Thursday, May 31, 2007

Organic Waste to Oil and Agrichar - Energy and Better Soil?

The Companies and Organizations Poised to Turn Garbage into Fuel, Fertilizer and a Means of Carbon Sequestration

When Desmond Radlein heard about Richard Branson and Al Gore's Virgin Earth Challenge, a contest in which the first person who can sequester one billion tons of carbon dioxide a year wins $25 million, he got out his pencil and began figuring whether or not his company was up to the task.

Radlein is on the board of directors at Dynamotive Energy Systems, an energy solutions provider based in Vancouver, British Columbia, that is one of several companies pioneering the use of pyrolysis, a process in which biomass is burned at a high temperature in the absence of oxygen. The process yields both a charcoal by-product that can be used as a fertilizer, and bio-oil, which is a mix of oxygenated hydrocarbons that can be used to generate heat or electricity.

Because the charcoal by-product, or "agrichar," does not readily break down, it could sequester for thousands of years nearly all the carbon it contains, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Along the way, it would boost agricultural productivity through its ability to retain nutrients and moisture. "I developed this rough back-of-the-envelope calculation of what it would require if one were to [attempt the Virgin Earth Challenge] with the agrichar concept," Radlein explains. "One would need about 7,000 plants each processing 500 tons of biomass per day, which is a large number, but it's not outside the bounds of possibility." Such facilities would produce four parts bio-oil to one part carbon sequestered, so it would rake in money as well as carbon.

An International Movement

Radlein is not alone in his belief in this technology—in early May 2007 in Terrigal, New South Wales, Australia, the newly formed International Agrichar Initiative held its first ever conference, which included 135 attendees from every corner of the globe. According to Debbie Reed, an environmental policy expert who organized the conference, keynote speaker Mike Mason of the carbon offset company Climate Care urged attendees to unify in an effort to apply for the Virgin Earth Challenge. He also encouraged them to submit their method to the United Nations's Clean Development Mechanism program, which is designed to transfer clean technology from the developed to the developing world.

Although no officials from the U.S. government attended the conference, there is a nascent stateside movement pushing for adoption of agrichar. "[Democratic Senator] Ken Salazar of Colorado is drafting a stand-alone bill on this, and he may also promote it as part of the Farm Bill," notes Reed. The Farm Bill, whose terms are decided every year, determines what agricultural initiatives can be funded by the U.S. government. Inclusion in the Farm Bill would virtually guarantee subsidies for research and application of the agrichar process.

A Technology with a (Potentially) Huge Upside

In 2100, if pyrolysis met the entire projected demand for renewable fuels, the process would sequester enough carbon (9.5 billion tons a year) to offset current fossil fuel emissions, which stand at 5.4 billion tons a year, and then some. "Even if only a third of the bioenergy in 2100 uses pyrolysis, we still would make a huge splash with this technology," remarks Johannes Lehmann, a soil biogeochemist at Cornell University and one of the organizers of the agrichar conference.

There are other perks: Increasing production of bio-oil could decrease a country's dependence on foreign oil. In the tropics, boosting soil productivity increases the number of growing seasons per year, which could help alleviate the pressure to deforest biodiversity hot spots. The new markets for agricultural crops, which would in effect become sources of fuel, could boost rural economies worldwide, just as the demand for ethanol has bolstered the price of corn.

One calculation by Robert Brown, director of the Office of Biorenewables Programs at Iowa State University, revealed that if the U.S. adopted a cap and trade program in CO2 emissions like the one already in place in the European Union, farmers in the Midwest could almost double their income by using corn stover—the leaves, stalks and cobs that remain after harvest—to fuel pyrolysis.

The use of char also promises to combat marine dead zones, like that in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich agricultural runoff. Char reduces the need for man-made fertilizers by helping the soil retain nutrients. In addition, it can be made out of the very same manure and sewage that would otherwise pollute the oceans.

Amazonian Origins

Agrichar is not a recent invention. Rather, it is a modern-day attempt to re-create the terra preta, or dark soils that cover some areas of the Brazilian Amazon. These soils were created over thousands of years by pre-Columbian Indians, who covered their fields with the charred remains of domestic and agricultural trash. This practice boosted the carbon content of the soils from a meager 0.5 percent to 9 percent.

"This is actually slash-and-char agriculture," Brown notes, contrasting it with the modern day slash-and-burn variety. "Instead of biomass being burnt down to a fine ash, charcoal remains, just like after a campfire." In addition to retaining nutrients, the porous charcoal helps microorganisms colonize and build up the soil. Charcoal is known for remaining stable over long periods of time, and alternating rainy and dry seasons preserve it even more. "You basically are drying out a steak," explains Danny Day, president of Eprida, a renewable energy development company based in Athens, Ga. "So you get beef jerky, which will last you for years." Even today, the Amazonian dark earths are so fertile that farmers continue to till them.

"What we're looking at is producing those kinds of charcoals in a modern pyrolysis reactor," notes Brown, who received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to attempt to recreate terra preta using corn stalks. He plans to have enough char generated by this spring to run field trials this year. By his calculations each square mile of corn farm that uses this "fiber to fertilizer" pyrolysis process can offset the emissions of 330 automobiles.

But is it Viable?

As with all new technologies, many questions about the ultimate utility of agrichar have yet to be answered. "As of now agrichar is not a uniform product," explains John Kimble, a retired USDA soil scientist. "And there's no easy way for farmers to apply it with existing equipment. They also need to know there is a large enough source of the material. Farmers are driven by profit, as is everyone, and they need to be shown that it will improve their bottom line."

Complicating debates about the costs of agrichar is the paucity of data on the subject. "No one is sure what types of biomass should be used as raw material," Kimble notes, "or exactly what production methods work best, so calculating the costs is really an exercise in speculation."

In addition, scientists are finding it hard to replicate the original terra preta soils. "The secret of the terra preta is not only applying charcoal and chicken manure—there must be something else," says Bruno Glaser, a soil scientist at Bayreuth University in Germany. Field trials in Amazonia using charcoal with compost or chicken manure find that crop yields decline after the third or fourth harvest. "If you use terra preta you have sustaining yields more or less constantly year after year," he says. "I'm skeptical about adding just a pure carbon source," says Stanley Buol, a professor emeritus from the Department of Soil Science at North Carolina State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who spent 35 years studying Amazonian soils. "It will be black and look good," but will it contain enough inorganic ions, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, essential to plant growth?"

Many of the interactions between the char, the soil and the microorganisms that develop with time and lend the soil its richness and stability are still poorly understood. Glaser believes that the key to making agrichar behave like terra preta lies in the biological behavior of the original Amazonian dark earths—a difference he attributes to their age. "You would need 50 or 100 years to get a similar combination between the stable charcoal and the ingredients," he cautions. "I think [research into the biological behavior of terra preta] is where the new frontier will be," Lehmann counters. If he is right, and scientists can perfect a modern-day recipe for agrichar, then its fans will not need Richard Branson's $25 million to jump-start their initiative—the annual demand for fertilizers exceeds 150 million tons worldwide.

[from Scientific American with additional reporting by Coco Ballantyne and Christopher Mims ]

The systems developed by Dynamotive are proposed to be installed at the Darwin Council landfill site in Darwin, assuming all agreements are met, sometime in 2008. There are more details on the web site of the council .

What will happen to the agrichar is still unknown, but with north Australian soils very deficient in soil or sequestered carbon, there is a home for the material. See the earlier posts on this subject.

This is exciting for agriculture.........if it can be developed. BUT, even without that terra preta soil, the presence of soil carbon can help drive moisture, nutritional and biological activity in soils, all needed in Northern Territory soils, especially in the wetter regions.

Proposed New Biofuel Crops in Australia - Is Jatropha a Weed?

New biofuel crops or just more bloody weeds? [reprinted from Rural press sources]
Australia Wednesday, 30 May 2007

With climate change so much in the news, new biofuel crops are attracting interest but initial investigations by the Invasive Species Council (ISC) have found that many of these are potential major weeds- putting the economy and the environment at risk.

An ISC spokesmand, Tim Low, said they have found that some of the plants being promoted by biofuel organisations in Australia to be serious weeds. "For example, a biodiesel company in Queensland has called on farmers to grow jatropha (also called physic nut), an Indian plant that is banned in Western Australia and the Northern Territory because of its weediness. "Jatropha is also closely related to bellyache bush - one of the worst weeds of grazing lands in northern Australia - and like bellyache bush it is poisonous to livestock. It could be a disaster if this plant was deliberately put in the ground as a crop in Australia," Mr Low said.

The ISC has found that other known major weeds touted as biofuel crops include Chinese tallow tree, castor oil plant, reed canary grass, giant reed and Chinee apple. For example Chinese tallow tree is one of America's worst weeds, and it was recently declared a noxious weed in northern NSW because it was invading land so rapidly.

In September last year six scientists published an article in the journal, Science, warning about the weed risk posed by biofuel crops.

In the US, corn is grown as a biofuel, but the costs of cultivation are so high that without subsidies it is not a viable alternative to petroleum.

The search is on for hardy low-maintenance biofuel crops, but unfortunately some of those proposed are well known weeds. This poses a potential major risk to Australian agriculture and the Australian environment. Due to the risk the Invasive Species Council is preparing a comprehensive report on the weed risk posed by some biofuel plants.

BUT...........the following article appeared in Scientific American May 2007.

Green Gold in a Shrub
Entrepreneurs target the jatropha plant as the next big biofuel
By Rebecca Renner

Image from D1 OILS PLC
Jatropha seedlings JATROPHA SEEDLINGS are planted in Zambia for U.K. biodiesel firm D1 Oils--part of an increasing effort to harvest the shrub, which favors hot, dry climates, as a source of biofuel.

A woody shrub with big oily seeds could be the ideal source for biofuel. For hundreds of years, Africans in places such as Tanzania and Mali have used Jatropha curcas (jatropha) as a living fence. Now biodiesel entrepreneurs in tropical zones in Africa and India are buying up land, starting plantations and looking forward to making fuel from the seeds, which, they argue, will be better for the global environment and economy than conventional biofuel crops grown in temperate climates.

Ethanol from corn or sugarcane and biodiesel from canola, soy or palm oil have become major players in renewable energy. In principle, biofuels do not increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, because as the plants grow they trap the CO2 that is released when the biofuels are burned.

Still, biofuels face a great deal of criticism. Food commodities such as corn, canola and soy all yield oil, but they are expensive, require intensive agricultural practices and threaten food supplies. Jatropha seems to offer the benefits of biofuels without the pitfalls. The plants favour hot, dry conditions and hence are unlikely to threaten rain forests. There is no trade-off between food and fuel either, because the oil is poisonous.

John Mathews, a professor of strategic management at Macquarie University in Australia, notes that many tropical developing countries have huge swaths of degraded and semiarid land that can be utilized for fuel crops. The cost of labor there is cheap, too. Biofuels made from plants such as jatropha, he argues, "represent the best bet for a last-ditch effort to industrialize the poor south and end poverty." He advocates large-scale plantings to aid energy independence in expanding economies such as China and India and to boost exports in the less developed countries of Africa.

Mathews's vision may be coming true. U.K. biodiesel company D1 Oils has planted 150,000 hectares of jatropha in Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa, as well as in India, where it is part of a joint venture. The firm plans to double its crop sizes this year. Dutch biodiesel equipment manufacturer BioKing is developing plantings in Senegal, and the government of China has embarked on a massive project. "People aren't making much jatropha oil right now, because everyone wants seeds for planting," says Reinhard Henning, a German technology transfer consultant and expert in jatropha.

In addition to establishing plantations, jatropha boosters are starting to identify, select and propagate the best varieties for biodiesel production. Henning has found Brazilian jatropha seeds that contain 40 percent oil--about the same as canola and more than twice the 18 percent contained in soybeans. Indonesia has a dwarf variety that is especially easy to harvest.

Finding the variety best suited to particular growing conditions is crucial, explains D1 Oils agronomy director Henk Joos, because right now not much hard scientific information exists about jatropha--just lots of stories. "We know that this plant is environmentally elastic and drought-tolerant. But the aura that this is a wonder crop that you can plant in the desert and harvest gold" is a dangerous notion that threatens social and economic sustainability, Joos says, adding that jatropha needs to be managed like any other crop. He notes that at D1 Oils plantations, farmers plant in land that is as good as possible without replacing food crops, then apply first-rate farming practices: prune branches, apply manure and provide water.

But the realization that successful large-scale operations have to function like well-run farms raises the issue of competition with food crops for water and land, says agronomist Raymond Jongschaap of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Jongschaap is spearheading one of the research projects looking for different types of jatropha with the goal of matching plants to growing conditions and maximizing oil yields. He has the most faith in small-scale efforts based on hedges or intercropping jatropha with other plants-- a method used in projects in Kenya and Madagascar, where jatropha is planted alongside vanilla.

Henning agrees that it is smart for jatropha growers to start small. Biodiesel cannot compete with current petroleum prices, which are relatively low, so jatropha would be better suited for local projects that improve rural livelihoods and basic energy services. These small projects have already started to build a framework of familiarity and expertise--in parts of Tanzania, kids learn about jatropha in school. Then, as fuel prices increase, jatropha cultivation can go to a larger scale. The wild shrub could then become a "sustainable cash crop," Joos believes, and a fuel for the future.


There is a definite sense of deja vu about these proposals. As an agronomist that has seen all this before in two earlier oil shocks, there is a VERY large distance between concept and actual sustainable production with plant biofuels. The idea of "livelihood" production is especially useful, with biofuels able to replace expensive and often difficult to obtain petroleum products in rural communities across Africa and even India. That may have merit and fits with the ideas in the recent UN document on biofuels. Developing the agronomic systems for large scale is more difficult.

I have no doubt we will hear more about several other species, most of whom have had considerable work done on oily / gum / latex constituents that might be suitable for fuel or fuel conversion. Many of these are semi arid or arid zone plants eg Euphorbia tirucalli . But the agronomy required to develop them to meet the requirments of modern agricultural practice in western countries and their labour costs AND yield enough is a very tough call, especially in the short to medium term - say 7-10 years.

BUT.......for Australia the case being developed by the Invasive Species Council against jatropha should be carefully examined. It is weedy........and can be very weedy!

All the promoters wish to do is make a lot of $$, and they are all commercial firms without a lot of "public good' among them. Cynic I may be, but experience does lead one to that conclusion.

Monday, May 28, 2007

New Wave of Soil Inoculants Coming to Australian Agriculture

Most Australian farmers have used legume inoculants, commonly in a peat carrier. Whether sowing a legume crop such as soybeans, or pastures including centurion cv Cavalcade or Bundy or even the old standby of cowpeas. There are a wider range of options in this market today, with some liquid formulations making inroads into the traditional peat formulations, at least in cropping regions.

However, the newer options are likely to include a wider range of microbiologically active soil based additives, but still including better legume inoculants.

Under development are products that may assist with mobilisation of stored soil phosphorus, materials that are antagoniostic to existing soil borne diseases, and hence control these problems, plus the more widely used legume active rhizobia that fixes nitrogen for the plant.

This edition of Harvest Radio from the GRDC web site discusses the latest developments in soil inoculant research. Sandy Gleddie (Philom Bios) outlines some of the new developments in the pipeline for soil inoculants aimed to boost plant productivity. David Herridge (NSW DPI) also outlines some of new formulations of inoculants available to industry.

For more information contact: Sandy Gleddie, Philom Bios, 08 8303 7142 David Herridge, NSW DPI Tamworth, 02 6763 1143

The direct link is: Listen to Soil Inoculants [mp3, 2.44MB, 6:05 min]

This can be listened to on your PC, if audio enabled, or downloaded as an MP3 file for later listening.

Whle all this is being developed for temperate Australia, and crops in that region, it is likely that once again, northern regions of Australia may not see these for many years.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Compadre Zoysia - Update - Buy NOW!

Seed Research Organisation - SRO of Oregon has updated the information on Compadre zoysia.

The link takes you to their site and the information on Compadre performance against other zoysias, from the southern US. Read more at the link:

Zoysia has considerable potential in the Middle East as well as the tropics and sub tropics, particularly in relation to low water use which is finally starting to also have some influence in that market. US data shows Compadre to be among the best of the zoysias.......and it can be seed sown to save money.

PRIMARY VARIETY DIFFERENCES - Compadre & Zenith, which have been selected from a very similar base material.

Colour – Compadre is slightly darker green than Zenith, and Zenith is a brighter, shinier green than Compadre.

Density – During spring and summer growing season, both Compadre and Zenith have been beating Meyer zoysia steadily in trials for superior density.

Spring Green-up – In the more northern planting zones of the USA, Compadre greens up slightly earlier than Zenith – in southern, warmer planting zones they green up at the same time. There is no significant issue of spring green up if the cooler month minimum temperature is not below around 12-14C

Growth Habit – Zenith tends to be a more upright growing variety, while Compadre tends to grow more laterally. Compadre is well suited for oval and sports turf involving games such as cricket, soccer, where the "ball run" on the ground is important. But again, it is not a huge difference in appearance. Both growth habits come out dense so they both compete well with weeds. Zenith was used for the 2002 FIFA World Cup soccer pitches. Mowing management is also relevant to manage this issue.

Tall Fescue blending for cool season use if needed– This should work equally well with both varieties. Adding in Tall Fescue should ONLY be done once the Zoysia is established. This is done in Northern state locations to create a more "year-round" green lawn. Do NOT plant other grasses (Fescue included) at the same time you plant Zoysia seeds.

Planting Areas: Note that seeded Zoysia's are ONLY for establishing in new lawn / bare soil areas. Use plugs if you need to put Zoysia into a new lawn or a shaded areas (seeds are more difficult to get germination to occur properly in shade conditions).

Leaf Width – About the same, both Zenith and Compadre.

What is the difference between Zenith Zoysia and Compadre zoysia seed?

The answer is that Zenith has a better cold /winter tolerance. Compadre is better in areas where winters are not  really cold.

Compadre greens up earlier but is not as cold/ deep winter tolerant as Zenith.

So if you live in a warmer climate with milder winters, Compadre is the best choice. If colder winters occur in your region [meaning freezing conditions] Zenith is the better choice. They are almost identical except for the cold tolerance. Both love hot climates!

There is significant R & D occurring on herbicides to use with seeded zoysias, and the situation is evolving quite rapidly. We can assist with information on the current options. Note, though, that some products may not be available to the home garden situation.

Seed is available directly from Above Capricorn - ask for a quote. We can supply to most regions of the world.  

Update - late in 2013 - Compadre zoysia seed still available and we will supply in small quantities.  Written notes on sowing information also available.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Major Innovation Excellence Award for Northern Beef Industry

The northern beef cattle industry is a major industry and income generator in tropical Australia, with pastoral activities the dominant land use across the region. Most of this beef is exported, some as live cattle, and the industry faces significant challenges from low cost producer countries [ including some from S America] in coming years. It will need to boost productivity to meet these issues and retain the excellent profile as a deliverer of excellent quality beef at a market leading price.........and it is generally an industry with very low to zero chemical input.

A groundbreaking new approach to boosting on-farm productivity and profitability that will meet this challenge, and which involves beef producers and pastoral companies from across northern Australia has been recognised with a national Excellence in Innovation award.

"Beef Profit Partnerships", initiated by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and then further developed by Australia's largest integrated beef research program, the Beef Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) has been recognised with a Co-operative Research Centre Association (CRCA) Excellence in Innovation Award. The program is already operational across much of the major pastoral zone in the north.

Beef producer, Phil Chalmers, a Beef Profit Partnership participant accepted the award on behalf of the Beef CRC. Mr Chalmers anticipates his involvement in a Beef Profit Partnership will boost his on farm productivity by 20 per cent and double his farm income.

Beef Profit Partnerships use an approach called "Continuous Improvement and Innovation" which has been tailored to fast track the uptake of new technology for the thousands of beef businesses across Australian and New Zealand.

Forecast to improve beef business profits by at least five per cent in just two years, Beef CRC chief executive officer, Dr Heather Burrow, said the award officially recognised the Beef CRC's forward thinking in addressing the uptake of technology by beef industry end-users. "With so many new beef technologies in the pipeline, we need to make sure industry is ready and willing to implement these technologies which we predict will dramatically change the way producers and suppliers do global business in the future," Dr Burrow said. "With the help of extension staff from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, along with Meat and Livestock Australia and Meat and Wool New Zealand, Beef CRC Beef Profit Partnerships will bridge the research-industry gap by bringing researchers and producers together," Dr Burrow said.

"Beef Profit Partnerships will consist of cattle producers, feedlotters, processors working with Beef CRC extension specialists using their own beef businesses to measure, monitor and evaluate current practices and set new goals and objectives to improve profitability. "This approach will deliver clear communication up and down the beef supply chain, while at the same time improving business performance."

More than 40 Beef Profit Partnerships have been established to date and consist of more than 500 cattle producers, the major northern Australian pastoral companies and feedlotters and meat processors from throughout Australia. Plans are underway to extend to New Zealand in coming months.

In Queensland, Beef Profit Partnerships will be established with all major Northern pastoral companies as well as in more central regions of Bajool, Biloela and the Burdekin and Charters Towers regions. There are existing partnershps in most of the major Northern Territory beef production areas.

Beef Profit Partnerships will start soon in Moura, Mackenzie River and Nebo and across Southern Queensland. A Beef Supply Chain Partnership has also been established in conjunction with a Queensland based beef processor and exporter.

[ based on Beef CRC media release]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Climate Web Site

Yahoo has gone green.................very green! Check out the "green" yahoo at - NOTE the address!!!!!

As well as a US centric view of the world it does have some general hints, tips and ideas that we can all use. As well, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountains Institute will have a weekly guest blog article on the site. Great to see the major players getting lined up in this issue. As Amory Lovins says in his first blog article, going green can save $$, not necessarily cost more. The real cost is EFFORT to change your paradigm - put some effort into thinking, rather than being a mindless, numb player and user. This is a message he has been repeating for many years already. Now it is your create some action.

This is his first article, reproduced off the website.

Saving the Climate for Fun and Profit
By Amory Lovins

Enough about the climate problem. Let’s talk climate solutions.

We’re toast if we don’t stop messing up the climate. But pundits and politicians keep telling us that saving the climate will cost us dearly—in dollars, lifestyles, even liberties. So must we choose between our money and our lives?

The truth is just the opposite: protecting the climate is not costly but profitable. That’s right: what we must do to stop global warming (whether or not you think it’s real) will not cost you extra; it will save you money, because saving fuel costs less than buying fuel.

Those little carbon-dioxide (CO2) molecules that fly out of our tailpipes and smokestacks, double-glaze the planet, trap heat, and threaten to unravel the fabric of life all have an invisible price tag called an energy bill. But using smarter technologies to wring far more work out of our fuels and electricity can give us exactly the same hot showers and cold beer with less energy, less CO2, lower bills, less guilt, and less climate change. It’s as simple as that.

Two-fifths of the CO2 emitted worldwide comes from burning oil, two-fifths from fueling power plants. In the next few weeks I’ll describe how to get America completely off oil at one-fourth the cost of buying the stuff, and how to save three-quarters of our electricity more cheaply than just running a coal or nuclear power plant, even if building it cost nothing. I’ll describe how smart companies are already making billions this way—and how you can get your share.

Stay tuned for solutions!

Amory B. Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute (

Winning the Oil Endgame offers a strategy for ending US oil dependence. Download it for free or buy a copy today:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Red Palm Mite - Watch out Australia!

A tiny mite is creating a big stir in the western hemisphere's tropics, ie the Americas.

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have joined a multinational effort to stop the red palm mite, an invasive pest that rides the wind and, until now, was mainly known for attacking coconut palms in the Eastern Hemisphere's tropical and subtropical regions. Wind blown pests are known to arrive in north Australia each year, mainly small insect vectors critically involved in some animal diseases.

According to Ronald Ochoa, a mite expert at the ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., the red palm mite has been found in the Caribbean region, including on U.S. soil in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. The fast spread of this pest, which causes serious leaf damage, constitutes the biggest mite explosion ever observed in the Americas, according to Ochoa. He added that, in Trinidad, he and colleagues estimated there were 30 to 100 million mites per palm.

At stake may be more than just the health of sectors of the ornamental plants industry and the palm trees that are synonymous with the tropical lifestyle. On Dominica, the mite has attacked banana plants, and a grower in Trinidad indicated that he anticipates a 50 percent loss in coconut production on his property, according to Ochoa.

The red palm mite, Raoiella indica, was first described in 1924 in India, and identified in the Western Hemisphere three years ago on Martinique. Its calling cards include yellow-spotted or totally discolored palm leaves, and reddish-brown areas signaling mite clusters. In Australia this pest has been identified as a potential threat for cotton crops, especially close to palms, but the real threat is probably the ornamental palm industry itself, a major ornamental crop across northern Australia, and these palms are used widely in urban landscaping. It is hard to even imagine the overall damage to society across the north if a similar scale of problem to the Caribbean was seen in Australia.

It is probably time that at least in the north of Australia awareness of the problem in the US and Caribbean was made known and information about the pest provided to industry. North Australia already has Palm Leaf Beetle, which causes losses among many palms in the region.

USDA scientists have learned a great deal about the mite since being alerted to its presence by concerned officials representing several Caribbean nations. It's hoped that their studies will help lead to biological and chemical controls and a means of monitoring for new hosts of the mite.

Read more about the American research, an excellent overview of the Western Hemisphere situation, available online at:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Making Soil - a New Industry?

Australia is an ancient land - and soils here are generally equally as ancient and poor in an agricultural sense, compared to Europe and America for example. But residuals from minerals - of which Australia has a lot - may form part of NEW soil, incorporating the copious residuals from mineral use with green waste residuals, parts of the system now discarded.

The key ingredients of a good soil include stable minerals and organic compounds that give it structure, porosity and fertility, says Professor Dick Haynes, who is heading up a major new research effort by CRC CARE to create soils [ see ].

“While you can buy bags of ‘soil’ at the garden centre today, they mostly contain composted green waste, which soon breaks down, subsides and eventually disappears,” he explains. “There is no scientific standard for soil as such – no formula for making it. Everyone has their own secret ingredients. Worldwide, very little research has been done into how you make a soil. Our aim is to come up with one.” This might be a bit of poetic licence as I think these products are generally known as "potting mix" - and the organics are expected to breakdown over time anyway.

But it is true that some of Australia’s biggest waste challenges – 13 million tonnes of fly ash from power generation, an even larger amount of ‘red mud’ left over from bauxite processing, plus millions of tonnes of bio-solids from urban sewage systems – are all potential ingredients in artificial soils.

“At the moment people are paying to get rid of these things. At CRC CARE we think we can formulate them into something useful which is currently in short supply and becoming quite expensive – new topsoil,” Prof. Haynes says.

Two of Australia’s greatest headaches are its millions of hectares of acid and sodic soils, both of which limit food production. The ability to improve acid and sodic soils could greatly increase the nation’s capacity to grow food.

“Wastes such as power station or sugar industry fly ash can be highly alkaline and could be used to correct acid soils. Organic wastes such as chicken litter are also highly alkaline and could be used to add nutrients as well as correct acidity. Furthermore we think that – unlike lime – they will leach further into the soil profile, correcting acidity to a greater depth. “Australia has millions of hectares of sodic soils – rich in sodium. To amend these you need a soil improver high in calcium, such as poultry waste, certain fly ashes or slag from steelmaking.”

Part of the key to successful soil-making is to avoid the high costs of transporting either the raw materials or finished soils around the country – this involves identifying wastes available locally which could go into a soil or soil improver. Another original twist is CRC CARE’s plan to use certain industrial wastes to clean up other contaminated wastes.

“Many of these substances, like red mud, fly ash and slag have a very high adsorptive capacity. We can literally use them to mop up heavy metals or organic contaminants from other wastes, rendering these safe to use as soils, building materials or other products.” Some companies have already commenced this process with Virotec, a successful business already with successful products to treat acid mine drainage, with very successful operations in Australia, Asia and north America. []

Professor Haynes says the growing interest in soil-making is causing people to reappraise what they once regarded as contaminated wastes, fit only to dump. Opportunities to invest in the CRC CARE soils research program are still open. “You could well be looking at the ingredients for a major new industry. It’s even conceivable we could re-import wastes from overseas industrial processes which used Australian raw materials such as coal and iron, to turn them into soils to beautify our cities or grow more food.”

Just as natural soils vary greatly, the composition of artificial soils will depend on what is available and cheap locally, from agriculture, food processing, heavy industry, power generation and urban waste disposal systems. “There are hundreds of uses for these waste products, provided we can standardize the way they are treated, ensure they are completely safe and that their long-term effect in the environment is a beneficial one. At present many of these questions remain unanswered.”

Dick Haynes is Professor of Soil and Environmental Science at the University of Queensland. He has worked as a senior soil scientist for the NZ Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and was until recently Chair of Soil Science at the University of Natal in South Africa.

Climate Index for Australian Companies

A new index has been developed to rank companies on their current and future performances based on climate changes, carbon footprint and similar issues.

This link :

takes you to the newsletter on the site where the backgrounder newsletter is located. Unfortunately the article does not name the companies........but it does ouline the methodology used to develop the list of companies that offer best potential market performance under a climate change scenario.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Livestock Targetted as a Scapegoat for Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

[modified from material originally by Pat Francis, Editor of Australian Farm Journal - Tuesday, 15 May 2007]

A scapegoat growing in popularity for contributing to greenhouse climate change is ruminant livestock, of which there are millions in both Australia and New Zealand, and these are at times the focus of some healthy mocking about their emissions.

Ruminants emit methane as part of their digestive processes, so consumers can reduce their greenhouse footprint by eating less red meat. Really???

City-based print and television is promoting this line of thinking.

The recent Coolaid program on Channel 10 left viewers with a strong message to eat less red meat and The Age newspaper in Melbourne [ one of Australia's large circulation capital city dailies] recently suggested in a "Guide for Young Consumers" that "you can save 10,000 litres of water and 300 kilograms of greenhouse pollution a year just by cutting one 150-gram serve of meat per week".

Such generalisation needs to be challenged and the role of ruminant livestock in Australia and the world's environment promoted.

Few people understand the critical role ruminants play in preserving the biological health of the world’s rangelands and farmlands by digesting plant fibre from pastures, crops and by-products of food production. While modern farming practice has fine tuned the role livestock play to meet a component of western consumers' food requirements, their fundamental importance to environmental integrity of the planet remains unaltered. In Australia especially, most livestock are bred and grow on pastures or rangelands, with some being finished for a short period in feedlots.

What ruminants do in the natural world cannot be handled as successfully by any other animal.

They convert fibrous plant matter, often of low digestibility and in remote regions, into live weight and organic matter. Combined with the organic matter contribution from the grazed plant the overall impact is improved soil biology, better soil structure and increased carbon sequestration. There is some help from earthworms and termites in this carbon and nutrient turnover, but ruminants are of major importance in this environmental role. Remember the vast herds [mostly ruminants] across the African plains..........

This perspective promoted by city based media which only accounts for the carbon emissions from ruminant livestock is unbalanced, and fails to understand the dynamic, interrelated processes associated with ruminant livestock, food processing by-products, plant leaf and root growth, manure, and soil organic matter and carbon, plus issues around reduction of potential fuel loads for wild fires across grassland areas, livelihood generation and utilisation and management of land.

Those consumers looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions associated with red meat and dairy products are likely to have more impact by scrutinising products more closely and making a decision based on excessive food miles, the level of food processing of the base product, excessive use of packaging materials and other inputs, rather than by reducing their level of consumption of these essential products. They may just reduce their feeling of well being too......afterall both these food groups can be pleasurable to consume. These products have a significant role in providing healthy nutrition, protein, vitamins and minerals essential for human health, when consumed in moderation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Australian Wine Company - Yalumba, Wins Prestigious US Environment Award

Friday, 11 May 2007 - partially sourced from the Barossa Herald, SA.

After a decade of environmental leadership, Yalumba, Australia's oldest family-owned wine company, has been honoured by the US Environmental Protection Agency with a 2007 Climate Protection Award.

This annual award, presented in Washington last week, recognises companies and individuals from around the world who have demonstrated "exceptional leadership, outstanding innovation, personal dedication, and technical achievements in protecting the environment".

Yalumba is the first wine company to receive this award.

Robert Hill Smith, fifth generation proprietor of Yalumba, said: "After 158 years of family winemaking our family not only wish to leave a legacy of great wine, but to also pass on our natural assets to future generations in better condition than when we inherited them."

This is not the first time Yalumba has been recognised for developing and practicing their Environmental Management Program. In 2005 Yalumba was the first Australian company to be recognised as 'leader' in greenhouse management by the Australian Greenhouse Office, and later that year they were awarded the ‘Environmental and Energy Management Award' at the Rabobank agribusiness awards for Excellence.

Since 1999 the AGO has guided Yalumba in taking small, steady steps to integrate best eco-friendly practice into everyday activities, an enormous undertaking which involves every aspect of winemaking - viticulture, production, packaging and market distribution.

This award is a great recognition of how well the Australian viticulture and wine industry is doing, leading the world in establishing outstanding credentials in environmental performance in both the production agriculture section and the actual winemaking. Yalumba is but one of many Australian wineries and growers that have embraced the environment movement in their whole production system.

And remember that compost use and similar activities are now very widespread and a fundemental aspect of the modern Australian production system, with pioneer scientists including John Buckerfield [ now deceased] a key person driving use of such products and practices, particularly around the South Australian region, where Yalumba are based.

New Portal Website for the Environment

A new resource for environment information has recently been set up and is now available on line at . Recent web material is timely, thoughtful and thought provoking, with contributions from well known contributors. There will be opportunities for you to contribute too!

Earth Portal is a comprehensive, free and dynamic resource for timely, objective, science-based information about the environment built by a global community of environmental experts: educators, physical, life, and social scientists, scholars, and professionals who have joined together to communicate to the world. In contrast to information from anonymous sources with no quality control, the Earth Portal is created and governed by individuals and organizations who put their names behind their words and where attribution and expert-review for accuracy are fundamental.

This is NEW and is expected to grow rapidly over the next few months, hoping to become a significant source of up to date information on the environment as well as providing links to many other sources.

The Earth Portal includes:

§ Encyclopedia of Earth ( ) has an initial 2,300 articles from over 700 experts from 46 countries, as well as such content partners as the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations Environment Programme. The Encyclopedia is a means for the global scientific community to come together to produce the first free, comprehensive expert-driven information resource on the environment. The Encyclopedia includes articles, e-books and reports, interactive maps, and biographies, and will eventually be published in other major languages. Environmental scholars and experts are invited to become contributors to the Encyclopedia.

§ Earth News ( ) includes breaking news updates from many sources, with links from key words to Encyclopedia articles, enabling readers to learn about the science behind the headlines.

§ Earth Forum ( ) allows the public to engage in discussions with experts, ask questions and get answers, and to participate in community debates about issues that matter to them.

§ Environment in Focus ( ) provides an exploration of a major issue each week - energy, climate change, environmental economics and other topics - led by a prominent expert in the subject and involving articles, news, places, discussions, Q&A, interesting facts, and more.

The National Council for Science and the Environment ( ) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the scientific basis for environmental decision-making. The NCSE specializes in programs that foster collaboration among diverse institutions, communities and individuals. The NCSE serves as secretariat for a growing Environmental Information Coalition of environmental experts and organizations, which is building the Earth Portal.

ManyOne Networks, an innovative IT firm based near San Jose, California, has provided engineering and vision for the Earth Portal.

Have a just might be worthwhile!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Biofuels May Be a Problem - UN Report

May 09, 2007 — partially by Nicole Winfield, Associated Press ROME

Biofuels like ethanol can help reduce global warming and create jobs for the rural poor, but the benefits may be offset by serious environmental problems and increased food prices for the hungry, the United Nations concluded Tuesday in its first major report on bioenergy.

In an agency-wide assessment, the United Nations raised alarms about the potential negative impact of biofuels, just days after a climate conference in Bangkok said the world had both the money and technology to prevent the sharp rise in global temperatures blamed in part on greenhouse gas emissions.

Biofuels, which are made from corn, palm oil, sugar cane and other agricultural products, have been seen by many as a cleaner and cheaper way to meet the world's soaring energy needs than with greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuels.

European leaders have decided that at least 10 percent of fuels will come from biofuels like ethanol by 2020, and the U.S. Congress is working on a proposal that would increase production of biofuels sevenfold by 2022. With oil prices at record highs, biofuels have become an attractive alternative energy source for poor countries, some of which spend six times as much money importing oil than on health care.

But environmentalists have warned that the biofuel craze can do as much or more damage to the environment as dirty fossil fuels -- a concern reflected throughout the report, which was being released Tuesday, May 8 in New York, by U.N.-Energy, a consortium of 20 U.N. agencies and programs. While saying bioenergy represents an "extraordinary opportunity" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it warned that "rapid growth in liquid biofuel production will make substantial demands on the world's land and water resources at a time when demand for both food and forest products is also rising rapidly."

Changes in the carbon content of soils and carbon stocks in forests and peat lands might offset some or all of the benefits of the greenhouse gas reductions, it said. "Use of large-scale monocropping could lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching," adding that" investments in bioenergy must be managed carefully, at national, regional and local levels to avoid new environmental and social problems some of which could have irreversible consequences."

This major report noted that soaring palm oil demand has already led to the clearing of tropical forests in southeast Asia. In addition, the diversion of food crops for fuel will increase food prices, putting a strain on the poor, as evidenced by the recent steep rise in maize and sugar prices, the report said. "Liquid biofuel production could threaten the availability of adequate food supplies by diverting land and other productive resources away from food crops," it said, adding that many of those biofuel crops require the best land, lots of water and environment-damaging chemical fertilizers.

While bioenergy crops can create jobs in impoverished rural areas where the bulk of the world's poor and hungry live, creating biofuels favors large-scale production, meaning small-scale farmers could be pushed off their land by industrial agriculture. It suggested that farm co-ops, as well as government subsidies, could help small-scale farmers compete.

Such concerns have been raised by Greenpeace International and other environmental groups worried that the biofuel fad is being driven by big agricultural interests looking for new markets.
"More and more, people are realizing that there are serious environmental and serious food security issues involved in biofuels," Greenpeace biofuels expert Jan van Aken said. "There is more to the environment than climate change," he said. "Climate change is the most pressing issue, but you cannot fight climate change by large deforestation in Indonesia."

Individual U.N. agencies have previously issued small-scale reports on biofuels, but they were largely optimistic and did not highlight negative consequences because they were not yet known, said Gustavo Best, vice chair of U.N.-Energy and a biofuels expert at the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

But with the surge in interest by the private sector, the rise in commodity prices and an awareness of the strain on water supplies that has resulted from biofuel production, "we now have to raise the red flags and say 'be careful, don't go too fast,'" he said in an interview.
"There are winners and losers," he said.

That the report exists is something of a miracle, since there has long been opposition among U.N. member states -- including OPEC, nuclear and other energy lobbies-- to have any kind of international dialogue on energy. There is for example, no U.N. Millennium Goal for energy, and recent U.N. working documents on sustainable development continue to be very fossil-fuel oriented, Best said.

The document is intended for governments to help them craft bioenergy policies that maximize the potential but minimize the negative impacts -- even as the technology continues to change. "We can't cross our arms and wait to have better data or better methodologies," Best said. "We need to contribute to the discussion, but in a balanced way".

It is also worth noting that biodiesel does lend itself to local production and can be made with quite simple chemicals from freshly pressed or used vegetable oils. Indeed, backyard production of biodiesel is quite common in many regions of the developed world, aiding in the removal from the waste stream of used cooking oils. Surely this approach could be used in many developing areas for simple local production of biodiesel for essential areas of use such as tractors and generators. No, it does not solve the world energy problems.........but it might just solve more immediate ones at a local level, most of whom could not give a #### about "world energy" or "greenhouse gases" as getting water, food and shelter a more immediate need.

This report follows on from recent reports emanating from the Netherlands about energy costs both economic and environmental through use of palm oil.

There are many comments in the media on this report, from all sides of the spectra, and many from well recognised energy commentators.

So the jury is still out..........and squabbling still!

Access the full report, about 64pp, at:

The full title is "Sustainable Bioenergy - A Framework for Decision Makers".

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Microfinance and rural development

The provision of microfinance on reasonable terms has been a driver of small scale rural development and poverty relief in many developing countries. It is not a panacea, and other structural issues still need attention, but it definitely plays a significant role in aiding the transition to a decent life for many financially disadvantaged people mostly in developing countries.

Recently it has been reported by the International Herald Tribune that Morgan Stanley - a major international financier - is selling collateralized loan obligations that finance Peruvian shopkeepers, Cambodian rice farmers and Nicaraguan potters. The giant securities firm has said that it was seeking to raise USD 108 million through the sale of collateralized loan obligations, or CLOs, which are securities that package underlying loans and use the income to pay investors.

The money raised will go to institutions that lend to 70,000 low-income borrowers in 13 developing countries, according to a statement released last week by Morgan Stanley and the microfinance asset manager BlueOrchard Finance in Geneva. Morgan Stanley is widening the number of institutions that can invest in small loans to the developing world by putting the debt in securities with credit ratings as high as Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, and the drug maker Eli Lilly. This arrangement allows many institutions who could not [ often due to restrictions on the quality of debt or investment grade taken on] or would not provide direct finance, to have a more secure vehicle with much superior credit ratings as the financing institution.

Morgan Stanley is building on a microfinancing industry pioneered by Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work lending to impoverished people in Bangladesh, where he was instrumental in developing the Grameen Bank. This model has been followed in many other areas.

This is a very very significant move that will potentially make much greater finance - ie cash - available for this burgeoning micro finance sector, a major area especially in the developing regions. This form of micro finance has been a huge success with very minimal loan defaults, as well as the huge personal and lifestyle gains by many local people, often women and poor farmers contributing to improved living conditions. There are many success stories in Asia.

Good one!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Compost Awareness Week - Australian actions

Here in Australia individual compost and mulch products will be certified to ensure they meet a set of quality assured criteria guaranteeing the standard of compost products. The Compost Products Certification Brand was launched today.

The Compost Products Certification Scheme, which is being launched as part of International Composting Awareness Week, has been developed by Compost Australia, the National Association for the Organics Processing and Recycling Industry and Sustainability Victoria.

Building on the existing Australian standards, the new scheme is set to hit the Australian market in August and will enable users to identify quality compost products that are specifically designed to meet their requirements. Certified products will carry a distinctive leaf logo.

Participating products will be independently certified through a process requiring fully documented quality management systems for compost production, registration of application-specific products, independent auditing of composting processes, and laboratory testing of compost products.

Compost Australia national projects manager Angus Johnston said compost delivered a range of positive environmental outcomes, including saving water, improving soil health, reducing fertiliser use, reducing soil erosion and improving nutritional balance. "Until now the recycled organics industry has been distracted by the important challenge of getting organic materials out of landfill," he said. "In this new paradigm, product demand will drive recycling and the environmental benefits that go along with it." Johnston said developing markets for compost, a carbon rich resource, can prevent a significant amount of greenhouse emission each year due to the diversion of organic waste from landfill, as well as increasing the uptake of carbon dioxide by soils. "In NSW alone the (compost) processing and application of composts saved approximately half a million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2006," he said. He added it was estimated that NSW saved 1.7GL of water in 2006 by the addition of compost products to urban and agricultural soils.

This scheme is somewhat contrary to the Darwin Council attitude who wish to turn all their compost production into oil. Whether current production at the Shoal Bay landfill meets or goes close to meeting these criteria is unknown. Critical to the process is open and quality record keeping for all materials, as well as auditing.

Monday, May 07, 2007

International Compost Awareness Week 6-12 May 2007

Dig In! Support Compost Awareness Week

Participate - Annual International Compost Awareness Week May 6, 2007 to May 12, 2007

This year's theme is "The Possibilities are Endless ... Compost!"

For more info, go to:

Compost and more compost means more soil carbon - better soil health; sequestrated carbon in soil means less greenhouse gases; compost adds to soil structure, positively impacts improved soil moisture storage, reduces evaporation from soil..............the possibilities are endless!

Critically important in Australia with our generally poor ancient soils - both structurally and in mineral composition. Also have a look at the Compost Australia website.

Compost adds to shallow carbon storage, not usually to deep storage of carbon which normally comes from plant root direct breakdown in the soil.

BUT..............compost! Its a verb AND a noun.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

GM Sorghum May Offer Potential for Biofuel in the Tropics of Australia

Scientists Display Modified Sorghum Crop

May 02, 2007 — By Michael Graczyk, Associated Press COLLEGE STATION, Texas.

Texas A&M University scientists showed off to state and federal officials Tuesday a genetically engineered crop of sorghum they believe will be a more efficient and economical option to corn in drier parts of the country as the nation pushes for alternative energy sources.

Sorghum, which as a plant resembles stalks of corn, is a centuries-old grain common around the world but used more in the United States as a livestock feed. At Texas A&M, researchers have been working over the past several years to extend its growing season, allowing it to double its height to more than 10 to 15 feet [3-4m], thicken its stalk and be even more drought tolerant.

The genetic changes make it ideal to raise in the South and Southeast where the growing season already is longer than in northern sections of the country. The climate also makes it more suitable than growing corn, which has emerged as a biofuel alternative used in ethanol production, particularly in the Midwest.

The cellulose from one version of the sorghum and sugar from another version similarly can be processed for fuel. Researchers said energy yields could top those from corn and at a more reasonable cost, making it an economic windfall for farmers.

"It's really a matter of national security if we can lessen our dependence on imported oil and turn to those we can trust, and that is our nation's farmers," Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said after a briefing and tour of A&M agriculture and biofuel labs. "For decades we have depended on what's below the ground for our nation's energy and now we can turn to what's above the ground. With the yields that are being forecast, with the continual growing season in certain parts of Texas and in particular the lower water usage, it offers great promise." "Agriculture already has been highly successful in providing this nation and the people with an abundant supply of food, feed and fiber," said Undersecretary of Agriculture Gale Buchanan, who also participated in the half-day briefing. "I'm equally convinced it will be just as successful adding energy to that portfolio."

Some of the new crop could allow for as many as three harvests annually in areas like the Texas Rio Grande Valley. Texas, with 1.3 million acres harvested in 2005, and Kansas are the nation's leading sorghum-producing states. A&M researchers said they've been working with their counterparts at Kansas State University in developing sorghum for ethanol use. About 15 percent of the domestic grain sorghum crop already goes into ethanol production, according to the National Sorghum Producers, an industry trade group. Bill Rooney, an associate professor and coordinator of the A&M sorghum breeding and genetics program, said he hopes to have the genetically engineered crop commercially available in three years. Petrochemical companies already have been to College Station to discuss their interest.

Brett Cornwell, commercialization services director with the Texas A&M System, touted the economic benefits of the sorghum project for farmers.

"If a farmer's breaking even, they're not going to grow our product," he said. "What we're looking at with the sorghum is a solution that works in the right places with the right farmers and delivers to the farmers. They're not just in the game for God, America and apple pie. They will make money." Cornwell said sorghum could be a "regional solution that works in the Southeast and may work in California." "The reality of the bio-energy program in the U.S. is, it's not going to be a silver bullet. There's going to be regional solutions. Corn works in Iowa. Obviously, it's where the feedstock is."

Buchanan agreed, saying he believed a key to energy independence "is each part of the country has got to focus on what it can grow and use, and clearly this is sorghum country," he said. "I think that's a reflection of what we've got to do throughout the country."

Source: Associated Press

A bit of thinking for the recently announced Northern Development Task force. Biotechnology in sorghum may also offer similar solutions suitable for north Australia, capitalising on the biomass production potential rather than grain.

Sorghum has been a marginal crop in much of north Australia, although grown with mixed success for many years for grain. BUT......a change of focus to biomass production utilising the adequate rainfall, rather than relying on the normally erratic end to the wet season that markedly impacts on grain yields could see higher and more regular biomass production well suited for local biofuel production. This would complement proposed biofuel production from vegetable oil, and with a huge effort developing in the US to improve conversion of plant cellulose to ethanol, any breakthroughs in that area could lead to use in this high cellulose yield tropical crop.

The three year further development program at Texas A&M allows time to seriously examine the possibility. And, afterall, Texas A&M is one of the same universities that have been at the forefront of sorghum research for over 50 years, developing many iconic breeding lines used by commercial companies as well as hybrid varieties in that period

While this journalistic report is produced for "media style" consumption, it is for real! Lets see how the science magazines and journals report the same issue. Definitely looks impressive so far.

Clean Energy from Beer Manufacturing Wastewater

This has to be the "story of the day" from beer!.........well, beer wastewater.

Foster's, Scientists Team Up To Generate Clean Energy from Beer-Making

May 02, 2007 — By Rod McGuirk, Associated Press CANBERRA, Australia --

Scientists and Australian beer maker Foster's are teaming up to generate clean energy from brewery waste water -- by using sugar-consuming bacteria.

The experimental technology was unveiled Wednesday by scientists at Australia's University of Queensland, which was given a $115,000 state government grant to install a microbial fuel cell at a Foster's Group brewery near Brisbane, the capital of Queensland state.

The fuel cell is essentially a battery in which bacteria consume water-soluble brewing waste such as sugar, starch and alcohol.

The battery produces electricity plus clean water, said Prof. Jurg Keller, the university's wastewater expert. The 660-gallon fuel cell will be 250 times bigger than a prototype that has been operating effectively at the university laboratory for three months, Keller said.
"Brewery waste water is a particularly good source because it is very biodegradable ... and is highly concentrated, which does help in improving the performance of the cell," Keller said.

He expected the brewery cell would produce 2 kilowatts of power -- enough to power a household -- and the technology would eventually be applied in other breweries and wineries owned by Foster's. "It's not going to make an enormous amount of power -- its primarily a waste water treatment that has the added benefit of creating electricity," Keller said.

This process has important implications for many similar operations - including many sugary beverage plants as well as beer and wine producers.

Outback revival or just a talk fest

Outback Australia isn't about to lose many of its young people judging by their responses to a survey conducted as part of the Year of the Outback 2006 celebrations.

As part of the Year of the Outback program, the Federal Government, through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the Australian Outback Development Consortium Ltd were partners in a nationwide research project to discover and document what rural youth see as the important issues facing them in rural, regional and remote Australia. And they were asked to provide their ideas and recommendations on how these issues can be addressed by government, rural industries and communities.

The results of that project have been published in a new report, "Outback Youth Infront, Their Voice - Australia's Future" which can now be downloaded from the Outback Development Consortium's website or at

Australia's Youth Infront was the theme of Year of the Outback 2006 and, due to its significance, will continue through to Year of the Outback 2010. The information in the report was compiled through a comprehensive process including a national on-line survey, five workshops at strategically chosen rural locations and a final workshop held in Canberra.

This final workshop involved a panel of participants representing the five workshops already completed along with representatives from the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry and the Australian Outback Development Consortium Ltd.

The key findings of the report were:
* Most participants imagined they would still be living in regional and rural Australia in the next 10-20 years;
* Participants noted there were many advantages to living in rural and regional Australia with lifestyle and community stated as the best aspects;
* The top three issues identified as important to young people were employment, community and education;
Among the report's recommendations were better professional development opportunities for young outback dwellers; wider promotion of jobs available; and attracting and retaining medical professionals to regional Australia; information packs for organisations on how to run successful training programs; the creation a job database for the local area; more social and professional networks and interaction opportunities for young people.

While Government has tended to act in enhancing the opportunities for medical professionals in rural Australia, through greater opportunities for professional development, there have been relatively few actions to support others - vets, agricultural scientists, surveyors, and other professions of significant importance to regional Australia.

Zone allowances of the Federal government are stuck in the 1970s, with no significant change for many years. Travel costs and the need to regularly update professional accreditation requirements impose very high costs on those professionals in regional areas. There are few major accredittation training opportunities set for regional centres, although distance education opportunities for formal courses are improving. The ongoing cost of being based in regional areas and lack of access to many of the professional seminars, etc are critical to personal development. Where are the technology users to better distribute these opportunities via podcast, video or DVD? [ and a free kick to the Desert Knowledge CRC for making a DVD on the recent conference available!!]

Although, it must be said that housing costs do tend to be lower, even if food cost is much higher than living on the crowded eastern seaboard.

I am sure that many other remote regions around the world might find these ideas relevant as they are for Australia.

These outcomes from the Outback 2006 interaction do need ACTION.........but will we see it anytime soon?

Still raining in WA and elsewhere across the south

Southern WA farmers have had their best break in years and have an enviable problem: they've had so much rain that the paddocks are too wet for the seeders to go in.

For the Ridley area north east of Esperance, 25- 45mm of rain over the weekend before Anzac Day stopped proceedings, with the April total around 100mm. This followed on from 150mm in the January floods, in an area where the yearly average is around 425mm.

Many farmers see it as the best season break in over 25 years. April is often seen as the critical "last time" opportunity to have adequate rain for sowing cereal crops.

But many farmers are now sitting it out as paddocks are too wet to work. The spin-off of positivity has been particularly felt by local machinery dealers who have experienced a big lift in satellite guidance sales.

Seems to follow the pattern in the poem "Said Hanrahan"! However, most farmers are more than happy to be seeing rain - at last.

Rain across the other states has not been as much, although now much of temperate Australia are smiling, a spring in their step knowing that decent rain has come and more seems to be coming.

The latter point will be critical to generate adequate runoff and infiltration into groundwater, both highly significant in renewing the waterflows into dams, rivers and tanks and enhancing the lifeblood of the entire region.