Thursday, November 26, 2015

139 Countries Could Be Totally Powered by Renewables

139 Countries Could Get All of their Power from Renewable Sources

Energy from wind, water and sun would eliminate nuclear and fossil fuels

Courtesy of The Solutions Project
Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi have done it again. This time they’ve spelled out how 139 countries can each generate all the energy needed for homes, businesses, industry, transportation, agriculture—everything—from wind, solar and water power technologies, by 2050. Their national blueprints, released Nov. 18, follow similar plans they have published in the past few years to run each of the 50 U.S. states on renewables, as well as the entire world. (Have a look for yourself, at your country, using the interactive map below.)

The plans, which list exact numbers of wind turbines, solar farms, hydroelectric dams and such, have been heralded as transformational, and criticized as starry eyed or even nutty.

Determined, Jacobson will take his case to leaders of the 195 nations that will meet at the U.N. climate talks, known as COP 21, which begin in Paris on Nov. 29. His point to them: Although international agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are worthwhile, they would not even be needed if countries switched wholesale to renewable energy, ending the combustion of coal, natural gas and oil that creates the vast majority of those emissions, and without any nuclear power. “The people there are just not aware of what’s possible,” says Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University and director of the school’s Atmosphere and Energy Program. He is already scheduled to speak twice at the meeting, and will spend the rest of his time trying to talk one on one with national leaders and their aids.

Jacobson thinks the 139 national plans will get traction not only because they offer a path to lower emissions, but because in total, they would create 24 million construction jobs and 26.5 million operational jobs, all spanning 35 years, offsetting 28.4 million jobs lost in the fossil fuel industries. That would leave a net gain of about 22 million jobs. Going 100 percent renewable would also prevent 3.3 to 4.6 million premature deaths a year through 2050 that would have happened because of air pollution from those fossil fuels. “These numbers are what gets people’s attention,” Jacobson says.

Jacobson and Delucchi, a research scientist at the University of California at Davis,  presented their “100 percent renewables” construct to the public for the first time in a 2009 feature article in Scientific American. It explained how the world could derive all of its power, including for transportation, from 1.7 billion rooftop solar systems, 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, 3.8 million wind turbines, 900 hydroelectric plants, 490,000 tidal turbines and so on. “The whole idea originated with the Scientific American article,” Jacobson says. “Now there are five or six nonprofit organizations that use ‘100 percent’ in their name. Walmart, Google and Starbucks have said they want to go to 100 percent renewable energy. So have a number of cities. The goal of our plans for U.S. states and the 139 countries is to have places set their own ‘100 percent’ goals.”

Energy demand across the 139 nations by 2050 would be met with a broad set of wind, water and solar technologies: 19.4 percent onshore wind farms, 12.9 percent offshore wind farms, 42.2 percent utility-scale photovoltaic arrays, 5.6 percent rooftop solar panels, 6.0 percent commercial rooftop solar panels, 7.7 percent concentrated solar power arrays, 4.8 percent hydroelectricity, and 1.47 percent geothermal, wave and tidal power. Jacobson, Delucchi and more than a dozen colleagues from around the world have posted the details, country by country, in a self-published paper they released online. Hoping to make it available for COP, they have yet to publish it in a journal, but they intend to, Jacobson says. The previous plans have all been published.

The big knock against renewables such as wind and solar is that they are intermittent; the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. That means large amounts of energy storage are needed to save up excess power generated when these technologies are going full bore, which can then be tapped when they are low. Storage adds substantial cost and complexity to a renewable energy system.  

But Jacobson has an answer. By using a smart mix of technologies that complement one another during different parts of the day and different weather conditions, storage can be kept to a minimum. He, Delucchi and two colleagues explain how this can work across the U.S. in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that will be published Nov. 23.

The engineering detail in all these papers and plans is staggering. The document released for the 139 countries provides an itemized mix of technologies and costs for every nation, as well as how much land and rooftop area would be required. Since 2009 the two researchers, working with many others, have honed the numbers again and again. Now what is needed most, Jacobson says, is exposure. “We have talked to hundreds of expert and politicians. Now we need to reach hundreds of millions of people,” in hopes that they will see the possibilities and begin to call for them. 

That's why Jacobson and several high-profile businesspeople and entertainers started the Solutions Project to educate the public, business owners and policy makers about the roadmaps. Support comes from the Elon Musk Foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and others. “We are tying to find a way to combine business and culture and science to get the information out—to engage, to tell stories,” Jacobson says. 

He himself scored a spot on David Letterman’s Late Night show in 2013. He says DiCaprio is planning to visit COP 21 while he is there. “We want to translate the benefits of the plans for people everywhere,” Jacobson says. “That's when good things will happen.”


This was published online by Scientific American on 26 November 2015.

It is not pie in the sky stuff but well thought out engineering proposals.  Lets see if it gains some traction over the next few weeks in Paris.

Do your bit.........circulate it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bees Decline and Insecticides - Missing Link Discovered?

Bees and pesticides 'missing link' found

BeeImage copyright PA
Image caption Some scientific studies show that pesticides harm bees

Scientists say they have found the "missing link" in the debate over the risk of pesticides to bees.

French researchers say neonicotinoid pesticides harm individual honeybees, but whole colonies are able to recover in the wild.

This accounts for discrepancies between lab and field studies, they report in Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

A Europe-wide ban on neonicotinoid use on flowering crops is due to be reviewed at the end of the year.  It was introduced two years ago.
The debate over the use of neonics has centred on discrepancies between toxicity assessments in the laboratory, where bees are dosed artificially with insecticide, and the findings of field trials in the countryside.

The big unanswered question is whether harmful effects seen in lab studies occur in real-life conditions and cause population declines.

The new research provides an explanation for the "missing link", say French researchers.

Their monitoring of tagged honeybees in the wild suggests bees foraging around treated crops die off at a faster rate than normal.  However, colonies are able to make up for those dying off by boosting the number of worker bees in the hive.

Lead researcher Dr Mickael Henry of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA, in Avignon, said the average life expectancy for an individual honeybee foraging on crops treated with neonics is lower than expected.

He told BBC News: "We could find evidence of troubles at the individual scale in the field but these troubles were compensated for by the colonies.  "The population inside the hive was able to compensate for the increased loss of worker honeybees by increasing brood production."

A field study found harmful effects on the solitary beeImage copyright Morgan Boch
Image caption A field study found harmful effects on the solitary bee
dead beesImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption The decline of bees around the world has increased focus on neonicotinoid chemicals
Dr Scott Hayward of the University of Birmingham, who was not connected with the study, said the work "re-ignites arguments to ban neonics", and similar studies are now needed on other pollinator species.

His comments were echoed by Dr Christopher Connolly of the University of Dundee.  "It is important to remember that all other insect pollinators do not possess the enormous buffering capacity of honeybees and are therefore more acutely at risk to the impact of pesticides," he said.

Dr Peter Campbell of the pesticide manufacturer Syngenta said while the study raised unanswered questions "reassuringly... there were still no effects reported at the colony level".
And Dr Alan Dewar of Dewar Crop Protection Ltd, added: "The conclusions from this work, which are very simple in contrast to the study itself, show that bees, or at least honey bees, can compensate for adverse effects of pesticides in their environment."

Emergency lifting

Bees are in decline in Europe and North America due to a number of factors, including pesticides, habitat loss and diseases.

Neonicotinoids contain synthetic chemicals similar to nicotine, which as a plant toxin is damaging to insects.  In the UK, the government has temporarily lifted a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in parts of England.  Two neonicotinoid pesticides can be used in four counties on oilseed rape crops following an emergency application by the National Farmers Union.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the EU Commission had introduced precautionary restrictions on neonicotinoids from December 2013, which the UK had fully implemented.

A spokesman added: "The Government makes decisions on pesticides based on the recommendations of senior scientists and independent experts who have looked at the best available scientific evidence.  "The Commission has now begun a review of the science relating to neonicotinoids and bees, and the UK will contribute fully to this review."

This work has certainly shed some real science on how these chemicals interact with bees, but the issue with other pollinators still remains.

I have seen nothing from Australian sources.  Those comments will place some local context on this important issue of bee health.

[ partially sourced from BBC sources on 20 November 2015.]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

UN World Toilet Day

The 19th of November marks the third annual UN World Toilet Day, an important opportunity to promote global efforts to achieve universal access to sanitation by 2030. 

This year, World Toilet Day is focusing on the link between sanitation and nutrition, drawing the world’s attention to the importance of toilets in supporting better nutrition and improved health. 

Lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation, along with the absence of good hygiene practices, are among the underlying causes of poor nutrition.

It is okay if in the developed world.........we take toilets for granted.  They are not so ubiquitous in the developing world, but vital, especially more so for women and children.

Toilets have a significant effect on children’s health and nutrition; access to toilets can help children reach their full physical and mental potential. The inverse, however, is also true and the absence of a toilet can have profound implications. 

Consider the life of a child who lives in a village with poor sanitation. They go outside; they play in the same field where people defecate; they put their fingers in their mouths. They might not be aware of what contaminants are on their fingers.

Considering such things is not the job of a young child but it is important for his/her family, village, governments and the development community. 

We have a growing body of knowledge of the multi-generational and cyclical effects of what happens when a child’s environment is contaminated with feces. 

The UN estimates that 2.4 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation facilities, nearly 1 billion of which practice open defecation......think........toilets - are vital.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Smarter Irrigation

turf irrigation
With Australia set to face a severe El NiƱo summer, with predicted droughts and bushfires across the country, and the north to have a later monsoon season start, Reece Irrigation has declared November 2015 to be the inaugural ‘Smart Irrigation Month’. 

The initiative aims to create awareness about water waste outdoors and encourage Australians to practise efficient water use by making small adjustments when watering gardens or lawns.

According to Reece Irrigation Business Development Manager Eric Barsky, “While most people understand how to save water inside, we still have a long way to go in educating people on saving water outside.” 

With this in mind, Reece has come up with a few simple tips to avoid overwatering, save money and protect our national water supply:
  1. Water early [ or late], and don’t bother when it’s windy. Watering the garden and lawn in the morning reduces water loss to evaporation. Watering when it’s windy is a waste of time.
  2. Choose the right plants for the Australian climate. Select plants that are drought tolerant and tropically adapted over plants that are thirsty, resulting in less watering and a healthy garden all year round.
  3. Group plants with similar moisture needs in the same area, making it easier to ensure they get the water they need without overwatering.
  4. Install a smart irrigation system. Smart irrigation systems minimise overwatering by adjusting to account for rain and cooler days. They will also reduce evaporation, run-off and weed growth especially pesky sedges - a sure sign of overwatering, thus promoting overall plant health.
  5. Maintain and upgrade automated irrigation systems to ensure they are working. Did you know a leaky sprinkler can waste up to 24,000 litres of water per month? Get an irrigation specialist in to check your watering systems for clogged or broken sprinkler heads.
  6. Use water efficient sprinkler heads where ever possible, and even if you do not have an automated system, efficient sprinkler heads improve water use efficiency.
These are sound ideas and with November weather here in the Top End - hot, windy and dry - all are worth implementing.

If you do not have automated "rain stop systems", most irrigation controllers have a switch - known as a rain stop switch.  Use it - especially after a decent storm.  You might not need to restart irrigation for 4-7 days after a good storm.  That can save a lot of water.

Save water and save money.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Orange Poinciana - Full Flowering

Red poinciana trees are absolutely a characteristic of Darwin at this time of year.  They are a standout sight in open space areas as well as in yards.

The red display while flowering is magnificent.

There is a hidden treasure though, in my opinion, that is even more spectacular........the much less common, orange form of the poinciana [Delonix regia].

While there are / were some small insignificant specimens at the edge of Tiger Brennan Drive and the intersection with Gothenburg Crescent close to the CBD, they seem to struggle to grow in that location.

Not so near the overpass on Trower Road in Rapid Creek.  The tree is a fantastic, well grown specimen and now in November is in full flower.  Definitely it is worth a look.

There are a few others around the city but I think this one is the prize specimen.

orange poinciana near Rapid Creek in full flower, November.

Orange poinciana  - near Rapid Creek

Closer view of flowers - orange form of  Poinciana

Flower display - orange Poinciana near Rapid Creek

The display of flowering of poincianas is a characteristic in a number of cities around Australia, with Brisbane in November - December also having many red flowered trees in flower.  Cairns is also known for the same flowering display of poincianas, and I am aware of at least one orange flowered tree there as well.  But the hot weather and mostly dry conditions help with the magnificent displays seen around Darwin in November each year. 

Red poinciana in Brisbane, late November 2014

Monday, November 09, 2015

It is Hot - BUT ......Reduce Your Water Footprint

How to Reduce Your Water Footprint (Infographic)

How to Reduce Your Water Footprint (Infographic)

It’s no secret that we use a lot of water in our day-to-day lives. However, eating locally and choosing to drink the local water rather than bottle water can help reduce your water usage and footprint. While there are some places where bottled water is certainly the safer option eg Bali, in most developed countries [ Europe, USA, NZ, Australia]  the tap water must pass rigorous testing. This infographic from Wheels for Wishes  details some ways to reduce your water footprint as well as some details on how much water we actually use.

Infographic via Wheels for Wishes

Read more:

The past few days in Darwin have been VERY UNCOMFORTABLY HOT HOT HOT. 

Near record maximum temperatures and high humidity plus near record high minimums as well.  And likely to continue for some time.

Water drinking weather, as well as the time to cool off in the air conditioning when you can [ even the pool might be too warm].

While the inforgraphic is based around US data, it would be similar here in Australia.

Simple changes will reduce your water footprint.........with the fundemental one - BYOW, yes, Bring Your Own Water - it comes from the tap at home or at work, and if preferred cold, store a bottle in the fridge for regular use!  And use a reusable container.  

There are plenty of options.  None include buying water except in dire need, and even then most places will allow use of a tap to refill a container.

Remember that purchased water in a bottle is one of the the MOST expensive liquids........even more expansive in many places than exclusive champagne or even petrol!

[ partially purloined from Wheels for Wishes........but a necessary reminder for hot weather]

Monday, November 02, 2015

Growing Zoysia from Seed in Melbourne

Australians generally are conditioned to having a green turf area in the winter months.  In many other parts of the world you may have a green lawn in the warmer months, but a dry and brown barren area in winter, or possibly the opposite with a green area in the cool winter and dry and brown in warmer summer weather.

It is often possible in most parts of Australia with careful choice of turf species as well as a suitable variety, to have green turf year round.  But there are compromises as often either winter or summer is a bit of a stress time.

There are exceptions with turf adapted to altitude in the tropics often able to handle the winter and summer satisfactorily in Australia, or at least in much of the country, for example - kikuyu grass used as a turf, as well as some varieties of couch eg wintergreen, with both coping with both cool and hot weather.

While zoysia is a great turf from spring through autumn, it may not be ideal where there are cold winters.  It usually turns a lovely straw colour.  It is possible to oversow a winter active grass such as rye or fescue to meet your needs if a green turf is absolutely needed. but leaving it natural is also okay.  It is a relatively short period of several months, and often the weather is not ideal for being outside anyway.

In large cities there are often areas with varying conditions - and cities do tend to be a little warmer than nearby areas outside of the urban conditions, so picking areas where zoysia may remain green or discolour is not always easy.

In late 2014 a modest area was sown to Compadre zoysia in suburban Melbourne.

It did wonderfully well, and by late summer it was thriving.  Come went a golden straw colour, and is now - springtime in 2015 - rapidly regreening and is expected to once again thrive in the warmer months providing a low maintenance but very functional turf area with low mowing requirements.
Compadre Zoysia turf in Melbourne - Sown late 2014 - photo from 2 March 2015

Sown late 2014, photo in mid October 2015 about 1 year from sowing after 1st winter 

This is exactly what the zoysia areas in China and Korea where the grass is naturalised, do each year -   green up in the warm months yet go dormant in winter.  It works very well.  Summer in both areas is very hot and humid, while winters are cold to very cold.

So remember that zoysia - think Compadre as more suitable, but Zenith is okay too - will be able to grow in Melbourne, but may not be green in winter.  Also remember that winter 2014 was cold, and not all winters are that cold.

[ photo credit - G Speers, Melbourne]

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Integrated Pest Management by Drone

Australians are an inventive lot.........but at times they do not seem to capitalise on the commercial success of their inventions.

It has been a big week on this front - what with the Flow Hive as well as a successful system for dispensing predatory insects [ for integrated pest management] by.....drone, to save time and improve evenness of dispersal.

This has appeared on several web sites here in Australia but deserves wide coverage.  

A great idea for Australian agriculture which is rapidly moving towards using IPM in many crops.  This technology might be the key to further advances as certainly the dispersal of the insects and disease agents can at times be difficult, especially in remote and difficult terrain.

More here including photos -


Drones are emerging as the latest tool in biological pest control on Australian farms.

A former Queensland strawberry farmer turned inventor has begun using drones to spread predatory insects over farmland so they can kill pests that would otherwise eat the crops.

"It's going to be the only way that beneficial bugs are going to be dispensed in the future," Sunshine Coast inventor Nathan Roy said.

Over 18 months, Mr Roy has developed and trialled a drone system using an eight-bladed helicopter carrying a special bag with a spreading device.

"You have to be very careful how you handle the bugs. You have to store them and you have to cart them the correct way. And then when you're doing the mixing on site there's a bit of a technique to that as well," Mr Roy said.  It has been a very big learning curve for the inventor, from getting patents to obtaining the necessary licences from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Key to achieving success has been finding the Goldilocks spot in the sky — how high the drone should work above the crops.

Too high and not enough bugs get where they need to be, but too low, and there are too many.
Mr Roy has also researched the best time of day, humidity and wind.

But Mr Roy has had success on a number of farms including Merv Schiffke's strawberry operation at Bellmere, north of Brisbane.

"All your insects and stuff there, they can adapt quickly and get resistance to chemicals, but they can't get resistance to some little critter eating them," Mr Schiffke said.

Currently people spend hours spreading beneficial insects on crops by hand — a task accomplished in minutes by an unmanned aerial vehicle.

"What would take four or five people, two or three hours to put out over a couple of hectares, they can do in 10 minutes," Mr Schiffke said.

"So I think it's going to be very effective. Its going to be very uniform and I think what they're doing is going to be something the industry will use into the future."

Using drones could also have big implications for the rearing of beneficial pests, taking it from a labour intensive and expensive niche market to the mainstream.

"That's been a real hurdle for us. We get these great bio control agents and we get them out to our growers and then they often find it's a bit laborious you know," entomologist Dan Papacek, who runs the Bugs For Bugs insectary at Mundubbera.

"So the next step is going to be this step towards improved, mechanised release systems and that's a very exciting part of our way forward I believe," Mr Papacek said.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Beehive Design Revolution

Bees are fundamental to modern agriculture and horticulture.  Without them, few flowers would be pollinated and so fruit is produced........think vegetables, zucchini, melons, pumpkins, nut crops and fruits.

Beekeeping can mean getting stung, yet the system is critical for food production.

This story is truly about thinking out of the box!

Originally on the ABC web site it is worth reproducing and then reading by anyone connected with food.

It could be a major game changer for apiculture.


A highly successful crowdfunding campaign has seen Byron Bay inventor Cedar Anderson become a millionaire business owner overnight.

Stuart and Cedar Anderson invented the Flow Hive. Photo: ABC
What if you spend years quietly tinkering in a shed on your invention, to find you have to take the reins of a multi-million dollar company overnight?

That is the reality for Byron Bay inventor Cedar Anderson, after his beehive invention went gangbusters on a crowdfunding site.

“The idea of having a 9:00am to 5:00pm office job was just frightening. To me, freedom is being able to do what I’m inspired to do. It’s being able to work on inventions, whenever I have an idea,” Cedar says.

But nowadays, he dreams of only a nine-to-five existence as his new venture sees him working all hours, seven days a week.

But do not feel too sorry for him. He brought the whole thing on himself.

As a child of parents who founded a community in the hills near Nimbin, Cedar had a wild and free childhood in nature, nurturing his natural curiosity.

“We’d go and pull apart an old car and pull out the dashboard and get all the light globes out and the horn and take it back and connect it to car batteries and make the lights go and try and make an instrument out of a lot of car horns,” he said.

“I guess rather than sitting down watching the TV, we were figuring out how things work.”

Figuring out how things work became an obsession, helped by his dad Stuart, the Mr Fix-It guy of the community.
Cedar Anderson had a brainwave after his brother got stung. Photo: Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar/ABC

While tinkering ran in the family, so did beekeeping.

Cedar is a third-generation beekeeper and, as a kid, recalls pulling apart the family’s bee hives, wearing makeshift bee suits and rubber gloves gaffer-taped at the wrist.

He also remembers his brother Chris getting badly stung. A small light bulb went off in his young head. “There must be a better way,” Cedar said.

“Ten years ago Cedar had this idea, ‘come on, we must be able to get honey from a beehive without opening it, extracting and stressing the bees’,” Stuart recalled.

Tinkering in his bush shed and living off the smell of a honey-stained rag, Cedar began developing prototypes of what would eventually become the Flow Hive.

In the past few years, Stuart came onboard and solved a few major design problems.

It was a beautiful, sunny day when they walked down to the hives to see if the prototype would work.

 They turned the handle and honey started to flow.

“We couldnt believe it. We just sat back in disbelief laughing. We had invented the beekeeper’s dream.”

But how to get it to market? They may have been children of the rainforest, but they were also children of the digital revolution.

Cedar wanted to bypass the venture capital phase and take the Flow Hive directly to consumers via a crowdfunding campaign.

The genius of this idea was that people could place an advance order for the hive so Cedar and his team would know how many to manufacture and have the dollars in hand to make them.

Cedar’s sister Mirabai slaved away on a video:

She hoped to pique interest. From the moment the video appeared, things moved quickly.

“That video went viral overnight and had a couple of million views, and that really kicked us into high gear. The media interest was massive,” colleague Yari McGauley explained.

The astounding success of the crowdfunding campaign garnered even more attention.

Hoping to raise $US70,000 ($96,952) to buy a new tool for the factory, they flew past that target in a few minutes, reaching more than $US2 million in just one day.

At the close of the campaign eight weeks later, they had $US12.2 million in advance orders.

After the champagne wore off, they had a major headache — of the logistical kind.

They had to manufacture 24,000 orders and export them to more than 130 countries.

Cedar’s life changed dramatically. Never a consumer, he suddenly had to spend up big on the infrastructure to keep things running.

“All of a sudden they’re telling me I have to have an office and I dont want an office, that’s my worst nightmare, but okay, we need an office, and now they want me to go to the office,” Cedar laughed.

It’s a steep learning curve of how to manage a team of employees and negotiate a complex business — not to mention how to be a dad.

Cedar Anderson with partner Kylie Ezart, their son Jhali and father Stuart. Photo: Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar/ABC

To add to the general chaos, his partner Kylie Ezart gave birth to their son Jhali in the middle of the campaign.

Although Cedar admits to feeling stress for the first time in his life, his brother Gabe has been surprised by his demeanour.

“He’s just taking it in his stride and he’s quite calm and collected about it. He just works through what he needs to work through, it doesn’t seem to faze him at all.”

No one thinks their sudden wealth will change Cedar or Stuart.

Both of them are still driving their old utes around, running them on vegetable oil to save money and the environment.

“Yeah, I have changed,” Cedar laughs. “With a bit of coaching, I went and purchased my first new pair of shoes in 20 years. It was a bit of a dropping of the guard.”


available only until 9 November

Friday, October 23, 2015

Precision Pastoral Enterprises - Remote Sensing Plus!

This project is a serious attempt by Australian researchers to develop remote sensing technology that will dramatically improve knowledge and understanding and bring quantitative data to remote pastoral enterprises in Australia.......and maybe before too long to elsewhere around the world.

This is advertising a field day at remote Glenforrie station some 400 kms S of Karratha in the middle of WA.  The technology will be discussed and demonstrated.  Yes, it works!

This is a promo for the event........

The revolutionary Australian technology that combines pasture monitoring from space with automated mustering and weighing of cattle will go on full public show for the first time this month.

The Precision Pastoral Management Systems (PPMS) package saves labour, time and money, improves livestock productivity, increases sustainability and protects vegetation and wildlife in Australia’s – and potentially the world’s – arid rangelands and savannas. The full package will be demonstrated publicly for the first time at a field day at Glenflorrie Station in the remote WA Pilbara on 28 October.

Principal Research Leader Sally Leigo, of the NT Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, says: “PPMS is an integrated package of tools and technologies that automate the management of livestock remotely, muster and draft animals automatically, report on pasture condition and carrying capacity, reduce the pastoral workload and help to balance livestock numbers with feed availability to avoid overgrazing.

“It’s a game-changer for rangelands grazing because, for the first time, it puts hard data on cattle liveweights and feed availability in the hands of the manager, while reducing costs, lifting earnings and sustaining the pastoral landscape.” 

The technology was developed exclusively in Australia, with trials over several years on five real working Australian cattle stations and with full support from the pastoral grazing industry. “This end-user engagement ensures a product that graziers and pastoralists want and need, leading to a ready domestic market for the technology,” Sally says.

Details of the field day here

While Australia has been a leader in developing RFID technology for tagging cattle and more recently sheep, that technology was initially driven by biosecurity issues but it was not very long before it was realised that the data which could be gained had real world uses for property and herd  management.

Then a simple metering device for adding nutrients to water at water points points in pastoral lands was developed.

More R and bring this to where it is today.

More to come as well, when you add the known technology in the wings now [ or even on the wings ] .........

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Improving Germination Speed of Zoysia Seed - Seed Priming

When I first started research and development on zoysia the germination of the seed was a very tricky process.......low germination was common, especially with fresh seed.

Then a few scientists, including myself, began work to see if this could be improved.  Some work on related species showed that quite a few tropical grasses had tightly oppressed covers [glumes] around the seed [ caropysis], and that removal or damage that allowed moisture to penetrate improved germination.  Zoysia also exhibited this trait, and germination could be improved by piercing the glumes.  It worked in the lab, but a practical larger scale option was needed.

A process devised by a Chinese scientist showed that seed treatment with potassium hydroxide was effective in dramatically improving germination as it seemed to both soften the hard glumes and allow water to penetrate as well as overcome dormancy in the embryo.

This then became a commercial treatment, and is used today.

Light is also required and best germination in the laboratory is achieved with light [ and remember that seed is sown very close to the surface for that reason] -   no light and germination is much lower in the lab.

The other technology that relies on the inherent physiology and biochemistry of the germinating damp seed is a technique known as seed priming.  

Short term wetting of the seed starts the physiological and biochemical processes leading to germination........but if you then dry the seed along the way.....that process stops.  When you re-wet the seed, the process continues,  but restarts from the point you redried the seed, so the second time germination and seedling emergence process is much shorter.

For zoysia these processes are now being looked at  as a means to reduce the time from sowing to emergence, which can be normally up to 14 or more days, especially in cooler conditions.

You can prime the purchased seed ie the seed ready to germinate as having been treated to soften the glumes - overnight is currently recommended - in water.  Then the next day the damp seed is washed and spread out and dried in the light or even sunshine which provides a light stimulation.

This technique is now being recommended in the US for improving the time between sowing and seedling emergence.

While exact times and water temperatures are not stated in technology leaflets, the recommendation is a dark period soak eg overnight followed by draining and then drying out in light / warm sunshine.  I would be cautious about the temperature of tropical sunny days, but the principle seems clearcut - with this recommendation by one of the major seed producers of zoysia seed in the US.

Once the seed is dry, it is then sown normally, with an expected shorter time to germinate in the field. This potentially is a great boost in agronomic management options including irrigation, and allows seedlings to be established in the field much quicker.

We have not evaluated this here in Australia but the scientific principles are sound and broadly work for a range of other species, although timing of the soak period does vary among different species.

If you try the technique we would be interested in hearing of the experience.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Drone Delivers Mail in Singapore

As reported from Singapore - drone delivers mail!

Move over carrier pigeons. 

SingPost delivered the mail to Pulau Ubin [ an off shore island near Changi airport] using a drone, The Straits Times has reported. SingPost had help from the IDA to create this drone, and sent over a T-shirt and a letter from Lorong Halus to Pulau Ubin. 

This trial run took five minutes and covered about 2km. 

Friday, October 09, 2015

Humane Abattoirs?

Maybe a contradiction in terms, but improved animal welfare in abattoirs is a win-win situation.

Well treated animals before slaughter actually deliver better quality carcasses, as well as improved animal management and welfare.

One of the leaders to improve animal welfare in slaughterhouses has been Temple Grandin from the USA.  She is well  known for her work by those in beef production and the meat industry.

But just recently she has made it into The Economist magazine, an unlikely vehicle to be discussing animal welfare and abattoir design in light of improved animal management and outcomes.

It is a long article - and well worth reading as it does actually discuss some of the innovations that can improve animal welfare and abattoir performance.

See it here -

and think about how simple changes can improve meat quality next time you have a steak!

Some parts of the world do have a long road ahead for improvement, but many western country abattoirs are now making the changes that do really improve animal welfare before slaughter and these should offer some solace to all meat eaters that animal welfare does not have to be compromised in abattoirs. 

Remember that  "In her view, properly performed slaughter [ of cattle] is less cruel than a more natural death at the jaws of wolves"

Monday, October 05, 2015

Insects to Eat Styrofoam - Waste Problem Solved?

Could biology solve the problem of disposing of plastic waste?

It might just be the case according to a recent study at Stanford University.

Reporting is here -   along with some photos.

But in essence the larvae of mealworms can be raised on styrofoam!  Yes, styrofoam.

The world uses a lot of styrofoam each year with a large amount in simple, single use styrofoam cups for coffee and similar take away drinks.

I have personally observed the good old cockroach tuck into styofoam.........but this technology of raising insects on styrofoam seems such a simple option that would lend itself to mass production.

I just wonder though, at the real will to set something up.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Improve Your Irrigation Efficiency AND Save Water and $$

It is a broad generality that most home owners and commercial property managers over water both gardens and specially turf areas.  We are not speaking about the events around establishing the area where extra water may be needed, but once the area is established.

Ideally, water needs to be available at 100 - 150mm below the surface, and there are irrigation systems that deliver water to that specification eg KISSS systems  see

But there is usually a lot that can be done with existing overhead sprinkler systems before committing to a major retrofit.

Less frequent but longer irrigation periods are a first option, but often the period itself can be reduced.  And it is not set and forget either - adjust both of these as seasons change, with naturally more water required in hot dry periods than cooler and damp seasons.  And remember to irrigate early morning or early evening, when winds are lower as are temperatures.  Adjusting droplet size and pressure may also be possible and that will improve efficiency too.

And do not forget to adjust the watering systems to avoid watering the hard surfaces where possible.  Grass will not grow in concrete...........except weeds in cracks!

Even raising mowing height will help save water. 

Using a rainstop or similar device to override the irrigation turning on is a very sensible option, as this prevents scheduled irrigation occurring if there has been rain.  Surely it is sensible to not irrigate if it is not needed.  Rainstop is a commercial Australian product used in commercial systems, but there are proprietary systems from major commercial brands.

While these save money, there is a cost to fit them.

But the bigger advantage is the health improvements to your turf or garden areas - with the first and most notable change likely to be reduced sedges in turf areas, an outcome driven by the drier surface conditions that help reduce these problem weeds.  While sedges can be controlled with appropriate herbicides, they are not an instant fix [ maybe 12 -18 months to clean up an area] and really need to be used once irrigation regimes are adjusted, not before.

All of the above changes do not necessarily reduce the aesthetics of your lawn.  Even a small amount of slow release fertiliser can help by improving the root systemof the turf species and thus extracting more water from depth{"page":38,"issue_id":271411}

California is experiencing severe drought - somewhat similar to the experience in temperate Australia a few years ago, and this article [ link shown above] gives an overview of experiences there with improved irrigation management.

In north Australia with somewhere around 70% of water used outdoors, it is a very practical and relatively east option to save water used outdoors.  Give it a go!  Your garden and lawn area will benefit! 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

US Sets Food Waste Reduction Goals

Food waste in the U.S. is a big problem, accounting for about 31 percent of the nation’s food supply, or 133 billion pounds. It makes up 21 percent of U.S. municipal solid waste in landfills, and as a result it accounts for the lion’s share of landfill methane emissions.  Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 21 times that of carbon dioxide — and landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

It is not just the waste of food, but the enclosed losses - from excess production costs, transport storage and packaging, and monetary costs of consumer purchases.  In western economies most food waste losses are post production, an area well worthy of targetting for reductions.

Given the size of the problem, it is a major deal that last week U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the nation’s first national food waste reduction goal. 

The goal is a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. The federal government is leading a new partnership with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and state and tribal governments to reduce food waste and loss.  “Our new reduction goal demonstrates America’s leadership on a global level in in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution, and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste,” Vilsack said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time the US federal government has worked on the issue of food waste. In 2013, the Department of Agriculture and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which gives organizations and leaders the place to share practices for reducing, recovering and recycling food waste. 

By the end of last year, the challenge had over 4,000 active participants, well over the goal of 1,000 participants by 2020.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NEW - Online NT Flora List

It has been a slow gestation, but at last an online version of the NT plants list and related materials, with the following email in the inbox today.....

The Northern Territory Herbarium of the Flora and Fauna Division of the NT Land Resource Management Department is pleased to announce the first release of FloraNT (Northern Territory flora online)

The main features are:
·        Checklists of:
o   NT Plants;
o   NT Threatened species; and
o   Introduced naturalised species.
·        Searching of flora information by any combination of spatial attributes, plant name or plant characteristics including conservation status to produce a species list meeting the search criteria.
·        Browsing by plant name to access fact sheets and other information.
·        Attached to names in the above lists:
o   fact sheets including distribution map, illustrations, photos of each plant, conservation status, distribution, flowering times and other information; and
o   pdfs of descriptions and keys.
·        Searching of spatial data by any combination of spatial attributes, plant name or plant characteristics including conservation status to produce point data extracts meeting the search criteria.

Please note there are about 3300 images awaiting bulk upload.

For anyone else interested in the NT flora, this should be a very useful resource and reference  Let's hope it is kept up to date, even if only several times a year.