Thursday, January 15, 2015

God and Lawn Care

It is most important to not take yourself too seriously............

Afterall, when you are close to a work area, you can fail to look outside all.

A bit of a light hearted approach to turf management............


God and Lawn Care


Frank,   ...  You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet?  What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago?   I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

   It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

   Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

   Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

   The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

   Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice or more a week, for some areas of grass called golf courses and sportsfields.

   They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

   Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

   They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

   No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

   Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
   Yes, Sir.

   These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

   You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

   What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

   You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

   No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

   After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

   And where do they get this mulch?
   They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

   Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

   'Dumb and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about....
   Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.....................

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

NEW Nickel Accumulating Tropical Plants Discovered

​New nickel accumulating plants uncovered
Researchers have uncovered dozens of new nickel hyperaccumulator plants in a study in Borneo.

Anthony van der Ent, working with the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation (CMLR) with the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute has discovered the new plants species in Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu world heritage site.

The researchers found local trees contain some of the world’s highest concentrations of nickel in plants.

Mid last year scientists also uncovered a similar plant in the Philippines, Rinorea niccolifera, which can accumulate up to 18 000 ppm of nickel without being affected.  "Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining'," Dr. Augustine Doronila, from University of Melbourne said 

“From magnets to mobile phones and car motors, the world’s population uses a huge amount of nickel and the availability of mineable deposits, and the costs and complexity of recovery, are potentially limiting future supplies van der Ent said.  "Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining'," Dr. Augustine Doronila, from the University of Melbourne said.

The trees uncovered in Boreneo contain up to three per cent nickel “so there is the real potential to develop large nickel ‘farms’ in the Tropics, which would be of benefit to the environment and local communities who have previously dealt with the impacts of mining.”

CMLR Director Professor David Mulligan added: “By studying intact landscapes such as Kinabalu Park, researchers are gaining insights into plant development and growth and an understanding of the relationships between the biotic and abiotic environments – knowledge that is enormously useful for informing strategies relating to mine site rehabilitation.”

The use of hyperaccumlators has a long and storied history in mining.

Previously plants known thrive in soils with heavy metals were used to uncover metal deposits.

The technique has been recorded as being used in China since the 5th century BC, and in fact Sweden's former Viscaria copper mine was actually named after the Viscaria aplina flower which prospectors used to discover the deposit, as the flower is known to grow in soils with heavy copper concentrations.

Australian natives such as Stackhouse tyronii and ­Hybanthus floribundus can also be used as lead and nickel indicators due to their hyper-accumulator ability, according to The Lead Group and to research carried out by CQ University professor Nanjappa Ashwatha and Dr. Poonam Bhatia.

In fact "Stackhousia try­onii is a serpentine-endemic, rare, native Australian plant and is reported to hyperaccumulate nickel up to 55,500 mg g-1 on a dry weight basis," the group explained.

In 2013 it was also reported that native eucalypts were thriving around the highly acidic decommissioned Mt Morgan gold mine, near Rockhampton, and highlighted the potential for the plants to be used in mine site remediation.  "Seedlings were growing in highly acidic soil where the pH shouldn't support them, and they are thriving," local councillor Neil Fisher said.  "On the very edge of the water, 300-400 eucalypt seedlings are growing where plants normally would have died."

[ originally reported by Cole Latimer on 14 January 2015 ]

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Zoysia Seed to Develop a New Sports Oval - Part 1 - Hydroseeding

Hydroseeding works very well when you have tough conditions.

A monsoonal burst of more than a week,  over 100mm of rain in less than 2 hours  initially, continued ongoing heavy rain during the week [ more than 250mm], relatively short sunny breaks and lots of heavy cloud..........

Yes, a small amount of washout, but very small areas affected.

And at nine days from sowing when seedlings first appeared ..........was .looking very promising.

A true minimal cultivation operation based around a spray with glyphosate [ Roundup], a quick respray to kill off a few small missed spots after 4 days, hydroseeding with fibre mulch and zoysia seed after 7 days, when all plants were dead.

The recommended option of a short period of irrigation several times each day during sunlight hours was used [3 x 10 mins each time] to keep the surface damp - raining or not, with a slightly longer period early each morning to ensure adequate moisture at the surface - both VERY critical.  This irrigation started once sown, and monsoonal conditions did not start for several days after sowing.  Conditions at sowing were very hot - days around 34-35C, nights at 27-29C.

By day nine it was establishing very well. Yes, a few legume weeds were emerging which can be hand weeded, but will most likely be spot sprayed in a week or so.

There will be more of the story to come in the next two months as it develops.

So far it is a very promising early establishment.

hydroseeding with seed, fertiliser  and mulch 

Completed hydroseeding of oval - green from fibre mulch

seedlings at 11 days from sowing

yes - a few weeds too among seedlings  at 11 days
A bit of washout but still plenty of seedlings - at 11 days
general view at 11 days from seeding -- plenty of seedlings emerged - sun needed to boost growth

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Expansion Forecast for Buffalo Meat Markets - India to Dominate

The sustained increase over the past three years in Indian buffalo (carabeef) exports is projected to continue, according to a report recently commissioned by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) analysing the industry and its impact on the world beef market over the next five years.

Shipments of approximately 2.2 million tonnes carcass weight equivalent (cwe) Indian carabeef are forecast for 2020.

This assertion is based on the projected growth of India’s dairy sector, of which carabeef is a by-product, continued demand in international markets, and the abundant supply of water buffalo throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Beef consumption is shunned on religious grounds by Hindus, who account for approximately 80 per cent of the Indian population, leaving a substantial surplus from the routine culling of unproductive and dry buffalo cows for export.

Carabeef exporters have established a strong foothold in markets that are expected to expand under the combined power of population growth and higher per capita incomes, like China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, Indian carabeef is currently trading below Australian beef in global markets, yet it is apparent that carabeef prices are rising to follow trends for Australian and Brazilian product.

Forecasts for growth in the Muslim and Christian segments of the Indian population are expected to underpin an increase in domestic disappearance by around 900,000 tonnes cwe, which would mean approximately 14 kilograms per capita consumption among that cohort by 2020.

Additionally, assuming no changes in the status of the current grey channel trade via Vietnam and Thailand, exports to China are expected to reach 1.375 million tonnes cwe, and account for about 60pc of India’s carabeef exports.

Importantly, the report indicates that India is unlikely to supply Australia’s traditional markets within the short to medium term.

Furthermore, the modelling suggests that while increased supply of carabeef will put downward pressure on world beef prices, the current market is sufficiently flexible to redistribute product to different markets in response to relatively small changes in price.

This demand for buffalo and buffalo meat should also have a positive effect on Australian export of buffalo for live export markets, as well as some modest potential for improved export of boxed carabeef meat into some markets.
  1. Australian buffalo
Australia cannot match the supply from Indian sub continent sources, but with some markets requiring foot and mouth disease freedom assurances there is a place for our export products.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Energy Efficiency - Where Do YOU Rank?

Guess Which Countries Rank the Highest in Energy Efficiency

Quite interesting reading and most do not quite believe the high level achieved by China [BTW - also very significant user of wind energy].

Australia is okay, but could be better.

From: JonesOil

Monday, January 05, 2015

Ebola Rapid Detection Kits

STMicroelectronics and partners create early Ebola detector
ST MICROELECTRONICS has worked with Clonit and Italy's National Institute for Infectious Diseases to create a portable analyser that detects Ebola in less than 75 minutes.

While not yet in production early testing is very promising, and could lead to rapid development of commercial test kits.

Early detection would be a major step forward for those many subject to infection as well as the people caring for them in so many different countries and capacities.

The portable analyser, currently in prototype stages, is based on the Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) molecular biology technique.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) amplifies a target biological material, such as the Ebola virus, contained in a tiny sample of blood so it can be detected. It is a common technique for many uses both medical and scientific where DNA is used a s a conformation technique.  The key procedure in PCR is the accurately controlled cycle of repetitive heating and cooling of the biological material that is subsequently evaluated against biological markers loaded on the microchip.

The next step will be to optimise the point-of-care Ebola-detection solution for large-scale deployment, including innovations to minimise the threat of infection when handling the biological sample. 

ST Microelectronics and its partners will also aim to lower the costs of the device.

The prototype analyzer kit has been successfully tested for compliance with applicable international standards by the National Institute for Infectious Diseases Spallanzani, one of the two Italian institutions designated by the Italian Ministry of Health as a reference center for care and treatment of Ebola.

The kit detects the presence of the Ebola virus with extreme accuracy in just a few microliters of human-blood samples and the accuracy of the result has been confirmed with a blood sample diluted up to a million times. The high sensitivity of the test allows the detection of the virus at a very early stage, which can significantly help limit the spread of the deadly disease.

An extractor extracts the virus RNA from a loaded blood sample. A stamp-sized silicon microchip from STMicroelectronics then acts as a miniaturised reactor and reproduces, in micrometer scale, the entire process of amplification and screening of the extracted genetic material on which the extracted RNA is loaded, to be then reverse-transcribed into DNA and amplified according to the RT-PCR methodology.

Silicon’s low thermal capacity and the minute volumes of tested samples significantly reduce reaction times and allow the fast temperature cycling that enables quick amplification of complex biological materials without compromising accuracy and reliability.

Clonit reagents then perform a Quantitative Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (viral load) in compliance with all standards and controls required by the international quality-control regulations.

In the final step, a STMicroelectronics-developed portable optical reader detects the presence of viral DNA in the sample, and sends the data to a PC which then processes and presents the information in graphical form.

The device is not just accurate, but small enough and fast enough to be of extreme application in urgent situations and for use in the field.

[ reported originally on December 16 2014 - but important enough to be reproduced here.]

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Uptake in Seed Use for Zoysia Turf Development - Need to Manage Weeds in Established Areas Not Just Mow

Both Compadre and its close cousin Zenith varieties  have seen a significant expansion of usage in domestic turf areas this Australian warm season, with Zenith sometimes being used because of tight seed supply for Compadre, still seen as the preferred variety.

While northern Australia continues with increasing use domestically, there has been some commercial use including where zoysia [ often Compadre as first choice] has been mandated as part of the commercial specifications.

As well, expansion has continued with Compadre especially being now very widely used as sod in commercial developments and areas of sod production have also increased, with Compadre now commonly the specified turf sod of first choice around much of north Australia.

The lateral growth [ rather than increased vertical growth], stolon density and potentially reduced mowing and maintenance plus overall good aesthetic appearance all contribute to this acceptance commercially.

That said, commercial users also need to understand that mowing is now not the absolute only maintenance required.

With many mowing contractors operating across many types of turf, vigilance and control to prevent entry of other turf species is needed [ often by adherence of seed and plant pieces on mowers], and specially to understand  that there are specific herbicide options to consider to keep the zoysia free of other turf species - with prompt maintenance a necessary practice to remove other, now weedy, turf types, to stop their spread.  Use of glyphosate [ Roundup(trademarked)] is not the only nor first option., although use of wick wiping with glyphosate to remove weedy grasses by killing via their seed heads may be an option for some species.......and yes it works well!  There are also very effective solutions for control of sedges in over watered or wetter areas of the turf area.

Mullumbimby sedge - serious sedge weed 

We can offer agronomic services to assist with weed control in zoysia, based on around 35 years of experience with the species in Australia, USA and Asia.

Where a considerable effort has been placed into higher quality turf, then it is important to also devote some effort and money to manage the areas more effectively for long term performance.  Do not ignore the turf weeds!!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Zoysia Turf from Seed Is Worth the Wait

Sometimes a lawn takes time to develop to the stage where you think it is okay.

We often say that a zoysia lawn from seed will take 10- 12 weeks to develop a lawn appearance and be suitable for light use, or even up to 16 weeks, depending on the weather and time of year it is sown, and the degree of agronomic intervention.  

It is certainly hard to force a zoysia turf to grow a lot faster - more nitrogen fertiliser just does not work, although using slow release nitrogen is the better option.  Do not forget adequate potassium either.  After all, that aspect, of slower and maybe even less growth is one of the benefits of a zoysia turf area once established, and these turf areas can be used for many years.  My own zoysia lawn at home is now about 35 years young........and still doing okay, and it receives minimal fertiliser, and mowing.  

In the world of contracting, a period of 16 - 20 weeks is considered a common period for the development of a large turf area eg a playing field, from seed, suitable for sport use.  It is often also the same time as allowed for full development of a sportsfield from laying of the turf to full sod suitable for use - it can be quicker - and often is - but this tends to be the time allowed contractually. 

This is a useful concept to understand.........a turf area from seed will not happen instantaneously to be ready for use [not even if you use full sod at much increased cost - many times the cost of seed establishment!].  Also remember that most golf fairways are sown from seed, although the much smaller greens areas tend to be sod sown.

And there can be a few trials and false starts along the way.

Our common recommendation is to mow off the weeds, especially before they set seed.  The zoysia continues to grow laterally close to the ground, filling in the space, even when a bit shaded by the weeds, and will normally choke out most weeds over time.  In warm regions, summer growing grasses are vigorous and will grow above the zoysia, and sometimes using  a wick wiper treatment of glyphosate carefully can kill them off - but avoid getting herbicide on the zoysia - it is susceptible to glyphosate.

Where broad leaved weeds are the main problem, there are a few herbicide options for use after the zoysia seedlings are well established [ say 3-4 weeks after sowing], both post emergent and some pre-emergent.  Wick wiping can also be useful on taller broad leaved weeds, but a quick mow is often the better option  

You might have a look at a suite of these you tube videos if not already seen.

All of these are worth watching – Compadre zoysia seed sown - Maryland, USA

There is one other in the series which will show up  if you click on any of these.

I thought after the initial sowing it would be a total disaster............but it is successful, albeit not instantaneously.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weed Control in Zoysia Turf - Seed Sown or Sod

Weeds in zoysia are mostly fixable.  

We suggest mowing followed by even more mowing as an option, allowing the strong density of zoysia to eventually win out.  There are two classic You Tube videos from the USA showing Compadre  zoysia in two successive years - year one is awful [ and I thought - what a disaster], but in year two it is a magnificent Compadre zoysia lawn.  Mowing and a strong zoysia species - Compadre zoysia - helped fix that problem.

Most broadleaved weeds in Compadre or Zenith seed sown zoysias are controllable with Kamba - M,  a commercially available dicamba / MCPA mix.  Approx price $30 for 1L.  A small quantity will last several years and is NOT residual.  Several repeat sprays may be needed. Use at recommended rates, and small areas can be sprayed with small hand spray bottles.  A few drops of detergent in the mix [ just a few drops!!] may help hold spray on plant leaves.

Or use one of the slow release fertilisers with pendimethalin in the blend as a seedling grass control - while it will not control emerged seedlings it will stop more summer growing grass weeds establishing for up to 10 - 12 weeks.  You must use at the recommended rate, which is on the bag.

You can also wick wipe weeds with glyphosate - BUT you must avoid the zoysia seedlings as they can be easily damaged if herbicide gets onto their leaves.  This can be useful if weeds are taller than the seedlings, as is often the situation.  Multiple applications may be needed. Commercial outlets sell wick wipers or see  who make excellent small units [ any of the 4 smaller rope wick units] and supply by post.

Sedges may also be a problem.  First issue with sedges if they appear usually means overwatering.  Use less applications and make each one longer, if that much water is really needed.  If the soil dries out between waterings, sedges are less of an issue. Or reduce overall watering - the lawn is likely to be okay with less water  Small 25g packs of Sempra are now available through commercial outlets - this is a very specific sedge herbicide [halosulfuron].  Use as directed, and we suggest also continuing to use as a spot spray where needed, after that.  One or two applications usually removes well over 90% of the sedges, but often a few odd plants reappear - so spot spray them as needed.

There are other possible herbicides but some are not available to home owners, and cannot be recommended for use except by commercial operators.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Healthy Soils - Healthy Planet - Healthy Life

The article below was written by Robb Fraley of Monsanto.  Yes, by someone from one of those apparently dreadful multinationals involved in agriculture.  It is not all doom and gloom!

Also - remember that December 5 was World Soil Day.

This article talks up soil and the benefits of productive healthy soils for life on earth.

Get with it...............add more carbon to your soil.  Carbon comes with the organic matter added to soils.......and why add carbon?  Carbon is a basic fuel for many many types of soil microbes and helps boost their numbers.  Farming is truly carbon farming!

compost for carbon - in soils


You may not quite realize it, but the dirt beneath your feet is teeming with life. In any given tablespoon of soil, there may be more than 50 billion microbes - bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mites, and more. Ninety percent of all the organisms on earth live underground. In a handful of healthy soil, there is more biodiversity than there is among all the above-ground animals in the Amazon Basin.

Until fairly recently, the human race has been largely uninformed about this vast ocean of uncatalogued life. Although farmers have always valued their soil and understood the importance of maintaining it, science offered little detail about the organic material within it, let alone how that material interacts with crops to give us our food.

Now, however, advances in biotechnology have begun to exponentially advance our understanding. As a result, we are on the cusp of making major strides in sustainable agriculture that will benefit both humanity and our ecosystems.

These advances are clearly coming just in time. By the year 2050 we will have 2 billion more people to feed on this planet, and global food demand will be about 70 percent higher than it is today.
Meanwhile, our key resources are threatened. Fresh water - our single most precious resource - is finite in supply and fast being depleted. Topsoil - which is literally the foundation of our food supply - is being stripped or degraded faster than Nature can replenish it (new topsoil is made at the rate of 0.025 mm to 0.125 mm per year).

And now climate change - to which agriculture itself is making a contribution - is threatening crops and livestock with a variety of new challenges, including withering heat, drought, and new pressures from bugs and diseases.

For these and other reasons, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) explained recently, the world needs a "paradigm shift" to more sustainable methods. It's no exaggeration to say that if we don't think more holistically about agriculture, the 21st century could be grimmer than any of us want to imagine.

The good news is we can do this. We can enable a more sustainable and productive agriculture. And in part we can do that through the development of new frontiers that, not surprisingly, coalesce around soil.

In 2003 Craig Venter and a team of scientists set out to demonstrate that advances in genomics and computing power could enable the mapping of microbial life all over the planet. Beginning in the Sargasso Sea and then circumnavigating the globe, Dr. Venter and his team were able to uncover the secrets of microbial life and diversity throughout the oceans. Over the last few years many other scientists have followed, leading to the description of the microbial life in the soils, permafrost, deep-sea vents, and even geysers.

As a result, humanity is now finally learning about what lies below. At the same time, we're learning how different crop plants interact with the biological communities, or micro-biomes, in the soil. We're learning how some organisms help a given plant and some hinder it, not unlike the ways of micro-organisms in our own bodies.

For example, just as the "good" microbes in our gut help us digest our food and maintain our immune system, "good" microbes in the soil form symbiotic relationships with plants and help them absorb nutrients through their roots as well as resist bugs and diseases. "Bad" ones do things like triggering the outbreak of plant diseases. There is growing evidence that "good" microbes added to the soil can provide health benefits to crops just like "probiotics."

All of this is leading to a day when farmers will be able to use the tools of genomics and precision agriculture to analyze their fields in an unprecedentedly detailed way. They'll then be able to introduce or reintroduce the kinds of beneficial microbes found in the most productive soils. We may even be able to restore fertility to some of the lands - for example, in sub-Saharan Africa, or even areas of our own rich bread basket in the United States - where management practices driven by a variety of forces have rendered the land less productive.

By doing below ground what we've done above in reintroducing endangered species, we'll achieve great benefits. Specifically, healthier organic life in the soil will bring us:
Healthier, more resilient plants - Crops will have less need for some of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides we now rely on for production. They'll need less irrigation too, because the soil will retain water better and the plants will absorb it more efficiently.
Climate change mitigation - Healthier soils lead to lower rates of greenhouse gas emissions, as I'll discuss in a moment.
Increased biodiversity - the more beneficial microbial life in the soil, the more life there will be of all kinds.
Better ecosystem "services" - By many calculations, the living soil is the Earth's most valuable ecosystem. Besides mitigating climate change, it protects against soil erosion, filters our water, and performs other functions worth trillions of dollars each year.

To make this future work best, however, it will also be important for farmers to keep adopting better soil management practices, such as conservation tillage and cover cropping. Conservation tillage is a broad term to describe any method of cultivation that leaves the previous year's crop residue - corn stalks or wheat stubble, for example - on fields before and after planting the next crop. Cover cropping involves planting a secondary crop after the main one is harvested, to stop erosion or replenish nutrients in the soil.

These practices, which have indeed been gaining popularity, stand in contrast to tilling - the process of breaking and turning over the soil while plowing under the residue for the purpose of hampering weed growth. Tilling is a time-honored practice, but it disrupts the soil's sponge-like structure and disturbs the balance of its microbial life, decreasing the land's capacity to absorb water as well as nitrogen and phosphorus from artificial fertilizers. The result is excessive runoff of water and nutrients, leading to the infamous dead zones that afflict places like Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico and larger releases of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

By rebalancing the microbial community in the soil toward air-loving organisms, tilling also leads to the more rapid decomposition of the organic matter buried in the soil - and thus to the release of the carbon sequestered within it. And astonishingly, there is more carbon in the soil than in all the plants and the atmosphere combined. Only the oceans contain more.

Biotechnology - herbicide-tolerant crops, in particular - has helped farmers move away from till farming by giving them another way to control weeds. This USDA report is only the latest of many to make that point. In other words, biotechnology has proved to be a foundational technology for the new advances we anticipate in improving the soil biome.

Even more advances in soil management are on the way. Right now, for example, our company is partnering with the National Corn Growers Association and partners in conservation and academic science to gain a more systematic understanding of the economic and environmental benefits of different soil management strategies on a region-specific and crop-specific basis. The Soil Health Partnership, as it's called, has already established demonstration farms in the Midwest where innovative management practices are aimed at improving soil health. The partnership aims eventually to publish its findings and to encourage farmers to adopt them as appropriate.

Much more such research needs to be conducted. Success will take partnerships and collaborations among all of us -public and privately funded research groups, farmers, ecologists, and many others. My own company has partnered with Novozymes, a world leader in the use of microorganisms. We expect that marrying their insights into microbes with our knowledge of agriculture can accelerate much needed solutions to the problems we face in feeding a growing population.

The soil clearly must be protected, and to do that, we need to understand it. But we're making great strides now, and they're going to make agriculture more productive and sustainable - better for us and the earth.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Plastics in the Oceans

The oceans continue to be a dumping ground for waste.

As well as the plastics discussed here, it was also revealed this week,that about 21000 tonnes of sewerage are dumped weekly by the world's cruise liners.  And that quantity is going up, not down!

Plastics are the big issue though.  Nearly 269,000 tons of plastic pollution may be floating in the world's oceans, according to a study published December 10, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Marcus Eriksen from Five Gyres Institute and colleagues.

Microplastic pollution is found in varying concentrations throughout the oceans, but estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics, both micro and macroplastic, lack sufficient data to support them. 

To better estimate the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world's oceans, scientists from six countries contributed data from 24 expeditions collected over a six-year period from 2007-2013 across all five sub-tropical gyres, coastal Australia, Bay of Bengal, and the Mediterranean Sea. 

The data included information about microplastics collected using nets and large plastic debris from visual surveys, which were then used to calibrate an ocean model of plastic distribution.  Most of the plastic weight comes from lost fishing buoys, though, not broken plastics.  Rubber and plastic thongs also contribute a significant amount of the total!

Based on the data and model, the authors of the study estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing nearly 269,000 tons in the world's oceans. Large plastics appear to be abundant near coastlines, degrading into microplastics in the 5 subtropical gyres, and that the smallest microplastics were present in more remote regions, such as the subpolar gyres, which the authors did not expect. 

The distribution of the smallest microplastics in remote regions of the ocean may suggest that gyres act as 'shredders' of large plastic items into microplastics, after which they eject them across the ocean.  "Our findings show that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not the final resting places for the world's floating plastic trash. The endgame for micro-plastic is interactions with entire ocean ecosystems," says Marcus Eriksen, PhD, Director of Research for the 5 Gyres Institute.

Read the paper at PLOS ONE.  here.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

New Style Desert Crops Attract Investment Dollars

Sundrop Farms has received a $100 million injection from private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) to aggressively expand its operations growing tomatoes on desert land north of Port Augusta in South Australia using cutting edge solar thermal energy and desalination for heating and cooling greenhouses.

A new 10-year contract, in which supermarket giant Coles buys Sundrop produced tomatoes, was a crucial element in cementing the investment.

Combined with $6 million in funds being tipped in by the South Australian government, as announced by Premier Jay Weatherill on Thursday, Sundrop Farms is set to expand, with up to 300 jobs being created.

The expanded output means Sundrop will be pro­ducing up to 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes, capsicums and other vegetables each year after 2016.

Leighton Holdings will also be a ­beneficiary, because its John Holland subsidiary has been awarded a contract worth $150 million to design and construct a 20-hectare greenhouse facility.

The work will start now and is scheduled for completion in late 2016.

Hundreds of jobs

Mr Weatherill said the State government had provided $6 million from a Regional Development Fund towards the expansion. He said the project would create 100 jobs during construction and about 200 when the expanded operation was up and running.

The Sundrop operation has been successfully trialling its technology on a smaller scale, and is now ready to go ahead with expansion plans.

Mr Weatherill said the contract with Coles to purchase Sundrop's truss tomatoes for the next 10 years and sell them across its national network was vital in securing financing. "The project is the first in SA to in­tegrate, at a commercial scale, leading technologies across solar thermal energy, solar seawater desalination and freshwater neutrality (through) 20 hectares of energy-efficient greenhouses."

The Sundrop operations are about 300 kilometres north of Adelaide, near Port Augusta. The dry climate and the close proximity of the seawaters of the Upper Spencer Gulf are viewed as ideal for the use of the solar thermal technology, which works most efficiently in flat, arid regions close to the ocean and in an area of low humidity.

Leighton chief executive Marcelino Fernandez Verdes said his company had the multidisciplinary skills for the "unique requirements" of the arid environment project.

Coles was a takeover target of KKR in 2006, kicking off a bidding war that was eventually won by Wesfarmers in 2007 for $19 billion.

More ideas on expanding the modern concepts for new style agriculture and horticulture.  Will it work?  no one really knows, but they have done the trials and testing, and it seems a solid base.

In agriculture today, technology rules!!  So all you knockers, get with it and introduce some technology ideas if you want to thrive.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Agricultural Production and Climate Chage

04 Dec, 2014 03:00 AM
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14 world has not yet fully understood the food dimensions of climate change
Science author and former rural journalist Julian Cribb.

TODAY'S broadacre farmers may not like the idea, but the human diet is on course to shift from a focus on meat and grain products to seafood and vegetables in the next 50 years.

Farming is also likely to increase in high-rise buildings (or 'agritecture') within the world's emerging mega cities, and even on giant floating horticulture and aquaculture greenhouse platforms dotted around our coastline.

We won't have much choice, according to science author and former rural journalist Julian Cribb.
The planet is running out of fresh water, farmland, fertiliser and fossil fuels, and mankind will need to get much better at recycling agricultural inputs and growing food more efficiently.
"By the latter part of this century there may be 11 billion mouths to feed, but rainfall in the world's great grain bowls is becoming less reliable and lakes rivers and aquifers are drying up," he said.

Global warming by just two degrees in average temperatures would cut grain yields as much as 45 per cent in India alone. Five degrees could halve current global food production capacity.
"The world has not yet fully understood the food dimensions of climate change," Mr Cribb said.
"It will drive geopolitics, migration and warfare and gradually shift our diet away from one that is predominantly meat and grains to predominantly seafood and vegetables."

At last month's Rabobank sponsored F20 Summit on food security solutions in Sydney, Mr Cribb told attendees that mega cities and energy industries were also devouring more and more of the farmer's water resources, yet farms were expected to double their output from half as much water.

On average, humans used 1240 tonnes of water a year.

About 75pc of this use was in the form of food, much of which was discarded by western consumers or wasted in the paddock, or became part of an "industrialised diet" responsible for diet-related diseases claiming about two thirds of all ailment-related deaths.

To feed emerging mega city populations like the 120 million filling China's sprawling Guangzhou-Shenzen apartment towers by 2050 - and to make life more livable for the 7 billion people forecast to be occupying the world's cities - urban agriculture and horticulture was taking on a new importance.

Global impact on cities

Plans on drawing boards already ranged from high-tech glass skyscrapers producing horticulture crops, fish and even poultry, through to a renaissance in balcony and community gardens.

Vertical greenhouse 'farms' and city office or hospital roof-top gardens (pictured, below) would bring new green life, food, birds and biodiversity and help moderate temperature extremes in the "soulless concrete and glass 'urbanscapes' of today".

Metropolitan waste and water would be recycled to grow these city crops, utilising valuable nutrients currently being flushed away, while easing the demand on limited fertiliser and water resources.

"With the right investment, urban horticulture and farms can supply half the world's food by 2050, bringing immense relief to the stress now imposed on our farming soils, water, biodiversity and rural communities," said Canberra-based Mr Cribb.

Aquaponic farms producing crops and fish fed on recycled nutrients, algae and vegetable matter were already "sprouting" in Norway, Iceland, North America and even New Zealand and Australia.

A 4000-hectare vertical farm was proposed right in the heart of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, one already operated in Singapore, and an "aeroponic" farm planned to grow hundred of tonnes of leafy greens in New Jersey, US.

At Cobbitty south-west of Sydney, Blue Farms was producing fresh fish and herb crops in controlled glasshouse environments, using fish waste to feed plants grown in aquaponic conditions on giant conveyor belts.

In Norway, seven hectares of greenhouses produced 2200 tonnes of organic tomatoes and capsicums every seven months.

To meet the fresh food needs of seaboard mega cities like Shanghai, Tokyo and Mumbai, Mr Cribb said giant floating greenhouses were also being designed.

By 2050 aquaculture production would grow three-fold from the current 67m tonnes of fish and water plants (including algae) produced annually to help feed the 550m tonnes of animal and fish protein likely to be demanded.

Jellyfish, seaweed, sea cucumbers and a host of edible Australian native plants (6100 are known to exist) could become part of our diet, just as tomatoes and potatoes from the Americas had created profound culinary changes in the past 400 years.

"The food we eat a century from now and how we produce and consume it will be as strange to us today as the foods our ancestors grew centuries ago."

The algae revolution

Feeding the world with more meat, grain, seafood and horticultural crops won't be possible without a revolutionary change in the energy resources used to power extra agricultural production.

That revolutionary ingredient is likely to be algae, according to Julian Cribb.

"In future huge algae farms on land, at sea and in salt lakes will produce food for people, feed for fish and other livestock, fuel for transport, pharmaceuticals, plastics, textiles and chemicals," he forecast.

Nourished by the flood of organic waste from the world's increasing urban populations, algae production plants, such as South Australia's Muradel site at Whyalla, offered a green renewable solution to the problem of global oil scarcity.

Last month Muradel launched a $11 million demonstration plant in its first step towards a commercial site with potential to produce 80m litres of 'green' crude oil a year.

Theoretically, algal-type water plants were capable of supplying the world's entire fuel needs from an area covering just 57 million hectares, said Mr Cribb, whose science and technology writing career has spanned National Farmer magazine, metropolitan newspapers and six years as a media director with the CSIRO.

He said 30 countries were already investing in what could becomes the world's biggest crop.

Algae was resilient to climate change and could be farmed in tanks, on wasteland ponds, or in floating rafts at sea where it did not compete for space with other crops.

The world's 72,000 species of water plants included many which also contained nutrients for a healthy human or livestock diet, including omega three oils and beta-carotene.

"Algae can be made into delicious, healthy and sustainable foods as readily as any land-based crop and would also insure our food system never ran short of energy," Mr Cribb said.

He also wants Australia to move fast to accelerate research algal biofuels, coupled with a national investment plan to take advantage of the opportunity.

The world's food supply was not just currently dangerously dependent on fossil fuels to grow crops and livestock, but also to transport, chill and cook the food our farmers produce.

"Each year we're eating the diesel from 66 barrels of oil, but the number of new cars is also growing at seven times the rate of new oil reserves being discovered," he said.

"There will be huge impacts on the price and supply of food as fresh energy shocks occur."

On the other hand, algae culture had the potential to make sunlight-rich Australia self sufficient in energy production, generating an extra $50m annually in new revenue and jobs - particularly in the bush.

reproduced from

This is a critical issue and we all should be aware of how this is developing.

But getting support for new concepts is a frustrating business, with governments and support organisations not supporting funding of the development of these new concepts, especially here in Australia.  And we have first hand knowledge of that lack of support.

The comments on the original story are amazing - read them yourself.  Some very strong vehement almost anti-progress stuff with a personal attack bias.  Quite amazing!!