Monday, July 16, 2018

Extreme Lawn Care - Not You??

There are certainly a few "odd" people around with regard to lawn care - some say even "nutters".  The following article from a recent Wall Street Journal is worth a read  to learn about extreme lawn care!

Is this your scene too?

Acknowledgement to wsj.com for article below

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Plucking Blades by Hand, Vacuuming the Grass: This Is Extreme Lawn Care

For some lawn fanatics, mowing is a labor of love. And it’s getting competitive.

For Oktay Mustafayev, who lives in Fair Lawn, N.J., lawn care is life. Video/Photo: Rob Alcaraz/The Wall Street Journal
Keith Trzynka’s neighbors on Cottonwood Street in Grand Forks, N.D., are no longer surprised to see him vacuuming his front lawn.
Mr. Trzynka, a retired farm-equipment dealer, worries about sand blown into the edges of his yard by ice-clearing crews in the winter. The sand threatens to blight his lovingly tended grass. So he occasionally hauls out his shop-vac to extract it.
Artist’s tool
Artist’s tool
Each morning, he tries to pick up any twigs or leaves that may have fallen on his grass overnight. Sometimes he sweeps sticks and debris from the street in front of his house to keep the landscape tidy.
“The lawn is his little farm,” said Mr. Trzynka’s wife, Ginger.
For most people, lawn care is a tiresome chore or something they pay somebody else to do. For others, it’s a challenge. They tend to want their lawns to be a dark, emerald green and preferably striped like a baseball field, an effect achieved by attaching a roller behind the mower. Edges must be perfectly squared. The job isn’t finished until the last weed is plucked and the final blade of grass blasted off the sidewalk.
Brad Ferguson, a self-described lawn-care fanatic, with his wife, Heather, and 10-month-old son, Grant, at home in Columbia, Mo.
Brad Ferguson, a self-described lawn-care fanatic, with his wife, Heather, and 10-month-old son, Grant, at home in Columbia, Mo. PHOTO: FERGUSON FAMILY
“Yes, I am a fanatic,” said Brad Ferguson, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri’s medical school in Columbia, Mo. He admits to having slipped outside with a flashlight at 2 or 3 a.m. to check whether recently planted grass seeds were starting to sprout.
Dr. Ferguson’s routine includes sharpening blades, pressure washing and tuning up his John Deere lawn tractor. “I do all the maintenance myself,” he said. “I don’t let anyone else touch it.”
Many of these yard masters are disciples of Allyn Hane, an internet guru who dubs himself the Lawn Care Nut. Mr. Hane, whose video “How to Dominate Your Neighbor’s Lawn” has had more than two million views on YouTube, exhorts his followers to “mow taller” than their neighbors, leaving their grass about an inch above the competition. “It’s the same reason why tall people stand out in a crowd,” he says in the video.
Geoffrey Lokuta, a biologist who lives in Lakeland, Fla., values Mr. Hane’s mowing tips but said he isn’t on a quest for neighborhood domination. In any case, there isn’t much competition. “People around me have what you would call salad bars,” 50% grass and 50% weeds, he said. “I just let them do their thing.”
Danny Freemyer's lawn won Yard of the Month for June in Forney, Texas.
Danny Freemyer's lawn won Yard of the Month for June in Forney, Texas. PHOTO: FREEMYER FAMILY
Not so for Danny Freemyer, who in June won the Yard of the Month award in Forney, Texas. “I was super-excited about it,” said Mr. Freemyer, an electrician who moved to the Dallas suburb five years ago. “That was my plan when I first moved in, to get Yard of the Month, and I don’t think they were even doing Yard of the Month at that time.”
Dominick Segro, a police officer who lives in Springfield, N.J., often mows two or three times a week. “I think it’s great,” said his wife, Tara. “We definitely have the best lawn in town.” Officer Segro is protective of his handiwork and “a little neurotic,” his wife said.
For instance, the couple’s children are allowed to play in the yard but “they have to move around” rather than standing in one place, Ms. Segro said. Blowup pools are forbidden because they would mat the grass. The dog is allowed to relieve itself only in a designated spot at one side of the house.
Blow-up swimming pools are banned from Dominick Segro’s lawn in Springfield, N.J., because they would matt the grass. Mr. Segro often mows two or three times a week.
Blow-up swimming pools are banned from Dominick Segro’s lawn in Springfield, N.J., because they would matt the grass. Mr. Segro often mows two or three times a week. PHOTO: SEGRO FAMILY
When the Segros had a Father’s Day party, some of the guests taunted Mr. Segro by lingering a bit longer than necessary on his lawn for a group picture. Afterward, he used a leaf blower to fluff the grass back up.
Eric Cozart of Coldwater, Mich., who sells industrial plastics, opposes any trampling of his manicured front lawn but is willing to compromise: He lets his toddler son romp in the back. “I’ve ceded ground to my child in the backyard,” Mr. Cozart said.
How many hours he devotes to the lawn per week can be a sensitive topic. “My wife would probably tell you 100,” he said. “Realistically, it’s no more than 10 to 12.”
“I sit 8 to 10 hours a day at a computer and think back what did I accomplish today and sometimes it’s hard to think of anything,” said Mr. Ford. “When I get home it’s nice to use a different part of my brain and see measurable, tangible results.”Taylor Ford, a financial planner in Mesa, Ariz., considers himself only moderately obsessive about his lawn. Even so, while at work or on the road, he sometimes uses a cellphone app that connects with his home security cameras so he can make sure his lawn-irrigation system is working. His wife sometimes asks, “Why are you mowing? It’s already fine.”
Lawn care is “kind of like a stress-reduction thing,” said David Tirpak, a psychologist and career counselor who lives in Sykesville, Md. For lawn geeks like him, the attractions also include spending time outdoors and meeting their (often envious) neighbors.
Keith Trzynka tends his pristine lawn in Grand Forks, N.D. Hannah Tirpak, 4 years old, explores a lawn tended by her father, David Tirpak, in Sykesville, Md.PHOTOS: TRZYNKA FAMILY; TIRPAK FAMILY
Growing up in a Brooklyn apartment,  Oktay Mustafayev had little early exposure to lawn care. Then he moved to Fair Lawn, N.J. Mr. Mustafayev, a nurse whose family immigrated from Azerbaijan, soon decided that having merely a fair lawn wasn’t enough. He began taking YouTube tutorials and raising his game.
When he mows, Mr. Mustafayev passes over the entire surface twice to ensure an even cut. If one or two blades of grass exceed the desired height, he yanks them out like rogue eyebrow hairs. “I like uniformity,” Mr. Mustafayev said. He dreads autumn, the end of his growing season: “That last mow, that’s pretty heartbreaking.”
Write to James R. Hagerty at bob.hagerty@wsj.com

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Will Your Next Tomato Be Grown Indoors by Robots?


If you were inventing the farm today, why would you put it outside, on a giant plot of land?
OK, there’s the sunlight thing, but then you get droughts and frosts and plant-munching insects that have to be battled with harmful pesticides. And because outdoor farms need so much acreage, they’re usually far from most of their customers — which means that by the time a tomato gets to you in a city, it tastes like a baseball.
But now, upstarts in the US such as Bowery Farming, AeroFarms, and Lettuce Networks are doing something different. They’re growing food indoors. They’re using data and artificial intelligence to operate more efficiently than traditional farms. And they’re staying small and close to population centers. The new generation of farming promises to feed more people while doing less environmental damage.
This kind of distributed farming fits with a larger 21st-century movement that venture capitalist Hemant Taneja and I call “unscaling.” We document the economic trend in our book, Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future.
Massive scale was the goal throughout the 20th century. Mechanization and technologies such as the truck and telephone made it possible. Mass production, mass markets, and economies of scale ruled in every sector. So we ended up with giant companies, huge hospitals, big universities — and corporate mega-farms.
Today, industry after industry is unscaling. The cloud, mobile devices, big data, AI, and new technologies such as blockchain and 3D printing are making it possible to profitably customize products for smaller and smaller niches. Netflix is an unscaled version of mass-market cable networks like HBO, using data to make programs that appeal to specific types of viewers. Airbnb is a distributed hotel company. In an unscaled era, businesses can operate at smaller, more focused levels and beat giant enterprises.
So farms are unscaling, too. Bowery and AeroFarms both operate inside old industrial buildings in New Jersey and are a short drive from New York City. Inside these buildings, LED lights mimic natural sunlight. The crops grow in nutrient-rich water beds on trays stacked floor to ceiling. And sensors constantly monitor the plants and send data back to AI-driven software, which can learn what’s best for the plants and tweak lighting, water, and fertilizer to improve yields. Much of the “farming” is done by robots. “We get productivity hundreds of times greater than a traditional farm,” says AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg. “And we use less water and no pesticides — because we’re indoors — and can grow 365 days a year.”
These unscaled farms can give consumers a better product than mega-farms, too. Food grown nearby doesn’t need to endure shipping — so it can ripen the way it’s supposed to. In the middle of winter, indoor-grown, local tomatoes will taste like tomatoes. As you can imagine, that’s what consumers prefer.
Since 2013, about US$2 billion has been invested in hundreds of agricultural technology startups, according to CB Insights senior analyst Zoe Leavitt, who spoke about the future of food at a recent Techonomy conference in New York. AeroFarms has raised more than $100 million and sells to Whole Foods and FreshDirect. Boston-based Freight Farms is growing food in container cargo vessels, often selling to restaurants, hotels, and college campus eateries. New York–based BrightFarms says it “finances, designs, builds, and operates” indoor farms close to food retailers and has raised $11 million in funding. Edenworks is operating rooftop greenhouses that grow produce fertilized by ground tilapia and prawns, which are also grown at the mini-farm.
Lettuce Networks is trying another approach. It is using cloud and mobile technology to create a network of urban farms. Founder Yogesh Sharma calls it an Airbnb for farming. The company contracts with owners of small plots throughout a city and installs sensors that can monitor crops and the surrounding environment. Nearby residents can subscribe to the Lettuce service to get food delivered. The system knows what’s being grown all around the city and, from that network, assembles a basket of local produce for delivery. Owners of the plots make some money off their harvest, while subscribers get an assortment of fresh food grown nearby.

Whether unscaled farming is a net economic benefit remains to be seen. It’s a new industry, with techniques and business models that are works in progress. Analyst firm Market Research Future
 notes that urban farms cost a lot to start (a warehouse in New Jersey is more expensive than a plot of land in Saskatchewan) and don’t yet work for a lot of crops, such as corn or bananas. Sunlight is free and sustainable; LED lights require energy. But proponents believe that because these indoor farms are far more productive and are closer to consumers, once there are a lot of them and the techniques and technology get honed, more people will be fed for less cost than ever before.Distributed, indoor, AI-assisted farming should be good news for the environment. Scaled-up farming was the right answer for the past century, feeding a burgeoning population while making food relatively cheap. The percentage of disposable income used for food is lower today than it was in the 1970s, according to Pew Research Center. But by 2050, the planet is projected to have 2.2 billion more people to feed, just as global warming is expected to make weather less predictable and dry up previously fertile regions. If food can be grown indoors, in a cost-effective way, in or near cities, climate will be less of a concern, and far less carbon will be burned moving food thousands of miles via trucks, trains, and ships.
As investment pours in and environmental conditions drive a need for new solutions, unscaled farming looks a lot more like the future of food than does a massive field baking under the sun.
Thoughtful or foolish?
from an article originally written by Kevin Maney in Strategy + Business 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Tropics - Most Prone to Erosion - New Study Published

Those who live there are unlikely to be surprised by the conclusions in the study, but it does attempt to quantify those areas where it is most severe.

The north of Australia is among some of the most severely impacted areas but has some respite due to seasonal issues - little rain for a number of months in the middle of the calendar year helps reduce the problem.

The first world erosivity map provides a picture of those areas where it is worst.  And it is likely to get even worse with an  increase expected with changing climate and more frequent extreme rainfall.

Regions in the tropical climate zones suffer the greatest rainfall-related soil erosion, reports an international study.

The study, published last month (July) in Scientific Reports, has developed the first-ever Global Rainfall Erosivity Database and a Global Erosivity Map. It notes that while rainfall provides moisture critical for plant growth, it is also one of the prime causes of soil degradation, referred to as rainfall erosivity, which threatens food and water sustainability. 
[study available here in full - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-04282-8] 

For experts, model predictions of global erosivity are very important because they help assess risks as well as plan and implement effective soil mitigation and restoration strategies.

According to the study, erosion by rainfall remains poorly quantified despite its significance. This is because it is a complex event influenced by various factors including rainfall intensity, duration, amount and frequency — factors which are not captured in current erosivity estimates.

To model annual rainfall erosivity for different regions, the international team relied on rainfall data gathered from 3,625 stations scattered across 63 countries. Their analysis shows that annual mean rainfall erosivities for countries in the tropics are more than double the global average of about 2,190 megajoule millimetres per hectare per hour per year.
 
South America (particularly Brazil, Columbia and Peru), South-Eastern Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Bangladesh), the Caribbean, and Western and Central Africa have annual mean rainfall erosivities that are greater than 5,000 megajoule millimetres per hectare per hour per year.
 
Cold and dry regions like Canada, the Russian Federation, Northern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East have the lowest annual mean rainfall erosivity.
 
“The tropical forests and the monsoon zones (covering Amazonia part of Brazil, Central Africa and Southeast Asia) have intense rainfall but also excess monthly precipitation (greater than 1,000 millimetres for two consecutive months),” says Panos Panagos, study leader and scientific officer at the Joint Research Centre, European Commission. “The Mediterranean zone (a typical temperate climate zone) has seasonal rainfalls which are less intense than the ones in the tropical zones.”



“This is a great effort,” says Anton Vrieling, assistant professor of geo-information science and earth observation at the University of Twente, the Netherlands. However, he observes that calculating rainfall erosivity at different times in a year would be more useful than having an annual average value.
 
“In a given year, there are rainstorms of different intensity and duration. Other factors like the protective vegetation also vary throughout the year,” notes Vrieling.

With extreme rainfall events becoming more common as a result of climate change, soil erosion is expected to increase — leading to further impacts on agricultural production, and a greater contribution to disaster-related risks such as flooding and landslides.
 
Panagos says the emerging risks can be managed through good agricultural practices like reduced tillage, cover crops, grass margins and contour farming

Northern Australia - a small area by global standards is in the second highest zone, according to the mapping.  Small areas may of course be a little different.

Annual mean rainfall erosivity above the global average, by region
RegionAnnual mean rainfall erosivity (in mega Joule millimetre per hectare per hour per year)
Global mean2,190
Caribbean countries8,000
South-East Asia7,400
Western Africa and Central Africa7,000
South America5,874
Erosivity map

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

GMO Truth - Confessions of an Anti GMO Activist

This is a classic case of about face, with a former strident anti GMO activist now an active campaigner for GMO crops, Mark Lynas and his book "Seeds of Science" is published today, June 26.

The article is in the Wall Street Journal - about as pro business as it comes, on June 23 2018.
This is the link - https://www.wsj.com/articles/confession-of-an-anti-gmo-activist-1529679465

It might be behind a pay wall, but my guess it will be leaked...... and as I could read it now, it might not be unavailable anyway, as it was a few days ago.

A strong case for using GMO seeds and well written.

The case for more serious embrace of the technology is strong, and with newer techniques including the CRSPR technology of gene insertion using material from the same  or very similar species, it now is not even treated as a GMO in many countries plant varieties registration systems.

This article opens the potential for improving plant science and crop yield and overall performance,especially disease and insect resistance and follows up on a recent article by Bill Gates on similar roles for GM crops.  


Friday, June 15, 2018

Citrus Canker Update for NT - 15 June 2018

At a press conference this morning a new location has been announced where citrus canker has been detected - the Marrakai area SE of Darwin.

The Press release is here - http://mediareleases.nt.gov.au/mediaRelease/26747
As noted, once again as for all others, it is present on nursery stock supplied from a single nursery in the Darwin area.

While there seems to be no detection of the disease on commercial citrus producers so far, the question that is absolutely pertinent has not been openly explored.........what is the origin of the infection in the nursery?  Everyone seems to be skirting around this issue, or at least can the identification of possible sources be explained, and also how long it may have been present.

So far the traceback is extending to 12 months before first confirmation, so presumably, it may have been around in the nursery for that period, or up to that period.

While getting on with methodical work locating the movement of material from the nursery continues [ and there seems to be evidence quite a lot have gone interstate], the method of infection is not openly discussed, or argued.

Maybe it was windborne spores .......technically possible, if insects can move into the region from airborne travel in monsoonal weather [ blue tongue insect vectors for example].



Thursday, May 24, 2018

Safe Spraying - What is Delta T?

Delta T is used by the agricultural industry. It is an important indicator for acceptable spraying conditions. It is indicative of evaporation rate and droplet lifetime. Delta T is calculated by subtracting the wet bulb temperature from the dry bulb temperature. When applying pesticides, Delta T should ideally be between 2 and 8, and not greater than 10. Select the right Delta T to determine the best weather conditions for spraying(PDF 593 Kb).

The diagram below relates air temperature and relative humidity to values of Delta T.

Graph of Delta T

This detail comes from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Delta T values are generally available on many site pages, especially where regular automatic data collection is occurring.

Considered a very useful tool if you are spraying agrochemicals, with a guide being that if in the range of 3-7, it is okay to be spraying [ a 2-8 range is about the safe limit as above hence a small safety margin for security].

You can check for previous conditions as a check for likely conditions the next day in many areas where weather is reasonably stable.

In the Top End, evening and early morning are generally safest, with the Delta -T value within a suitable range, but......not always.

If you can, plan ahead and check just before spraying.  Warm temperatures will drive it up, but there is often a guide for many chemicals to use below 30C, sometimes a bit difficult to achieve, so less effectiveness might be expected.

It may be possible to adjust spray parameters - pressure, droplet size and spray direction for example to compensate for poor conditions if spray events are critical, but often it may be prudent to wait a little time for better conditions eg early am or evening. 

In the dry, but cooler dry season in the north, it is quite common for the Delta T to be well above 10 in the afternoon, when both above 30C is common and RH is very low [less than 30%] - obviously avoid this time for spraying!!

There are commercial services available from a number of agribusiness firms, some of which do add some additional options.  However, with the Delta T values and graph available, you can quickly check yourself too for no real cost, except your time to check.  It is simple, but a desirable check before spraying.
  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Biosecurity Problems for North Australia - New Issues

Two biosecurity issues have emerged recently in the Darwin area, both with potentially catastrophic outcomes for Australian agriculture if not solved.

A few weeks ago citrus canker was detected in a nursery near Darwin, and subsequently found on six properties in the near Darwin area.  Today it has been announced now also found in the Kununurra /Wyndham area of WA with the source apparently from an NT nursery.

This is potentially a  major issue for the Australian citrus industry.  Early days, but eradicating it will be a big task.  Yet, in Florida where outbreaks occur with some monotony, it is also regularly eradicated from large orchards but using a cut and burn approach.  Serious stuff requiring a serious approach.

The other is a detection of Asian honey bees in Karama, a Darwin suburb.  The swarm has been eliminated, but they are seeking any nests and these require checking for varroa mite, the main problem.  This is some distance from the Darwin port, and with ports seen as a likely point of entry, the distance away from the port is perplexing.  Will be more to come on this one too.

If detected there are larger implications for the whole Australian honey and queen bee industry [ yes, Australia exports queen bees!].

Both early days, and there is more on this web site, and the ABC Rural has had stories on both subjects recently.

See - https://dpir.nt.gov.au/citrus-canker 

A word of advice - check your citrus tree or trees for citrus canker!! 



UPDATE - 7 June 2018

More citrus canker has been discovered.........with a number of trees including one with a severe infestation, discovered in the Katherine area.

Not a good find!

Check any citrus trees on your property, and do not move fruit or vegetative materials of citrus.  Check the link above for the current current situation.

This is a very serious issue, for local citrus producers as well as the huge citrus industry interstate. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WoolCool - Sustainable Insulating Packing from Waste Wool

This is a very clever idea that is sustainable and could replace expanded polystyrene which tends to be single use packaging.

Friday, 04 May, 2018 | Supplied by: WoolCool

Bigboxfood1 packaging picture
Woolcool Australia has been acknowledged at the 2018 WorldStar Packaging Awards for its innovative insulated packaging solution, made from a product that is both sustainable and effective — sheep’s wool.
The Packaging Awards were presented at the Australian Institute of Packaging National Conference, held on 2 May in Surfers Paradise. Woolcool won bronze in the Packaging that Saves Food category for the development of its packaging solution, made from sheep’s waste wool combined with a recyclable, food grade liner.
Wool is a good insulation material as it is extremely effective at absorbing moisture from the air, which creates stable temperatures through minimising humidity and condensation. Woolcool’s technology combines a complex blend of wool fibres from different breeds of sheep to provide consistent optimal insulative properties. This wool is felted into a liner and sealed within a recyclable food grade film.
The result is a packaging product that keeps cold products cold and hot products hot, with the added benefit of a protective cushion to safeguard products in transit. These thermal qualities enable the product to ‘save food’ by reducing the wastage often experienced using traditional insulated packaging in the transport and delivery of temperature-sensitive food.
Sustainable, renewable, biodegradable, compostable, recyclable and re-usable, the product has been shown to outperform synthetic packaging materials, including polystyrene. It also has the potential to open new markets for cool chain supply companies, as it is allowing frozen and chilled products to be transported much greater distances and still arrive in the same fresh condition.
Woolcool is proudly endorsed by Planet Ark, with the latter stating that the increasing use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) boxes for home grocery delivery services and pre-prepared meals is resulting in a range of negative environmental impacts.
“Latest statistics indicate that only 29.4% of EPS is currently recycled and the remainder either goes to landfill or ends up polluting our environment and waterways,” said Planet Ark Partner Relations Manager Kristie Baker.
“Woolcool offers a real alternative to traditional insulated packaging like EPS and we encourage businesses to shift their reliance from petrochemical-based products like EPS to renewable alternatives like Woolcool.”
Howarth says that since Woolcool was launched in Australia and New Zealand, an estimated 2.5 million boxes of polystyrene have been removed from the environment.
“That’s just a tiny fraction of the total number of petrochemical-based boxes used once and discarded across Australia and New Zealand every year,” she said. “Imagine the difference we could make if we eliminated polystyrene insulated boxes from our environment altogether — it’s now possible!”
Image credit: Woolcool.
Online: www.woolcool.com.au 
Phone: 02 9665 2665