Skip Navigation

What Does a Circular Economy Look Like in Agriculture?

Wed 29, Apr 2020



By Turlough Guerin, CAg, AIA Chair

I recently shared a column on urban agriculture ( This week I am going to explore further into the concept of circular economy in agriculture.

Within the agricultural realm, the circular economy approach suggests that the industry can achieve greater sustainability by keeping more resources and materials in use for as long as possible. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, including increased product durability, reuse and recycling.  

The management of waste and recycling is one of our most pressing environmental and social challenges. Agriculture, primary production and the food sectors are undergoing significant change due to shifts in domestic and global markets, as well as community expectation about what happens along the value chain and what happens to waste.

For current operators producing food through indoor/covered agriculture, where is new or additional investment going to yield a strategic advantage in an urban context?

Food is being wasted
Agriculture as a source of waste is starting to get attention - and this is not insignificant for the sector. It is estimated that between 20-40% of farm produce is rejected or discarded prior to reaching the supermarket. On top of this, Australian households also waste an average of 200 kg per person of food per year (equating to 4 million tonnes). It is evident that there is a clear need to pivot towards a local and sustainable food system as opposed to a more commoditised food system. 

It is a global problem and opportunity
The United Nations (UN) is forecasting a total of ten billion people on this planet by 2050, with a requirement of 55% more food. Large challenges lie ahead for food production including water scarcity, land degradation, higher input costs and climate change.

The waste generated from agriculture and food production is difficult to quantify, but the figures are around one trillion tonnes per annum, and contribute to 13% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Separating waste, re-purposing it and recycling it are not new concepts, and more recently the waste is being identified as a resource rather than a costly problem, and environmental polluter. By turning organic waste into a source of added value, farms can essentially move towards a triple bottom line in operations and build in more resilience to their businesses.

Although circular economic fundamentals remain in their infancy it is now very much embedded into mainstream strategic thinking of forward-looking businesses in the agricultural value chain.

With careful future urban planning, emerging technology and global governmental commitment, agriculture can be remodelled to be regenerative by design and potentially bring on another green revolution. 

Applying the circular economy model to agriculture is an opportunity to create new value in agriculture. The work now needs to be done to get systems and prototypes up to test these urban agriculture models.

Considerations for Directors, Boards, Policy Makers and Investors;

  • What is the level of investment needed to ensure Australia has a fair chance of making a profitable and sustainable play into urban agriculture? Who should be making this?
  • To what extent and what type of research is now needed to ensure commercial investment will be money worth spent?
  • For current operators producing food through indoor/covered agriculture, where is new or additional investment going to yield a strategic advantage in an urban context?
  • What are the best policies to ensure sustainable development goals support the circular economy but also balance shareholder returns in the area of urban agriculture?    

Further Information

For the full article, check it out on LinkedIn:


< Back