I guess these areas were not watered after laying the turf..........plus a few other issues too!
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
What's the betting that it pleases few. Seems that is the way it goes these days.
At least there is a laugh in it, at last.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
This area is at the entrance to the new Waterfront precinct, and will be a prominently noted feature as one drives into the area.
The earlier post showed the area after about 8 weeks. There had been issues about over-irrigation, and weeds were a significant issue which the contractor was unable to adequately manage. Our company provided asistance in managing and eliminating the weeds, and correcting the irrigation timing and volumes that have helped rescue the site.
The areas have also been mowed regularly, but probably not as low as desirable partly due to the type of larger mower used, and partly due to surface irregularities. A number of sections of the area were damaged by heavy vehicles overriding the curb and damaging the turf.
Over the past month as the weather warmed, and irrigaton has been reduced [ yes- reduced, now relying almost entirely on rainfall] the turf has responded vigorously.
The photos are at approximately 16 weeks after establishment, which was slow, as when established it was still cool at night. There has been little change in turf quality over the past 4 weeks, but the weeds are now very much reduced......regular mowing is very useful to beat the weeds.
It looks terrific! If Compadre can do as well as this in a difficult site, with poor subgrades and a shallow topsoil, it CAN do it for your site - home, oval, open space. And at a lower cost than sod.
REMEMBER - seed is currently in very short supply until mid 2009. A modest quantity is still available through Above Capricorn Technologies..........send us an e-mail for a price.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Using a zoysia matrella turf will save you money. Slightly more expensive to install initially, whether as turf sod, plugs or as sprigs, the savings accrue once it is installed. Less mowing, fewer disease issues, lower fertiliser needs, lower irrigation demands [ not the lowest, but near the lowest] are some of the tangible factors that swing the balance towards this type of turf, and in fact, most of the zoysia varieties. Some of the less tangible factors are noted below as well.
The preferred mowing option is to use a cylinder mower - it gives the best result. An ordinary rotary mower is satisfactory, particularly if not cut at a low height, and many homeowners use that type, as well as many commercial operators. Most commercial hire companies have verticutters or dethatchers for hire.
Relatively few varieties are available and one that is still among the better types is the interspeciifc hybrid commonly known as Emerald. It is a fine leaved, dense turf, and resistant to weed invasion once a dense cover is established.
The form available in Darwin is close to Emerald, but never verified as to what if any variety, although it has been around the region for at least close to 50 years. It is highly shade tolerant, especially if you leave the turf a little higher, is not itchy when sitting on the turf or children rolling or playing on the area without a shirt on, or playing rugby. Very wear resistant too. And with modern slow release fertilisers, thatch is considerably reduced.
Thatch control is an ongoing management requirement. But on a very high profile public area in Darwin where we are advisors, the area which is well fertilised, is only dethatched at most once a year, and was not done at all for the first 6-7 years. Regular dethatching does help improve performance in all zoysias, and removes the puffiness.
The following photos are actually at our home, with the turf a bit longer than normal, but hey...........it has not been mown for about six months! Yes......definitely overdue, especially for someone working in the turf industry.
It is a great turf option.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
The message from high-profile scientists Dr Jeff Baldock and Professor Peter Grace was clear: soil carbon is intrinsically valuable, but on current understanding it seems unlikely to yield a meaningful return to farmers in a carbon trading scheme.
Dr Baldock, a leading CSIRO soil scientist, and Prof. Grace, a climate change specialist at the Queensland University of Technology, offered a contrary point of view against the prevailing mood of optimism at last week's Carbon Coalition's Carbon Farming Conference in Orange, NSW.
Prof. Grace observed that soil carbon will be traded under a scheme that also accounts for emissions—and right now, the farming ledger balances out with carbon inputs/outputs firmly in the red. He showed modelling of emissions from a 400 hectare Darling Downs farm, with 300ha of crop, 12ha of trees, and some cattle, which collectively resulted in 416 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) per year.
As a rule of thumb, mainstream science considers soil carbon sequestration potential in the more fertile, high-rainfall parts of eastern Australia to be around 500 kilograms per hectare per year.
The reality might be considerably less.
"You can't just sell the carbon," Prof. Grace said. "You have to look at the whole farming system and your profitability. A whole farming systems approach is essential—all gases have to be taken into account."
Carbon isn't just carbon, Dr Baldock told the conference, and the type of carbon a soil contains determines whether the carbon has a role in a trading scheme. At one end of the scale is the "labile" carbon pooled in plant residue and fragmented organic matter, which is quickly cycled and lost back to the atmosphere; at the other end is humus and charcoal, which lock away carbon and other nutrients. "We can induce big variations in the carbon across various pools by changing farm management," Dr Baldock said.
The challenge for farmers looking to rebuild their carbon is ensuring that it is rebuilt in the right pools.
In an modelling example shown by Dr Baldock, 18 years of soil carbon rundown under one farming practice was rebuilt in 10 years by another farming practice—but the carbon lost was largely humus, and the carbon that was rebuilt was in more labile pools. Dr Baldock also noted that building carbon requires nutrient, which comes at a cost.
While carbon has been run down on most Australian farms, in decomposing it released other nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which masked the detrimental effects of carbon loss. In an example, a soil that started with a carbon content of 3pc was progressively run down to 1pc carbon.
The nitrogen released as the carbon decomposed came to 2.8t/ha.
"I can turn this on its head," Dr Baldock said. "If I want to build carbon from 1pc to 3pc, I have to find nitrogen."
Soil organic matter has a consistent carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, which depends on the parent material. As the amount of carbon grows, so must the amount of nitrogen to ensure the ratio is maintained.
"That nitrogen can come from legumes, it doesn't have to come from bag fertiliser. "The important message to take away is that to build carbon, you have to supply nutrients. You can’t build one without the other."
Dr Baldock suggested that carbon trading would not be a natural fit for all farmers.
Deciding to build carbon, and keep it there under contract, would demand changes in production systems. Before making the change, farmers would have to consider their profitability, and their willingness to incur the liability of contracted carbon that might compromise their flexibility to change production systems in response to new circumstances.
"There's potential there, but there's a lot of bits and pieces we need to put together before we can decide whether it's appropriate for a given landowner."
However, Dr Baldock and Prof. Grace agreed that increased soil carbon was a highly desirable objective in itself for any farming system.
"Soil carbon is the key to long-term profitability," Prof. Grace said. "If you've got it, that's your superannuation."
So the options seem to be to add long term source materials - products such as agrichar and similar but in the short term cycling materials suxh as those from crop residues. This issue does have a lot to work through yet, although one message does seem very clear.........increase your soil carbon!
[partially sourced from Matt Cawood report - Queensland Country Life]
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Dr Rattan Lal, a professor and director of the Carbon Management & Sequestration Center at Ohio State University, was a keynote speaker at last week's Carbon Farming Conference in Orange, NSW, hosted by the Carbon Coalition. He indicated that in order to commoditise carbon, a realistic value must be established that reflects its value to farmers and society.
When Dr Lal looked at humus, of which carbon is the main component, and teased out the nutrients and water typically held within a kilogram of humus, he arrived a value of US$250 a tonne on today’s prices. BUT…..initial estimates of carbon's starting value under the Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) are around $20 per tonne. That is a big disparity!
Farmers, and society at large, also benefit from the fact that soils with high levels of organic carbon (humus, as shown in the photo) are resistant to erosion, deliver less pollution to waterways, biodegrade chemical pollutants and buffer climatic extremes.
"Whether the trading process can provide farmers with all of that value remains to be seen, but undervaluing a resource can lead to its abuse " Dr Lal told the conference via an internet video link.
If soil carbon ultimately earns a high price, it raises questions about the value and use of crop residues that contribute to soil carbon formation. Cellulosic ethanol plants that will draw on crop residues are being built in the United States, and the technology is under discussion in Australia.
However, Dr Lal observed that the world's estimated four billion tonnes of annual crop residues should play an important part on the farming process. In Dr Lal's estimation, those global residues contain 30 million tonnes of nitrogen, 3.5mt of phosphorus and 47mt of potassium—and crop residue contains about 40pc carbon.
His initial studies were mainly concerned with conservation tillage and use of crop residues for erosion management in the tropics. Attempting to increase the cover component of the Universal Soil Loss Equation, in effect, and improving establishment. It worked! But the use of residues also improved the soil carbon levels, in the medium and longer term. That improves soil quality.
With residue left in the field rather than removed, soil carbon levels were 0.2pc higher, soil pH was 5.1 under residue and 4.6 without, and that corn yields on a field sown into residue were 2.7t per hectare compared to 1.5t/ha in a bare field. This data is based on studies of crop residues in a Nigerian corn system. Soil quality is significantly influenced by residue retention. There are also additional studies from both temperate and tropical areas that draw the same conclusions.
Dr Lal has also extrapolated how improving soil carbon might affect food security for the 854 million people currently considered "food insecure". In 2000, the global food deficit was considered to be 13 million tonnes; by 2010, this will have risen to 22 mt, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. By increasing soil carbon levels in the 532 million hectares of agricultural soils in developing countries by a modest one tonne per hectare per year, Dr Lal calculated an extra 30-50mt of food could be produced per year.
This is a potent message and adds to increasing pressure to better use the millions of kilograms disposed of as recycled organic material in Australia each year. While there are some logistical issues in returning this material to rural areas for use, they need adressing to ensure the material is used effectively.
Soil carbon is vital.......ensure there is more of it!
Monday, November 24, 2008
Many will argue that the National Landcare program and the myriad action programs at all levels, now operational for about 25 years, has made significant gains in managing the Australian landscape processes, and reducing erosion. At least we like to think so, but it is probably fair to say some good progress continues to be made. The program has been copied and developed in other countries too - notably The Phillipines and South Africa.
While we in Australia might feel good, it is a timely reminder to consider recent information emerging from China. Things are pretty grim in relation to erosion. Picture the giant erosional gullies of the loess plateau......most people have seen those. But it gets worse.
Over a third of China's land is being scoured by serious erosion that is putting its crops and water supply at risk, a three-year nationwide survey has found.
Soil is being washed and blown away not only in remote rural areas, but near mines, factories and even in cities, the official Xinhua agency cited the country's bio-environment security research team saying.
Each year some 4.5 billion tonnes of soil are lost, threatening the country's ability to feed itself.
If the loss continues at this rate, harvests in China's northeastern breadbasket could fall 40 percent in 50 years, adding to erosion costs estimated at 200 billion yuan ($29 billion) in this decade alone.
"China has a more dire situation than India, Japan, the United States, Australia and many other countries suffering from soil erosion," Xinhua quoted the research team saying.
Beijing has long been worried about the desertification of its northern grasslands, and scaled back logging after rain rushing down denuded mountainsides caused massive flooding along the Yangtze in the late 1990s. But around 1.6 million square km of land are still being degraded by water erosion, with almost every river basin affected. The photo shows erosion and bare soils on the loess plateau in China's North East.
Another 2.0 million square km are under attack from wind, the report said.
The survey was the largest on soil conservation since the Communist Party took control of China in 1949.
If you have been to Beijing, you will certainly have experienced the yellow skies from the soil blowing from the west, that irritates the eyes, common in the late winter and early spring periods. Or the steady soil clouds lifted from bare soils in Outer Mongolia, not even that far from Beijing itself. We most certainly could not get farmers to change their thinking and even consider conservation tillage in projects we worked on in China during the late 1990s.
The following two photos show some of the awesome erosion seen on the loess plateau of China. It can be staggering!
A China with food production problems is worth pondering. Also adds some pondering to be considered along with the analysis on "The Politics of Hunger" in a recent post.
[lower two photos used with permission. Thanks. Copyright- Cathy Dowd]
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It was written by an eminent professor of economics at Oxford, so one could expect a fair bit of credence.
In the article he literally takes apart the spurious arguments over current thinking about food production and modern agriculture, and makes a seriously compelling case to jolt western civilisation out of the current complacency over world food production. Intertwined with this is a demolition of the current false thinking about GM crops, organic production and in which he pushes hard for some serious effort at improving food production in especially Africa. And of course he also berates the false and distorting subsidies given to agriculture in both Europe and the US.
Not too much gets away free.
BUT...........it is an excellent read and he makes some compelling issues.
The original full article is here -
and it is definitely worth a read if you are even remotely interested in a role for modern agriculture.
As he sees it, agriculture in a number of countries is the industry to be in. Being an agricultural scientist, I would agree.
Friday, November 14, 2008
There has been a lot of agronomic research to show that GM cotton can be grown successfully in the north west of Australia, it will not be a long term weed problem and that insects can be managed successfully and cheaper.
NOW........will the Northern Territoy government also accept reality and also lift their ban on GM cotton? That will be interesting.
Using GM cotton and restarting cotton production in the NW of Australia may just be the kick start needed to really push the development of the area. Combine cotton with other products already grown and the viability of the region may be significantly enhanced.
The media statement is reproduced below.
It is a GOOD day!
Fri 14 November, 2008
New potential for GM cotton production in the East Kimberley
Portfolio: Agriculture and Food
The State Government will lift the moratorium on the commercial production of genetically modified cotton at East Kimberley’s Ord River Irrigation Area.
Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman made the announcement in Kununurra today, breaking Western Australia’s moratorium on all large-scale growing of GM cotton.
Mr Redman said the decision had been taken after extensive GM cotton trials in the Ord River area during the last decade, under the supervision of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, Department of Agriculture and Food and CSIRO.
“The trial crops have been very successful from a production point of view, yielding almost 11.5 bales a hectare,” he said.
“Over the years, trials of GM cotton in the Ord have frequently out-yielded Australian production by about 10 per cent.
“These trials have shown that there are no agronomic problems, including the control of insects, in growing GM cotton in the Ord. Importantly, there have been no environmental concerns with the crops.”
The Minister said the issue of GM cotton had been widely canvassed by Governments with consultative processes within industry, the community and traditional owners of the land, the Miriuwung Gajerrong people.
“The go-ahead for GM cotton adds further impetus to the potential for an expanded Ord irrigation area. Irrigation and land planning issues have been very carefully considered,” he said.
“The Government is currently looking at the East Kimberley Development package which includes expanding the Ord irrigation area from 13,000ha to more than 50,000ha of cropped land in the long term.”
More than 90 per cent of Australia’s cotton production was already GM.
“In the 1970s, WA tried growing non-GM cotton and it was a disaster, with the plants infested with pests,” the Minister said.
“Growers had to spray pesticides up to 40 times each season. In comparison, our GM cotton trials have only required two spray applications with insecticides that are far more environmentally-friendly than the now banned DDT used in the 1970s.”
Mr Redman said GM cotton should become a major new profitable industry for WA.
“The previous State Government-appointed reference group on GM crops released a report last year which estimated that GM cotton could be worth more than $50million a year to the East Kimberley, generating more than 200 full-time jobs,” he said.
“GM cotton is an alternative crop option which could help secure the future of the Ord as a major agricultural region. Cotton growers facing severe water shortages in the Eastern States will also have an alternative site that is well supplied with water all year round and we may see some of their operations move to the Ord, providing relief to the Murray Darling system.
“Today’s decision to allow commercial production of GM cotton in the Ord provides growers with a new opportunity to re-launch the cotton industry for this State, this time with the likelihood of much better outcomes.
“I recognise the complexity of issues surrounding the introduction of GM crops and I believe in the delivery of market choice. The Government is continuing to look at the risk management issues surrounding GM canola, with no decision to allow trials as yet.
“Labelling is clearly one aspect of ensuring consumers are provided with adequate information to enable them to choose between GM and non-GM food products.
“Australia has a rigorous food safety system that stipulates labelling requirements for GM foods. However, I am keen to investigate whether there is opportunity for improvements to the current labelling laws and compliance of those laws to better assist in consumer choice.”
Friday, November 07, 2008
The Cooperative Research Centre for Sugar Industry Innovation through Biotechnology (CRC SIIB) today announced strong progress in providing new and diverse bioproduct opportunities for the Australian sugar industry in their 2007/08 Annual Report released in late October, 2008.
The CRC SIIB 2007/08 achievements include:
- together with its American-based member company Metabolix, the CRC SIIB reported the production of sugarcane containing 3.5% PHA (polyhydroxy alkanoate – a new class of biodegradable plastics). The CRC SIIB has made significant progress in producing bioplastics in sugarcane plants that can be used for a wide range of commercial applications and confirming that sugarcane is a preferred feedstock (over corn and sugar beet) for the production of bioproducts.
The chief executive of the CRC SIIB, Dr Peter Twine says he is now looking for investors to turn the research into a viable business venture. He hopes biodegradable plastic extracted from sugar cane will be used to produce a multitude of products in around five years time. "It could be used for any form of plastic where you want to get rid of it at the end of the day," he said. "Mulching in agriculture, mobile phone cases, beer keg tops. It can be injection-moulded or it can be created into sheet plastic."
Sugarcane has high biomass yields, significantly greater than competitive crops, which then offers a major cost advantage to sugarcane with high bioplastics yields. Combine that with other uses for sugarcane and maybe Australian biotechnology has a real winner. There is likely to be greater returns from this technology rather than the current simplistic process of producing ethanol from sugarcane.
Some additional detail is on the CRC website www.crcsugar.com
Thursday, November 06, 2008
McCain was considered to be very, very pro free market. He detested subsidies and mandates.
His disdain for farm and ethanol subsidies was well known.
Even so, the Obama campaign's 13-page document, 'Rural Leadership for Rural America', has been widely read in the US farm belt - traditional Republican territory.
Obama supports making sure that "(US) farm programs are strong and are targeted to support family farmers". This might extend to a better deal for US farm workers, currently usually poorly paid, rather than, or as part of a better deal for farm owners. And would an improved environmental focus on farms necessarily be a bad thing anyway? Surely a US type Landcare program might be a good, not bad development.
An Obama Administration would cap farm payments at $250,000, apparently, through regulations, since Congress has failed on that issues on several tries. "Every President since Ronald Regan has had the authority to close this loophole without additional action by Congress but has failed to act," according to Obama's campaign statement.
The Obama camp has close ties to the National Farmers Union, led by president Tom Buis, who is now one of the most influential agricultural lobbyists in Washington, DC. His name is often mentioned for the short list from which Obama will select the new US Agriculture Secretary. One of McCain's top advisers, former US Department of Agriculture deputy secretary Jim Moseley, points out that the Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could advance extreme environmental agendas with no fear of a White House veto. Moseley worries that unchecked environmental regulations could put the brakes on some US-based rural investment.
Those investors might wait out the first Obama term, but not a second, before they move offshore, Moseley told US journal Feedstuffs. This is somewhat different to the actual investment already occurring in alternative energy systems in the US and planned. Recent US reports show that alternative energy investment has surged, even without the T Boone Pickens enormous wind farm planned for the western US.
With regard to flex fuel standards, Obama believes "all new vehicles sold in the US should be flexible-fuel vehicles" - according to his campaign statement.
Farm Progress, a Rural Press/Fairfax Media subsidiary in the United States, recently posed a series of agricultural policy questions to the Obama and McCain camps late in the long campaign.
Here is an extract from Obama's responses about farming, fertiliser and fuel for American farmers.
Q: In trade agreements, are there ways to level the playing field in regard to individual countries' regulations, such as employee wages and conditions and chemical use?
• Obama: "For too long, Washington has put the interests of free trade ahead of broader concerns about our economy and American workers.
"I will break from the failed trade policies of the last eight years. "As president, I will ensure that our trade agreements include strong, enforceable labour and environmental provisions in the core of the agreements."
Q: What would be your policy concerning greenhouse gases? How would it affect farmers? Would you pursue approving the Kyoto Treaty?
• Obama: "As a result of climate change… I support implementation of an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80pc below 1990 levels by 2050.
"This market mechanism has worked before and will give all American consumers and businesses the incentives to use their ingenuity to develop economically effective solutions to climate change.
"This will transform the economy, especially in rural America, which is poised to produce more renewable energy than ever before, creating millions of new jobs across the country.
"I will also develop domestic incentives that reward forest owners, farmers and ranchers when they plant trees, restore grasslands or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, creating new opportunities for rural America to help solve the climate crises."
Q: If you're elected president, the most recent US Farm Bill won't expire in your term. Would you do anything in the next four years to address any problems you see with the current legislation?
• Obama: "It's important to implement the 2008 Farm Bill in keeping with the intent of Congress."
Q: What are your views on the food vs. fuel debate?
• Obama: "Corn-based ethanol has been an important transitional technology in helping make America more energy independent.
"However, it has limitations, and that's why I am committed to accelerating the transition to advanced biofuels.
"I support an array of policies to speed the transition away from corn and toward low-carbon, sustainable alternatives that do not rely on food crops.
"There are many flavours of ethanol - different feed stocks, different production approaches, different carbon footprints.
"In contrast, there is only one flavor of oil - expensive, polluting and largely imported.
"As president, I will work to phase in at least 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the national fuel supply by 2013."
Q: What steps might you take as president to stabilise fertiliser prices, which have doubled and tripled?
• Obama: "A major key to stabilising fertiliser prices is addressing the skyrocketing costs of natural gas.
"Through my policies for continued domestic production combined with investments in efficiency, we will take some of the pressure off the resource and increase supply, bringing costs down."
There are some mixed messages, but it does sound as if diversfying rural America into incorporating environmental, energy related and new technology jobs [eg cellulosic ethanol] is part of the policy..........and that sounds promising. Democrats are somewhat protectionist, but don't we have a free trade deal with the US? That was supposed to be a useful piece of legislation. BUT....getting the Doha trade talks restarted, well, might be a different story, except that one of the winners would be LDCs, including African food producers. That might resonate with the new President elect.
US Farm Progress group, and Feedstuffs, divisions of Fairfax Media
partially sourced: http://www.farmprogress.com and www.feedstuffs.com
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Outside of the Waterfront Project, areas around a roundabout as you enter the area, were planted, using subsurface drip irrigation as the irrigation system, with small under tree type sprinklers at establishment. This has had a few problems, including the odd large semi-trailer driving over the planted areas! But it seems that we have been able to overcome these issues, and now about 8 weeks after sowing, there is a good healthy grass cover of Compadre zoysia. Some areas do not yet have full cover - that is expected, but other areas have already a good, dense cover of zoysia.
The first few areas within the Waterfront Project proper have recently been sown. Seedlings are still small and immature, but cover is ok. This is now about 3 weeks after sowing. As expected, there are some grass weeds and these are being dealt with through a combination of use of glyphosate in wick wiping, and hand pulling. It is too soon to mow the areas, but mowing regularly will be part of the overall management program that ensures satisfactory cover in 14 - 16 weeks.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Some of the most promising ways to boost water use efficiency lie at our feet, claims Professor Emeritus Robert E White, former chair of the Australian Society of Soil Science Inc (ASSSI). “Soil science offers technologies for more efficient irrigation. Australian researchers are uniquely placed to optimise understandings into the soil-water link,” he said.“For example, irrigation efficiency is greatly improved if it is designed to take account of a soil’s capacity to store available water for plants, and its ability to drain excess water.“Efficiency is also improved if water application is matched to crop demand, which changes with the weather and a crop’s growth stage.”
Agriculture is Australia’s biggest consumer of water, accounting for about 65% of the total water use. Most of this water is used for irrigation. Prof White explained: “More efficient irrigation enables profitable agriculture to be maintained while making more water available for the environment, and soil science offers useful water-saving boosters.”Using techniques and tools such as Global Positioning Systems, in-ground soil sensors and computer-based Geographic Information Systems, irrigators can make precise maps of changes in soil properties as they occur in a single paddock, orchard block, or over a whole farm.“Soil surveys and high-resolution soil sensing underpin precision agriculture in Australia’s irrigation areas, which account for more than 40% of agricultural production.”
Sensors are also being developed to detect when a water front has reached the end of a flood irrigation bay. “A wireless signal sent to a computer-controlled operating system triggers the opening or closing a gate that controls water flow into the bay,” said Prof White. In this way, water application is timed to more closely match crop demand than is possible manually.“To ensure that essential supplies for irrigation are maintained and the rivers regain their health, water must be managed more efficiently”, he said. “Soil science is a fundamental tool to achieve this.”
The Australian Society of Soil Science Inc works toward the advancement of soil science in the professional, academic and technical fields.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The World Bank recently estimated that a doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty. And the future does not look brighter. Food prices, although likely to fall from their current peaks, are predicted to remain high over the next decade.
As the world considers how to respond, the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops has inevitably reared its ugly head. 'Ugly' because the public exchange about this technology has usually seen extreme viewpoints gaining the most airtime. For example, in the United Kingdom, Prince Charles' spirited but ill-informed attack on GM crops this summer led to a flurry of opinionated responses. We could have been back in the polarised debates of the earlier part of this decade.
Since 1999, the UK-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics, has twice examined the ethical issues raised by GM crops. In a 2003 report, the Council specifically focused on developing countries. Two of the conclusions are still particularly relevant today.
First, the council concluded that there is an ethical obligation to explore whether GM crops could reduce poverty, and improve food security and profitable agriculture in developing countries. In coming to this conclusion, the council considered differing perceptions of risk. When people have enough food, as in developed countries, consumers and producers will feel free to avoid risk — even if that risk is theoretical rather than real. But developing nations, struggling with widespread poverty, poor health,limited pest control and poor agricultural sustainability, have a different risk-benefit calculation.This is perhaps why the acreage of GM crops has tripled in developing countries over the past five years, compared to just doubling worldwide.
Consumers in prosperous countries are being asked to suppress their doubts about GM crops so that research relevant to the developing world continues. In effect, they are being asked to concede that any potential losses to them are outweighed by potential gains to poor countries, where yields are declining and conventional agriculture is increasingly unsustainable.
This does not belittle other factors needed for poverty reduction and food security — such as stable political environments, appropriate infrastructures, fair international and national agricultural policies, and access to land and water. GM crops are just one part of a large and complex picture. But we will not know how important a part until we explore their potential.
Case by case consideration
The Nuffield Council's second key conclusion was that the wide range of GM crops and situations must be considered individually. Those who oppose or support GM crops per se make an unhelpful generalisation.
Each time, the gene or combination of genes being inserted, and the nature of the target crop, must be assessed. It is also important to compare a GM crop with local alternatives. For example, Golden Rice — enhanced for b-carotene to help fight vitamin A deficiency — is not needed where people have sufficient vitamin A from leafy greens, or ready access to vitamin supplements. But where this is not the case, the crop may significantly improve nutrition.
Similarly, herbicide-resistant soybeans can reduce demands for local labour. This may be devastating if a community relies on wages from manual weeding. But it may help communities struggling with a labour shortage due to high prevalence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
The role of research
Scientific and other evidence must be central in the debate, and over the past few years evidence about GM crops has grown. For example, according to a recent news report in Science, soon-to-be-published research will clarify the amount of Golden Rice a child would need to eat each day to prevent vitamin A deficiency. This kind of research is vital if governments and farmers are to make informed decisions about GM crops. Indeed, before new research is funded, national and regional bodies in developing countries should be consulted about their priorities for crops and desirable GM traits.
In the United Kingdom, the government has committed £150 million (US$263 million) over the next five years to research aimed at making agriculture more resilient to the pests and diseases affecting poor farmers, and increasing smallholders' agricultural productivity.
Research efforts are also growing in the developing world, with South African scientists developing and working to commercialise virus-resistant maize, and countries like Kenya and Nigeria hosting projects to develop virus-resistant varieties of key African crops (see 'Agri-biotech in sub-Saharan Africa: Facts and figures').
Striking a balance
Many people worry about possible environmental risks from GM crops, such as gene flow to other plants, and this is something that scientific research must clarify. But alarm-raising without evidence is as helpful as calling 'fire' in a crowded theatre. Similarly, demanding evidence of zero risk before allowing a new technology is fundamentally at odds with any practical strategy for investigating new technologies. Mobile phones or aeroplanes might never have seen the light of day if such stringent demands had been placed on them. In the case of GM technology it is clearly crucial to ask what the risks of adopting GM crops are. But it is also important to ask what the risks of not doing so are. Realistic cost-benefit analyses that consider local social and environmental conditions and development goals are needed on a country-by-country basis.
Heated debate about the food crisis must not detract from an evidence-based assessment of biotechnology's potential for improving agricultural productivity in developing countries. The benefits of GM crops must not be overstated. But neither can poor arguments be allowed to obscure strong arguments for a good cause.
Professor Albert Weale is chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and professor of government at the University of Essex, United Kingdom, and he has made a sound case.
In northern Australia, one of the big questions is over the use of GM cotton. Extensive studies in both the NT and WA have shown no gene movement into the wild cotton relatives nor have there been any movement into weedy plants. Yields have been higher, and costs lower.
Yet the NT government in particular is pandering to urban voters over its non acceptance of GM cotton, or GM anything! This region is in essence a developing region where GM crops could be very useful.
The issue of individual consideration of a crop or usage is most relevant for this region.
Monday, October 13, 2008
In Asia especially, large urban conglomerations are rampant......cities with many millions of residents, dependent on outside areas for food, and the logistical chains that are needed to bring the food into the area.
I think the classic case is Singapore. Not only are they dependent on non Singaporean sources for food, the residents are now also almost totally divorced from the food production process especially of fresh foods, and people have little knowledge or understanding of horticulture or agriculture.
To add to the comments, Professor Julian Cribb, author of "The Coming Famine", said that Australian cities also needed to be aware of the issues, and the global food crisis was a forewarning of what could be expected as civilisation ran low on water, arable land and nutrients, and experienced soaring energy costs. He said the urban farmers of the future - who would primarily grow vegetables - would play a much larger role in the global diet. "We need new skills in designing this diet and developing the intensive vegetable culture needed to support it," he said. "This intensive urban veggie culture is an entirely new industry and will need a new professional - the urban farmer who can grow food on the roofs and sides of buildings, in intensive biocultures and by other novel methods to feed the megacities of 30 million-plus inhabitants. "If we don't, by 2050 we will have more than three-quarters of the human population - almost 8 billion people - living in places where they are totally without the means or the knowledge of how to feed themselves. "Our giant cities will be gigantic death traps, at the mercy of even quite minor glitches in regional or global food supplies."
In Australia ,The City of Sydney council has commissioned a report to look at ways to encourage the greening of rooftops. A report is expected before Christmas, 2008, which will examine the option of fitting green roofs on older buildings. The council already supports gardens in the city.
"Green roofs would create more open space and enhance bio-diversity," Ms Hoff the Deputy Mayor said. "They will also reduce energy consumption by insulating buildings, reduce stormwater run-off, reduce greenhouse gases and could be practical, too, by growing fruit and vegetables."
Green Roofs Australia executive Jim Osborne, a landscape architect, said councils and governments needed to provide incentives such as greater planning and monetary support for rooftop gardens. The benefits of these gardens had been established overseas but more scientific research examining Australian conditions was needed.
This last issue is critical, especially for tropical Australia. In this region, temperate class plants are usually just wrong to use, and a new group might be needed. Watch this roof space!
Friday, October 10, 2008
The KISSS Ebb and Flow System is simple to install and saves a tremendous amount of labour. Additionally, it is easy to work with in the event that a roof leak should occur.
Simply roll out the Ebb and Flow mat onto the roof and overlap the mats as shown below. Finally, install your drainage system. Then you have an active drainage system, irrigation system, and root barrier all in the one system.
The KISSS Ebb and Flow Advantage
The perfect solution for an extensive green roof on structures that are sensitive to water loading. This system provides an active drainage layer while elimination water holding on structure.
Integrated design and roll out installation reduces labour and eliminates the need for many of the standard components within other green roof systems, making it the lightest and most economical system in the market today.
The system can be manufactured to be compatible with conventional green roof systems and add supplementary drainage, as well as effective irrigation.
Green Roof Frequently Asked Questions
The KISSS Green Roof product irrigates the soil media above it, and assists in the drainage of the soil to keep it at optimum moisture content. It does this without the soil being saturated, as saturated soil forces out air. Air in the soil media is just as important as water to plants, and especially on a roof where the minimum amount of soil media should be used to minimize the loading on the roof, and maximize the run-off in heavy rainfall. The difference between the KISSS system and other green roof irrigation systems is that it can drain the soil media at a gentle rate, and if the media is drier than the irrigation system, the system will provide more water to the media via capillary action. This keeps the top few centimetres reasonably dry which reduces evaporation and weeds germinating, but keeps the lower layers moist which encourages deeper root growth.
What soil/media can be used?
Plants of any kind can be grown on a green roof and the only limiting factors are enough soil media for support, moisture, air and nutrients. We suggest a light weight media product and there are a few in the market eg CocoEarth media mixed with sands of a particular grade to give stability and hold water and nutrients that are required. These can be provided by the installer.
How durable is the material?
The materials in the KISSS product are not biodegradable. They are synthetics that are made from polyester and polyethylene and do not break down in soil and do not compress easily. The materials are made in such a manner so that the water and nutrients runs along the fibres but do not fill the fibres and only the pore spaces in between the fibres hold the water, soil and nutrients.
What about roots damaging the materials?
Can the system provide nutrients to the soil/media?
What can I grow on the green roof?
What if I don’t want a green roof but want to grow my veggies or herbs?
For more details see - http://www.kisss.com.au/kisss_ebb_flow_mat/green_roof_applications
Monday, October 06, 2008
That has a bit to do with the semantics of how free range is actually defined, but evidence shows about one million free range chooks EXCEPT that the markets indicate over 2.5 million seem to be around, based on the number of free range eggs that are labelled that way. And sold at much higher prices, too.
Two years ago, egg substitution was estimated to have cost consumers $13 million annually but the problem has become worse as the sale of free-range-branded eggs continues to soar, she said.
The true cost of the scam might never be known because proper records are not kept, and governments have left themselves effectively powerless to police the egg-substitution issue. "The ACCC has its hands tied because there are no agreed standards, they can't do anything," Mrs Inwood said. "You can call anything free range and get away with it."
Mrs Inwood has called on all Australian governments to urgently develop a nationwide, legally binding definition of free-range eggs, including how they should be produced.
Any new laws should require that laying hens be allowed out of sheds at first light, have adequate space for foraging and that all hens should be reared as free rangers from hatchlings.
"Over half the free-range eggs are falsely labelled because they're not coming from genuine free-range farms," Mrs Inwood said. "The public is paying big bikkies for these things, so we need to get genuine free-range eggs."
And this is following the recent news that really, free range eggs are no different to caged egg production in quality. Did they actually test free range eggs?
I cannot note any differences, except the outlandish high prices for free range eggs.
So should we be throwing mud at China?
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
It is a gargantuan report, and is best digested in small bites.......a bit like a termite munching through wood! There is a significant chapter now on agriculture, and the report does join agriculture and forestry together as land users with potential for doing good, carbon wise.
Much will be made of the view espoused in the report that we need to reduce cattle and sheep and farm kangaroos, principally to reduce methane emissions. Maybe modification of the gut bacteria using modified bacteria is feasible as recently suggested at a conference I was at which looked at carbon issues in agriculture. A "big science" approach might be needed to achieve an outcome, but the payoff would be huge...and exportable. However, in the report, a 5-6% increase in costs at retail level for beef would occur at a carbon price around $20 per tonne. So that is modest, although cattle producers would have to purchase permits.
However, the potential for soil carbon sequestration is recognised......and about time, even in tropical savannah woodland, as the photo.
Savannah burning contributions to the carbon emissions, including the West Arnhem Savannah Burning Project gets a mention, but for Australia, the carbon contributed by this source is very small, even if large for northern Australia. In this project fire reduction by wet season buring at low intensity, funded by a large emitter, offsets their emissions from another source.
Carbon sequestration in soils has enormous potential for Australia, and the report does make some serious comment on that issue, with some detailed references on soil carbon management by Dr Rattan Lal among the citations. It is not just carbon sequestration........it is as much about higher soil productivity in Australia.
The chapter on agriculture and land use can be accessed at:
It is too detailed a topic to easily cover here and should be required reading by those in Australian agriculture.
More detail and individual chapters are available at www.garnautreport.org.au .
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Consumers are paying up to $9.50 a dozen for free-range eggs — about $6 more than the retail price of a dozen cage eggs, according to the Australian Egg Corporation. Despite the cost, consumption has steadily risen over the past decade and now 22pc — or nearly 45 million dozen — of all egg sales are free range. The corporation — which represents all egg producers — said some people opted for free-range eggs because of animal welfare concerns, but customer feedback showed most were prepared to pay extra for the eggs because they believed they were more nutritious, better for health and better tasting.
However, corporation spokeswoman Jacqueline Baptista said research had shown free-range eggs were no different from those laid by caged hens. "Our extensive research has shown there is no significant difference in nutrition or taste between both types of eggs," she said. "Consumer feedback is that some people buy them for the welfare aspect of hens but we believe that it is animal husbandry practice that determines welfare, rather than the actual production methods farmers use for their eggs."
Ms Baptista said caged hens often had better disease controls and protection from predators.
But the RSPCA argues that battery hens suffer from confinement in cages which do not allow them space to exercise or to carry out behaviours such as wing flapping, dust bathing and foraging.
Free-range farmers say consumers believe it is worth paying more to know the eggs have come from "contented hens that range freely during daylight hours over natural sunny pastures" and return to sheds at night for roosting and laying.
But the research is now in.......there is no difference in quality. Why pay more, especially when the middle man or retailer is really the one that profits, not the farmers.
[partially sourced from Australian Egg Corporation media release]
Friday, September 26, 2008
It's all part of this week's 2008 UAV Challenge – Outback Rescue, which CSIRO's experts in autonomous robots are helping judge.
Going beyond remote control, UAV’s rely on computers, sensors and the global positioning system (GPS) to figure out how to perform tasks given to them by a human operator.
One of the richest UAV competitions in the world, the UAV Challenge is an initiative of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA, a partnership between CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology), the Queensland Government and Boeing Australia Limited.
Participants in the open competition have an hour to fly up to five nautical miles (approximately nine kilometres), search four square nautical miles (over ten square kilometres) for ‘Outback Joe’, drop a 500 millilitre bottle of 'life saving' water close by him then return to the airport.
"The UAV Challenge helps promote the significance of UAV’s to Australia," said CSIRO's Dr Michael Bruenig, Deputy CEO of ARCAA. "Here we're showing how UAVs could save lives by quickly and cost effectively delivering medical supplies to critically ill patients in remote areas, but UAV's could also inspect powerlines and other infrastructure, monitor stock, keep an eye on water use or traffic flow and then there are defence applications in border security and surveillance."
CSIRO's research focuses on the civilian applications for autonomous vehicles such as our submarine, helicopter, ground vehicles and robots for mining. "Since last year's competition, we’ve already seen increased participation of regional Australia in high-tech industry," Dr Bruenig said. "We particularly value having a category for high school students because it exposes them to potential career opportunities in this area in Australia."
Real opportunities are already being considered in the large scale pastoral industry in northern Australia, including monitoring of bores, erosion, pastures, cattle herds, fences and gates. Opportunities also exist for road and pastoral condition monitoring. Some of these last areas are already satellite checked, but using unmanned aircraft provides real time opportunities to check, rather than the delayed evidence available from satellites. With light aricraft and even ultralights used already, this is a modest step forward, but with very real benefits. Biosecurity border survelliance already has moved to investigate use of these aircraft across northern Australia.
Yes.....there are opportunities for news making with saving lost people, but the real ongoing benefits will be to industry.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Business dealings with the Chinse always tend to have overtones of someone on the make. The old “whats in it for me” concept. Or often, how can I make something out of the transaction....even a bit more than the normal. The usual middle man syndrome.
This week the news all over Asia is the story of contaminated Chinese milk products. Not just a bit contaminated with a few E.coli or as sometimes happens, a small piece of glass or metal that came off equipment. No, this time it is a full blown deliberate addition of nothing less than the toxic chemical, melamine.
And the reason? A deliberate attempt it seems to obfuscate the system by boosting milk protein levels with the addition of the melamine. Just to make a lot more money, as milk is sold on protein content.
After all, even China bans melamine in food products, including milk. Companies it seems may not have been testing for the melamine.........but then, did they really expect the middlemen, those who consolidate milk supply from small producers and deliver to the milk processors, would be ADDING a toxic product to help boost protein levels and hence their profits?
This seems to be the story. No doubt there is more to emerge over the next few days and weeks.
Sure, the factories have been caught out big time. And senior people appear to have been suspended or resigned from the factories already.
Consumers are being screwed again over poor products. This time they are killing children, or making them very unwell. Emotive material and there are widely shown images on Asian TV channels.
Westerners might be crowing a little with the range of regulatory checks and balances, and may seem to show the western style checking schemes of both self regulation and an overarching regulatory system of the government in a good light.
There are already some trends towards increased regulation of previously self regulated areas in western societies. Will this trend accelerate?
Experiences in China reinforce a view that while laws may exist, the regulatory framework and an attitude in business / society seem to thumb their noses at their existence, or use corrupt practices to circumvent them. Has this been the case here?
There is a lot at stake...........including the credibility of much of food production and regulation in China. And do not forget, a lot of fresh Chinese products are exported......quite a few shipments get refused entry to countries over food safety already, without much publicity, eg toxic residues in food, high residual agrochemicals. Not to mention the past problems with lead paint on children's toys.
The stakes are high. Not to mention Chinese government credibility. Will the Australian government impose generally tighter regulations for Chinese food imports to Australia for example?
Friday, August 29, 2008
Increasing plant-available water capacity, maintaining better soil structure and improving yields were important benefits from building soil organic matter according to a key speaker at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Update at Manangatang on August 19.
Dr Peter Fisher of the Victorian Department of Primary Industries told more than 100 growers attending that while soil organic carbon levels could be boosted by increasing soil organic matter, the benefits went beyond measures to reduce climate impacts. Dr Fisher said trials at irrigated sites in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales found that increasing soil organic matter throughput – the rate at which it is added to the soil to be broken down and recycled – over several years would boost soil carbon levels. “At the paired sites studied, every tonne per hectare per year of extra above- and below-ground organic matter – maintained for 10 years – resulted in approximately 0.2 per cent higher soil carbon,” he said. “This increase is greater than most carbon modelling suggests.” Dr Fisher said the experiment had demonstrated a clear relationship between higher levels of organic soil matter and higher yields.
“Yield benefits from higher soil carbon values are very hard to measure and there is little reported data,” he said. “This is because soil carbon changes occur slowly, and thus the impacts are difficult to separate from other factors. “These trials compared long-term yields from paired paddocks with low and high soil organic matter levels.
At sites where wheat and canola have been grown for the past 10 years, the average yields for each paddock with high organic matter levels were equal to or higher than yields from paddocks with low organic matter. “The results are quite startling, and although it’s not scientific proof, the data does constitute convincing evidence for growers.”
While this data covers only the typical temperate grain farming areas, it is indicative of the facts.......improving the soil carbon can lead to higher yields. Other work also investigated issues surrounding fertiliser usage, availability and soil retention of nutrients. More benefits.
Can you afford NOT to consider using management practices that build soil carbon?
[partially sourced from GRDC media reports]
Friday, August 22, 2008
Glomalin is a sticky substance secreted by threadlike fungal structures called hyphae that funnel nutrients and water to plant roots. Glomalin acts like little globs of chewing gum on strings or strands of plant roots and the fungal hyphae. Into this sticky “string bag” fall the sand, silt and clay particles that make up soil, along with plant debris and other carbon-containing organic matter. The sand, silt and clay stick to the glomalin, starting aggregate formation, a major step in soil creation.
On the surface of soil aggregates, glomalin forms a lattice-like waxy coating to keep water from flowing rapidly into the aggregate and washing away everything, including the carbon. As the builder of the formation “bag” for soil, glomalin is vital globally to soil building, productivity and sustainability, as well as to carbon storage.
Nichols uses glomalin measurements to gauge which farming or rangeland practices work best for storing carbon. Since glomalin levels can reflect how much carbon each practice is storing, they could be used in conjunction with carbon credit trading programs.
In studies on cropland, Nichols has found that both tilling and leaving land idle--as is common in arid regions--lower glomalin levels by destroying living hyphal fungal networks. The networks need live roots and do better in undisturbed soil.
When glomalin binds with iron or other heavy metals, it can keep carbon from decomposing for up to 100 years.
Even without heavy metals, glomalin stores carbon in the inner recesses of soil particles where only slow-acting microbes live.
This carbon in organic matter is also saved, like a slow-release fertilizer, for later use by plants and hyphae.
Glomalin is one of the factors that help build soil carbon stores. Othes include biochar or agrichar, another form of macro carbon materials, said to be the underlying factor aiding high productivity of terra preta soils in Brazil.