Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Rethink on Palm Oil for Biofuel?

March 27, 2007 — By Arthur Max, Associated Press AMSTERDAM, Netherlands --

Once, palm oil was seen as an ideal biofuel, a cheap alternative to petroleum that would fight global warming.

But second thoughts are wracking the power industry. Can the fruit of the palm tree help save the planet -- or contribute to its destruction?

Environmentalists have long warned that many plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, where 85 percent of commercial palm oil is grown, were planted on cleared rain forest, threatening the home of endangered animals like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger.

Now, amid global efforts to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, power companies have joined conservationists in calculating the carbon count of producing palm oil fuel -- and found the balance increasingly negative. A few companies have put plans on hold to switch to palm oil.

A report late last year by a Netherlands-based research group claimed some plantations produce far more carbon dioxide than they save. Seeded on drained peat swamps, they unleash a warehouse of carbon from decomposed plants and animals that had been locked in the bogs for hundreds of million years, which one biologist described as "buried sunshine."

"As a biofuel, it's a failure," said Marcel Silvius, a climate change expert for Wetlands International, the institute that led the research team.

The palm oil debate is just one example of cold realism dampening enthusiasm for vegetable oils as substitutes for the fossil fuels that are widely blamed for the gradual warming of the Earth and potentially disastrous changes in climate.

In the United States, where farmers have diverted corn and sugar crops to ethanol production, food prices have soared. Environmentalists say the high energy cost of making ethanol, coupled with the degraded land and polluted water from heavily fertilized fields, have put a large question mark on its value as a biofuel.

Palm oil is an ingredient in cooking oil, cosmetics, soaps, bread, chocolate -- in fact, in about one in every 10 products on the supermarket shelf. It also is used as an industrial lubricant.
It is attractive for bioenergy because it is relatively abundant, cheap at about US$557 (euro419) per ton in mid-March, and more easily integrated into existing power stations than most other alternative fuels. Unlike carbon-rich fossil fuels, production is considered carbon neutral, meaning the carbon emitted from burning palm oil is the same as that absorbed during growth.

But the surrounding environmental cost is becoming increasingly apparent.

The four-year study in Southeast Asia by a team from Wetlands, Delft Hydraulics and the Alterra Research Center of Wageningen University said 600 million tons of carbon dioxide seep every year into the air from drained peat swamps. Another 1.4 billion tons go up in smoke from rain forest fires deliberately set to clear new land for plantations, shrouding much of Singapore and Malaysia in an impenetrable haze for weeks at a time.

Together, those 2 billion tons of CO2 amount to 8 percent of the globe's fossil fuel emissions, the report said.

Friends of the Earth called the report "astonishing," and said it shows that harvesting palm oil for fuel is counterproductive. "It undermines the whole project," said a climate specialist for the environment group, Anne van Schaik.

Wetlands' figures could not be independently verified by the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn, Germany, by the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., nor by academic experts. But all said the research appeared credible.

Deforestation is the No. 2 cause of greenhouse gas emissions after the burning of fossil fuels, said Jeffrey Dukes, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts, and clearing peat swamps for plantations is "a double whammy."

It not only releases carbon trapped over many millennia, Dukes said, but destroys the most efficient ecosystem on the planet for sucking carbon from the atmosphere and storing it underground. "By converting these forests, we are essentially taking that buried sunshine and wasting it," he said. "It's a terrible decision. Whether or not it's consciously made, it's society going in reverse."

Next month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an authoritative U.N. network of 2,000 scientists, will publish its second in a series of four reports on the likely causes and potential impact of global warming.

Silvius, of Wetlands, said awareness of the vast amounts of carbon released from degraded peat lands is so new that the problem was not included in an early draft of the IPCC report. The group was pushing to include it in the final report and put it on the environmental agenda.
The first report, released in February, said with more certainty than before that mankind was responsible for global warming.

That report galvanized European leaders to approve a bold plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 -- and increase that to 30 percent if other countries join. Part of that goal would be achieved by converting at least 10 percent of Europe's energy supplies to biofuels.

Despite pressure to replace coal, oil and gas with cleaner fuels, major power companies in Britain and the Netherlands have scrapped plans to partially convert electricity generation to palm oil.
"We spent more than a year investigating the sustainability issues with palm oil," said Leon Flexman, of RWE npower, Britain's largest electricity supplier. The company decided against palm oil because it could not verify all its supplies would be free of the taint of destroyed rain forest or peat bogs, he said. The Dutch power company Essent also announced in December it had suspended the incineration of palm oil until it can trace and verify the sources.

Biox, a Dutch startup, said it plans to go ahead with the construction of three 50 megawatt power stations exclusively burning palm oil -- generating enough electricity to light all the homes in Amsterdam.

"Until this report came out, peatlands was not an issue because we hadn't heard of it. Nobody had heard," said Biox executive Arjen Brinkmann. "We have to take this on board as a criteria, together with the other sustainability criteria."

So far, the industry's reservations do not seem to have affected the market. Crude palm oil production rose 6.6 percent last year and will increase another 5.5% this year to 37 million tons, according to Fortis Bank. Prices have risen 35 percent in the last year and are still going up, it said. With concerns mounting over sourcing, plantation owners joined forces with processors, investors and environmentalists three years ago to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil with the aim of monitoring the industry and drawing up criteria for socially responsible trade.

But the RSPO has yet to create a foolproof system to verify the supply chain.

Flexman, of the British utility, said his company may still opt for palm oil in the future if the ecological issues can be resolved. "We think RSPO is the way to go in setting up verification system," he said.

Source: Associated Press

Darwin has a biodiesel plant fuelled by palm oil from SE Asia, with the company planning to build another in Singapore / Johore Bahru. And yes, the pollution from the peat and forest fires is VERY bad in most of Malaysia and Singapore during the dry season, and this originates from Indonesia. But most palm oil is expected to come from well established plantations in peninsular Malaysia at present, many of which are not on peat soils but on undulating clay soils. Not always a clearcut [ no pun intended] issue. There are also issues of local livelihood, with many thousands of rural people earning a living in the palm oil planatations.

Authors of the studies above are very credible institutions, so it should not be taken lightly. But then we already use a large volume of palm oil in other areas - is that also bad? Why has it not been raised previously if it is so serious, as palm oil cultivation has been a major feature of Indonesia and Malaysia for many, many decades? Or is this western world guilt denying a decent agricultural existence for LDC's again?

Maybe biodiesel does not rock after all. Watch this space............there will ,no doubt, be more!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Will it rain? or....... it will rain soon!

I am using a very interesting article on the potential for drought prediction in Southern Australia., rather than writing something myself........this is definitely worth a read! In the North, this wet season is currently VERY wet, with March rainfall generally well above average in most northern areas, so drought is not present. But the dry season will come soon enough, and there will be no rain for many months. Southern Australia is very very dry, with both stock and even househoold water often in short supply.

As a guide, current SOI is +1.4. Positive and staying there, even increasing slightly. The SOI is the Southern Oscillation Index commonly used as an indicator for predicting dry or wet conditions. See for a lot more information.

Start of wetter cycle underway: new research
Australia Tuesday, 20 March 2007

The worst drought in a century could end this year, according to a scientist who has linked the cycle of sunspots and the "looping" of the sun's magnetic field to Australia's weather patterns. Associate Professor Robert Baker, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, says the rhythmic pattern in the sun's energy output strongly influences weather patterns. The rhythms apply especially in the southern Hemisphere and in eastern Australia under the influence of the huge size of the Pacific Ocean. The two key, related sun rhythms are:
• The sun's poles which switch every 11 years
• The sun's magnetic emissions which peak, every 11 years also, in periods of increased sunspot activity.

On earth, periods of high sun magnetic activity coincide with periods of high rainfall, according to Prof Baker's data, using records of observations made as far back as 1876. Periods of stable magnetic activity coincide with dry periods. The fluctuations appear to impact on the earth's upper atmosphere, which, in turn, contributes to changes in the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) - and a consistently positive SOL is linked to wetter years, a negative SOI indicates dry years. About half of the variations in the SOI can be attributed to the sun's magnetic rhythms.Prof Baker said the current stage of the cycle, since the last "flip" in 2001, meant that the eastern half of Australia could look forward to 18 months of heavy rain and then a 10-year "window" of average rainfalls. "The sun's magnetic field is now in a similar position to what it was in 1924 and 1925, when eastern Australia had particularly good rainfall," Prof Baker said. "If this tracking continues, we can expect average to heavy rainfall for eastern Australia within six months. "Then the wet cycle should continue into 2008." Prof Baker said sunspot activity was currently increasing as it normally did in this part of the sun's magnetic cycle, which has been an historic pointer to above-average rainfall.

While long-range weather prediction, using the sun or any other measure, was problematic, Prof Baker said his own theory pointed to 2009 as the next period of potential drought in Australia. In the longer term, an even worse drought could await the country in the 2020s. The most intense droughts tend to occur about a year after the sun flips its magnetic poles, every 22 years.

Prof Baker said his system of analysis simply complemented other methods of weather prediction and did not take into account the effects of carbon emissions on climate change. "If this coming cycle of predicted rainfall does not occur, it will be undeniable that carbon emissions are impacting on our climate in a very profound way," Prof Baker said. "In using this system, as opposed to other methods of long-range weather prediction, I'm trying to be as transparent as possible." "This is a very useful tool - this is the engine that drives the whole climate system."

But Prof Baker said even if his predictions were borne out and Australia received solid rainfall over the next 18 months, government and water consumers should not rest on their laurels. "We will simply have a 10-year window of opportunity to get our act together," he said. A paper on this research has been submitted to the journal Solar Terrestrial Physics.

SOURCE: AAP and FarmOnline

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Is converting organic waste to fuel oil the best option?

Tropical soils are almost invariably low in organic matter. Add warmth, water and energy from sunlight and microbiological processes that break down organic matter work just that much faster. So in the tropics, organic matter in soil tends to reduce quite quickly.

The strange "terra petra" soil of the Amazonian - black soils in an otherwise red landscape - now are believed to have been created by adding high levels of carbon, possibly from burnt organic matter AND they are fertile.

Australian soils in general need added carbon.........with organic residues seen as the prime source of this material, along with practices such as green manuring, cover crops and related practices. It works, with a good story in a post a few days back.

Turning organic matter into energy often deprives soils of the materials they need most. Some biomass to energy processes are inefficient, yet using pyrolysis [ see] may be an option which leaves the important residual carbon still available for use in rural soils. This is a different situation in comparison to burning or gasification of the biomass, which uses a lot of the carbon. This is a common practice for energy production in Europe, but often the system produces low heat values suitable for district heating with hot water, and gets rid of a lot of waste volumes, with smaller residues going into landfills.

A recent Productivity Commission report on waste management has clearly shown that highest economic efficiencies occur with using landfills, and they argue, we still have plenty of space. So why look for any alternative, even composting? Or at least that was their argument, in 2006.

With the pyrolysis system, the carbon remains as char, which is, in effect, concentrated carbon that is cheaper to move in transport and on farm distribution systems. Logistics has been a crucial issue in getting compost, mulch and related products moved from generation areas in Australia - commonly large urban agglomerations - back to high volume users in rural areas.

Adelaide has some advantages, with relatively close high value vineyards that can be a sink for aerobically converted or composted organic products. And they are relatively commonly used. But many other urban areas are not so lucky to have agriculture and horticulture so close, so highly concentrated carbon sources may have some advantages.

It is true that other microbiological processes that convert organic residues into soil incorporated organic matter have other important attributes such as disease suppression, weed and nematode reduction. There may be a place for both types of products.

Added soil carbon appears to have a lot of scientific credibility in enhancing soil productivity. Australia needs to develop improved means of getting it where it is needed. Sure, conservation tillage has helped with improved soil carbon balances in many areas, but there are many areas where adding soil carbon is still a critical issue. Better soil carbon balances also enhance soil moisture capacity, a very critical issue improving plant and crop performance

Is there then a place for both converting organic matter to fuel oil with an added benefit of carbon as char, as well as direct composting of the materials? Or is it just another hot air story like so many other "talk is cheap" biomass to energy conversion scams that have been a feature as money disappearing black holes in the last 10 years in Australia and elsewhere? Some have cost investors a LOT of $$ with nothing to show..........and in some cases the $$ seem to have disappeared overseas.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Javan pond heron visits Darwin

Quite a surprise visitor over the last week, with the sighting of a Javan pond heron in Darwin. This was sighted near Casuarina Beach, a Darwin suburb, in a large stormwater drain. Really caused quite a twitter among twitterers [ those people who MUST see new birds] who have come from all over Australia who check it out. It is presumed to have been blown off course by the strong west and north west air flows of the past few weeks including strong airflows from recent cyclones.

Today is a wet Sunday, so why not see for myself? And yes, located quite easily, and almost no one there either. And I have photos to prove I WAS THERE!

The sighting has made major news items in Darwin [ was it a slow news week.....not sure?], and now seems quite content among the gum leaves.

There are some fantastic images on Google of the Javan pond heron, albeit from within its normal habitat of SE Asia, particularly Indonesia.

But its presence once again also highlights the closeness of north Australia to Asia, and potential vulnerabilities to incursion by pests and diseases of that region. There are sentinel flocks of chickens around the Top End that are regularly checked for antibodies related to some insect borne diseases that are carried on the NW air currents in the wet season. These problems have been known since the mid 1970s, but regular vigilance helps with knowledge and detection. There is a vigorous program within AQIS to manage these risks, for these air borne diseases, as well as plant and animal pests, weeds and diseases. news story on the Javan pied heron in Darwin

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ethanol sucks - Biodiesel rocks

Many pundits as well as scientists and economists believe that for most countries, ethanol production from grain is NOT energy efficient nor economically efficient. And most current ethanol production comes from grain with the general exception of Brazil, where sugar is the base material. link to Brazil and ethanol

The "holy grail" for ethanol production which would almost certainly change the economics of production and use, is whole biomass conversion via microbiological processes, suitably scaled up via engineering to large scale. While some serious amounts of dollars are now being spent / planned to be spent on this type of technology, this is currently not a viable option - technically or for large scale operations.

In Australia, several recent publications indicate a reasonable proportion of vehicles could never use ethanol above the approximate level of 10%, and even some not at all. With car turnover slow, that situation is unlikely to rapidly change. The report 'Setting a Quality Standard for Fuel Ethanol' dashed hopes of a high ethanol blended fuel in the Australian fleet for the near future and reinforced the current 10% ethanol cap introduced in July 2003, claiming only specially-designed flexible fuel vehicles could use ethanol in higher percentages. The government research also showed that only about 60% of cars currently on Australian roads, some 7.6 million, are compatible with the 10% ethanol blend. Despite the low ethanol blend and the potential unpopularity of the fuel, the Queensland Government still plans to introduce an ethanol mandate by 2010.

This lack of ethanol compatibility may prove a boon for the biodiesel industry whose product can supplement petroleum diesel 100% – but the industry has been struggling against government policy in order to effectively reach the market.

One then has to question why there is such a rush to develop ethanol production. However.............biodiesel, well that is a different situation, except that the federal government is rapidly DECREASING subsidies and assistance to this potential new industry, while INCREASING assistance to ethanol production.

To add to the equation, the recent Scientific American magazine [ March 2007] clearly shows the pathway to clean diesel engines, and with rapid improvements already in place in Europe, and more smaller cars having a newer style clean diesel engine, often turbocharged to give excellent performance, why is Australia ignoring this trend? Australia has also recently mandated low sulfur diesel fuel. As well, the real use of transport fuel is for trucks, small and large in both long distance and surburban delivery / trademan / contractor use - and I am sure their presence is very evident on any day, with the weekend slack being taken up by diesel 4 x 4 or similar vehicles. Other major uses of diesel - and potentially biodiesel - involve electricity generation, diesel electric locomotives, heavy industry and similar industrial uses.

Sure, light vehicles have used and will continue to use petrol or maybe petrol / ethanol blends, not to mention the recent free kick to vehicle LPG use by the federal government. BUT the real sleeper is the very high use of diesel in many trucks, and potentially increasing use in light vehicles too. There are some great diesel powered small cars.

Yet, government assistance is being removed at a time when increasing use of biodiesel is a real opportunity. A new biodiesel production facility has opened in Darwin recently, and even backyard production is relatively easy. And Australia can produce crops such as canola, peanuts, soybean and several other oilseed types, with most of the grain or seed potentially suitable for biodiesel. Esterification of fats, tallow etc can also make biodiesel. And we have available large volumes of crop products such as palm oil, even coconut oil in the region.

One has to seriously question the logic behind govermment decisions that favour ethanol over biodiesel.

So as I started out ........ethanol sucks and biodiesel rocks...........except with government it seems.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Watch out for beef from South America

South America's beef challenge escalates By VERNON GRAHAM - Australia, Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Brazil, the world's leading beef exporter, and neighbouring Argentina will emerge as major competitors in the lucrative Japanese and South Korean markets within a decade.That was the thrust of a chilling message delivered to last week's Outlook Conference in Canberra by Uruguayan meat industry chief and former Agriculture Minister, Roberto Vazquez Platero.

He told an audience that included Meat and Livestock Australia chairman, Don Heatley, that Brazil, in particular, was gearing up its beef industry to first gain full access to the US market which would then open a path to high-value Asian destinations. He said the five major South American beef exporters - Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile - grabbed 45pc of the world beef export market last year and their share would soon increase to more than 50pc.In contrast, Australia's share was static at about 20pc. He said the five countries had a total herd of 280 million (including Brazil's 200m) which dwarfed Australia's 28m. Brazil's beef production had rapidly climbed to nine million tonnes and was poised to reach 13 million tonnes during the next 10 years. This would make it the world's largest beef producer ahead of the US. Mr Platero said Brazil's beef exports were likely to reach three million tonnes during the next decade, which would include significant shipments to the key Australian markets of Japan, the US and South Korea. He said the South Americans were getting on top of Foot and Mouth Disease which had excluded them from the best export markets for some years. Argentina was also likely to reverse policies that virtually stopped exports in favour of domestic consumers.

These policies have reduced average steer prices to a paltry US76 cents per kilogram liveweight compared with $1.35 in Australia and $1.87 in the US. Argentina has the potential to export up to 2.5m tonnes of high-quality beef a year. At least Australia and South America will be fighting over a larger beef export pie. Mr Platero predicted world consumption would grow by 24 million tonnes by 2020 from the present level of about 60m tonnes. Most of the increased demand would come from cashed-up consumers in developing countries. MLA chief, Don Heatley, said Australia was ready to compete vigourously to protect its crucial export markets.

SOURCE: Extract from report in The Land, NSW, March 8.

Northern Australia needs to rapidly and cogently develop and improve links with these powerhouse agricultural countries of South America. Brazil especially, with great beef herds, a vibrant agricultural sector producing soybean, cotton and most major warm temperate or tropical crops could offer much to north australia - Senator Heffernan should maybe take note of this with his "develop the north" committee! Genetically, an argument could be made that select areas of South America may even have superior genetics in the beef herds now.

Twenty years ago soybean genetics from Brazil showed great potential in the Top End region, but before their potential was realised, the demise of the ADMA project scheme in the NT stopped further research. While currently being reassessed with newer genotypes, it takes time for the material to be grown and developed to a necessary volume to be tried at a realistic scale. Lets get it right.......or we will not have our markets in future - even our regional markets, as these South American countries rapidly develop.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Compost - a real success story with Australia's poor soils

Compost – Bringing Age Old Practices into Modern Farming Systems

Why, might you ask, have leading farmers such as John Emerick of Mulgowie Farming Company in Queensland’s Lockeyer Valley and Ashley Keegan of FABAL, a large SA wine grower become interested in compost as part of their farming practices? John and Ashley are not alone: farmers nation wide are increasingly using compost as part of their crop nutrition and soil health programs. Despite this increased interest, Australia, on the whole, has been slow on the uptake of using compost products. In the USA, in excess of 80% of all compost is used in agricultural and horticultural operations. By contrast, less than 10% of all compost in Australia is used in this sector.

We look at a case study from FABAL:
A Case Study From Viticulture - Ashley Keegan of FABAL, a large SA wine grower, uses composted mulch in their wine grape growing operations to improve vine quality and produce more in their blocks. To establish the baseline on crop vigor Keegan uses Infrared Remote Sensing Imagery, a technology that is now readily available (either via satellite or air fly over) at costs between $5 and $25/ha depending the area you have surveyed. Remote sensing imagery provides a visual map of exactly which parts of the crop have high, medium or low vigour.
To work on this variability FABAL experimented with composted mulch by applying it to the worst blocks and monitoring effects through satellite imagery. The low vigour areas virtually all disappeared. They found that composted mulch applied banded under the vines at 100 cubic metres per hectare turned a low vigour semillon block into a high vigour block after 14 months.

Composting has come a long way. There has been a shift in the motivation for using compost from a ‘feel good’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ perspective. Farmers across a broad range of areas are now recognising that real compost products can deliver a clear commercial cost-benefit return on investment within an acceptable business risk profile. This development has been underpinned by a range of research and development projects, several of them still under way, that demonstrated the agronomic and economic benefits of compost use.

With Compost Australia driving new certification guidelines to increase the quality of composts produced and the increase in the production of tailor-made compost products are set to become an integral part of modern soil health and farm management programs.

Above Capricorn Technologies has significant tropical experience in the broad area of compost production with many different forms of production from sophisticated in-vessel systems to open windrow. We have used compost and pasteurised mulch in horticulture, agriculture and even turf in the tropics with great success. Peter Harrison the CEO of Above Capriocrn Technologies has represented the Northern Territory on the national board of Compost Australia.

Using organic mulches can also significantly reduce water use, a topical issue in almost all areas of Australia.

The major benefit arises from improved carbon levels sequestered in the soil, and while you might not get a cash $$ benefit from the greenhouse gas savings - you will be helping!

More information at a national level is available on or contact Above Capricorn Technologies, .

[story partly sourced from Compost Australia]

Friday, March 09, 2007

Will the Australian Government PAY for Environmental Stewardship??

Australia Thursday, 8 March 2007

Farmers could soon be paid 100pc of the cost of managing their own land for the environment under a new "stewardship" program which has just been given a tick by the Federal Government.
This week's announcement comes after years of lobbying by the farm sector for government and public recognition that there is a high cost of managing farm land to a high environmental standard for "the public good". It represents a "fundamental shift" in environmental management in Australia, from a regulatory approach to an incentive-based regime.
Federal Minister for Agriculture, Peter McGauran, told this week's ABARE Outlook conference in Canberra that Cabinet has approved the scheme. It is now going through the final budget allocation process before being formally unveiled in May. The NFF is welcoming the announcement, but is cautious, given a similar government endorsement for a stewardship scheme prior to last year's budget. Mr McGauran said it was essentially a "purchase of environmental services". He emphasised this stewardship program was not in the same vein as the European farm payment environment subsidy program. Nor would it be compensation for the productivity losses incurred by farmers due to State-imposed native vegetation or land clearing restrictions. It will be a scheme in addition to existing environmental programs and existing partnerships, such as Landcare, National Heritage Trust funding. Mr McGauran said, "This is the government and the community purchasing these environmental management services. It's not about the farmer deriving the benefit."Farmers would retain freehold title ownership of the land, as long as a contract existed between the government and the farmer for a specific portion of property set aside for conservation. "It's a fairly straight forward, simple payment for property that needs to be conserved but he or she can't afford to, or there are some practices needed on a property which can't be afforded, and the community will pay to do that. "NFF natural resources manager, Vanessa Findlay, said this was not a "lock up and leave it" concept. It would not mean erecting a fence and walking away to leave it to weeds and feral animals to take over. She also explained that while this was for public good, the conservation areas would not become public property, or national park.

SOURCE: Rural Press weekly agricultural papers March 8, updated daily on FarmOnline.

This has monumental implications for many areas of northern Australia, eg wetlands throughout arid Australia on pastoral lands and many other sites potentially involving some joint management objectives and much, much more, especially on larger pastoral properties as well as others, even magpie geese in mangoes [ afterall, magpie goose numbers are in decline, although the photo does not really show that]. The scheme may well provide a real incentive in $$$ for land owners. BUT.......the devil will be in the detail, and how many $$ are going to be available.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Be water efficient and economically efficient too - use drip irrigation

Australia has had a VERY serious drought over the past 7 years which has resulted in drastic reductions in irrigation water availability for temperate regions in southern Australia. Many irrigation areas in temperate Australia were established over 70 years ago, using irrigation technology that is now considered water inefficient. In the northern areas where irrigated agriculture is common in the dry winter months [ April through October] water efficient irrigation systems are very common - T-tape, drip irrigation lines, water efficient under tree sprinklers and so on, mainly due to the need for prudent water use, and more recent establishment of the farms.

While some southern farmers have retro fitted water efficient improvements, this story is a clear cut example of what can be achieved in water efficiency, if you try.

Drip irrigation a 'quality investment' Thursday, 1 March 2007

Converting from overhead sprinklers to drip irrigation has proved a quality investment for Riverland grapegrower Tom Petch in coping with this season's 60pc River Murray water allocation. Mr Petch and sons Clinton, Tim and Ben, transferred to an automated control drip system on the majority of the family's seven vineyards, totalling 89 hectares, in Loxton North from 2001 to 2003. "All the mains lines were new so we just had to change sub mains, electronic controls and valves," he said. "It cost about $2500/ha plus the cost of the filter. "The result has been a 30pc reduction in water use in what Mr Petch describes as "a season underlying the importance of accurate irrigation". "Even when watering conservatively with overhead sprinklers, you need 7-8 megalitres/ha but with drip you can water quite well at 5mL/ha or less," he said. A 60pc allocation means the Petches have to irrigate at an average of 5.2mL/ha, factoring in 4ha of vines which remain on overhead sprinkler systems.
SOURCE: Extract from Shay Bayly article in the February issue of National Grapegrowers magazine, a Rural Press publication.