Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cassava - A Crop for Now and the Future

International teams are working to bring cassava genetics into the 21st century and help food-insecure countries

Cassava is a starchy, tuberous root first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in South America. Also dubbed manioc, cassava may be more familiar to many as tapioca—tiny pearls of starch used to thicken pies and jams.

For about 800 million people in the tropics, however, it is a staple, not a baking aid.

Now, concerted efforts at crossbreeding and genomic selection have created novel versions of cassava that could dramatically boost yields, ward off malnutrition and grow in a wide range of conditions.
The typical cassava shrub produces unassuming brown roots with snowy white or creamy coloured interiors. 
A cassava crop is perennial—after maturing for at least eight months roots can be harvested for a few years. New plants grow easily from cuttings. The root is carbohydrate-rich, protein-poor and must be boiled, roasted, fermented or otherwise processed to tame compounds that can produce toxic hydrogen cyanide during digestion.  In Africa, 500 million depend on the root as their main staple.

Because many cassava consumers live in developing countries, the plant has not received the intense breeding that has benefited crops more familiar to the Western world such as corn, wheat and rice. In the past decade, however, cassava has started to garner attention. China and Thailand use it to make high-quality starch, and some countries see the crop as a potential biofuel. What’s more, cassava will likely do well in the world’s changing climate; it survives drought when other crops have failed and flourishes in warmer temperatures.  For many years Thailand has exported cassava chips to Europe to use in poultry feeds.

Big boost in yield
Among the latest and most impressive breeding successes comes from Nagib Nassar, a cassava breeder and professor emeritus of genetics at the University of Brasilia. He has developed a new variety that could dramatically boost yields. Each of his plants produces about 14 kilograms of edible roots after one year whereas traditional varieties yield just two to three kilograms.

These are not the only new cassava varieties out there, with others including a cassava high in vitamin A, which turns the root orange, and one with extra protein.  Work is also advancing on varieties resistant to other problems including brown streak disease, green mites that devastate leaves, cassava bacterial blight that browns stems and defoliates the plants and cassava mosaic virus that yellows leaves and stunts plant growth.

Getting to the next generation

These promising varieties could be just the beginning in a cassava revolution. “There is a growing recognition for the importance of food security in the most food-insecure areas," says Jim Lorenzen, a senior program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major supporter of cassava research. The foundation aided researchers in the sequencing of the cassava genome and awarded $25 million in late 2012 to a massive international effort called the Next Generation Cassava Breeding (NEXTGEN) project, which aims to jump-start genetic improvement of cassava. "It’s a very good time for cassava research," Lorenzen says.
He notes that this attitude is reflected in more researchers focusing on cassava and intense interest from African leaders, including Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina.
Millions of small famers and their families stand to benefit from cassava researchers’ efforts.

By the end of 2014, more than 9,000 farmers are scheduled to grow Nassar’s chimeras in Brazil. Expect to hear more about the starchy root in the future, as new varieties help feed the tropical world

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Siamese Fighting Fish Established in the Top End of the NT

When aquarium fish are disposed of - thrown out if you like - do they just go away?  Die from natural causes?

Not necessarily it seems.  Some people even dispose of their aquarium fish in local waterways, where they can sometimes become a problem.  In this case there is now a local population of Siamese Fighting Fish established in Fogg Dam at Humpty Doo - they are not a welcome guest!

The brightly coloured machisimo fish are beautiful in an aquarium but definitely an unwelcome invasive pest fish in the wilds of the NT, in freshwater dams and creeks.  Fogg Dam is a lovely spot, a tourist drawcard just outside Darwin, but the fish seem to be well established and removal is probably unlikely.

No one is sure how they arrived in Fogg Dam, but the population seems to be developing and is well established according to media reports, as well as observations by locals.  Dumped from an aquarium seems most likely.
one colour type - Betta splendens  - Siamese fighting fish

They might look nice in an aquarium, but they are an invasive pest fish and unwelcome!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Australia Has the World's Oldest Rock

They reckon that Australia is the oldest continent.  Most Australia's have tended to agree with the statement, alluding to stromatilites off the West Australian coast, which were said to be pretty old.


Recent investigations now add a new dimension to the answer..........where are the oldest rocks?


It seems that yes, they are in Australia, with the secrets of early Earth lying in a bright red crystal no larger than a dust mite.


A group of scientists claim to have dated a 400-micrometer zircon crystal to about 4.4 billion years ago — a discovery that could help scientists understand the geological conditions of early Earth.


The crystal was found in a region north of Perth, Australia known as the Jack Hills in 2001, Reuters reported.


The scientists published their findings in the science journal Nature Geoscience on Feb. 23; in the publication, Valley and his team explained their use of a technique called atom-probe tomography to date the crystal. The technique allows scientists to image and assess single atoms of lead to determine the age of a rock with increased accuracy.


Earth is thought to be around 4.54 billion years old, but according to fossil records, no evidence of life has been found prior to 3.5 billion years ago. Even the oldest rocks before this discovery were about 3.8 million years old.


This gap in rock formations and life accounts for about 600 million years during which scientists knew very little about the state of early Earth. Still, it's often thought to have been "hell-like" with a magma ocean, according to John Valley, a professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the group of scientists.


Evidence like this zircon crystal suggests that the Earth cooled to form the planet's crust earlier than previous rock evidence has suggested, within the first 100 to 200 million years. In that cooling process, steam from the atmosphere would have condensed to create oceans.


If oceans were present, it could've been possible that microbial life also existed, Valley told Reuters — a wildly different portrait of our planet than a nightmarish, lava-covered Earth.


Wow............this could also mean that life  may have also evolved a whole lot earlier too, if these conditions with water and minerals were conducive to primitive life form development.

Friday, February 14, 2014

World's Largest Solar Power Station Officially Open

Solar power is taking some big steps with the official opening of the 400MW solar power station in the Mojave Desert in the USA.

Read more on the media reports here - http://www.environmental-expert.com//news/huge-thermal-plant-opens-as-solar-industry-grows-412652?utm_source=News_Energy_13022014&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_content=feattextlink

While operating for a few months already, this week was the formal opening.

There are  hundreds of thousands of mirrors into the largest solar power plant of its type in the world, a milestone for a growing industry that is testing the balance between wilderness conservation and the pursuit of green energy across the West.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, sprawling across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, formally opened Thursday after years of regulatory and legal tangles ranging from relocating protected tortoises to assessing the impact on Mojave milkweed and other plants.

The $2.2 billion complex of three generating units, owned by NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy, can produce nearly 400 megawatts - enough power for 140,000 homes. It began making electricity last year.

More large systems are now under development, and these newer ones, along with other large systems around the world will begin to allow a decent system evaluation as they feed electricity into large grids for domestic and industrial use.

Ivanpah Solar Power station


A portent of future energy systems or just a curiosity?

Some authors believe it will take 50 years to switch over, and away from fossil fuels.  These large systems may just show the way.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Compadre Zoysia Turf - Seed or Sod??

We have seed available of Compadre zoysia now [in fact, we keep stock of Compadre zoysia seed] and summertime is a great time to be considering sowing.

Zoysia seed needs soil temperatures above 20C for satisfactory germination and establishment.  In warm temperate areas think mid spring onwards.  In the Australian tropics sowing is possible year round, but drier conditions between about May and October mean a long time to irrigate to get good establishment and growth to build a dense lawn.

Compadre zoysia is a dense, laterally spreading japonica zoysia, with short leaf blades, well suited to warm temperate, tropical and sub tropical areas.  Generally, there are fewer disease and insect problems with zoysia in comparison to most other warm season grasses.

Email to:  office@abovecapricorn.com.au for more information.

We have case studies, photos and information leaflets to get you started in developing your own area of what is probably Australia's best warm season lawn turf grass.  And of course, we can also sell you the seed and provide the know how, based on over 35 years professional agronomic experience with zoysia grasses in Australia and overseas, for you to get the job done.

Search on the LHS of the blog for more articles with information on zoysia.  It is a great lawn!

And remember.......it does thrive with less care and management, including less fertiliser and mowing, and it will grow in the shade, something few turf grasses are capable of doing.


20 week old Compadre turf, seed sown, near Darwin

Compadre zoysia turf sod is also available in a few locations around Australia, although availability does sometimes change.  Contact us for more information.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Organic Beef - A Growth Story in Australia

While the number of producers applying for formal certification to the main organic certifying bodies is not huge, it is steadily increasing, with over 60 producers being added in the past year or so.


For many extensive graziers, who do not use huge external inputs into their beef cattle operation and graze natural pastures, the change is not necessarily a major one, on the production areas.


But where it really counts is the better price on offer for organic beef, often 16 - 25% more for the producer.


This additional return adds a considerable benefit in a somewhat depressed Australian domestic cattle market, and with virtually all organic beef being sold - either locally or overseas, a much better secure income.


Two groups are among the major players in Australia - Arcadian Organic Beef and OBE [ probably the significant player who got the market started].  The former sources cattle within both Queensland and NSW predominantly, while OBE tends to source livestock from the Channel country.


There are issues around handling, slaughter and processing to ensure the organic certification is maintained from paddock to plate, and where cattle need to move from extensive to more intensive pastured areas, they must go via organically certified properties, which is often a bit tricky.


But very doable.


While organic beef is an already established market commodity, the newcomer - certified pasture fed beef is also rapidly developing a market profile.


Some argue that grass fed beef is superior in quality to grain finished beef, and there is some evidence to support that in terms of fat quality and the presence of higher omega-3 levels in grass fed meats.  Certainly, grass fed beef is good eating!


But it is the organic meat story that is thriving - more power to the quality of Australian produced food.






 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Aid Works - Ask Bill Gates!

Each year Bill Gates [ you know the guy - the Microsoft man!] writes a lengthy letter on work within the Foundation he and his wife now chair.

His predictions for 2035 are illuminating, and somewhat uplifting.  Read the full letter here - it is worthwhile - http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/#section=home .

Basically, he has strong hopes that aid is working and that more and more of the world's poor are moving out of abject poverty.  And that health, disease control, water and sanitation are improving and quite significantly.  It is these community efforts that are making a difference, and the plight of the less fortunate in the world IS improving.



The naysayers of the world are regularly opposed to aid and support, and even Australia is reducing the aid monies available.  While governments are not the only donors around the world, they do tend to be among the more significant, although some philanthropic and charitable organisations are now doing more, and contributing more money and support.

Money is not everything, but it sure helps.

The basics we take for granted are often optional extras for many in the world.  Clean water, sanitation and access to health resources are not available to all.............yet.  But it is getting better.

If you believe someone like Bill Gates who is close to the scene........ do not give up hope, nor abandon support.






Thursday, January 09, 2014

Composting Mortalities for Disease Control in Poultry Disease Outbreaks

This research improves the readiness of industry and government agencies to respond quickly to contain and eradicate emergency animal diseases in the Australian poultry industry.

The project investigated the feasibility of using composting for emergency poultry carcass disposal in Australia and validated the effectiveness of the process in eliminating Newcastle disease virus in poultry carcasses.

The project findings will assist the development of more robust emergency disease response procedures since the research that was undertaken simulated the scale and ‘real-world’ character of emergency mass mortality composting without compromising scientific integrity.

Composting of carcasses in mass livestock disease outbreaks has commonly been considered sceptically by many.  Yet, the physical conditions in well managed compost operations will achieve conditions that can eliminate disease organisms.

I am aware of work using the in vessel VCU technology conducted in the 1990s that was able to eliminate plant diseases by in vessel composting, as well as effectively transform poultry carcasses killed by a small outbreak of Newcastle disease in NSW into compost as well as eliminating the disease organism.

The timely work by lead author Kevin Wilkinson from Victoria, with a long connection with composting activities as well as government policy, shows it can be done on a large scale, a scale sufficient to handle a major disease outbreak.

The full document can be downloaded free from here - https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/13-098

Well done to RIRDC for supporting the work.

There are lessons here also for some of Australia's near neighbours in handling mass poultry disease outbreaks.  After all, composting is not that difficult, over expensive, nor logistically problematical and it works!!

Another big plus for composting as an organic low energy driven solution.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Generosity Counts

Generosity: It Doesn’t Cost a Penny to Pay It Forward





                               
When we hear the words “giving” and “generosity” we typically think in terms of financial donations. Yet, we have far more to offer than money. For example, we can give people access to our personal network, or leverage our influence to help someone else gain an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.

In 1792, on a chilly December day in Salzburg, Austria, an unmarried embroiderer gave birth to her third child, a baby boy named Joseph Mohr. The child’s father had deserted the mother immediately upon learning about the pregnancy. The abandoned mother, already short on money, was fined a year’s worth of wages for having conceived a child out of wedlock.

With an absentee father and an impoverished mother, Joseph’s life prospects were dim. This was especially true in the late 18th century, when so-called “illegitimate children” were socially stigmatized. They were routinely denied apprenticeships and educational opportunities.

One place where Joseph felt accepted was at his local church, where he sang in the choir. The cathedral’s vicar, Johan Nepomuk Hiernle, took notice of the boy’s musical talent, and intervened on Joseph’s behalf so that he could receive an education. Joseph did well in school, and he excelled musically, learning to play the guitar, violin, and organ. Eventually, he decided to enroll in seminary.

Joseph’s plans were blocked, however, as his illegitimate birth prevented him from studying for the priesthood. Hiernle again came to his aid, successfully seeking an exemption so that the young man could attend seminary. After completing his studies, Joseph was ordained, and then appointed as priest of a small parish in Oberndorf.

His second year at the church, Joseph scrambled to pull together a concert for Christmas mass. He had written a poem and shared it with a friend whom he asked to compose a melody to go with it.

Joseph’s friend obliged, and together they performed the song for the congregation on Christmas Eve. The tune, “Silent Night,” has gone on to become a holiday favorite, popular with churches and carolers almost 200 years later.
Thought to Ponder
If not for a kind-hearted vicar, who generously used his connections to aid a fatherless, underprivileged young boy, “Silent Night” would likely never have been written or sung. In fact, who knows what would have become of Joseph Mohr without the vicar’s support and guidance?

At some point, I’ll bet someone has generously intervened in your life in order to give you a better shot at success. As a way of honoring this person, take a brief moment to comment on the impact their generosity had on you. How might you be able to “pay forward” their generosity?

-------------------------------

I obviously did not write this, but the thoughts are too pertinent to ignore.  I was especially touched in 2013 by the Typhoon Haiyan [ Yolanda] in the Philippines, as I have been through several cyclone events including one similar in intensity to this one.

Truly some thoughtful ideas at this time of Christmas and New Year.  And free!

All the best to readers for Christmas and New Year of 2014. Be generous - however you can.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nutella - Produced from Australian Hazelnuts Soon


Nutella is a speciality food spread well liked by kids and adults alike.  And hazelnut chocolates are also a bit of a treat.  More of these will be locally produced over the next few years as new production of hazelnut trees start bearing nuts.
A new agricultural industry is emerging in Australia with more than two hundred thousand hazelnut trees now successfully imported from Chile.
Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said a second consignment of hazelnut trees cleared quarantine on 27 November 2013 thanks to several years of careful planning to ensure biosecurity risks associated with the introduction of new planting stock were managed.

“This sort of collaboration, between government and the horticulture industry, is a model other sectors could draw on if looking to create new agricultural industries and products in Australia,” Minister Joyce said.
“This is a good example of a committed importer who was willing to work through our biosecurity requirements in order to establish a sustainable industry here.

 “Their perseverance has created an opportunity for some of our farmers to diversify and grow this alternative crop, increasing their farm-gate returns and positively impacting their local communities.”
The Department of Agriculture has worked closely with scientists from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the Chilean quarantine service and the Australian importer—Agri Australis, part of the Ferrero Group—to import the high-quality hazelnut trees.

The consignments of Chilean hazelnut trees were placed in mandatory quarantine and screened for pests and diseases of biosecurity concern. This group of trees now joins the first consignment which was released from quarantine at the end of last year, and will be planted near Narrandera, in NSW.
 Agri Australis General Manager, Alessandro Boccardo, said working through the biosecurity requirements had been important to fulfilling the business objective – to develop a reliable Southern Hemisphere supply to ensure counter seasonal availability of a high quality standard.

 “The intention is to develop a large scale hazelnut demonstration farm near Narrandera in the Riverina– planting a million trees over 2000 hectares – that will demonstrate the sustainability and profitability of the hazelnut business to Australian farmers and potential investors.
 “By 2022 the modelling forecasts about 5000 tonnes of hazelnuts will be harvested from the demonstration farm – and we’re hoping local growers can match that volume in the medium term,” Mr Boccardo said.  Ferrero, through Agri Austraia is keen to assist other local growers to also plant hazelnuts and to be part of the project to boost Australian sourced nut product for their Nutella production facility in the Sydney area.

 The hazelnut project highlights the role biosecurity plays in facilitating the safe entry of new plant and animal material to improve the competitiveness of Australia’s agricultural industries.
 The department’s role is to protect Australia’s biosecurity status and the environment from pests and diseases, and this underpins the productivity of our primary industries.

 Agri Australis was presented with a Biosecurity Award from the Department of Agriculture for its collaborative approach to meeting Australia’s biosecurity requirements.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Vegetable Powered Christmas Tree


It is getting close to Christmas and this is a good news story about vegetables doing their bit for society.  No, not as food but as a battery......yes, a battery!!
 
Scientists have used Brussels sprouts to power a Christmas tree in London. 

A battery, made up of a thousand Brussels sprouts, will generate lights on a Christmas tree through the festive season, only using the power harvested from the produce. 

Scientists created the worlds first vegetable powered Christmas tree for Britain's Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair. 

 
Please click here to read more information.

 
Brussels sprouts powering a Christmas tree in London

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Toilets - What Are They Worth?

As they say........shit happens!   But where it happens is important to many.

In developed areas we take toilets for granted.  Many do not have them around the world and there is a society cost.  A toilet is a major development issue in many countries.

And it can be especially important for women and teenage girls even more so than men.

The infographic shows this clearly.  Combine this issue with lack of opportunities, or failure, to wash hands to prevent and improve disease management, even in western societies is also relevant.

Simple stuff really.  And it needs support to happen.  It shocked me to see people toileting in public areas because there were no toilets, while working in some developing countries - an issue that seems so simple to remedy.

The infographic may not be as clear as needed - try here if you need to see it better - http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/08/30/whats-a-toilet-worth-infographic


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In the Christmas Giving Spirit


This is in the spirit of Christmas giving.  While produced by a Spanish bank [ Banco Santander ] for a 130th Anniversary event, it is truly uplifting.  And it is popular - about 20 million hits on you tube!

Enjoy the break from dry agricultural issues.............

Friday, November 22, 2013

Compadre zoysia seed - AVAILABLE FOR SALE

Compadre zoysia seed available NOW.  We supply predominantly anywhere around Australia and also overseas in the Asian region.

Have a new lawn this summer..................

In Australia we prefer to use Australia Post Express satchels that provide prompt and trackable delivery.  Sizes up to 5kg available.

For large quantities, commercial road freight is used.

E-mail to office@abovecapricorn.com.au  for more information.

Written advisory sheets for site preparation and sowing as well as ongoing maintenance available, and there is also additional information on this blog if you search under zoysia on the LHS.

Compadre zoysia lawns have been successfully established over the past few years, from seed, in the NT, NSW, Qld, WA and with new areas also recently sown in Victoria.  We provide free consulting advice to help with your questions.

A new Compadre zoysia lawn - approx. 20 weeks from sowing
 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Does Biodiesel Deserve a Better Deal??


Biodiesel and ethanol both fall under the category of “biofuels,” which describes any fuel synthesized from plant or animal matter. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Biodiesel offers a significantly improved environmental impact compared to both ethanol and standard petroleum-derived diesel. It can be used in standard diesel engines with little or no negative impact on engine health. Just add it to the tank of your Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen or Mercedes diesel vehicle – or pretty well any other diesel including light trucks.  In tropical warm weather it even starts well in the morning.

Meanwhile, ethanol deserves scrutiny for its relatively high emissions, and the way it can damage engines that aren’t specifically designed to burn the fuel.

In recent years, ethanol has been the target of a backlash from environmentalists and critics of government waste, who argue that the limited benefits of the fuel don’t justify the federal support it received over the last few decades. In the USA, the Renewable Fuels Standard, which sets a production mandate for both ethanol and biodiesel, has recently been a target of reformers, who would like to see the standard cut to reflect the low demand and perceived declining promise of ethanol. If that happens, biodiesel production could get caught up in the reforms, with the EPA opting not to raise production targets for biodiesel in 2014.

Biodiesel can be produced from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled food by-products like restaurant grease, or from algae, which can be grown using waste materials like sewage. It can be sold in a variety of blends with petroleum diesel or as a pure 100-percent blend known in some areas as B100.

Locally in the NT there is one small scale production facility near Berrimah, using waste vegetable oils and greases………plus one large mothballed facility at East Arm where current production is zero, but capacity is 130 million litres per year.
The mothballed biodiesel facility near Darwin

The cost of the fuel to consumers varies depending upon blend and location, but may be more expensive than mineral based diesel.  That extra cost brings the benefit of about a 50-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2010 study by Argonne National Laboratory in the USA.

Should there now be more emphasis on biodiesel production, with this very high reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, especially as Australian mineral derived diesel seems to be remaining persistently high in price?  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Donating to the Haiyan Disaster in the Philippines - Is Your Preferred Aid Donor Operating with Best Practice?

Our region has seen some awful disasters in recent times.

Going back to the Aceh and Nias disasters of about 10 years ago, through to more recent events in the Philippines of both earthquakes and the very recent Haiyan typhoon [ cyclone], aid donors have been active in the region.

There are many agencies operational - local ones based in the recipient country, plus many international ones [ Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children, AUSAid, CARE, Caritas etc ] with many of the latter group also with Australian operations that seek donations from Australians, as well as from other countries.

Australians tend to be a generous lot, and do give quite a lot of money to the aid cause.

The big question is - are you getting value for your donation, and is the money being spent wisely?

A good starting point is whether your preferred agency operates according to a series of best practice guidelines for aid.

Best practices have all or many of these characteristics:
  • They are comprehensive, aiming at all aspects of an issue.
  • They are flexible and responsive, reacting to the needs of the population and changes in circumstances and conditions.
  • They persevere, keeping at it as long as is necessary – indefinitely, if that’s what it takes.
  • They look at issues and people in their context – family, history, community, etc.
  • They target the underlying causes in addition to the symptoms of an issue or problem.
  • They have – and stick to – a clear mission.
  • They evolve over time, as need dictates.
  • They are managed by competent people with appropriate skills.
  • Their staff members are trained and supported to provide high-quality, responsive service.
  • They foster strong staff/participant relationships based on mutual respect.
  • They collaborate, both internally and externally.
  • Both the organization and individual staff members have a set of core values that strengthen their dedication, morale, and resolve, and that give them a shared sense of purpose for the work.
Why promote the adoption and use of best practices?

One answer to this question is obvious: employing a method or program that’s been tested and found successful increases the chances that you’ll accomplish your goals, and that life will therefore be better for the folks who participate. There are, however, further reasons why the use of a best practice can be advantageous.
  • Using a recognized best practice makes it easier to justify the work. .
  • Using recognized best practices can bolster the credibility of an organization. It shows not only that the organization is using a tested process, but that it has been thinking ahead and conducting research to make sure it’s doing the best job possible.
  • Using best practices can make it easier to get funding.
There is a downside to this advantage as well, as it also minimizes the possibility of innovation and the development of new best practices. Moreover, it ignores the fact that best practices don’t always work in every situation, and that some organizations may get outstanding results using practices that don’t show up in the research.
  • Using a best practice removes a lot of the guesswork from planning. Employing a program or method whose structure and process are carefully documented makes it easier to set up and implement, and increases the chances that it will go smoothly.
  • The originators of the practice are known, and might be available to consult on how to best implement it. If the originators aren’t available, there may be others experienced with the practice who can help.
  • Most important – and most obvious – we know that best practices work. They’ve been shown to provide the changes in behaviour or conditions and the outcomes we’re interested in.

Promoting the adoption of best practices should probably be an ongoing activity, but some times are especially appropriate for it.
  • Before a new intervention or program begins.
  • When there’s a serious community problem that has to be tackled.
  • When what’s being done isn’t working well.
  • When the community requests it.
  • When funders or officials request or demand it.
As research results become more and more easily available through online sources, more large funders insist that proven practices be followed by those they fund. You as a donor should also be thinking of how your funds are used.

A word of caution here: as mentioned above, strict use of best practices can sometimes get in the way of flexibility and new ideas.

Some have tried to categorise aid agency performance based on a few criteria.

A 2011 research paper looks at “five dimensions of agency ‘best practices’:

aid transparency,
minimal overhead costs,
aid specialization,
delivery to more effective channels, and
selectivity of recipient countries based on poverty and good government / governance”
and calculates an overall agency score.

With the recent disasters, the last point is probably not directly relevant - aid needs to go to a specific country, so four issues are probably relevant.  However, the governance issue is especially critical in some areas [with Afghanistan seen as a bad example in recent times - too much corruption / poor governance], and in disaster areas can distort what is happening, as governance is often lacking at least initially, although improving once the major effort starts to build momentum.

Not all agencies do the right thing - there are a few shonky ones around. 

Major aid agencies tend to be effective and efficient, but all can do better.  A good point is always to see what their overheads are, and reject those where overheads are excessive.  There are some online comparisons around.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sowing Compadre Zoysia Seed - Starter Fertiliser


The starter fertiliser we suggest is Nitrophoska Blue , Yara Mila [ sometimes sold as Yara Hydrocomplex] , Crop King 55 or Crop King 88.  All are okay and have slightly different NPK blends, and different retailers sell them,  so you need to see what might be around in your area through Bunnings, Elders, Landmark etc.

Companies such as Lesco and Scotts which specialise in turf products and equipment, also have small prilled, turf starter fertiliser with some slow release nitrogen.  Quite good to use but can be more expensive and may be more difficult to source.
 
Commonly the NPK ratios are around 20: 12: 15, often with 5-10% sulfur as well, plus trace elements, for these starter fertilisers.
 
There are other brands as well, but many other brands are less well known and less available for smaller users.
 
Use what is available and attractively priced in your region.  These products are soluble fertiliser and can be mobile ie leach, and need additional fertiliser within about 4 weeks of application.
 
We recommend 2kg / 100 sq m at or before sowing, another 2kg/100 sq m at about 4-6 weeks [after emergence and when small seedlings are present] and then to switch to a slow release turf product at about 8-10 weeks, and then repeat every 12 weeks after that, until cooler months [say May or June].  From the next year in September / October restart the slow release fertiliser and repeat at 12 weeks intervals.  From midway in the next year, cease fertiliser application when cooler weather starts, then recommence with a 2 or 3 times per year schedule of slow release turf fertiliser from September /October,  omitting mid-summer and mid-winter periods. [more details on product in an earlier post] 

For zoysia use half of the recommended rate on the bag, so normally use about 2kg/100 sq m [ usual recommendation is 3-5kg/100 sq m, which is based around couch - do not need as much for zoysia.]
 
It is very important to spread fertiliser evenly.  Use a push type spreader or a small hand applicator for smaller areas.  Lightly water into the ground after application, aiming to avoid burning the small seedlings.  In hot weather, apply fertiliser late afternoon or early evening to avoid burning plants.
 
 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What Mowing Height for Compadre Zoysia?

The non answer is - "it depends"!!

A good option is to aim for around 20 -25mm cut height, a height easily achieved using a common rotary mower.

Some people have used a much higher cut height - 100mm and even up to 150mm.  Personally, I believe that is probably too high, although for less maintained larger commercial areas there can be justification for maybe more than 25mm as a cut height.  Cutting too high all the time often reduces lawn vigour, especially lateral development, so that when cut lower at a different time of the year, the appearance of the area is not good.  A good compromise is to use a cut around  35 - 50 mm, which can reduce mowing frequency even more while having a reasonable appearance.  A word of warning though - zoysia turf can get spongy if cut too high repeatably, and develop thatch, as well as often developing a bit of loss of leaf green colouring due to lower light at the grass surface.  Yes, an area can be left to grow a little, for example, if the owner is away for a period, but getting back to a lower height is desirable, and that may take two cuts to reduce lawn height from 100mm or more, back to 25mm

Compadre zoysia can also be cut much shorter which encourages better lateral development and a dense surface appearance.  To do it well, a sharp bladed cylinder mower is preferred, and a cut of 5-10mm is certainly possible, although a good flat, hollow free surface is essential to have a good final finish and avoid scalping of the surface.

The occasional cut with a rotary mower at 12-15mm is okay though as it will pick up surface debris and reduce accumulation of thatch.  All zoysia turf varieties do have more material closer to the ground and it is surprising how much additional leaf material will be cut once you start lowering the mowing height below 20mm - you can often double the amount of clippings collected.

Compadre sod production
 
That also raises an important issue - with zoysia turf it is important to collect the clippings and remove them after mowing.  Some types of turf can tolerate leaving the clippings on the surface eg carpet grass and Bahia grass, but it is not prudent to do so for zoysia.  It promotes thatch development, and can boost disease and related problems.  Yes - collect and remove the clippings when you mow.  The exception is when a lawn is still developing and some additional organic material may be useful. But leaving material may be unwise if there are a lot of weed seeds present on the area as can occur in new lawn development.  Use some judgment on this one!

In most warm areas, a 20 - 25mm cut of zoysia turf, and modest fertiliser and irrigation, will allow at least 2 -3 weeks between mowings in the warm season and up to 6 weeks in cooler periods of the year, while still maintaining a great appearance.  You might also get a longer period as well particularly with prudent reduced irrigation, that does not reduce aesthetic appearance.  I do!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Which Fertiliser for Compadre Zoysia?

Choice of fertiliser is always a bit of a conundrum these days with so many types and blends available.

There is some benefit in using organic fertiliser for example pelletised chicken manure , or DPM - densified poultry manure.  It adds organic matter and some nutrients but the nutrient level is relatively low, and it can be more expensive if freight costs are an issue eg in rural and remote areas.  It can be short in some nutrients as well.  It can be useful if the turf is growing on light sandy loam soil or sand.

Conventional inorganic fertiliser is modestly priced, and there are blends that mostly meet criteria for use on turf, but all have generally rapid availability of nutrients and they can often leach quickly.  Because they are mostly readily available you get rapid lawn growth = more mowing, then the nutrients disappear and you need more, maybe in 4 weeks.  And more mowing still!!  Not the best choice at all.

Slow release turf fertilisers are ideal.  They release the nutrients, especially the nitrogen, over an extended period [often 10 -16 weeks, but longer release period products are also available].  The result is less mowing, a better appearance lawn and better availability of plant nutrients.  Many are available in small bags through garden stores and chain shops - 2-4kg sizes, but for best cost effectiveness, buy a 25kg bag and store it in a sealed plastic bin, in the bag.  It will stay usable for 2-3 years at a lower cost.

Domestic Compadre zoysia turf - Darwin area, 20 weeks after sowing seed

The blend is important, and a general use product has around 15- 25% nitrogen, 1-3% phosphorus and 10 -20% potassium, plus some sulfur [ 5-10%] , trace elements if possible, and most importantly a small amount of iron - 0.5 -1.0%.  The iron boosts the lawn colour to a lovely green, without much effect on growth.

The potassium level is important, particularly in wetter and /or warmer climates.  Potassium is mobile so can leach out in wetter periods but its role is to strengthen cell walls and provide better stress resistance, hence the need for decent potassium levels in hot weather.  Modest to low phosphorus is better, assuming the soil does have a reasonable base P level.  With more P you tend to promote legume growth [ essentially a weed in turf].

For zoysia, which is not a prolific growing lawn, the iron is especially important as mowing is less frequent and that delightful green colour is impressive for many weeks, without being cut off.

The other question is always how much.  We suggest halving any recommendation on a fertiliser bag if applying to zoysia, of any type.  Many products recommend 3 - 4kg/100 sq m for slow release fertiliser for eg couch lawns.  For zoysia - 1-2 kg/100 sq m is usually enough.  The exception may be on new lawns less than 1 year old, when you are building up a store in the soil when the recommended rate may be okay in peak growth periods.

And of course in cooler months - applying fertiliser is really not needed as the lawn is not growing very much anyway.  And not too much in wet summer conditions - it means more mowing!

If one of the common types of slow release turf fertiliser is used with a nominal 12 week release period, for zoysia of any type - twice a year is okay, once established.  Nominally apply in Autumn and Spring [or late wet season and late dry season].

The fertiliser question is always tricky and individual areas may require a slightly modified approach in areas where particular nutrients are in short supply or even may be in abundance.

But the above maxims apply in many areas, and are a suitable starting point.

Enjoy your zoysia turf.....and apply a bit of TLC!!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Australian Consumers Want Australian Produced Canned Fruit and Frozen Vegetables

In a stunning announcement, Woolworths has admitted that local consumers prefer /want Australian produced frozen vegetables, and that they will now source most if not all product from Australia, and not China as is the case now for many of the lower price items.

They have announced a major, near $17 million contract with Simplot, to source product from their processing plant in Tasmania, a major and possible business saving contract for the company, as well as the supplier growers, which has been discussing shutting down totally in Australia.

Media reports are focussing on the deal to grow and process in Australia, but is not the real issue that maybe, just maybe, that consumers in Australia are beginning to favour the quality, safety, health status and food biosecurity issues related to poorly supervised and often less appropriately produced product from places such as China, where there have been so many food safety alerts over food products?

And is Woolworths now tapping into that concern?  The media report from late yesterday seemed to have more focus on that aspect, yet today there is maybe a bit less emphasis on that aspect.

This is an important deal for Australian vegetable growers, and especially those in Tasmania.  And for whatever reason, Woolworths also deserve some plaudits to "use Australian".  Now lets see how it develops.

It also follows an earlier deal in which Woolworths switched to Australian canned fruit, rather than overseas product and saw a 40% sales rise in the canned fruit product.

See more here - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-18/simplot-woolworths-deal/5030720

and here - http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/woolies-imports-freeze-boosts-farmers/story-e6frg8zx-1226741990944


Monday, October 14, 2013

Freckle Freaks the Banana Industry in the NT




A fungal disease which was found in the Cavendish banana variety in August has become a catalyst to the destruction of banana trees across the Northern Territory.

A $2.8m plan to control the fungus which is known as banana freckle, will be undertaken in an effort to protect the spread of the disease to Queensland where 90 percent of the country's bananas are grown.

Australian Banana Growers Council representative, Doug Phillips said that the disease would cause significant damage to the industry.


This eradication program commenced in the NT last week, with a significant plantation near Batchelor a major loss with many more smaller and domestic crops also affected.  Others have boosted biosecurity to ensure they do not get the disease on their property. 


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Opium Poppy Production Coming to the NT

This past dry season the NT has had a couple of small crops of opium poppy grown.

Yes, legally.

Opium poppy production is quite a large industry in Tasmania, but therapeutic demand has outstripped production, and they are looking at geographically diverse areas to grow more.

Some companies have been investigating production in Victoria, but one of the major companies has grown trial areas in the NT.

And they have done well.  So well, that up to 500ha is planned for next year, with potential for significant area increase after that.

Yes - the NT has seen crops come and go before, often before they increase in area even to be successful.  But this has some reasonable promise.  Strong demand for an industrial, not food  product into a market that seems to continue to grow modestly.  The company wants to diversify geographically, but I am sure the NT will get the "extra" areas needed with the bulk of ptoducyon still in Tasmania.

Legal issues need to be addressed, but id does look promising.

More here - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-11/opium-poppies-in-the-northern-territory/5015606 with some audio also available.

As an agronomist, it is great to see another possible crop showing local potential.  With rice and guar also being revived it seems a throw back to the 1970s, when crop production seemed to offer much potential - will we see a few other possibles again? Mung bean, more peanuts, and probably a few more.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

World Soil Day - International Year of Soils

Soil is getting some worldwide recognition:

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has declared December 5 World Soil Day, launched an effort called the Global Soil Partnership, and designated 2015 the International Year of Soils.

The goal is to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions, and sustainable development.

Do your bit -------for your soil.

One of many soil profiles that is reasonably common