Monday, July 18, 2016

Solar Pumping for Farm Irrigation

Solar pumping: the economic & enviro rewards

Energy is one of the fastest growing on-farm costs. The CRDC-funded Improving energy efficiency on irrigated cotton farms project found in 2015 that the average direct energy cost was $298 per hectare, with diesel counting for at least 85 percent.

But not for cotton grower Andrew Gill of Narromine.

The installation of a solar diesel hybrid irrigation bore pump on his Central West NSW farm has led to big cuts in fuel costs, greater irrigation efficiencies and a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Attracted by the drop in the price of solar panels in recent years and the prospect of the system paying for itself in less than four years, Andrew decided to install a solar diesel hybrid system at one of the pump sites on their Narromine farm at the end of last year.
The move has led to a cut in pumping costs from $76/megalitre to $41/ML and slashed diesel use by between 45,000 and 55,000 litres a year. Over 25 years, that equates to a saving of more than 1 million litres of fuel and a reduction of over 3000 tonnes in carbon emissions.

Learn more about Andrew's system in this CottonInfo case study and in this video. And find out more about how you can improve your on-farm energy efficiency here.

While using solar energy for farm water pumping is not new, nor is this the first ever story on the subject it does highlight that this approach is now effectively MAINSTREAM.

And it can work in many many locations around Australia and the world.

Sure capital cost is an issue so a planned approach to financing is important........but it has a big payoff in cost savings and a feel good outcome too.  And it works........that has to be a critical issue as well in the present time of 2016!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Will the EU Ban Glyphosate?

Why Europe may ban the most popular weed killer in the world - It’s not just about cancer, is it?

Why Europe may ban the most popular weed killer in the world
Without ​glyphosate, ​fighting weeds ​will get more ​expensive and ​more complicated.​
Chafer ​Machinery/​Wikimedia ​Commons ​

Why Europe ​may ban the ​most popular ​weed killer in ​the world ​

By Erik Stokstad Jun. 17, 2016 , 10:00 AM
It's hard ​to find an ​herbicide like ​glyphosate. ​It’s ​cheap, highly ​effective, and ​is generally ​regarded as one ​of the safest ​and most ​environmentally ​benign ​herbicides ever ​discovered. But ​a report last ​year that ​glyphosate ​could cause ​cancer has ​thrown its ​future into ​jeopardy. Now ​the European ​Union faces a ​30 June ​deadline to ​reapprove its ​use, or ​glyphosate will ​not be allowed ​for sale. ​Here's a ​quick ​explanation of ​the issues. ​

Who uses glyphosate?

Just about ​everyone who ​hates weeds. ​The herbicide ​is widely ​sprayed to ​fight weeds ​along railroad ​tracks, in ​backyards, city ​streets, parks, ​and elsewhere. ​Many kinds of ​agriculture ​rely on ​glyphosate as ​well—and ​farmers are by ​far the biggest ​users. (Sales ​skyrocketed in ​the United ​States and ​Latin America ​after Monsanto ​and other ​companies ​genetically ​modified ​soybeans and ​other crops to ​withstand the ​effects of ​glyphosate. ​That means ​farmers can ​easily kill ​weeds without ​harming their ​crops.) The ​herbicide has ​done more than ​benefit ​farmers' ​profits; ​glyphosate has ​also curbed ​soil erosion by ​facilitating no-​till agriculture,​ the practice ​of spraying ​fields before ​planting ​instead of ​plowing up ​weeds. ​

Why is it controversial?

Environmental ​advocates have ​long worried ​about health ​effects of ​pesticides and ​herbicides, ​including ​glyphosate. The ​U.K. Soil ​Association, ​for example, ​wants a ban on ​pre-harvest ​spraying of ​wheat fields, a ​practice that ​kills green ​heads of wheat ​and allows an ​earlier harvest,​ but also ​leaves residues ​of glyphosate ​in the grain. ​Trace amounts ​have been found ​in bread and ​beer, causing ​anxiety among ​consumers. If ​you're a ​chemical ​company selling ​herbicides in ​Europe, it'​s very bad news ​to mess with ​the perceived ​purity of food. ​

What makes ​glyphosate a ​big issue in ​Europe right ​now?

A bombshell ​report. Like ​other ​regulatory ​agencies, the ​European Food ​Safety ​Authority (EFSA)​ reviews the ​science on ​pesticides and ​herbicides ​every decade or ​so. If the ​evidence still ​suggests that ​the chemical is ​safe enough, ​EFSA allows ​member nations ​to decide ​whether or how ​they want to ​make it ​available. EFSA ​was in the ​process of ​reviewing ​glyphosate, ​when the ​International ​Agency for ​Research on ​Cancer (IARC)​—which ​independently ​gathers health ​data for the ​World Health ​Organization—​ declared glyphosate   a “​probable human ​carcinogen”​  in 2015. Nongovernmental ​organizations ​began a ​vigorous ​campaign to ​prevent the ​reregistration ​of glyphosate. ​Meanwhile, ​chemical ​companies and ​agricultural ​trade groups ​defended its ​safety record, ​pointing out ​that every ​regulatory ​agency had ​given ​glyphosate a ​green light.​  ​

Wait, why ​didn't the ​health reviews ​of glyphosate ​come to the ​same conclusions?​

One reason is ​that they ask ​different ​questions. IARC ​evaluates the ​hazard of a ​chemical—​in this case, ​whether it ​could cause ​cancer. It does ​not ask how ​likely that is ​to happen, or ​in how many ​people. ​Regulatory ​agencies like ​EFSA also ​evaluate the ​risk of harm, ​depending on ​factors such as ​the toxicity ​and the way ​people are ​exposed to a ​chemical. Given ​the trace ​amounts of ​glyphosate that ​people ​typically ​ingest, EPA and ​other ​regulators have ​concluded that ​glyphosate is ​not likely to ​cause cancer or ​other harm. ​IARC noted ​“limited ​evidence” ​of a cancer ​risk to farm ​workers, but ​regulators have ​not been ​convinced that ​glyphosate is a ​danger there ​either. ​

Is that the ​only difference ​between IARC ​and the other ​reviews? ​

There's ​also an issue ​of transparency ​and trust. IARC ​only considers ​peer-reviewed ​scientific ​papers and ​government ​studies. ​Regulatory ​agencies also ​look at ​unpublished and ​confidential ​studies ​conducted by ​and for the ​herbicide ​manufacturers. ​Industry ​critics are ​highly ​skeptical of ​such data. ​

It’s ​not just about ​cancer, is it? ​

No. Many ​Europeans are ​worried about ​ the environmental impact as well. And ​glyphosate has ​come to ​symbolize ​industrial ​agriculture and ​corporate ​control of food ​and farming. ​Europeans who ​value locally-​owned ​agriculture and ​organic farms (​which can’​t use ​glyphosate and ​other synthetic ​agro-chemicals) ​are more likely ​to support a ​ban, regardless ​of whether ​glyphosate ​causes cancer ​or not. ​ But the only ​“​easy” ​legal mechanism ​to clamp down ​on glyphosate ​is because of ​its alleged ​human health ​risk. ​

What happens next?

So far ​there's ​been a deadlock.​ The decision ​was in the ​hands of the ​Standing ​Committee on ​Plants, Animals,​ Food and Feed (​PAFF), which is ​made up of ​representatives ​from the ​European ​Union's 28 ​member states. ​But PAFF has ​failed to reach ​a majority in ​several past ​meetings, even ​as the ​proposals were ​scaled back to ​ever-shorter ​reapproval ​periods for ​glyphosate. ​ On 23 June, ​an appeals ​committee will ​vote. It may ​decide to renew ​the approval ​for a short ​period, say 1 ​year, to keep ​glyphosate ​available while ​the debate ​continues. ​Without a ​qualified ​majority ​deciding to ​renew, the ​approval will ​expire on 30 ​June, and the ​compound will ​have to be ​taken off the ​market in all E.​U. countries. ​

And what would happen then?

Industry’​s Glyphosate ​Task Force ​warns of dire ​consequences, ​such as rising ​food prices, ​falling exports,​ and crop ​yields dropping ​by 5% (for ​oilseed rape) ​to 40% (for ​sugar beets). ​Environmental ​advocates point ​to alternative ​strategies for ​weed control, ​including ​mowing, plowing,​ and rotating ​crops. Other ​herbicides are ​available, but ​they're not ​as effective. ​Without ​glyphosate, ​fighting weeds ​will get more ​expensive and ​more complicated.​   ​

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Zoysia Turf Growth Slows

June is here as well as the much cooler weather, here in the Southern Hemisphere.

While tropical Australia is still hot and seems to have no cool weather coming anytime soon, much cooler weather is now predicted over the coming week for much of temperate Australia - say Brisbane and south.

This probably signals a cessation of growth in zoysia turf until spring.  It has been a great run while the warm weather lasted, but it seems as if it might be over!

The met bureau is predicting cool to cold and wilder wet weather from the weekend........and the zoysia turf growth will dramatically slow down.  It is true that soil will tend to remain warmer, so some root growth will continue but with weather in the daytime likely in the teens.........growth will virtually stop.

Some agronomists suggest a very light fertiliser application, probably should have been last week, but if not then, very soon.  This ensures accumulation of plant food stores ready to allow growth in spring, and an improved turf colour, even if growth is low in cool weather.

While okay to mow and remove weed growth, try to avoid cutting the turf low in cool weather, when light levels are low, as the removal of leaf will be hard to replace by the now struggling warm season grass.

And if weather gets really cool - the zoysia turf may discolour to a bright golden colour.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Allergy Free Peanuts Now Seem Possible

The issue over nut residues in food products is quite serious, with potential life threatening consequences.  Whether it be related to nuts in school lunches of children or with peanut residuals affecting adults.  Presence of specific genes in peanuts have long been assumed to be the problem.

Scientists from The University of Western Australia have joined a global research team that have identified genes in peanuts that when altered will be able to prevent an allergic response in humans.

The world-first finding was carried out by scientists from UWA and several global research organisations including the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

The scientists identified the genes by decoding the DNA of peanuts. The discovery will also lead to increased crop productivity and nutritional value.

Peanuts are an important global food source and one the most economically important crops. They are grown in more than 100 countries, with approximately 42 million tonnes produced every year.

Peanut allergies have a high prevalence in Australia, affecting approximately three per cent of the population and can cause a severe allergic response if not treated quickly.

Professor Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director- Genetic Gains from ICRISAT and also Winthrop Research Professor with UWA’s Institute of Agriculture and School of Plant Biology played a lead role in the study.

Professor Varshney said the findings were an important achievement for the agricultural industry and farming community.  “This discovery brings us that one step closer to creating peanuts that will have significant benefits globally,” Professor Varshney said.  “We will also be able to produce peanuts that have more health benefits with improved nutritional value.”
Professor Varshney said the next step would be to alter the genes the researchers had identified in the study and test the results in geocarpy (the productive process in the peanut), to develop new varieties of peanuts.

The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

More Carbon in Soil - Better Soil and Better Environment


At a farm in Peru, charcoal from bamboo burned in special ovens is used to fertilize the soil. Carbon farming is seen as a way of replenishing depleted farmland and helping reduce damage to the environment. Credit Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters

LONDON — When Gabe Brown and his wife bought their farm near Bismarck, North Dakota, from her parents in 1991, testing found the soil badly depleted, its carbon down to just a quarter of levels once considered natural in the area.

Today the Brown farm and ranch is home to a diverse and thriving mix of plants and animals. And carbon, the building block of the rich humus that gives soil its density and nutrients, has more than tripled. That is a boon not just for the farm’s productivity and its bottom line, but also for the global climate.

Agriculture is often cast as an environmental villain, its pesticides tainting water, its hunger for land driving deforestation. Worldwide, it is responsible for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, though, a growing number of experts, environmentalists and farmers themselves see their fields as a powerful weapon in the fight to slow climate change, their very soil a potentially vast repository for the carbon that is warming the atmosphere. Critically for an industry that must produce an ever-larger bounty to feed a growing global population, restoring lost carbon to the soil also increases its ability to support crops and withstand drought.

“Everyone talks about sustainable,” Mr. Brown said. “Why do we want to sustain a degraded resource? We need to be regenerative, we need to take that carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the cycle, where it belongs.”
Since people began farming, the world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 percent to 70 percent of their natural carbon, said Rattan Lal, a professor of soil science at the Ohio State University. That number is even higher in parts of south Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, he added.

Globally, those depleted soils could reabsorb 80 billion to 100 billion metric tons of carbon, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide by 38 to 50 parts per million, Mr. Lal said. That does not include the carbon that could be simultaneously sequestered into vegetation, but the numbers are significant on their own, equaling up to 40 percent of the increase in concentrations since pre-industrial times. Last year, atmospheric carbon dioxide for the first time hit a monthly average of 400 parts per million, a symbolic threshold but one that many experts say could indicate that warming will soon spiral beyond control.

Sometimes it happens more suddenly. The thick prairie sod of America’s Great Plains was a rich carbon store until settlers tore it up for farms, leaving hundreds of millions of tons of topsoil to be blown away in the Dust Bowl years. The destruction of millions of acres of carbon-rich Indonesian peatlands for palm oil plantations is helping to drive climate change today.

Low carbon levels leave the ground nutrient-poor, requiring ever-greater amounts of fertilizer to support crops. They also make for thin soil that is vulnerable to erosion and less able to retain water, so yields suffer quickly in times of drought.

To bring levels back up, a set of techniques known as carbon farming, or regenerative farming, encourage and complement the process by which plants draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, break it down and sequester carbon into soil. They include refraining from tilling, or turning, the soil; mixing crops together rather than growing large fields of just one type; planting trees and shrubs near or among crops; and leaving stalks and other cuttings on fields to decay.

Mr. Brown keeps his fields planted for as much of the year as possible to minimize nutrient loss. When he mixes clover and oats in the same field, the clover fixes nitrogen into the soil. After the oats are harvested, livestock graze the clover and leave their manure behind.

Such strategies have allowed him to stop using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, reducing costs. And the rich soil not only yields higher volumes, but the crops are more nutritionally dense than those grown on depleted land, he says.
“Economically, it’s much, much, much more profitable,” he said.
Mr. Brown’s approach is very different from the techniques of industrial-scale farming that have taken hold in the United States and other wealthy countries, where single crops stretch over many acres, and fertilizers and pesticides are used heavily.

Things are worse in poorer nations, where farmers’ desperation often means they are unable to care for the soil, Mr. Lal said. He recalled seeing a Mexican sharecropper carting corn straw away from the fields to sell: “I said, ‘Why don’t you leave it on the land? The land will be better next year.’ And he said, ‘This land will not be mine next year, and I need money now.”’

There is some momentum behind a shift. The French government, which helped broker last year’s landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, is pushing an effort to increase soil carbon stocks by 0.4 percent annually, which it says would halt the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Mr. Lal called the target unrealistic, but said achieving just a quarter of that sequestration would be meaningful. In a generation, he said, agriculture could become carbon neutral, removing all the emissions it creates, for example through the energy used by farm equipment.

Worldwide, 5 percent to 10 percent of growers are using regenerative, climate-friendly techniques, said Louis Bockel, a policy officer at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. That number is likely to increase, he said, as multinational institutions and wealthy nations start incorporating carbon sequestration incentives into existing aid to farmers in poor countries.
“More and more additional funding will be available” to encourage such efforts, Mr. Bockel added. “We are moving quite quickly on this.”

Farmers need financing to help them adopt new techniques, though generally only through a two-to-three-year transition period, said Eric Toensmeier, author of “The Carbon Farming Solution.” That money could come through a higher price charged for foods whose cultivation encourages sequestration, via a carbon tax or through trading systems in which polluters buy credits to offset their emissions, he said. Programs known as payment for environmental services, in which governments or others pay farmers for stewardship of land, are another potential avenue.

With that kind of support, the industry could be ready to do things differently, said Ceris Jones, a climate change adviser at the National Farmers Union in Britain.
“People say that farmers are pretty conservative, but actually practice can change quite quickly,” she said.

Another obstacle is the lack of an agreed-upon system for measuring carbon sequestration in soil, which will be required as the basis for any payments, Mr. Toensmeier said.

Technically, though, many elements of carbon farming are ready to be put into practice quickly, he said. Something as simple as planting trees around fields drastically increases the amount of carbon fixed into soil, Mr. Toensmeier said.  “I would love to see a huge, major transformation of agriculture in the industrialized world, but if we started with just adding trees to the system we have, it’s a huge gain,” he said. “We can sort of meet farmers where they are”

It’s not just crops. The earth beneath the world’s grasslands, from America’s Great Plains to the Tibetan Steppe and the Sahel of Africa, holds about a fifth of all soil carbon stocks, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates. In many places that soil is badly depleted.
“This land is waiting to be filled up again with carbon if we could manage it sustainably,” said Courtney White, author of the book “Grass, Soil, Hope.”

That means moving livestock frequently so each patch of land is grazed just once a year, mimicking the patterns of the native bison that once roamed the American West, he said. The combination of stimulation during animals’ brief presence and long periods of rest encourages plants to lay down more carbon, Mr. White said.

With policies that encourage change, Mr. Toensmeier said, agriculture could benefit the climate rather than harming it. “There do seem to be a remarkable number of win-win opportunities, which is great news,” he said. “You don’t hear a lot of great news about climate change.”

Thursday, May 05, 2016

What A Difference Zenith Zoysia Can Make

The difference is a modest 18 weeks, over a very dry wet season in 2015/ 2016.  Quite startling!

And there was a hiccup or two along the way with some nutritional issues that caused a bit of yellowing - solved with appropriate fertiliser treatment.

The property is in Townsville, north Queensland.

Photos show before and after, plus a close up of the turf density at around 18 weeks.

Could you home benefit from a similar lift?

Please contact us for more information how using Zenith zoysia turf seed could help you achieve a great looking turf area at your property.

Before sowing Zenith zoysia

After 18 weeks -Zenith zoysia turf

Close up of density of Zenith zoysia turf

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

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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.