Monday, August 27, 2007

Agriculture and Environment Can Work Together to Benefit Both

International award for CSIRO sugar breakthrough
Australia Friday, 24 August 2007

Agriculture has often been seen as the enemy of the environment. Recent work in sugar cane shows that yields can be maintained while improving environment outcomes. It has been recognised that run off from predominantly sugarcane land has contributed to nutrient loads in the offshore areas, including the Barrier Reef. Work has been underway to addess this problem and CSIRO's new approach to reducing fertiliser run-off into the Great Barrier Reef has won best agriculture paper at an international conference on sugarcane.

The team of researchers, led by Dr Peter Thorburn, has developed the 'N Replacement' approach to nitrogen fertiliser management, which could have major environmental and economic benefits for sugarcane-growing regions.
"Our initial trials indicate that this approach may enable farmers to cut their nitrogen fertiliser use by an average of 30pc with very little affect on sugar yields," Dr Thorburn said. "That could translate to an estimated 80pc reduction in the amount of nitrogen that leaches out into waterways from sugarcane paddocks, which would be very good news for the Great Barrier Reef."

The International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists, representing scientists from 23 countries, presented Dr Thorburn and his co-authors with the award for best agricultural research paper at its triennial congress in Durban, South Africa earlier this month.

The winning study was titled 'Systems to Balance Production and Environmental Goals of Nitrogen Fertiliser Management' and sums up the results of three years of field trials in Queensland and NSW.

"It's a great honour to receive this award from our colleagues around the world," Dr Thorburn said. "The cooperation and advice we've received from local grower groups in northern NSW, Maryborough, Innisfail, Mulgrave, Mossman, and the Burdekin has been invaluable in shaping our ideas."

The paper also incorporates work done in cooperation with BSES Ltd on monitoring nitrogen levels in harvested cane using near infrared spectroscopy instruments (NIR) at the sugar mill to provide important information to help farmers to better manage fertiliser use in their crop.

Dr Thorburn says the N Replacement approach and NIR system are now at the 'proof of concept' stage, and more work is required before it can be rolled out across the industry.

"The Six-Easy Steps program developed by BSES Limited for soil-specific nutrient management practices in sugarcane production is currently the best technique widely available to growers, but we hope in a few years N Replacement will provide a new option for growers wanting to further reduce their nitrogen use and their environmental impact," he said.

The prize-winning research was funded by the Sugar Research and Development Corporation in partnership with CSIRO.

partially sourced: CSIRO

Monday, August 06, 2007

Kota Kinabalu Market

Even agricultural scientists go on holidays, but like many scientists…….often a sort of bus man’s holiday. Currently in Malaysia, and this post covers a local fruit market in Kota Kinabalu, on the waterfront.

It is August, late wet season. At the market you can find mangoes – similar to the late season Nam Dok Mai in shape, size and flesh texture. Few green mangoes were on sale. The green types are consumed locally in Malaysia as a fruit – similar texture to apple, as well as going into chutney, or similar prepared foods. Plenty of limes too.

Jak fruit [chempadek] are common and the flesh very sweet. Rambutans are coming into the market, but many a little bit immature. Buy and eat in a day or so. Langsat [duku] and longans are very plentiful. Lychees were not seen at all! Plus the local papaya, watermelon – red, and both orange and green fleshed rockmelons. BUT……..also some durians, but not as common as in the Malay Peninsula market areas. As almost always – durians are banned in virtually every hotel. If you have smelt them you will know why – the smell is off and it permeates the air conditioning – EVERY WHERE! But they still taste good – you either like or hate the taste. Bananas are not in massive abundance, with a modest supply of local smaller sized fruit, somewhere between lady finger and Cavendish types. Quality of the bananas is very ordinary, tending to be overripe, with little opportunity to keep for more than a day before being too ripe for ordinary ‘peel and eat” use.

Local mangosteens are abundant, but small. Did not test drive the mangosteens, but looked ok. Also available in the market are the local palm fruits from the salak palm. Have not seen a lot, but are readily bought by local buyers.

Surprisingly, not many tourists are buying the fruit which is a bit unnerving, especially when you are the only European chit chatting with the stall holders and buying the produce. The fruit is fresh………..really tasty, too, and a great option to use for a snack or even lunch. The market is a bit on the nose – worse very late in the evening – but not so in the late afternoon when most of the action occurs. I do not think much worse than any I have been to elsewhere in Asia, and better than many. Some local colour is added with the inevitable odd rat or two seen.

The local market operates daily, with most produce coming in around midday or even later, from areas outside of Kota Kinabalu, with the most active period later in the afternoon.

Good supplies of snake beans, plus bean sprouts, various Chinese green vegetables, okra, bitter gourd and kangkung are available. The kangkung is especially great to eat when chopped and quickly fried in a wok with garlic and chilli. Great stuff!! There are smaller volumes of European potatoes, sweet potato, carrot, and sweet corn. And of course – chillies……… various shapes and sizes. Mostly small [ read HOT], although supplies of the larger less fiery types, were also readily available.

A lot of local ginger, turmeric, lemon grass is also available. Lemon grass is very thick at the base, indicative of a good quality. Much of the vegetables material comes from the east of Kota Kinabalu where the slopes rise to over 1000m and are well watered, although kangkung is grown at lower altitudes.

The area is vibrant, colorful and a great place to visit, with most stall holders keen to engage in a bit of banter, and many have a smattering of English vocabulary.

The same market [or really separate, but adjacent] also has local fresh fish and sea food sales. Many are a bit small, but local fish are readily sold.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Hottest Chilli in the World - Officially!

For a lighter theme try hot chillies.

Most parts of the tropics grow chillies and capsicums. Often to try and claim bragging rights about the hotness of the local chillies. BUT..........word is out, do your best, but the title goes to India.

There is always controversy over the hotness of chillis. But a recent examination has finally found a hot one - hotter than the standard ones thrown up as the hotties. And it is from India, as anyone can attest - there are some hotties there!

Recently tested at over 1 million Scoville units [used to measure hotness of chillies] the chilli comes from Assam, in NE India. Called the bhut jolokia or ghost chilli in the hills of the NE Indian areas. Eating it is like dying says one of the growers of this red hot chilli. Eating one will kill you......just nibble is enough to cause watering eyes and a runny nose. The smallest morsel can add enough "bite" to almost any dish.

Development is happening in the growing areas to try and meet demand from chilli afficionidaos around the world, but the small, thumb sized chilli is hard to transport, and the plants difficult to grow, as they are considered a bit fragile .

In Nagaland in the Assam state it is used in almost every meal.........but you might have to travel there to eat it. Or should that be "just try it"!

For a lot more information see for some great material on hot chillies.