Saturday, April 28, 2007

Is the drought over?


Maybe, just maybe..........the drought might be finishing.

There has been good rain [ 25 - 50mm, sometimes a bit more] across much of southern Australia from Western Australia through South Australia and now [ 28 April] extending into Victoria, NSW and S Queensland and Tasmania.

There even appears to be more frontal systems coming across, with additional rain predicted for next week too.

While most farmers are being cautious in thinking or saying too much, this weekend will see a lot of tractors racing across paddocks with urgent planting of forage and grain crops, to follow some planted dry last week. There is guarded optimism in these temperate farming areas.

BUT..........river flows are abysmally low to nil, and it will take a huge amount of rain to get them going again.

It is also notable that the SOI has changed dramatically and quickly from weakening from a strong negative to be close to neutral or slightly negative over the past several months [ie close to neutral, or tending towards normal ] to be -11, whiich is strongly el Nino. This type of figure, if persistent, is usually interpreted as indicating el Nino conditions - and dry for temperate Australia. So one needs to watch through a few different indicators. Most climate forecasters tend to favour more normal to slightly wetter conditions over the next 3-6 months [ see post of March 21], and there is a good discussion on climate pages of the Met Bureau web site. They favour slightly better than median rainfall in temperate areas of Australia over the next few months [].

Australia is a land of contrasts, with drought often followed by flood. Summed up so eloquently in the poem of John O'Brien "Said Hanrahan"


"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
"Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad."

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
"It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

"The crops are done; ye'll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
They're singin' out for rain.

"They're singin' out for rain," he said,
"And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

"There won't be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place
As I came down to Mass."

"If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If rain don't come this week."

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

"We want an inch of rain, we do,"
O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
To put the danger past.

"If we don't get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

In God's good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If this rain doesn't stop."

And stop it did, in God's good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

[from "Around the Boree Log and Other Verses", 1921]

Are farmers the same everywhere?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sub-surface Drip Irrigation -KISSS a superior option

While sub surface drip irrigation has been available for quite a few years now in Australia, with several of the major companies offering systems, a unique patented Australian system has improved the concept enormously.

Several major issues were identified by users of the existing systems:

  • often poor water distribution with overwet soil near emitters, and near dry soil elsewhere

  • this poor distribution often lead to poorly distributed root patterns

  • root intrusion

  • blocked emitters due to soil particles blocking the openings

  • uneven soil water profile vertical distribution

  • rapid loss of water below the root zone

While some of these are related to installation and management issues eg root intrusion can be corrected via herbicides, and blockages can be eased via correct pipe orientation, it has often meant more, not less hassles to use the system.

Enter KISSS - Kapillary Irrigation Sub Surface System in which most of these isuses are rectified and soil water for plant use is greatly enhanced. The concept can reduce irrigation water use by 60% over existing best practice overhead irrigation, and they have well verified trial results to back it up. See for a lot more details. It is the enormous improvement in water wetting patterns that really allow KISSS to stand above all others.

The system uses existing sub surface piping and wraps it in a highly effective geotextile on the top of the pipe, with a polyethylene layer in the centre [ to stop water tunnelling to the surface] and a polyethylene layer below the pipe to dramatically reduce deep drainage. The geotextile creates an even distribution of water between emitters, and also essentially prevents root intrusion. While a herbicide treatment is useful, and there are systems available to allow this treatment, it may be thought of more as a useful tool, rather than essential to prevent root intrusion and thus impede water flow.

There have been many installations in Australia, and with severe drought along the east coast, users of the system have been able to reduce water use, and still maintian "green" areas. Major public sector bodies are using it very successfully, with most planning an expanded role for the system.

Naturally, as it is below ground, the concept has major potential to use any form of treated grey or sewerage effluent in an unrestricted access area..........people do not come into contact with the effluent! A number of systems are installed already, and more to come. In this case, all system piping uses the lilac colouring to distinguish it from the normal blue colour used with clean water.

Call 08 8948 1894 for more information in either electronic or hard copy format, or email to

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Compadre Zoysia ideal for the NT

Compadre was selected by plant breeders in the USA as a good replacement for many existing vegetative and seeded zoysia varieties that are hard to germinate and establish from seed or plugs. Performed among the top lines in exhaustive trials. Superior quality turf in comparison to Argentine paspalum or Bahia grass. Compadre is readily available and a great replacement for Bahia grass which is known to be relatively poorly available in Australia in 2007

Previously known by the variety name Companion.
Compadre Coated seeds. The inert material % contains seed coating material:Coating Material percentage runs 50 to 60% depending on each lots test data after coating is completed. - Pure seed of 40-50%. Pure seed also available.

Compadre is specially formulated for faster germination and establishment, yet has low fertilizer and water needs. Compadre is a perfect grass for golf courses in many areas because of its low maintenance requirements. Perfect for home and commercial lawns due to low maintenance as well. It is also itch free, unlike paspalum lawns.

COMPADRE ZOYSIA: This zoysiagrass variety has been chosen by plant breeders due to its high turf quality, very dark green colour and consistent seed yield. Compadre Zoysia has performed well in turfgrass trial plantings in various locations, in comparison to both seeded and vegetative varieties. Compadre Zoysia seed is recommended as a good replacement for many of the existing vegetative and seeded zoysia varieties that are slow to germinate and establish from seed or plugs - the seeds have been primed for faster germination & establishment.

PLANTING RATE:Compadre - Seeds: Plant at 0.5 – 1.0 kg/100 sq m. More seed will not improve speed of establishment.

Plant most of the year in the NT - Follow seed rate recommendations. Suitable for all of the NT, and especially north of Alice Springs.
Plant on a weed free, grass free, prepared soil area. Stale seedbed techniques may be useful to suppress early weeds. Do not plant with other species. Keeping the area shade free is important, so mow regularly as weeds appear during establishment.
A well prepared seedbed is required. - If you can't irrigate, don't plant
WATER DAILY (or even better - twice a day - morning & afternoon) FOR first 10-21 days until seedlings have sprouted. - Then every other day for several more weeks, then gradually reducing the frequency and increasing the duration of watering. Skip watering when it rains. A superior option is to use short burst eg 5 minutes per hour or low volume surface irrigation eg micro-irrigation sprinklers or a soaker hose to keep the surface moist, but NOT overwet. After the first 8-10 weeks you can water as needed. In the Northern Territory, 2-3 waterings per week, wetting the soil to 100mm at each irrigation is adequate.
Once established, Compadre is a very water efficient lawn, requiring less water for peak performance. Among the best of the improved turf lines for water efficiency.

Follow the proper maintenance for your new lawn (water, mow, fertilize, etc.)
High quality seed is readily available!

SEED USE NOTICE: Please note that we ONLY recommend Zoysia seeds for use in bare soil areas. Planting seeds into existing grasses has a HIGH FAILURE rate. If planting into an existing lawn (grass and/or weeds) we recommend that you consider using Zoysia plugs instead of seeds. Alternately seek further advice from us on the requirements to renovate existing areas.

At sowing, a quality mixed fertiliser including trace elements is required. We recommend Yara Hydrocomplex 12:5:15 plus trace elements in two applications - one at sowing, and the second after 4 weeks, both at 3-5kg/100 sq m.

We strongly recommend use of slow release turf fertilisers for maintenance, from 10 weeks after sowing, with Multigreen N:P:K 22:3:17.5 a very suitable product, used 2-3 times per year at 2-4kg/100 sq m. [ available at Elders Palmerston and Australia wide]. These products give superior performance and are kinder to the enviroment. After opening the bag, it should be stored in a closed plastic bucket or similar - that way it will last for several years.

"Compadre Zoysia is everything you need in a turfgrass," said Mike Hills, Research Agronomist for Seed Research. "It's a top performer in stressful conditions, a natural weed suppressor and a survivor in extreme summer and winter climates."

Compadre is an ideal choice for renovations or new construction and can be maintained at variable mowing heights for different purposes. It is extremely tolerant of high salt concentrations in water or soil. In domestic use a mowing height of around 20 - 25mm is suitable but it may be cut lower or slightly higher. Compadre is shade tolerant, and will grow in 50 - 70% shade, and will do even better if the area receives a little dappled sun during the day. Do not mow too short in shaded areas - the grass will grow much better .

Seed available through your local contact:

Above Capricorn Technologies
Agricultural & Environmental Consultants
PO Box 736 Nightcliff NT 0814
Phone 08 8948 1894 Fax 08 8948 3894

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Coming soon to a lawn near you - even in Australia?

It is often said that trends in Australia follow the US with a lag period of 6-12 months. The material below launches an organic lawn system........will this be in Australia by next September 2007?

A few issues..........

  • Australia uses far less fertiliser and pesticides on lawns than the US consumer
  • Our seasons generally ensure green grass year round [water permitting], in comparison the US mostly has brown areas in winter, except for the south so Australians are less worried about lawns being "super green" in a short growing period
  • Australians are more tolerant of less than perfect looking lawns and will not put in the effort to improve them - there are better things to do!
  • turf varieties used in Australia are generally hardier and more heat tolerant, less soft and more functional and used more year round, and have less $$ both available or spent on them at all levels of government and the private sector
  • a change to slow release inorganic fertiliser usually means less is required - this is a good option, but uptake and use of the technology, especially at domestic level has been slow - it does cost more
  • most organic fertilisers are of low analysis and many smell awful
  • many areas in Australia would benefit from compost - not for the fertiliser, but for the organic and soil building properties which may mean better water holding soils over time, a major improvement that would also pay off with less need for any additives as soil health is improved
  • many Australians mulch the lawn clippings, hence build up soil organic matter anyway, which is a very useful option for many, but NOT all lawn species this space for the same trend in Australia. It is probably an overdue correction in US lawn care management, where many $$ are overspent on fertiliser and then more mowing!!!. I am not so sure of the same widespread issue in Australia.


SafeLawns Launches Nationwide Consumer Program on National Mall April 04, 2007

By SafeLawns Foundation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — SafeLawns Foundation, headquartered in New Gloucester, Maine, initiates it national consumer education program on Wednesday, April 4 on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building starting at 1:00 p.m. High-profile doctors, scientists, activists and politicians will help kick off the campaign aimed at helping to initiate systematic and widespread change in Americans' lawn care practices.

Organizers will announce a challenge to Americans to convert over one million acres of grass to organic lawn care by 2010.

Components of the challenge include the following:
Safe Lawns Challenge - A challenge will be issued to universities and companies across the country to end the use of synthetic lawn chemicals and pesticides on their campuses and headquarters;
Safe Lawns Environmental Partnership - States across the U.S. will be urged to eliminate lawn care pesticides at day care facilities and school grounds - following the model of a law recently adopted in Connecticut; and
Safe Lawns Certification Program - A nationwide realty partnership program will be launched to inform home buyers of houses that have child- and pet-safe organic lawns.

In addition, the rally will offer details of a Safe Lawns Challenge for consumers who want to make the transition to organic lawn care in their own yards.

HGTV personality and SafeLawns Foundation founder and spokesperson, Paul Tukey states that, "We see the writing on the wall about the future of lawn care in North America. Americans are spreading millions of tons of toxic materials and wasting enormous amounts of fossil fuels, all in the name of having a beautiful lawn. Our mission is to show people that you can have a beautiful lawn without the toxic and wasteful side effects."

Shepherd Ogden, president of SafeLawns Foundation believes that, "If people want to have a major impact on the environment, they can literally start in their own backyard - an organic lawn also eliminates health risks for themselves, their children and pets. "Eliminating environmental and human threats from pesticides and synthetic fertilizers is now possible as many forward-thinking garden centres, home improvement stores and commercial lawn care companies offer organic products and information for consumers.

The Mission: To create a broad-based coalition of organizations committed to educating society about the benefits of organic lawn care and gardening and effect a quantum change in consumer and industry behaviour in grounds maintenance.

Website : SafeLawns Foundation

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ecoflex Does the Job for Erosion Management

With the support of an NT Government Environment Grant plus assistance from the Department of Planning and Infrastructure a trail to evaluate Ecoflex as a roadside scour protection on floodways was installed late in 2006. This follows earlier use in the NT in other projects.
The trial is on the Cox Peninsula Road, about 130kms from Darwin, and close to the end of the Delissaville airstrip on the western side of Darwin Harbour.

Local Darwin weather has been relatively quiet since the project was completed in November 2006, with the rain in the period up to late February relatively low, by local standards, and no major storm events. But, over the period March 1, 2007 through 6 March, that changed - with over 500 mm in this period with about 90% falling in the three days 3-5 March. The area flooded, with around 300mm across the road, although relatively slow moving, and the road was closed, except for large 4WD and trucks on Saturday and Sunday.

The Ecoflex has come through the first part of the trial very well, with no apparent damage. This was expected, based on results in temperate Australia, but they do not usually get rain like this! It is early in the length of the trial, but it looks very promising.

Ecoflex is a low cost option in lieu of the conventional use of wire mattress protection, and it uses Ecoflex units produced from truck tyres. It is energy and greenhouse gas saving AND costs less. The performance is at least equal to existing options, and potentially superior in some areas.
A brief report is available on request to and more details on Ecoflex uses at the web site .