Monday, April 11, 2016

Olive Groves in Italy under MAJOR Disease Threat

The olive groves of southern Italy are under threat from an insidious disease that potentially threatens olive production throughout Mediterranean regions of Europe, including the bulk of Italy.

Last summer many infected groves were destroyed by burning - that is a serious move!

The article linked to below provides more information -

and there are further articles around in the scientific press as well.  There are links to other articles from this report in Scientific American online.

Olives - Italy

It is certainly very serious for world olive production, particularly in Europe and north Africa, although it may be beneficial to commercial producers in Australia, USA and Chile for example.  Fruit is not affected, only the tree, and that reduces yield, often to nil.  Some varieties seem to offer a degree of resistance or tolerance based on some studies in Italy, but that is not total immunity.

While removal by burning the infested olive groves has been the most common option, there are some questions being asked about alternatives.  Substantial heavy pruning may offer some options to manage the bacterial disease.  However, it does not appear that a reasonable overall solution has been developed.

Biosecurity issues require strict movement controls on trees and planting materials as well as measures to prevent host insect movement.  Management of the groves to reduce or remove sites for the insect to live are also needed.  This whole problem is likely to prove difficult, with growers and tourists being potential, maybe even unwitting, dispersal agents.

This is a very serious plant pest and will require a major effort to manage the problem, for many years to come, and there will be further developments, no doubt.  Losses are already substantial, and likely to be worse before any improvement. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

World Water Day - March 22 2016

March 22 is World Water Day in 2016.  Also being celebrated concurrently is World Wetlands Day.

In developed economies we do okay with water - even in dry regionssuch as Namibia and in dry times eg California at present.

But not everyone has equitable access to water.

Use water wisely, and avoid wastage.

Even monsoonal Australia where there is seasonal abundance followed by drought, has this year had a very poor monsoon, and ground water is likely to be poorly recharged, which will mean less water for horticulture and agriculture - the warnings are clear already.

Most take adequate water as a given...........that is NOT the case really, and there are serious warnings already about the supply of water around the world in future years.  For some, that is already the norm.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mosquitoes, Stormwater and Infrastructure - A Primer

Mosquitoes and other biting insects are a bit of a pest.  If living in the tropics they are a nuisance, as well as a vector of some serious diseases.  Zika virus is the newest one to hit the headlines, but there are plenty more.......and more serious too.

Locally in north Australia the more notable issues relate to Ross River Fever, Barmah Forest virus, Murray Valley Encephalitis as well as Dengue Fever and possibly Chikungunya Virus in some areas, Overseas in Asia, Dengue and Malaria can be of major concern.

Often the pesky biting is enough to cause problems, even without disease issues.

Standing shallow and still water can be a major haven for harbouring mosquitoes.

An article prepared for Stormwater magazine way back in 2002 is still relevant in providing ideas, guidelines and a reality check about water and mosquitoes.

It was prepared with the US situation first and centre of mind,  but is a relevant readable article for use in Australia too.  Information on insecticides is a bit dated but the concepts are useful to understand.

The link is here : 

The other link below  refers to Zika virus details based on US data - although the primary carrier mosquito is not nominally present in Australia.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Zoysia Boost for Golf Courses and Fine Turf in the Tropics - Professional Support

For northern Australia the most effective direction to seek out better options for turf quality and performance might just be to head offshore to Asia.

Enormous improvements  in turf management are occurring in Asia especially Thailand and China, with the emphasis in China on the southern warmer areas, where year round turf growth is possible.  Zoysia is already the preferred grass for many sportsfields used for football in the region.

The stand out grass for Thailand is zoysia - in a number of flavours, while China may require a few options depending on location and altitude, but zoysia is in the species mix.

More recently - early in 2016 - the organisation that is the effective comptroller of all things golf - The Royal and Ancient organisation has been sponsoring a series of seminars around Asia to enhance course management, with a number of distinguished speakers both from within and outside of Asia.

Seminars have been held in Beijing, PRC and in Thailand, both in March 2016.

Both have some relevance to Australia, but the one in Thailand offers better guidance for areas of Australia that are north of  Brisbane or Perth, including Darwin and Cairns.

Zoysia turf gets a big plus for Thailand and may offer a lot of potential for these similar areas in Australia.  And that includes domestic use as well as commercial areas - sportfields, golf courses and other managed grass sites.

Zoysia is strong in a number of areas relevant to current directions of concern for turf management, offering less water and fertiliser use as well as reduced disease incidence.

Zoysia matrella was 22% more efficient in water use and 25% more efficient in N use than couch. It does not require as much water or nitrogen to produce a dense sward and many courses can be operated on much lower inputs.  However, potassium can be often required in areas where clippings are removed.

A case is also made for using tropical carpetgrass in densely shaded areas eg under trees where it continues to show how it is the stand out performer in shade.

A more detailed overview is available here - and there are nine free downloads available for those interested in golf course management, with zoysia turf a major discussion point.

These offer some very thoughtful ideas for anyone involved in turf management across north Australia.

And of course we can assist you with professional support, more information and seed of some high quality seeded zoysia varieties - with Zenith outstanding  - which we offer,  a significant part of many of the newer improved sport turf areas in Thailand.  

[Unfortunately Compadre variety is currently unavailable in Australia - maybe it will be later in 2016].

Developing a Zenith football field 2015 at a Darwin school, sown by hydroseeding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Zenith Zoysia Seed - Plant Now.

This week and next week a monsoonal burst is expected across the north of Australia.  Warm weather is also persisting along the east coast as well on the west coast.

Potentially that is a suitable time to plant Zenith Zoysia seed, although some care with erosion management may be required, if storms are likely [ as always]. Planting over the next few weeks can jump start your lawn before the cooler weather.

We can supply high quality new season stock of Zenith zoysia seed, with a recent germination test above 85%.  

Call 0407 034 083 or email for pricing.  While prices have risen [mainly due to exchange rate changes between US$ and A$], we are very price competitive when you consider the relatively low sowing rates of 0.5 - 0.75 kg  / 100 sq m that are recommended.

Zoysia from seed makes a great lawn in 8-12 weeks, at a very competitive price.

Zenith zoysia from seed at about 10 weeks from sowing.

Some Plants Can Fart

Some plants can fart. 

Researchers at the University of Albany in New York have discovered a defence mechanism in the roots of Mimosa pudica, the sensitive plant whose leaflets fold when touched, and is weedy throughout Australia's north and north east. 

Mimosa pudica flowers 

The roots are also touch-sensitive, releasing sulfurous odours from tiny, hairlike sacs dotted along the roots, sufficiently powerful to stink out a room. They’re even clever enough to tell what’s prodding them, as a finger touch always triggers the fart response but glass or metal objects don’t — useful in distinguishing predators from harmless objects. 

The stink bomb also may warn off competitive plants’ roots that grow too close. 

Closely related Acacia species are next to be studied for smelly behaviour.

I also wonder if the Mimosa pigra  plant  / tree - the Giant sensitive plant - is similarly endowed?

[ from Twig - Life magazine in the Weekend Australian of Feb 27 2016]

Monday, March 14, 2016

High Tech Agriculture in Singapore Grows

High-tech farmers cropping up

1 of 2

Sustenir Agriculture co-founders Benjamin Swan (top) and Martin Lavoo. Mr Swan (left) and Mr Lavoo showing off the produce from their high-tech vegetable farm in Admiralty. The farm maximises efficiency by growing crops in rows of vertically-stacked
Mr Swan (left) and Mr Lavoo showing off the produce from their high-tech vegetable farm in Admiralty. The farm maximises efficiency by growing crops in rows of vertically-stacked racks. The vegetables absorb light from LEDs, and nutrients are fed to them through tubes. Vegetables such as kale and arugula are grown at the farm.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Local farmers using high-yield methods to ramp up Singapore's food production capabilities

A new breed of farmer is appearing in Singapore.

They are using high-tech and high-yield methods to transform their work from back-breaking labour into lucrative businesses.

From running indoor vertical vegetable farms that grow crops in stacked layers, to raising fitter fish that are robust against aquatic diseases, farmers here are finding ways to overcome the limitations of traditional farming.

Sustenir Agriculture, for example, is an indoor farm which currently produces about 54 tonnes of vegetables a year - an output which its founders consider highly efficient for a 344 sq m space.

Grown in rolling racks less than 3m tall, the plants are packed tightly together, allowing for maximum light absorption. Their modular design means the racks can be moved around easily and the concept can be replicated elsewhere.  "Traditionally, when people look at vertical farms, they haven't been looking at them from an urban standpoint," said the farm's co- founder Martin Lavoo.
"Especially if they are farms of gigantic size, most of them are placed in the outskirts of the city or in relatively rural areas. We wanted to look at how we can put this in the middle of the city - say, Raffles Place - delivering straight into the heart of demand."

The farm's controlled conditions also allow them to grow imported varieties such as the Tuscan kale. "This means a lower carbon footprint - we won't have to air-freight them from the United States or Europe," said the other co-founder of Sustenir Agriculture, Mr Benjamin Swan.
Since 2014, the farm has been producing vegetables such as kale and arugula.
Sustenir is based in an industrial facility in Admiralty.

Its vegetables absorb light from LEDs and are tube-fed with nutrients while carbon dioxide comes through the air-conditioning ducts.

Before anyone can enter the area where plants are grown, they have to don a jumpsuit and take an air shower to remove dirt particles to ensure that the vegetables are not contaminated. They are grown at temperatures ranging from 14 to 22 deg C.

It takes about two weeks for the produce to grow before it is harvested - about half the time needed for outdoor farms to grow vegetables under normal conditions. It is then sold to restaurants.

While the vegetables sell for $19 per kilogram - about 10 per cent more than it would cost businesses to buy from wholesalers - both Mr Swan and Mr Lavoo say the quality is worth the price.
"The usability of our product is actually much higher because ours contain less stalk than those you see in supermarkets, for instance," said Mr Swan, adding that their vegetables can stay fresh for up to two weeks as they are locally produced.

According to figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) released last year, 10,848 tonnes of leafy vegetables consumed here in 2014 were produced locally - 12 per cent of Singapore's total vegetable consumption that year. This was up from 7 per cent in 2010, meeting the AVA's long- term target of 10 per cent.

Dr Jonatan A. Lassa, a Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, who researches food and environmental security issues, said that growing crops in a controlled environment can have several advantages, including a lower carbon footprint and less water wastage.

Both Mr Swan, 35, who used to work as a regional project manager for Citibank, and Mr Lavoo, 29, a former regional sales manager, said the concept of sustainability encouraged them to set up Sustenir Agriculture.  Half of the company's 688 sq m facility is currently unused and there are plans to grow spinach and strawberries.  "The beauty of vertical farming is that the multiple is infinite," said Mr Lavoo. "We can go as many storeys up as we like. The sky is literally the limit."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'High-tech farmers cropping up'. Print Edition | Subscribe

Friday, March 11, 2016

Panama Disease - An Update

Still a big story - the ongoing threat of Panama Disease across the world.

More here -

Full story below  from 

Scientists race to halt banana catastrophe

By Caterina Elizondo Lucci, Esther Nakkazi, Inga Vesper, Yao-Hua Law

Scientists in developing countries are scrambling to find a cure for a devastating fungus that threatens to wipe out the global banana trade and plunge millions of farmers into poverty.

Around the world, banana farmers are fighting a losing battle against Tropical Race 4, a soil fungus that kills Cavendish bananas, the only type grown for the international market. The disease was first spotted in the early 1990s in Malaysia, but has now started to wipe out crops in large parts of South-East Asia as well as in Africa and the Middle East. [1]

The Tropical Race 4 pathogen, a new strain of what is known as Panama disease, escaped from Asia in 2013. By 2015, it had infected plantations in Jordan and Mozambique, as well as Lebanon and Pakistan, with many scientists fearing an epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. [2]

“The impact on affected farms is immense, with significant losses of plants and the inability to eradicate the fungus from affected fields,” says Altus Viljoen, a plant pathologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The disease can be devastating for small banana farmers, who provide much of the 17 million tonnes of Cavendish bananas traded every year — mostly to rich countries where the fruit is popular as a healthy snack. [3] Bananas are also a staple food in many tropical countries, and the main source of protein for more than half a billion people around the world.

Tropical Race 4, a variant of the Fusarium oxysporum fungus, is transmitted by infected plant matter, but also from the clothes and shoes of plantation workers.


In Indonesia and Malaysia, the fungus wiped out more than 5,000 hectares of Cavendish bananas in 1992/93, says Agustin Molina, who leads the banana research efforts in the Asia-Pacific region for Bioversity International, a global research organisation.

“The banana export trade in Malaysia and Indonesia failed to prosper because of Tropical Race 4,” he says. “Now tens of thousands of banana farmers in the Philippines, China and Taiwan could be affected.”

Molina and his team try to work with local farmers to raise awareness of the threat and contain the spread of the fungus. He advocates footbaths, regulating the movement of workers and tough quarantines for seedlings and other imported plant matter.

But despite such efforts, Tropical Race 4 has crossed the Pacific Ocean. With the fungus now in Mozambique, other East African countries largely dependent on Cavendish exports — such as Uganda — fear for their crop.

“If nothing is done in the next ten years, billions of dollars worth of crop will be lost,” says Enoch Kikulwe, an associate scientist at Bioversity International’s Uganda branch.

The reason for Tropical Race 4’s rapid spread is globalised trade (see chart 1). Uganda, the world’s third largest banana producer, imports second-hand trucks and farming equipment from China, but these are rarely disinfected before shipping — putting the country at risk. Likewise, Sudan exports bananas by lorry to Lebanon and Oman, while seedlings grown in Jordan or Pakistan are sold to Mozambique.


Once the fungus has infected a plant it spreads to its xylem, the tubular tissue that transports water around the plant from the roots. These tubes get clogged, and the plant wilts and dies. The fungus continues to feed on the dead tissue and releases spores that enter the soil and attach to any material that comes in contact with the plant.

Sub-Saharan African scientists are stepping up research on the disease in the hope of preventing its continuing spread. But funding is scarce and local governments are not yet sufficiently aware, says Eldad Karamura, regional coordinator at the Banana Research Network for Eastern and Southern Africa.

“We are threatened,” he says. “We need greater awareness of the problem by policymakers and to train more scientists and buy equipment,” he adds.

At present, a laboratory at Stellenbosch University in South Africa is the only one in Sub-Saharan Africa that can test for the presence of Tropical Race 4. A Ugandan expert committee on the disease says the country could do testing too, but would need US$2.5 million to set up test facilities. More long-term plans could include research both on genetic modification to produce fungus-resistant plants and on other banana species to replace Cavendish in international markets, the committee says.

Karamura has seen first hand the devastation that Tropical Race 4 causes on banana plantations. “When I visit farms in Mozambique or Asia, I don’t come back to Uganda with my shoes — I leave them there,” he says.

However, the fungus poses the greatest threat to Latin America and the Caribbean. The region is responsible for 25 per cent of bananas grown worldwide, and 80 per cent of global exports. But local farmers are still reeling from a previous infection, this one caused by Tropical Race 1, the first instance of Panama disease.

Panama disease emerged in the 1950s in Latin America, nearly wiping out global trade in the Gros Michel banana, a predecessor to the Cavendish. As with Tropical Race 4, the fungus’s spores can survive in the soil for decades.

To get a sense of the potential impact of Tropical Race4 if it were allowed to spread globally, it helps to talk to Javier Chinchilla, a small-scale farmer of Gros Michel bananas in Costa Rica. He is sticking with the less popular banana type as he cannot compete with larger Cavendish growers.

The ghost of Panama disease haunts him still — his farm used to have 30,000 banana plants in the 1980s, but now he is down to 500.

“We sell Gros Michel at the farmer’s market, but it is increasingly difficult to get good crops” because the fungus lingers in the soil, Chinchilla explains. “My two brothers had to go out of business. Now it’s just me, my father and six other farmers that continue. But our families depend on our work with bananas.”

Chinchilla tries to keep his farm afloat by planting coffee, squash and maize in between the banana plants. But like thousands of other farmers in the region, he has abandoned large swathes of land to Panama disease.

“Production is, to some extent, nomadic,” says Ana Cecilia Tapia, an agronomist at the University of Costa Rica. “Farmers move their farms when a patch is contaminated, since there are no technological resources to attack the disease.”

The experiences of Phillippine banana growers with Panama disease

Faced with the high risk of Tropical Race 4 infection, the Central America-based International Regional Organization for Agricultural Health (OIRSA) has brought together researchers and policymakers.

The group tries to mobilise funds for research and preparation, such as better monitoring of crops. “We also coordinate actions with regional plant protection organisations and set up specialised groups for the care and handling of Tropical Race 4,” says Carlos Ramón Urías, OIRSA’s regional director for plant health.

The group advocates moving away from the current heavy reliance on Cavendish. There are almost 1,000 different banana species. If more of these were grown for sale, farmers would be less affected by the disease’s arrival, while the fungus would also have less chance to spread.

But the preferences of consumers, mostly in Europe and the United States, restrict these options. The Cavendish, which makes up 47 per cent of all bananas grown globally, is what many customers think the fruit should be: large, long and yellow. Because of this, farmers such as Chinchilla fear buyers will snub local varieties, which might be smaller, savoury or even red or green.

With little international action, the responsibility to find a solution, or at least a coping strategy, for Tropical Race 4 lies with scientists from the global South. [4] Chinchilla is working with researchers from the University of Costa Rica in the hope that it will help his farm survive the fungus, should it hit Central America.

“We keep growing bananas,” he says. “By necessity, but also because we have given the researchers a vote of faith. They want to find a cure.”


[1] A. B. Molina and others Recent occurrence of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 in Asia in ISHS-ProMusa Symposium on Recent Advances in Banana Crop Protection for Sustainable Production and Improved Livelihoods (ISHS, 2007)
[2] N. Ordoñez and others First report of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 causing Panama disease in Cavendish bananas in Pakistan and Lebanon (Plant Disease, January 2016)
[3] Gianluca Gondolini Fighting banana diseases — the end of Cavendish? (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 5 February 2014)
[4] S. Vellema and others The threat of Panama disease to the role of banana and plantain in realising food security: linking local realities to a global problem (Wageningen University, 2013)

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Zenith Zoysia Seed - NEW STOCK AVAILABLE

Zenith zoysia sown by seed,-  Darwin
At long last - new stock of zoysia seed is available.

Yes - it is March 2016 and for those in cooler regions with winter approaching here in Australia, it may or may not be too late for now.

I am a bit ambivalent about "to sow or not to sow" - mainly due to the BOM forecast for the next 2-3 months still strongly forecasting warmer than normal conditions.  That augers well for seed sowing, but it will cool eventually.

For areas say Sydney and north, or Perth - provided sowing is before the end of March, it is likely that you could establish an area satisfactorily.  For those areas in eg Melbourne, I am more wary.  Depends on exactly where you are and if the area does not get all that cool anyway.  If not in that group - might be best to wait for spring.

For areas north of Brisbane, or north of Perth, then there is still at least 2 months [ possibly longer]in which sowing /developing a new lawn is likely to be okay.  This includes Darwin, Townsville, Port Headland etc.  BUT - lawn growth will slow as cooler weather and shorter days develop in June and July.  That is inevitable, but growth will pick up sharply from August, with the benefit of the already sown area able to quickly develop as the warmer conditions occur.

We caution about sowing after April in Australia.  Technically it is warm enough in the north, but with short days, turf development is quite slow, and a lot of water is needed over the dry periods in the middle of the year.  Sometimes it is better to wait until August.

The new turf seed stock is very high quality, with germination near 90% when tested recently.  Unfortunately the only variety available is Zenith, with stock of Compadre still unavailable in the USA, and may not be available until much later in the year.

Unfortunately prices have had to increase due to high demand for Zenith in US markets as well as in Asia, and the change in exchange rate between the US$ and A$.  Please contact us for more details.

We still have information leaflets on sowing and maintenance available for interested clients.  

Care and attention to detail at sowing is important in ensuring a good outcome from using zoysia seed.  We also now have more information and advice on weed management issues for seed sown zoysia turf. Not all weed problems can be rectified, but many can be reduced, and often cured.  Still the best cure, is a clean seed bed before sowing!

Zoysia from seed offers a great turf with low maintenance and low nutrition demands.  It is the turf of choice still in many football [ soccer] stadiums in Asia including Japan, and increasingly on golf fairways and sport fields [eg Thailand, Singapore, Laos, China] around warmer parts of the world.  And it can be a great choice for your lawn too.

For more information or seed for your new lawn contact  -  [ not set as a link to avoid spamming]

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Organic Meat and Milk Tested Against Conventional Product

Organic meat and milk put to the test by British study at Newcastle University

article image
Milk today comes in a lot of different varieties: lactose-free, permeate free, low-fat, high protein, A2-only protein, pasteurised and homogenised milk.

In a similar manner, meat selection has also vastly broadened to include wagyu, free-range, grass-fed, grain-fed, hormone-free, nitrate-free, heart-smart etc.

Consumers are being forced to debate whether it is worth the extra dollars for organic versus about $2.15 for conventional, $9.89 for 450g of organic beef mince versus about $5 for conventional meat.

A new study, the largest of its kind to date, set out to delineate the nutritional differences (ethical differences, are another matter), one arguably of equal or greater importance.

Breaking down the data from 196 studies on milk and 67 on meat from around the world, the British researchers from Newcastle University found that there were clear nutritional differences between conventional and organic meat and dairy.


It was found that both organic milk and meat contain about 50 per cent more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products.  "Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function," said study co-author Professor Chris Seal.  "But getting enough in our diet is difficult.  Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients."

Nutritionist and founder of The Health Clinic Pip Reed adds that our bodies can't produce omega-3 fatty acids so we need them from food.  "Studies show that three in five Australians don't eat the recommended two to three serves of 150 grams of oily fish per week required for good heart health," Reed says, "and less than 10 per cent of children meet these recommendations which means that having additional sources of omegas available through organic milk and meats is extremely important."


The researchers also found organic meat and dairy contain about 40 per cent more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and "slightly higher" concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids.  "CLA is a natural polyunsaturated fat found in meat and dairy products, and is one of the most popular weight loss supplements," Reed says. "It is technically a natural trans fat, however without the risks that come with artificially made trans fats renowned for damaging our health.  "Getting CLA from animal milk products is important, as supplement versions are derived from sunflower and safflower oil, and do not have the same health benefit effect on our bodies."


Conventional milk, with 74 per cent more iodine and slightly more selenium, was a winner here.

This is significant given that iodine deficiencies in Australia were considered enough of a problem that, in 2009, mandatory fortification of baked bread and iodised salt was introduced.

Now it affects about 12.8 per cent of Australians.  "Iodine and selenium are both important essential minerals that help regulate the thyroid hormones, controlling metabolism, body temperature, improve energy levels, as well as aid in detoxification, providing antioxidants, healthy pregnancy and stabilising healthy weight," Reed says.  "These two essential minerals, in excess consumption, can cause toxicity, so unless you are deficient in these minerals and/or not eating a well rounded diet then the increase of iodine and selenium in conventional milk may not be of benefit to you."

The dietitians:
"While we no doubt all agree with not using chemicals if possible and the philosophy of organic farming, we have to question if it can really produce enough food to feed us all?" says Dr Joanna McMillan.

"The cost is still prohibitive for most and at the end of the day are these differences clinically significant? Most people just need to eat more real food before they think about whether they can make the switch to organic."

"This analysis clearly shows that organic milk has higher concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids than conventional milk. However the analysis also found that grass-fed cattle tend to produce milk with higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids," says Nutrition Plus dietitian Melanie McGrice. "We are blessed to be living in a country where most of our cattle are grass-fed, and they are not locked away in stalls.

"The analysis found that organic milk is a more nutritious option, and I'd certainly be in favour of people using it... [but] we don't really drink milk for its omega 3 anyway – for that we should be turning to fish.
"In summary, drink organic milk if you'd like to and can afford it, but conventional milk is still a nutritious choice if you can't."

The study author:
"People choose organic milk and meat for three main reasons: improved animal welfare, the positive impacts of organic farming on the environment, and the perceived health benefits," said the study author, Professor Carlo Leifert. "But much less is known about impacts on nutritional quality, hence the need for this study.

"Several of these differences stem from organic livestock production and are brought about by differences in production intensity, with outdoor-reared, grass-fed animals producing milk and meat that is consistently higher in desirable fatty acids such as the omega-3s, and lower in fatty acids that can promote heart disease and other chronic diseases."


The story is somewhat mixed - a British study using data from many sources at the British University of Newcastle, yet with comments about Australia.

True, in Australia [and NZ] most livestock products are produced predominantly outdoors by grazing animals on pastures, also beneficial for food quality.

The bottom line is that normal dairy products are okay - although there may be a very minor benefit from some specialist products including organic.  It does seem to say that it is an expensive option and other actions could be more useful nutritionally eg eat more fish.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Bananas and Disease - A Range of Ideas

Disease may wipe out world's bananas – but here's how we might just save them

Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Cardiff University

Catastrophe is looming for the banana industry. A new strain has emerged of a soil-borne fungus known as “Panama disease” which can wipe out entire plantations – and it is rapidly spreading around the world. Farmers in Australia, Latin America and across Asia and Africa all fear the worst.

The fungus is almost impossible to stop or eradicate. It moves through soil, so contamination can be as simple as infected dirt travelling from one farm to another on the sole of a shoe, or as complex as soil particles blowing on the wind across long distances – even across oceans, in theory.

Faced with huge losses to a global industry, many have called for a new strain of disease-resistant “superbanana”. However, this would be just another temporary fix. After all, the world’s most popular banana, the Cavendish, was itself the wonder fruit of its day, being introduced in the 1950s after an earlier strain of Panama disease destroyed its predecessor.


              Panama disease causes banana plants to wilt and die.
              Scot Nelson

The fungi simply adapted and fought back, though, until the Cavendish also became susceptible. Panama and other diseases will continue to do so until we seriously reform how we grow and market bananas.

The banana industry is its own worst enemy. The huge farms where most exported bananas are grown are ideal for pests. These plantations are monocultures, which means they grow only bananas and nothing else. With very few shifts between crops over the years, and lots of tropical sunshine, there is an abundant and year-round supply of food for pests without any breaks, in time or space, to disrupt the supply and lower the disease pressure.

Banana producers spend a third of their income on controlling these pests, according to a study I published in 2013. Chemicals to control microscopic but deadly worms are applied several times a year. Herbicides that control weeds are applied up to eight times a year, while bananas may be sprayed with fungicides from a plane more than 50 times per year in order to control Black Sigatoka, an airborne fungus.


              Keep out, pests!

And those bags that are wrapped around each individual banana bunch? They’re lined with insecticides to serve as both a physical and chemical barrier to insects feeding on and damaging the skins.

All of this amounts to approximately one litre of active ingredients for every 18.6 kg box of bananas that is exported to consumers in the global north. It’s a huge, long-running problem for the industry and the new strain of Panama disease may just be the nail in its coffin.

Or maybe this is the wake-up call the export banana industry so desperately needs.

Searching for the superbanana

Given the way the fungus spreads, containment and quarantine are hardly long-term solutions. Some experts, especially those entrenched in the business of growing export bananas, argue that we need to breed or genetically modify a new type of banana that is resistant to the latest strain of Panama disease.

But this is harder than it sounds. Modern bananas – the tasty yellow ones – don’t exist in nature; they were bred into existence around 10,000 years ago. They reproduce asexually, which means they don’t have seeds and every banana is a genetic clone of the previous generation.

This lack of genetic variation makes breeding a new banana particularly challenging. If one Cavendish is susceptible to a disease, all others will be too. When all bananas are clones, how do you create the genetic variation from which traits for better disease resistance can be identified and nurtured?


              Identical bananas – and only bananas – for miles on end.
              underworld / shutterstock

A new banana would also have to be tasty, durable enough to withstand long voyages without bruising, and bright yellow. Looks really do trump pest-resistance. A new type of banana introduced during a previous Panama disease panic back in the 1920s was rejected by consumers for going black on the outside, even when it was ripe and sweet inside.

Saving the banana

Today, banana growers are in a fight for survival, continuously applying newly-formulated fungicides in an effort to keep ahead of the diseases. But they are acutely aware that they are losing ground. While breeding a new banana staves off the current problem, history has already shown that this doesn’t get to the root of the problem, which is the design of the production system.

We need to ditch the massive farms. Around the world, millions of small-scale farmers already grow bananas in a more organic and sustainable way. Alongside bananas are cacao, avocado, mango, corn, orange, lemon and more. A mix of crops creates more stable production systems which rely on fewer, if any, pesticides and generates diverse income sources, handing local people greater food sovereignty. Farms where bananas are mixed in with other crops are also more resilient to climate change which is likely to hit banana-producing regions – developing countries – harder than most.

Yes, this would mean fewer bananas are grown. Sustainable agriculture simply can’t keep up with the megafarms. But if we learned to ignore the odd blemished or undersized banana, then the actual amount sent to market need not drop at all.

The farmers themselves should be okay as they’ll make up their income by producing different crops. Breaking the dominance of the banana multinationals should also distribute wealth among more farmers and empower the regions where they’re grown. As a consumer, ask yourself this: isn’t that a far better way to spend your money?

Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Research Associate, Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This is but one view, and a variety of views is always worth hearing.  There is a lot of research occurring to deal with the proliferation of Panama Disease TR4.  Agricultural science research focused on solutions!.

Also relevant is a need to improve the nutrition quality of bananas in regions especially where it is a staple food eg Uganda and other parts of Africa.  Progress is being made, supported by the Gates Foundation.  Loss of bananas as a crop in these regions would be a very serious issue.  Genetics are at the forefront of the scientific work to find a solution.

The picture worldwide with bananas is far from the gloom and doom portrayed in this article. It might not be all beer and skittles,  but a lot of bananas are still being produced and shipped around the world.

Biosecurity programs, cultural and agronomic interventions and management are somewhat mitigating the disease spread in areas known to have the disease, but it is spreading slowly - absolutely correct.  And it is a steady "war "between plant disease and plant varieties - across many different crops, with new disease resistant varieties produced regularly across many crops yet the diseases continue to adapt and infect crops that are either not resistant, or the disease adapting to forma modified strain.  It has been that way for thousands of years.  Genetics at work, Even if more difficult in a cloned variety.

But banana demand in many regions also is expanding.  It is a fruit of choice quite often in many countries, so pressure to develop solutions is high.  And there may well be multiple solutions.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The International Year of the Pulse 2016

Feeding the Future With Pulse Crops
The year 2016 has been dubbed the “International Year of Pulses” by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). The goal of the initiative is to heighten consumer awareness of the nutritional and other benefits of pulse crops as well as to marshal the capabilities of agricultural research organizations worldwide in developing new, improved varieties that will further global food security and sustainable agriculture.

Pulses are the dry edible seeds of certain leguminous plants, including dry peas, lentils, chickpeas, mungbeans and dry beans (such as kidney and navy beans), but not fresh green beans, fresh peas, soybeans, or peanuts.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “Pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet to address obesity, as well as to prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions, and cancer; they are also an important source of plant-based protein for animals.”
The Agricultural Research Service of the USDA has long been a proponent of pulse crops, with one research program—the Dry Bean Project at Prosser, Washington—dating back to 1958 and currently serving growers and other industry members in more than 11 states across the country. Scientists with the agency are also making global contributions, particularly through their participation in the Feed the Future (FtF) Grain Legumes Project, a food security initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“Pulses are historically important food crops, and ARS is a leader in developing high-yielding varieties with enhanced nutritional qualities,” says plant geneticist George Vandemark, who leads the agency’s Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Pullman, Washington.
Vandemark’s laboratory is one of several ARS locations across the country whose pulse crop research programs produce improved germplasm and commercial varieties offering better resistance to pests and diseases, greater tolerance to environmental extremes like drought, improved nutritional quality, and other traits benefiting growers, processors, and consumers.
Over the past 5 years, in partnership with USAID and through their participation in the FtF Grain Legumes Project, ARS scientists at five locations have brought their considerable expertise to bear in addressing some of the agricultural challenges faced by rural and small-holdings farmers in developing regions of the world where pulses, particularly dry beans, are staple food crops.

• The Andean Diversity Panel (ADP), a collection of nearly 500 accessions of large-seeded dry beans of Andean descent obtained from more than a dozen countries in South America, Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of North America. ADP database information includes analyses from genomic mapping and genotyping, physical and biochemical descriptions of the accessions, and DNA markers associated with genes for important traits like higher mineral content, adaptability to nutrient-poor soils, and resistance to diseases like rust and angular leaf spot that can decimate susceptible bean crops. 
• Demonstration that certain genomic regions are responsible for “fast cooking,” a valuable trait that can reduce the cooking time of beans—thus reducing the amount of fuel needed to prepare meals in resource-poor households. FtF team members are also investigating the role of other contributing factors, namely, seed mineral concentrations (before and after cooking) to assess their correlations with cooking time.
• Use of a plant breeding technique called “pyramid stacking” to develop red, pinto, great northern, and navy beans with adaptability to a broad range of conditions, including extreme heat, productivity in nutrient-poor soils, and limited irrigation. Together with University of Puerto Rico colleagues, FtF team members have provided breeding and pathology training to East African, Haitian, and Central American scientists, particularly in developing locally adapted varieties that can withstand common bacterial blight, angular leaf spot, and other bean diseases.
• Identification of broad-spectrum resistance to the bean rust fungus in large-seeded cultivars from Tanzania and Ecuadorian germplasm lines. Crosses are under way to transfer the rust resistance into dry bean market classes (yellow, red-mottled, white, and tan) for small-holdings farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, where fungicide use to prevent outbreaks can be too costly.
• Evaluations of the agronomic performance of common and tepary (southwestern) beans inoculated with strains of Bradyrhizobium bacteria, which convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plants can use for their growth—reducing the need to apply fertilizers for subsequent crops.—By Jan Suszkiw, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
“Feeding the Future With Pulse Crops” was published in the February 2016 issue of AgResearch Magazine.       - link with images.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Niche Marketing for Quality and Differentiated Agribusiness Products

The article below came from a recent NAB Agribusiness newsletter and highlights the opportunity in agribusiness for shrewd operators.

The emphasis is on quality and differentiation of the product, a trait that seems to be increasing in Australian agriculture.  With large organisations such as Australian Agriculture Company - AACo - marketing their own branded beef through supermarkets, mango growers marketing single variety products sourced from a range of areas to the wheat group highlighted here, ways are being found to differentiate products formerly thought of as mass market products.  And creating significant value along the way.

Can you as a rural producer do something similar or create a group that could? 

While not for everyone, it certainly has a place in today and tomorrow's rural product mix, particularly to urban consumers who are often brand focused.

It is important to also note the emphasis on traceability - a big issue for food products.

Here is the NAB article - with acknowledgement to the NAB Agribusiness Newsletter [electronic].

Run by four families, Flinders Ranges Premium Grain in South Australia has an expanding grain and flour export business that sells itself on the location and soil it’s grown in, in the same way wine does. Their specialised Katana wheat is acclaimed by frozen dough producers in India and the Middle East as much as it is by artisan bakers in Australia.

It’s taken 15 years, but Flinders Ranges Premium Grain (FRPG) in South Australia is riding an export boom for their flour made from low-yield hard wheat called Katana.

The Ranges’ low rainfall and limestone rich soil give their specialised wheat an elastic protein profile that gives it an extended frozen shelf life without the inclusion of preservatives or additives. This has made it popular among frozen dough producers in India and the Middle East as well as artisan bread producers in Australia.  “We knew that doing well as a business meant moving away from producing a soft commodity where we were at the wrong end of the pricing chain,” says FRPG CEO Peter Barrie.  “We looked at what food producers in different markets required as well as what our four family-run properties in the Flinders Ranges could best produce. We started experimenting with hard wheat. While not as high yield as many grains, the elastic, high protein qualities of the grains opened up premium markets to us – abroad and at home.”

Understand your product’s role in the food industry

Ongoing research and development (R&D) is a hallmark of FPRG’s business strategy. From early on, they formed a solid relationship with Adelaide TAFE to test how the flour grown on their farms performed for different segments of the food industry.  “Discovering how our wheat performed as a baking ingredient led us to identify our niche export market,” says Barrie. “Once we knew what we needed to provide to frozen dough producers, we continued testing wheat varieties until we found our best for purpose grain.”

This emphasis on R&D coupled with ‘paddock-to-plate’ traceability helped FRPG secure the Bakers Circle India and the Middle East contracts to supply the flour for frozen dough for the regions’ Subway stores.

Even with the Indian contract well established, Barrie still travels to India, and now Dubai, to check how his flour performs within its production environment and as an end product in the local Subway stores. “It’s satisfying being part of the whole production process in all these different places,” he adds.

Consistent quality demands full traceability

Quality, consistency and traceability are equally important for FRPG’s large overseas clients. The company has a fully auditable path from farm to shipping that guarantees the clean and green standards of their produce. This traceability involves having their own storage silos and mill, so there is no risk of contamination with inferior grain from other farms.

Australia’s reputation as clean and green is a big drawcard internationally. The National Residue Testing Standards are a good base. However, Barrie points out that most countries and big food manufacturers have their own strict standards. This makes meeting individual customer protocols time-consuming.  “It’s another reason single origin grain and flour from small family owned farms holds an international advantage,” he says. “We can provide the traceability and quality control. The low rainfall on our properties means fewer chemicals.

We don’t need fungicides, and we select varieties that are disease resistant. Being a family farm is a definite marketing advantage. Companies and consumers like to know where their flour has come from and have the security of knowing who produced it.”

Find your niche and you find your future

Barrie is excited about the future of Australian agriculture and FRPG in particular. While acknowledging that the falling dollar helps, he doesn’t shy away from the need to continuously explore new markets and tailor wheat for their needs, saying: “It’s a non-stop learning curve for everyone involved”.  

FRPG is currently working with the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering to try and double the shelf life of wholemeal wheat and, if international demand is high enough, set up a wholemeal mill.  “We keep one step ahead of the market by identifying and then solving a problem for the food industry,” he says.

FRPG went on three government trade missions in 2015. So far, they’ve steered clear of China because the margins were too low. However, that market is opening up for premium primary produce. “We’re looking to diversify into three or four countries plus develop our domestic artisan sourdough flour market,” says Barrie.

He sees great opportunities for young farmers today. The export market is opening up in exciting ways – if farmers become part of the food industry instead of suppliers of a soft commodity.

“Accept the challenges, and life on and off the farm gets more interesting,” advises Barrie.

More on the business here -