Friday, June 27, 2008

Weed Management the BIG Cost to Farmers in Australia

The management of weeds was the major natural resource management activity for Australian farmers, according to figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

During the 2006-07 financial year, farmers spent $1.57 billion controlling weeds, which is more than pests ($768 million) and land and soil problems ($649 million) combined, with the total cost of managing these problems $2.99B , or an average of $21,094 per business, ABS reports.

Nationally, nearly two-thirds of farmers reported that they had improved their natural resource management practices. Of these, 89pc reported doing so to increase productivity, 88pc for farm sustainability, and 75pc to improve environmental protection.

Other findings from the ABS include:
* farmers in Australia managed 425 million hectares of land, or just over half (55pc) of Australia's land mass;
* of all expenditure on weed management, nearly two-thirds ($982m) was spent on herbicides;
* of all expenditure on pest management, over half ($430m) was spent on pesticides; and
* erosion was the most common land and soil problem, reported by 48pc of the farmers, followed by soil compaction (43pc) and soil acidity (42pc).

The findings are based on the second Natural Resource Management survey conducted by the ABS.

These findings are an important snapshot of resource management issues in a practical sense. What is not indicated is why the weeds had so much expenditure and does not separate weed control for directly improving production of the land, eg weed control in crops, or is it expenditure on environmental weed control. It does reinforce however, the critical issue of weeds in Australian land management. This is a very significant change in comparison to the older view that insects were the big issue in "land management", including agriculture and natural resource management. It also reinforces the dominant role of herbicides.......but they can also be part of any integrated management system too.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Compadre Zoysia Chosen as Grass for Iconic Darwin Project

Compadre zoysia has been selected as the grass of choice for the prestigious Darwin Waterfront Project. This is an iconic project which incorporates a new Convention Centre, along with hotels, apartment blocks, a wave pool and safe swimming beach along with extensive parklands. See the following for more details -

We have worked closely with the landscape architects to research and compare a range of options that meet criteria of aesthetic appeal, reduced maintenance, an ability to tolerate significant shade [especially over time as the landscape matures], hard wearing / resilient and capable of achieving good growth in a near marine environment with considerable salt exposure. While Compadre is slower to establish, that translates into less mowing over time, so the long term view is that this will be effective as a turf cover.

The first areas will be hydroseeded in the next week or two, and there are more modest sized areas to be developed progressively over the next few months. Major open space areas are not expected to be planted however for several months more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Restoring Mined Land

Vermont visionary wins first Fuller Award with green plan for Appalachia.

In the quest for coal, over a million and a half acres of Appalachia have been strip-mined, whole mountains removed, trillions of gallons of toxic slurry left behind, and communities devastated.

Not exactly a promising place for a new green economy to arise.

Or maybe it is.

For his startling and bold proposal to clean-up this disaster, Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia, John Todd, a research professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, won the first annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

The $100,000 prize from the Buckminster Fuller Institute was awarded in a ceremony in New York City on June 23, 2008 at the Center for Architecture.

"Dr. Todd's proposal sets forth a profound vision to heal the environmental and economic scars of the Appalachian region and a detailed strategy to build a dynamic sustainable economic basis for lasting renewal," wrote the award jury in picking his submission out of entries from around the world.

The jurors, including Vandana Shiva and William McDonough, were impressed with how Todd proposed to "use biological processes to restore degraded coal lands in Appalachia, and use the process to return atmospheric carbon to the soil," they wrote. To develop his proposal, Todd—who was named a "Hero of the Earth," by Time Magazine in 1999—drew on the concept of ecological succession. Over time, damaged land can rebuild soils, support pioneer plants and grasses, then shrubs, fast-growing trees, and finally, a mature forest. Todd has taken this classic idea of ecology and applied to the human economy.

"Deep in Nature's operating instructions is a model of future economic development," he said, "and these instructions can guide us as we seek new ways of living," in the mountainous coal-laced region that extends from Pennsylvania to Alabama.

Todd's proposal outlines four stages of recovery and development. In the first, healing is the primary focus. Drawing on his extensive experience with "living machines"—biological technologies that echo natural systems to produce clean water and environmental clean-up—Todd foresees plant-based systems that will detoxify the vast lagoons of coal slurry in the region, build new healthy soils, and yield raw products for economic purposes. "Coal miners and some of their machinery could be employed in the process," he notes.

In the second stage, reforestation begins. Some reclaimed land will be dedicated to short-rotation fast-growing woody crops to be harvested for biomass. Other long-standing forests will capture carbon from the atmosphere, slowing global warming.

In the third stage, the economic benefits of the biomass emerge. "Already suitable Appalachian wind sites have been discovered that can provide competitive sources of energy," Todd writes, "paired with another renewable energy source like woody biomass from willows and poplars, a viable energy system can be developed."

And this biomass can be used not just for electricity but for "refining fuels, and manufacturing a wide range of products ranging from plastics to polymers and adhesives," he says.

In the fourth stage, succession is at work not just in the land but in human communities and management of the land. Initially, philanthropic organizations would purchase damaged sites and shepherd their recovery. These restored lands would be passed along to new capitalized corporations that would develop forestry and other businesses there.

Then, following their mandates, these companies would divest the land to employees and qualified land stewards, restoring an ownership culture to impoverished communities. Finally, the process would begin again on other newly acquired lands.

And this replication process could extend far beyond Appalachia, presenting a method for increasing carbon storage in soils around the world and a model for reclaiming "coal-fields from Afghanistan to areas of Poland and Eastern Europe where coal has been extracted in devastating ways," the jury wrote. Because of its sweeping scope, the jury felt that Todd's proposal embodied the vision of social transformation sought by Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), an architect, author and futurist best known for designing the geodesic dome.

"My father identified himself as a Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Scientist," said Allegra Fuller Snyder, Fuller's daughter, in a release. "My father, who knew, and admired, Dr. Todd's work in the 1970s, would certainly agree" that Todd too embodied this broad label. "Nature has had 3 billion years to experiment," Todd said. "So why shouldn't we learn from that about how to go about our business now?" "This is a struggle of mythic proportions. Big Coal is very powerful, but what will eventually stop them is a carbon tax on producers," he said.

Then, he believes, begins a carbon-neutral post-coal future for Appalachia that could have a working economy with a decade. As this struggle proceeds, John Todd believes that his proposal can "inject into the process a sense of alternative hope," he said.

This article appeared in ENN News on 24 June 2008. However, the concept regarding the early regenerative processes is similar to the soil rebuilding processes in desert soils and subsequently has been researched by the CRC for Mine Reclamation in WA, Australia in relation to mines in the low rainfall regions of Western Australia......currently the worlds quarry for iron ore!

It is the classic sequence of using organic matter - potentially coming form organic waste - to rebuild the biology of soils. Along the path, soil physical conditions are also rebuild, often due to biological activity of larger creatures such as insects, worms and similar organisms.

In tropical regions this process is relatively quick........with warmth and rainfall aiding the processes. Even gardeners commencing with a bare, soil damaged house block can see these processes transform their land in a few short years.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tender steak - EVERY time

A US university says it is close to commercialising technology to predict meat tenderness, potentially bridging the gap on one of the Australian beef industry's big marketing advantages in the form of Meat Standards Australia (MSA). Yes.....Australia does have meat standards although consumers might not realise it, something not operating in the US.

There has been a lot of research on animal management and handling which does show very positive effects on carcase and meat performance after slaughter, if animals are handled and managed properly in the period before and after slaughter. Most producers are aware of this need to manage the animals properly. This approach is critical in subsequent meat performance. The approach in the US tries to actually measure outcomes of the whole process, by directly checking the carcase /meat.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) scientists have developed a way to predict steak tenderness, saying the technology could be a boon to the beef industry as it would allow retailers to charge a premium for a "guaranteed tender" label. "Beef tenderness is a primary factor in consumer satisfaction," said Jeyamkondan Subbiah, the UNL food engineer who heads the research. "However, a sufficiently accurate, non-destructive method of on-line evaluation of tenderness continues to elude the beef industry."

Current US Department of Agriculture grading standards classify beef carcasses into quality and yield grades but do not assess tenderness. As carcasses are not priced on the basis of tenderness, producers do not have a financial incentive to supply a tender product. Consumers think they should!

The beef industry has long sought technology that could scan fresh meat at two to three days post mortem and predict its tenderness when the consumer cooks it about two weeks later.

"There is a growing recognition that beef tenderness must be incorporated into the USDA quality grading process if true, value-based marketing is to be developed," Subbiah and other authors wrote for a recent presentation on the issue.

UNL is developing that technology. Its approach uses hyperspectral imaging, a novel technology that combines video image analysis and spectroscopy. The system consists of a digital video camera and spectrograph to capture the two key qualities that affect beef tenderness: muscle structure and biochemical properties. In the research, two-day aged, 1 in. thick rib-eyes were placed on a plate and scanned by the system, which captures multiple images at hundreds of wavelengths with regular intervals.

The combination of the video images and spectroscopy is key, Subbiah said.

The video technology captures the muscle profile. Tender beef has fine muscle fibers, while tough beef has visibly coarser muscle fibers. The spectroscopy measures biochemical properties that indicate how much the steak will become tender during aging.

After scanning, the steaks were cooked and tested.

Results so far are promising. The system predicted three tenderness categories - tender, intermediate and tough -- with about 77pc accuracy and two tenderness categories - acceptable and tough - with 93.7pc accuracy.

"Beef is expensive. Consumers expect it to be tender. One bad experience can make them not buy beef for awhile," Subbiah said. "We think consumers are willing to pay a premium for a guaranteed-tender product."

Subbiah said that premium could be $1-2/lb.

Hyperspectral imaging is not new. Previously, it has been used to determine nutrient deficiency in plants, fecal contamination in chicken and fungal/bacterial contamination in fruit.

Researchers will continue to hone this process.

Meanwhile, UNL is patenting the technology and hopes to identify a business interested in partnering on commercialization. Critical to commercializing the technology will be finding a way "to take it from the lab to the plant," Subbiah said.

The industry must be able to use it to evaluate a carcass, not individual steaks, and do it in about 10 seconds per carcass. "It has to be done in the current mode of operation," without any additional time-consuming steps, Subbiah added. Such commercialisation is likely two to three years away, he added.

* A related video of the imaging process is available at

partially sourced from Feedstuffs, USA

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Microbes Can Rapidly Degrade Plastic

An ordinary Canadian school boy has managed to identify a microbial population that others have not been able to do.........microbes that rapidly degrade plastic bags.

Getting ordinary plastic bags to rot away like banana peels would be an environmental dream come true. After all, we produce 500 billion a year worldwide and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the oceans and kill the animals that eat them.ow a Waterloo Canada teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster -- in three months, he figures.

Daniel Burd's project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment. Daniel, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, got the idea for his project from everyday life.

"Almost every week I have to do chores and when I open the closet door, I have this avalanche of plastic bags falling on top of me," he said. "One day, I got tired of it and I wanted to know what other people are doing with these plastic bags." The answer: not much. So he decided to do something himself. He knew plastic does eventually degrade, and figured microorganisms must be behind it. His goal was to isolate the microorganisms that can break down plastic -- not an easy task because they don't exist in high numbers in nature.

First, he ground plastic bags into a powder. Next, he used ordinary household chemicals, yeast and tap water to create a solution that would encourage microbe growth. To that, he added the plastic powder and dirt. Then the solution sat in a shaker at 30 degrees.

After three months of upping the concentration of plastic-eating microbes, Burd filtered out the remaining plastic powder and put his bacterial culture into three flasks with strips of plastic cut from grocery bags. As a control, he also added plastic to flasks containing boiled and therefore dead bacterial culture. Six weeks later, he weighed the strips of plastic. The control strips were the same. But the ones that had been in the live bacterial culture weighed an average of 17 per cent less.

That wasn't good enough for Burd. To identify the bacteria in his culture, he let them grow on agar plates and found he had four types of microbes. He tested those on more plastic strips and found only the second was capable of significant plastic degradation. Next, Burd tried mixing his most effective strain with the others. He found strains one and two together produced a 32 per cent weight loss in his plastic strips. His theory is strain one helps strain two reproduce.

Tests to identify the strains found strain two was Sphingomonas bacteria and the helper was Pseudomonas. A researcher in Ireland has found Pseudomonas is capable of degrading polystyrene, but as far as Burd and his teacher Mark Menhennet know -- and they've looked -- Burd's research on polyethelene plastic bags is a first.

Next, Burd tested his strains' effectiveness at different temperatures, concentrations and with the addition of sodium acetate as a ready source of carbon to help bacteria grow. At 37 degrees and optimal bacterial concentration, with a bit of sodium acetate thrown in, Burd achieved 43 per cent degradation within six weeks. The plastic he fished out then was visibly clearer and more brittle, and Burd guesses after six more weeks, it would be gone. He hasn't tried that yet.

To see if his process would work on a larger scale, he tried it with five or six whole bags in a bucket with the bacterial culture. That worked too. Industrial application should be easy, said Burd. "All you need is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags."

The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide -- each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide, said Burd. "This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We're using nature to solve a man-made problem."

[partially sourced from "The Record", Waterloo, Canada]