association is partnering with AgTech firm Beanstalk to deliver the Wimmera Food Innovation Program.
This will provide training to people with ideas for food businesses - and those that have existing businesses.
WDA project manager Vernetta Taylor said the aim was to create new revenue streams and opportunities for the entrants.
"We want to grow food entrepreneurship in our region," she said.
"I think if farmers have the desire to go into food distribution they should consider it. They may have lamb they want to sell directly or an idea for a niche product."
Ms Taylor said the two-hour workshops would include insights on the opportunities COVID-19 had created. Up to 10 participants in these workshops will then undertake a 12-week crash course in foundational innovation skills.
Following this, the program will develop the three strongest ideas it sees across a further 12 weeks.
Ms Taylor said: "Over time, we expect that a critical mass of participants will allow for an alumni network of program participants to co-mentor one another beyond the program periods.
"It's for anyone that has innovative food-related products, or ideas for them, that wants to diversify and distribute them far and wide."
Beanstalk founder Will Taing said his organisation had previously rolled out this strategy to Darwin and part of New South Wales, with positive results.
"We get some businesses that come with an idea and we help them move to establishing a business with early stages of revenue," he said.
"For existing operations, (the program) is about helping them diversify and de-risk their core business: A farmer in Mildura who took part was producing almonds and had a sheep operation.
"While the sheep operation wasn't their focus, one of the sons in the business was taking an interesting approach to training Kelpie dogs to manage a sheep flock. As a result, they were working with Adelaide University on understanding the welfare and stress implications for sheep, and they found there was less stress.
"They are now looking to move into welfare lamb products into high-end butchers. We worked with that group to help them test it and work with a number of chefs in Melbourne and Adelaide to validate the taste of the new product."
Ms Taylor said the project would be delivered in conjunction with Food Innovation Australia Limited, and had been in the works for several years.
"I think the food industry is already growing in the region, and I believe there is potential here that hasn't been capitalised on," she said.
"We really want people in the region to think outside the box. We are well known for farming, but we are a diverse region and we believe the Wimmera can be involved in the changing marketplace."
The three Innovation Inspiration Workshops will take place on
Registrations can be made via www.beanstalkagtech.com/wimmera-food-innovation
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