Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Renewable Energy Can Meet Our Energy Needs

There is an article in the current month [ November 2009] Scientific American magazine that explores the costs and opportunities for combining various renewable energy sources to supply community energy needs.

It is worth reading........as the exercise indicates that fossil fuel power will be more expensive than renewables by 2020. That is 10 years away...........10 years only.

By combining various renewable energy sources and using geothermal and hydro for baseload power, plus optimal use of wind and solar at various periods during the 24 hour cycle, renewables win on both cost and carbon emissions. Geothermal in Australia has been the "ugly sister" so far.........and problems with the Geodynamics wells have not helped, although they are probably getting on top of that by now. But geothermal in Australia does have enormous potential.

That renewables can meet demand is stunning, and tends to cast serious doubts on the naysayers who have doubted the efficacy of renewables.

The serious questions are more now about public policy, investment and convincing governments to actually change the way they do business in the electrical energy systems. Oh, and not to listen to the fossil fuel lobby [mainly coal for electricity production, not steel]

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rotten Falling Palms

Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene - but only after palms die. If you have unexplained falling, rotting palms, then one of these two diseases may be involved.

They occur in the NT, as well as many tropical regions around the world.

Ganoderma Butt Rot of Palms
· Ganoderma butt rot is caused by the fungus Ganoderma zonatum. This fungus degrades or rots the lower 1-1.5m of the trunk.
· All palms are considered hosts of this fungus. This fungus is not a primary pathogen of any other plant species.
· Symptoms may include wilting (mild to severe) or a general decline.

The disease is confirmed by observing the basidiocarp (conk) on the trunk. This is a hard, shelf-like structure that will be attached to the lower 1 - 1.5m of the palm trunk. However, not all diseased palms produce conks prior to death.
· A palm cannot be diagnosed with Ganoderma butt rot until the basidiocarp (conk) forms on the trunk, or the internal rotting of the trunk is observed after the palm is cut down.
· The fungus is spread by spores, which are produced and released from the basidiocarp (conk) [seen upside down in the left photo].
· Conditions that are conducive for disease development are unknown.
· There are currently no cultural or chemical controls for preventing the disease or for curing the disease once the palm is infected.
· A palm should be removed as soon as possible after the conks appear on the trunk. Remove as much of the stump and root system as possible when the palm is removed.
· Because the fungus survives in the soil, do not plant another palm back in that same location.

Thielaviopsis Trunk Rot of Palm
· Thielaviopsis trunk rot is caused by the fungus Thielaviopsis paradoxa.
· Due to this disease, the palm trunk either collapses on itself or the canopy suddenly falls off the trunk, both without warning. The palm canopy often appears healthy prior to collapse.
· Except for “stem bleeding,” which is common in coconut and some single stem palms, there may be no symptoms prior to collapse of the palm.
· Only fresh trunk wounds will become infected by the fungus, so disease management includes limiting man-made wounds to the palm trunk, especially the upper third of the trunk.
· If the disease is detected early, cutting out the rotted, infested wood followed by spraying the wound site with a fungicide may be useful.
· There are no other methods to prevent or cure this disease. The palm should be removed immediately, and the diseased trunk portion destroyed but not recycled.

Thielaviopsis paradoxa is a fungus that can infect any part of a palm, and so can cause numerous diseases. In Florida, the two most frequent (and usually lethal) Thielaviopsis diseases observed in the landscape and field nursery are a bud (heart) rot and trunk rot.

Unfortunately, there often are no visible indications that a palm has Thielaviopsis trunk rot until either the trunk collapses on itself or the canopy suddenly falls off the trunk. The canopy often appears normal and healthy.

Thus, there are no symptoms that can be used to predict which palms are infected and which ones are not. In most cases, the trunk rot is occurring in the upper half of the trunk. This may occur because the number of lignified fibers are greatest in the lower trunk and least in the upper trunk. As indicated previously, this fungus prefers to rot non-lignified or lightly lignified plant tissue. “Stem bleeding” is a common symptom of Thielaviopsis trunk rot observed on single stem palms eg coconut, royal palms. This stem bleeding is a reddish-brown stain that runs down the trunk from the point of infection.

Thielaviopsis trunk rot usually occurs quite randomly, with only a few palms in the landscape being affected. However, there are situations where high numbers of palms in a single landscape can become diseased, for reasons that are not always clear. In all situations, there has to be a fresh wound to the palm. Wounds can occur naturally, such as trunk cracks due to excess water uptake. Insects (such as beetles), birds (sapsuckers pounding on the trunk), rats, and other mammals can cause wounds. Blowing objects during a wind storm can strike a trunk and cause a fresh wound.

Humans cause wounds with nails and climbing spikes, or during the digging and transplanting process.

Humans also create wounds when trimming leaves that are not yet dead. Leaf petioles are cut as close as possible to the trunk. If a leaf petiole has any green color associated with it, the leaf is still living. When that still living petiole is cut, a fresh wound is created that may be infected by the fungus. Trunks can be easily wounded during the trimming process with the careless use of the pruning tool. Pulling a leaf off the trunk, when the leaf petiole still has green tissue, can create a fresh wound.

The fungal pathogen can spread from palm to palm as follows. First, if spores are produced on diseased palm tissue, these spores can be moved by wind and water to fresh wounds. The spores may also be moved about by insects or rodents. Second, the spores that can survive in the environment, especially soil, for long periods. Fresh wounds could become infected via contaminated soil.

Except for the stem bleeding, there are often no outwardly visible symptoms that indicate which palm in the landscape or field nursery has Thielaviopsis trunk rot. Thus, there are no proven strategies for preventing this disease. Once the palm has collapsed, remove it immediately as it is a source of fungal spores.

If one does observe the initial stages of the trunk rot, such as the stem bleeding, it would be useful to cut out the area of rotted wood (if it is not too large a trunk area) and spray the wound thoroughly with a fungicide labeled for Thielaviopsis diseases. Examples include, but are not limited to, products with the active ingredients thiophanate methyl or fludioxonil. The goal is to prevent the fungus from infecting the fresh wound made when you cut out the infested, rotted wood. All tools used to remove the rotted wood must be cleaned with a disinfectant. [Banrot is a possible trade name]

Examples of disinfectants include: 1) 25% chlorine bleach (3 parts water and 1 part bleach); 2) 25% pine oil cleaner (3 parts water and 1 part pine oil cleaner); 3) 50% rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl; equal parts alcohol and water); 4) 50% denatured ethanol (95%; equal parts alcohol and water); 5) 5% quatenary ammonium salts. Soak tools for 10 minutes and rinse in clean water. For chain saws, soak chain and bar separately.

Diseased trunk material should be destroyed and should not be recycled in the landscape. Chipping and then spreading the infested material in the landscape could spread the fungus to healthy palms. If the trunk is chipped, it should be placed in a properly constructed and monitored compost heap, or taken to a landfill or incinerator.

[partially sourced from extension articles - Monica Elliott et al, Uni of Florida; all photos from Darwin]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Compadre Zoysia at the Darwin Waterfront Precinct - Brilliant!!

Darwin Waterfront Precinct

Major projects are inevitably fraught with complexities, time delays and both minor and major problems. Where these involve landscaping, tempers usually get very short………..as almost always, with the landscaping being among the last major activities, it gets time challenged, cost challenged and yet……….it has to be ready on time, and look fantastic.

Compadre zoysia was chosen as the grass of choice for the Waterfront project and because it was to be sown by seed, that challenge was even more complicated, as around 12 – 20 weeks were needed after sowing, to have it visitor ready at the opening. Many smaller areas were able to be sown much earlier, and have been grown relatively easily, but much of the main area in front of the hotels was always going to be near the very end, and initially suffered because of that delay that then ran into the weather problems.

There most certainly have been a few challenges along the way, and although we had factored into the scenario a local supply of some Compadre zoysia turf to meet those final last minute problems, the seed sowing also had a few of its own problems, caused by late sowing and very heavy monsoon rain soon after sowing. Weeds were an issue, with the area here, initally weedy with sedges, being managed, and converted into the area in the first photo below.

However, this and other issues were successfully managed, and fixed and the Compadre has thrived on the whole area.

The photos below were taken late October 2009, about 9 months after sowing. It looks fabulous……….soft to walk on, non itchy, reduced mowing frequency ………all it was chosen for initially.

Lush grass......

Great vista across the Compadre turf

Compadre zoysia is tolerant of wear around seats and high activity areas

It really offers a smart, water efficient, low maintenance, wear tolerant, low fertiliser requirement and atractive turf for domestic and commercial areas, including parks and ovals in the north of Australia.........and can be established at low cost.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Emissions Trading 101 - Cap and Trade

The whole issue of an ETS seems to be inherently complex.

Recently I was able to access the article by Joel Kurtzman of the Milken Institute in the USA, which was subsequently published in Foreign Affairs in September 2009. It is available on the Institute web site and was also published in the Review section of the Australian Financial Review on Friday 16 October 2009.

He discusses the free market aspects of the Emissions Trading Scheme [ ETS] in a rational, coherent and clear manner. It is worth reading for the clarity.

A really good explanation of the broad scheme. While many will disagree with some issues, it clearly explains the principles and operations of the managed markets.

It might just work!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ireland To Be GM Free

As part of a politically expedient deal, the Irish Parliamentary political parties have agreed on a deal that will make Ireland free of GM crops, and presumably food from those crops, through a voluntary label scheme. It is planned to have this extend to the whole of the island of Ireland ie Northern Ireland as well, if a deal can be done. It is presumed this will also extend to animal and animal products.

The organic consumers have a long media release available which does provide a lot of detail on the process and the deal itself.

Read about it here:


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The REAL GM Food Scandal

For a salutary examination of the issues around GM food have a look at the following:


This appeared in Prospect Magazine in November 2007.

The noises have increased but really.............lets get back to basics! If agriculture is to feed the world between now and 2050, we need to invest in technology, develop a whole lot of smarts about land management and crop production and produce food. While there will be changes in how and where food wil be produced and the logistics of moving food to where required, but food will definitely be needed.

Western Europe is dominated politically by left leaning greenies, hence the anti GM stance. But recent figures quoted in Scientific American November 2009 show the big use of GM crops are in the US, Argentina, Brazil, India and often by smaller scale farmers.

They are not always chosen because the multinationals dominate the seed industry.......rather they are chosen because they perform, make money for the growers and save labour and costs.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Soil Carbon May Come from the Tractor Exhaust

A Canadian inventor may have found a very useful tool that can inject tractor exhaust gases into the soil and help build soil carbon and stimulate soil microbes.

Yes.......there are many snake oil salesmen around, but this does sound possible. It fits well with some recent agronomic evidence that if small doses of nitrogen are applied to agronomic systems they may act first on microbial populations that are able to then grow and act on soil minerals and organic systems that have stored nutrients, to help release N and P in the soil in a form that can be taken up by plants, rather than directly on the plants themsleves.

Yes.......it is still relatively early days, but there are some serious scientists giving it a tick already.

Read about it yourself............and think.
When the smoke from a tractor exhaust goes up, that’s pollution. But get those emissions down into the soil and they become fertiliser, as Canadian farmer, Gary Lewis, is demonstrating.

Mr Lewis has spent the best part of a decade developing and refining a system that pipes tractor exhaust emissions through a condenser and into the pneumatic system of air seeders, which then injects the carbon and nitrogen-rich emissions into the ground with the seed.

What is generally considered as pollution is in fact prime soil food, Mr Lewis said, and tractor exhaust has allowed him and other farmers working with his technology to grow excellent crops without using conventional fertilisers. The exhaust gases are believed to stimulate microbial activity and root growth, allowing the plants to more efficiently extract nutrient and moisture from the soil.

The United Nations has shown an interest in the system, which might not only reduce fertiliser dependency but cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Lewis, an Alberta rancher and former auto mechanic who specialises in growing timothy hay for export, claims not to have used fertiliser on his 250-hectare irrigation farm for at least six years, instead fertilising it with his “BioAgtive” technology. Mr Lewis said he had seen no loss of production, his soils had moved from pH 8.0 (the same as the irrigation water) to a pH of about 7.0, and soil organic matter levels were now at about 10 per cent.

In testimonials quoted on the BioAgtive website, former Agriculture Canada scientists turned consultants, Dr Jill Clapperton and Dr Loraine Bailey, agree that something positive is happening in BioAgtive treated soils. “The obvious conclusion is that the exhaust had a positive effect on crop growth, yield and quality, and may have positively enhanced soil nutrients and nutrient chemistry,” Dr Bailey writes.

Meanwhile, Dr Clapperton is working on a scientific paper outlining how the technology works.

Understanding why BioAgtive is not just “blowing smoke”, as Mr Lewis feels many scientists think he’s doing, requires a different perspective on exhaust emissions.

Surprisingly, a breakdown of the content of diesel exhaust looks like a partial Christmas shopping list for plants. A Volkswagen analysis of light-duty diesel engine exhaust published in a World Health Organisation-sponsored report gave an analysis by weight of 75 per cent nitrogen, 15pc oxygen, seven per cent carbon dioxide and 2.6pc water vapour. Several other substances existed in quantities of less than 0.1pc.

Mr Lewis calculates a zero-till rig will put 1100 kilograms of air through the tractor engine to work a hectare.

Dr Bailey writes that the exhaust treatment “resulted in significant release of soil N and/or stimulated the crops to take up soil N”. She said there were also small increases in the uptake of phosphorus, potassium and sulphur and slight shifts in the amount of some micro-nutrients taken up by the crops.
If it proves viable, BioAgtive will also be a tool for farmers wanting to reduce their profile under emissions trading.

The system relies on attraction between negatively-charged ions in the gases and the soil’s positively charged alkaline component to hold the gases in the soil, as well as sealing it in.

Some Canadian farmers are now growing their own biofuel crops using BioAgtive technology, Mr Lewis said About 150 farmers around the world, including in Australia and recently China, had bought into the concept.

While the system doesn’t come cheap, at about $C40,000, Mr Lewis points to what he says is the potential to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in fertiliser in a year.

Gary Lewis is booked to talk at the Carbon Farming Conference and Expo at Orange, later this year on November 4-5.

[ partially sourced Qld Country Life]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wind Could Power Much of China

With Hu JinTao making assertions this week that China is serious about reducing its carbon emmissions, and effectively saying to watch for a major announcement coming soon, there have been studies that show wind power could be a large part of that move, along with increased use of nuclear power for electricity.

During the mid to late 1990s while working in China on development projects, it was noted there was a tremendous move to develop wind power, with mostly Spanish interests very active and also working with some of the same groups we were. Some of these projects were very substantial.

But it seems that there are plenty more options to consider, with the report summary below indicating that a high proportion of energy could come from renewable sources - wind.

This report, along with recent announcements, including some from US sources, does offer a glimpse of what might be possible to reduce carbon emissions, epecially if solar power [various types] are also added to the mix. To mix a metaphor - "the population is willing but the government is weak" - in relation to carbon reductions.

Pity about Australia though..........it needs to chop off a few coal mines that are used as fuel sources for electricity generation stations, and choose something a bit less carbon intensive. Do not forget, we have a lot of coal seam gas, maybe seen as a new and upcoming option for fuel.

However, with just 1% [ approx] of carbion emissions coming from Australia, remember our role is VERY puny in the overall picture!


China's energy needs are expected to double by 2030, but a study in the journal Science says the country could produce 30% less carbon dioxide if it uses wind power to meet them.

It is estimated China will need to increase its capacity by 800 gigawatts by 2030 to meet demand – roughly double its current capacity. The study, in the journal Science, proposed a way for wind power to make up most of that increase and, if it did, said China's emissions of carbon dioxide could be 30% lower.

Using meteorological data to assess the potential for wind power in China – the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide – the researchers also say wind could theoretically supply all of the country's energy, though it only laid out the figures for meeting half its needs.

"The world is struggling with the question of how do you make the switch from carbon-rich fuels to something carbon-free," lead author Michael McElroy, a professor of environmental studies at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said. "The real question for the globe is: what alternatives does China have?"

Coal currently supplies 80% of China's electricity, and hundreds of coal-fired power plants are built every year to keep pace with demand, but Beijing is also investing heavily in renewable energy.

It plans to build seven large wind-power bases over the next decade, and already ranks fourth in the world in terms of installed capacity, at 12.2 gigawatts – about equal to the energy produced by two dozen average-sized coal-fired plants.

It trails only the US, Germany and Spain in installed capacity, but not all of those turbines are hooked up to the electricity grid. In fact, just 0.4% of China's electricity is supplied by wind – or around 3 gigawatts.

The researchers behind the Science study proposed that the country could produce 640 gigawatts from wind farms, assuming they ran at 30% average capacity – a measure of how much output can reasonably be expected from a wind turbine. Average capacity takes into account that wind is fickle, and calculates more or less how much of the time you can expect a turbine to be working at full capacity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

GM Debate Continues - STILL

While I generally support using modern plant breeding techniques to enhance most crops, across a wide spectrum of types, not everyone is for those techniques such as genetic modification - GM.

Modern techniques do have opportunities to develop very significant advances across a wide range of areas from salt tolerance and disease resistance, to herbicide resistance - the latter the one that seems to ire many people. So does the ownership of the intellectual property embedded in the plants, or for that matter in animals too.

Many just rant and rave about it. Others are more subtle, but still oppose many modern breeding concepts very trenchantly.


This link connects to a piece opposing GM technology. It is worth reading. Not only for what it says, but how. And the comments are thoughtful, a bit provocative and useful.

This debate is far from settled, and both sides can do more to inform, rather than just squeal.

Plant breeding has much to contribute to agriculture. It has in the past and will continue to do so. The debate is about how...............but is the developed world being a bit cute, when the biggest gains are likely with modern techniques on crops and plants used in developing countries?

There are not many serious debates about using insecticide treated mosquito nets for mosquito control, or ivermectin as a region wide chemical taken by the population as a measure for treating river blindness, but there are qualms about GM technology to add disease resistance into bananas [ currently stressed and poor yielding due to disease] that are a food staple in east Africa. Is that logical??

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vale - Norman Borlaug

The name might not mean much to many people, but to most agricultural scientists his name is synomous with the dramatic improvement in crop yields over the past 50 or so years...........commonly known as the Green Revolution. He received a Nobel prize in 1970.

He died after a long battle with cancer, at 95, a pretty good innings, and an active one until very recently.

The following article in New Scientist provides an excellent overview of his lifetime of work on crop genetics and related areas.

The article is headed - Norm Borlaug: the man who fed the world.
Written on 14 September 2009 by
Debora MacKenzie

As was said - They don't make 'em like Norm Borlaug anymore!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nutritional value of Organic food Claimed to Be Superior

The Biological Farmers Association of Australia has isused a press release covering a French report on the nutritional value of organic foods.

While of interest, it does not address whether the claims actually mean anything in day to day use of the organic or conventional grown products. As one wag said - who you believe, the poms or the frogs, alluding to the British report that claimed there were no differences in quality.

One thing for sure though, only the wealthy countries can really afford the prices charged for at times, inferior quality organic products. For about 90% of the world, food quantity is still the dominant issue. Singapore has had a similiar debate recently over organic food, and this in a country that imports about 95% of its food.

Research verifies nutritional value of organic foods: BFA
15/09/2009 3:35:00 PM

A NEW report by the French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA) has found that organic foods are more nutritious and contain less pesticides and nitrates, which have been linked to a range of health problems including diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Shane Heaton, nutritionist for the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA), says the research is a thorough and critical evaluation of the nutritional quality of organic food, and has found organic foods have higher levels of minerals and antioxidants as well as a raft of other benefits. “This is what an unbiased review of the available evidence reveals,” he says. “This review is contrary to another recently released review commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency and widely reported in the media as showing organic food has no significant benefits over non-organic food.” "This review does the question justice by comparing not just a handful of nutrients but also dry matter content, antioxidant content, pesticide levels, and nitrate content." "Organic wins out over ordinary food in every respect.”

In 2001, AFSSA set up an expert working group to perform an exhaustive and critical evaluation of the nutritional and sanitary quality of organic food. The AFSSA says they aimed for the highest quality scientific standards during the evaluation. The selected papers referred to well-defined and certified organic agricultural practices, had the necessary information on design and follow-up, valid measured parameters and the appropriate sampling and statistical analyses.

After more than two years of work involving about 50 experts from different fields of organic agriculture research, a final consensus report was issued in the French language in 2003. The current study published in English in the peer reviewed scientific journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development is a summary of this report and the relevant studies that have been published since 2003.

The conclusions of this study challenge the findings of the recent UK Food Standards Agency study that was widely criticised by international experts for using flawed methodology and a conclusion that contradicted its own data.

The major points of The French Agency for Food Safety study are:
1. Organic plant products contain more dry matter (more nutrient dense).
2. Organic plant products have higher levels of minerals.
3. Organic plant products contain more anti-oxidants such as phenols and salicylic acid (known to protect against cancers, heart disease and many other health problems).
4. Carbohydrate, protein and vitamin levels are insufficiently documented.
5. 94–100pc of organic foods do not contain any pesticide residues.
6. Organic vegetables contain far less nitrates, about 50pc less (high nitrate levels are linked to a range of health problems including diabetes and Alzheimer’s).
7. Organic cereals contain similar levels of mycotoxins as conventional ones..
8. Organically-bred cattle have more lean meat and more polyunsaturated fatty acids than their conventional counterparts.
9. Organic chicken fillets contain 2–3 times less fat and are significantly higher in n–3 fatty acid content (with reported anti-cancer effects and other health benefits).

Source: http://swroc.cfans.umn.edu/organic/ASD_Lairon_2009.pdf

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Varroa Mites Might Get the Flick

One of the scourges of modern apiary production in many countries has been varroa mites. While not in Australia, they are very problematical in the US.

They have been also, at least it seems, partially implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder, which has wrecked many US apiarists and the availability of bees for pollination duty in horticultural production. This has been a plus for Australia, as new queen bees have been sold to the US. CCD is a complex issue, and there have been stories published that even these overseas queens are implicated in the disorder.

But on the varroa mite front some excellent news has recently been published from the US ARS.

Their media release is below


Honey bees are now fighting back aggressively against Varroa mites, thanks to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) efforts to develop bees with a genetic trait that allows them to more easily find the mites and toss them out of the broodnest.

The parasitic Varroa mite attacks the honey bee, Apis mellifera L., by feeding on its hemolymph, which is the combination of blood and fluid inside a bee. Colonies can be weakened or killed, depending on the severity of the infestation. Most colonies eventually die from varroa infestation if left untreated.

Varroa-sensitive hygiene (VSH) is a genetic trait of the honey bee that allows it to remove mite-infested pupae from the capped brood–developing bees that are sealed inside cells of the comb with a protective layer of wax. The mites are sometimes difficult for the bees to locate, since they attack the bee brood while these developing bees are inside the capped cells.

ARS scientists at the agency’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, La., have developed honey bees with high expression of the VSH trait. Honey bees are naturally hygienic, and they often remove diseased brood from their nests. VSH is a specific form of nest cleaning focused on removing varroa-infested pupae. The VSH honey bees are quite aggressive in their pursuit of the mites. The bees gang up, chew and cut through the cap, lift out the infected brood and their mites, and discard them from the broodnest.

See this activity in the attached video link here:

This hygiene kills the frail mite offspring, which greatly reduces the lifetime reproductive output of the mother mite. The mother mite may survive the ordeal and try to reproduce in brood again, only to undergo similar treatment by the bees.

To test the varroa resistance of VSH bees, the Baton Rouge team conducted field trials using 40 colonies with varying levels of VSH. Mite population growth was significantly lower in VSH and hybrid colonies than in bee colonies without VSH. Hybrid colonies had half the VSH genes normally found in pure VSH bees, but they still retained significant varroa resistance. Simpler ways for bee breeders to measure VSH behavior in colonies were also developed in this study.

This research was published in the Journal of Apicultural Research and Bee World.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief intramural scientific research agency.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hot News - Is Chilli the Cure for Poor Lifestyle Eating?

So hot chilli is now good for you. Many in the tropics would agree, and there is nothing like a great Indian, Malay, Indonesian or Sichuan Chinese meal well laced with chilli, and other spices.

Chilli could one day replace aspirin for the prevention and treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to some University of Tasmania scientists who are looking at the way the spicy fruit affects the blood.

A research fellow at the university's school of life sciences, Kiran Ahuja, said the two active ingredients in chilli - capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin - have the potential to lower blood glucose and insulin levels, reduce the formation of fatty deposits in artery walls and prevent blood clots.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in developed countries.

''We have tested capsaicin and that shows an effect on platelet aggregation or the clotting of blood,'' Dr Ahuja said. She said her research, which used chilli paste to minimise seasonal or batch variation, had not come across any side-effects of chilli [so who is she kidding - ask someone who does not like chilli!!].

In fact, some studies had suggested chilli actually reduced damage caused by aspirin.

When it came to early-stage diabetes, when the pancreas over-produced insulin in an attempt to help the body absorb glucose, Dr Ahuja's research suggested consuming chilli resulted in the body producing less insulin, while the glucose was still used efficiently. ''It may actually delay or prevent the onset of diabetes,'' she said.

But for those wondering just how much chilli to add to their stir fry, Dr Ahuja said that was still to be established. ''It depends on how hot the chilli is, as the hotter it is, the more capsaicin it has.'' Dr Ahuja, has been working in the area since 2003, and has recently received a further $16,400 in funding to continue the work from the University of Tasmania.

As one wag has pondered...........

So could it be the high use of chilli in Asian diets that prevents heart disease and not the low meat/high vegetable status of these cuisines? The low cardiovascular pathologies in Asian cultures have been one of the anti-meat campaign's lynch pins. Just proves how hard it is to focus on just one dietary marker as cause and reason of good or bad health.

THAT is an interesting thought! Particularly now that red meat is being used more widely in many asian areas [with chilli of course].

Friday, September 04, 2009

Plant Based Lubricant Additives CAN Replace Petroleum Sources

Plants continue to amaze me with how adaptable the products from them can be, and how many functions they can contribute to, often replacing the petroleum based current generation of products.

Sustainable production of these plant materials seems a no brainer, if petroleum products continue to increase in price, as is expected. If peak oil is nigh, then NOW is the time to really investigate the substitution of oil based with plant based products.

This link

takes you a recent ARS publication where a few of these are discussed. Many will have heard of starch based "polystyrene" substitutes, which are fully biodegradeable, in fact mostly compostable. These are now becoming more mainstream in Australia, although the USA has much wider use. They are just one product among many options.

Oil additives for lubrication especially high end areas, are a developing field with opportunities to replace oil based products with plant substitutes.

While this is US work, it applies very much to Australia as well. While we do not always manufacture these products, it does open up opportunities to develop some new options.

And we do sure need that.........NOW.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Recycled Effluent Safe - Public Health Study Finds

Recycling of water is now a major effort in Australia, a very dry continent.

Serious drought over about 10 years has driven urban water users and the various urban water authorities to invest in a range of water recycling schemes. Some are very sophisticated, others less so.

The Ministerial Council on the Environment has promulgated new Guidelines to Using Recycled Water and many jurisdictions have started to use these guidelines to develop recycled water schemes too.

The following is a media release that reports on a public health examination of recycled water use and abuse in a major scheme NW of Sydney, Australia.

It is generally good news..........treated recycled effluent was ok, even with some misuse and abuse of the water.

As purple taps become an increasingly common sight in new Australian suburbs, a study has found no corresponding jump in gastro cases linked to the recycled water they deliver.

Researchers checked two years' worth of patient records from GPs located in Australia's largest residential recycled water scheme, in Sydney's northwest, and they found nothing out of the ordinary.

More than 18,000 homes are in the Rouse Hill Recycled Water Scheme and residents are told the extra water they have on tap, coming from a nearby waste-water plant, is not for drinking.
Similar schemes have been rolled out in new suburbs across the country, but the Monash University study was the first to check for any related impact on public health.

"They have recommendations on how the water should be used but (authorities) obviously can't police that," says Associate Professor Karin Leder, of the university's School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine.

"But what we can say ... in practice, we were unable to identify any observable health risks."
Dr Leder says the recycled water was "very heavily treated" and "any health risk would be very unlikely" but there was still a chance, in the event of a treatment failure, that it could contain pathogens or bacteria capable of making people sick.

The study did uncover some well-meaning households which used recycled water to top up their swimming pool, against advice.

"Even if people are using the water exactly as recommended there is the potential for ingestion - drinking very small amounts of water - during activities like car washing," Dr Leder says.

Researchers reviewed 36,000 patient visits across 11 doctors' clinics to check for any spike in acute gastroenteritis, acute skin complaints or acute respiratory conditions. Rates of illness were no different to surrounding suburbs with no access to recycled water and, Dr Leder says, this was a positive sign for the water-saving scheme. "Australia should continue to pioneer ... these kinds of recycled water schemes," she says. "When properly managed, they are a safe option that can be considered among the many options that might be available for recycling water."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Modern Livestock Production - NOT

I am not so sure this particular methodology will work, and tend to believe the comments.

However, soft handling of livestock does pay off. Improved animal welfare epecially handling methods will usually translate into improved profits and better animal behaviour.

Are you using improved animal handling methods?

[ with recognition to the copyright holders]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eureka Prize for Genetic Test to Breed Poll Braham Cattle

A team of scientists led by CSIRO’s Dr Kishore Prayaga was last night awarded a prestigious Australian Museum Eureka Prize for its work to develop a simple genetic test which has the potential to end the need to dehorn cattle. And in doing so the breakthrough has the potential to also avoid future clashes between the beef industry and animal rights activists.

While horn removal is a routine practice carried out by beef producers to reduce the incidence of cattle injuring other cattle and their handlers, there is a fear within the industry that the practice could one day provoke animal rights activists into campaigning against beef in the same way they have campaigned against the wool industry's practice of mulesing.

Notably the $10,000 Eureka Prize for Scientific Research that Contributes to Animal Protection was sponsored by animal rights group Voiceless.

About half of Australia’s 21 million beef cattle are born with horns, but dehorning causes short term pain and stress for the animal, is labour-intensive and time-consuming for producers, and can reduce animal weight gain for several weeks following the procedure.

The team, which is funded by the Beef CRC and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and involves scientists from CSIRO and Queensland Primary Industry and Fisheries (QPIF), has been researching alternatives to current dehorning practices. "We have discovered a DNA marker in Bos indicius (tropically adapted cattle e.g. Brahman) which identifies the cattle that will produce polled or naturally hornless offspring," Dr Prayaga said. "Our aim is to commercialise this work into a simple test, so that cattle producers in the extensive, rangeland conditions in Northern Australia will be able for the first time to increase the proportion of polled cattle in their herd."

While there are a number of naturally “polled”, or hornless bulls within the existing cattle population, selective breeding to eliminate horns would have taken decades. This new test is expected to strip years off this projected timescale. The proposed genetic test has now been validated twice in research.

"This breakthrough has the potential to alleviate and even eliminate the pain associated with the dehorning of millions of cattle every year," Frank Howarth, director of the Australian Museum, said. "It will revolutionise the breeding of Brahman cattle."

The team has also been working on effective pain reduction and alleviation strategies for producers to use in the meantime. According to QPIF’s Dr Carol Petherick short term strategies are needed because genetics can’t solve the problem overnight. "We have experimented with local anaesthetics and analgesics, and different animal management strategies to reduce and alleviate pain," Dr Petherick said. "Experiments are continuing to find the most effective short term solutions while producers focus on breeding entirely polled herds in the future."

The team found that the pain relief used in sheep mulesing, a topical anaesthetic and antiseptic solution, is the most promising for dehorning. In June, they began a follow-up study to see if these practices will reduce the pain, stress and blood loss associated with dehorning Brahman weaner bulls. The study will also test the effectiveness of wound cauterisation.

The winning team also includes Dr Max Mariasegaram, Post-Doctoral Fellow and PhD student Stephanie Sinclair from CSIRO.

Water Crisis Will Impact on Asia's Food

Water is fundemental to growing food crops. Even with climate change, many parts of Asia seemed to be well supplied with water. That may be so, but with significant population increases, all may not be very rosy with existing agricultural irrigation structures.

Most of these are relatively old, and not very water efficient. That may have to change!

The following media release seems to say it all..........

And this has been released at about the time Australia is debating intensfied agriculture in northern Australia. Is there a role for our region in north Australia to demonstrate modern, high quality good management practices in relation to water use?
[media release]

Scientists have warned Asian countries that they face chronic food shortages and likely social unrest if they do not improve water management. The water experts are meeting at a UN-sponsored conference in Sweden. They say countries in south and east Asia must spend billions of dollars to improve antiquated crop irrigation to cope with rapid population increases.

That estimate does not yet take into account the possible impact of global warming on water supplies, they said. Asia's population is forecast to increase by 1.5bn people over the next 40 years.

Going hungry

The findings are published in a new joint report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). They suggest that Asian countries will need to import more than a quarter of their rice and other staples to feed their populations.

"Asia's food and feed demand is expected to double by 2050," said IWMI director general Colin Chartres. "Relying on trade to meet a large part of this demand will impose a huge and politically untenable burden on the economies of many developing countries. "The best bet for Asia lies in revitalising its vast irrigation systems, which account for 70% of the world's total irrigated land," he said. “ Without water productivity gains, South Asia would need 57% more water for irrigated agriculture and East Asia 70% more. ” [Report by UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International Water Management Institute]

With new agricultural land in short supply, the solution, he said, is to intensify irrigation methods, modernising old systems built in the 1970s and 1980s. But that, he says will require billions of dollars of investment.

'Scary scenarios'

At the same time as needing to import more food, the prices of those cereals are likely to continue to rise due to increasingly volatile international markets. The report says millions of farmers have taken the responsibility for irrigation into their own hands, mainly using out-of-date and inefficient pump technology. This means they can extract as much water as they like from their land, draining a precious natural resource.

"Governments' inability to regulate this practice is giving rise to scary scenarios of groundwater over-exploitation, which could lead to regional food crises and widespread social unrest," said the IWMI's Tushaar Shah, a co-author of the report.

Asian governments must join with the private sector to invest in modern, and more efficient methods of using water, the study concluded. "Without water productivity gains, south Asia would need 57% more water for irrigated agriculture and east Asia 70% more," the study found. "Given the scarcity of land and water, and growing water needs for cities, such a scenario is untenable," it said.

The scenarios forecast do not factor in the impact of global warming, which will likely make rainfall more erratic and less plentiful in some agricultural regions over the coming decades.

Story from BBC NEWS:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/8206466.stm
Published: 2009/08/18 03:55:19 GMT© BBC MMIX

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fertilisers from Air Improve Food Crops

The Singapore Straits Times paper has an interesting article on August 3 2009 that looks at global food production. A recent recurring theme in Singapore is that suddenly they seem to have realised that they produce so little of their own food – about 5%or so overall, although in some sectors they are planning increases to around 15% over the next 5 years.

The article is by Thomas Hager, author of the recent and well received book The Alchemy of Air, an examination of the history and analysis of the Haber-Bosch reaction that produces nitrogen fertiliser from air nitrogen.

While credit is given to modern genetics and the agricultural scientists that were instrumental in developing and then widely disseminating – “the green revolution” with highly productive varieties of a range of crops, cheap nitrogen from air does have a lot to do with enhanced agricultural productivity, world wide.

And if food production is up around the world, is that why the world is getting fatter? The reason we are not all starving today could be adduced as the result of the combination of these two factors – with the cheap nitrogen factor a very key issue. Without that nitrogen, the productivity of modern crops and modern varieties would be much lower.

Naysayers decry use of inorganic fertilisers – we should all be producing organically grown food crops. But productivity would be much lower. Yields can be driven with nitrogen even in organic crops. But........nitrogen from the air........is not that natural too? Even if helped along a bit.
Sure excess nitrogen can be a pollutant......but without that nitrogen in fertiliser we might all be starving.

The book has received excellent reviews, and no I have not read it so far. But have a read of the article and there are some excellent book reviews too. See more here:www.thomashager.net/index.htm

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Feeding the World - Agricultural Development BACK on the Agenda

Addressing the world's food problems should be the Obama administration's topmost aid priority, according to Catherine Bertini and Dan Glickman. Both are co-chairs of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Global Agricultural Development Project. Bertini was executive director of the World Food Program from 1992 to 2002, while Glickman was the U.S. agriculture secretary from 1995 to 2001.

This article puts agricultural aid firmly back on the high priority list in the US foreign policy agenda, previously dominated by defence - spending and military activity. They argue that in simple terms, people with full bellies do not want military activity nearby, and that the US could do a lot to redress the view of them that the rest of the world has, by forging a new agricultural revolution in the areas most desperate for agricultural productivity. Real agricultural productivity gains. Sadly, not a lot said about the agricultural trade issues though - maybe that might get back on the agenda too.

The media coverage has been extensive, but getting the full article is a bit tricky as Foreign Affairs magazine, where it appeared in the May / June 2009 edition, pp93-105, restricts access.

However, some excerpts have been published in various formats. It was a full article in The Australian Financial Review last Friday, July 17, 2009 and excerpts are available if you search around on line.

This link takes you to the extensive executive summary [23 pp] of the main report that formed the basis of the article in Foreign Affairs Magazine.

The activity in this area has big implications for the foreign aid operations of not only the USA but Australia too. Like them, 20 -25 years ago Australia and Australians were very active and prominent in agricultural research and development world wide, in major R and D organisations and in real, on the ground rural development activities. Much of that has been degraded.......but it might be about to get a new lease of life.

A strongly commended article to read for all those interested in real agricultural development. It links well with a previous post on using GM technology in rural development areas too. There is technology around, useful technology [ salt tolerance in cereals too] but it needs harnessing for those really needing a boost in food production.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Salt Tolerant GM Wheat - Paddock Trials in 2010

Researchers expect to have genetically modified salt tolerant cereal lines in the paddock for trials next year, in a big boost for the 70pc of Australian farmers affected by salinity.

A project into salt tolerance, conducted jointly by the University of Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) has had some promising results.

"I'm excited by what is happening – the preliminary results are looking good, we are confident we will be able to reduce the amount of salt that gets into the plant, which then limits the yield," project leader Professor Mark Tester said. He said there was huge application within the Australian grains industry for salt tolerant lines, with research out of the University of Adelaide showing that 70pc of the nation's grain belt was in some way affected by excess salinity. "We estimate that salinity could be costing up to $200 million annually, working on yield limitations of 10pc across 70pc of the cropping area."

This is a rapid update on the work reported here a few days ago, which really was a scientific report in a world leading journal. This now is real 'on the ground" progress.

While salt trolerance development is somewhat easier in speices such as rice and barley, and excellent progress is already occurring in these species, getting salt tolerance into wheat will be a major achievement.

Somehow I do not expect that the plants will be torn out of the ground. This type of development using GM technology can make a very big difference into crop yields - not by removing all of the 10% yield gap now existing, but maybe around half of that gap.

That will be a big payoff if true!!

media release here - http://www.adelaide.edu.au/lumen/issues/18921/news18944.html

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Biofuel from Algae - Exxon Invests Big

The oil giant Exxon Mobil, whose chief executive once mocked alternative energy by referring to ethanol as “moonshine,” is about to venture into biofuels.

On Tuesday, Exxon plans to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.

The agreement could plug a major gap in the strategy of Exxon, the world’s largest and richest publicly traded oil company, which has been criticized by environmental groups for dismissing concerns about global warming in the past and its reluctance to develop renewable fuels.

This was reported today in the NY Times [July 14 2009]


While many organisations around the world are researching this topic, and making biodiesel or similar products on a small scale has already been done, scaling up to the size required, and having repeatability of algae production on a large scale are all a lot more difficult.

No one suggests this will happen tomorrow, but the fact that Exxon has invested, and at a considerable amount of $$, might seem to indicate that the algae to biodiesel pathway may be one of the favoured methods that could replace out of the ground oil especially for transport fuels.

Algae to biodiesel and then use would appear to offer a reasonably low carbon impact pathway, potentially less than fossil fuel burning.

We are looking at a 5-10 year timeline probably, unless someone else gazumps them..........and that could happen given the effort now going into algae to fuel research and development programs in both industry and academia.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Can GM Crops Feed the World?

This was the title of a recent documentary on SBS television in Australia. It covered the "adventures" of a young university agriculturally trained farmer, who was farming in a very traditional way in the UK, across several continents to examine for himself the issues around GM technology in modern agriculture.

Definitely worth watching or seeing on a DVD if you are interested.

From GM Roundup Ready soybeans in Argentina to the use or otherwise and its labelling of GM oils in food stuffs, in both Europe and North America to Uganda where GM technology was being used to develop black sigatoka resistant bananas.

GM technology is now quite common in plant genetics, of some use in animal production and likely to be more widely used. For example, GM technology has been used in cotton to reduce pesticide use in growing the crop, very successfully.

He really does not come up with a single answer..........but it does seem that big steps can be taken to enhance food security in many lesser developed areas through insect and disease resistance especially in the vegetatively propagated crops, with bananas a great example.

While not discussed on the tv program, Panama disease of bananas in the Asian region [which can be devastating] is also seen as a very suitable candidate for control via GM developed new banana varieties, and this issue is being researched already.

Maybe there is no single answer to the use of GM technology. But remember, similar heated debate also occurred about 70 - 80 years ago when hybrid corn and sorghum was developed. It was unnatural, the ruination of the world was imminent! But hybridisation of plants is now very much mainstream.

Will GM technology eventually go the same way??? To be well accepted as another tool in developing higher yielding and disease resistant crops and plants of all sorts.........it is even now being used on turfgrass.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Salt Tolerant Cereals Getting Closer

The efforts to develop salt tolerance in the world's major cereal crops has been one of the great needs in modern agriculture. Many areas of the world's farmlands are salt affected, and there are alos many millions of hectares that are naturally unusable because of salt issues. Mark Testor and his now quite large team in Adelaide have been carefully working through some of these processes for a few years now, and are now starting to capitalise on the work with a few positive announcements. Professor Testor is a very well renowned academic, and is impressive to meet or hear speak at conferences. Good luck to them as they push forward with the work. The following is a media release from the University.

And yes...........it uses GM approaches to achieve the results.

An international team of scientists has developed salt-tolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification (GM), bringing salt-tolerant cereal crops a step closer to reality.

The research team - based at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus - has used a new GM technique to contain salt in parts of the plant where it does less damage.

Salinity affects agriculture worldwide, which means the results of this research could impact on world food production and security.

The work has been led by researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK. The results of their work are published today in the top international plant science journal, The Plant Cell. "Salinity affects the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one third of the world's food is produced. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse, as pressure to use less water increases and quality of water decreases," says the team's leader, Professor Mark Tester, from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).

"Helping plants to withstand this salty onslaught will have a significant impact on world food production."

Professor Tester says his team used the technique to keep salt - as sodium ions (Na+) - out of the leaves of a model plant species. The researchers modified genes specifically around the plant's water conducting pipes (xylem) so that salt is removed from the transpiration stream before it gets to the shoot. "This reduces the amount of toxic Na+ building up in the shoot and so increases the plant's tolerance to salinity," Professor Tester says. "In doing this, we've enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We've used genetic modification to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do - but to do it much better."

The team is now in the process of transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley. "Our results in rice already look very promising," Professor Tester says.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Composting Has Insect Friends

In warmer climates, composting can be enhanced using some insect larvae.

Black Soldier Fly Larvae are excellent assistants in your compost pile. Many people think these strange crawling larvae insects are larval bush flies or similar............well, they do grow into flies, but not those that are nasty. They are a benefit for many smaller compost producers, especially with wetter organic materials, commonly seen in tropical regions.

For an excellent introduction to these creatures and how they might help you in your composting go to:


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Donkeys to China - Worth Millions??

The media has driven this issue as a plus for Queensland, but the real winners may be the NT and WA, and in the medium term, the local environment.

Donkeys cause significant environmental damage in north Australia. Most are in the NT and the NW of WA. Despite campaigns to eradicate them, or to significantly reduce their numbers, they are still around. Like camels, the numbers just seem to go up, and up. Finding a use and ascribing a value might be the sensible way to go.

Most land owners will take the option that pays, and this time it might - might - be China.

Donkey deal with China could reap millions

22/06/2009 2:06:00 PM

The State Government says Queensland could reap millions from a "donkey deal" with China, that would see the joke of the animal kingdom exported for food and traditional medicine.

Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries Minister Tim Mulherin said China had signed a trade protocol with Queensland authorities allowing the export of wild donkey meat and edible skins for the first time. As well as allowing Queensland producers to get their mojo back in tough economic times, Mr Mulherin said the deal was likely to put romance in the air in China, where donkey skin is used to boost libido in traditional medicine. "This is a great diversification opportunity for the macropod industry because its possible to process the donkeys at existing kangaroo abattoirs," Mr Mulherin said. "Ultimately, this emerging donkey trade could mean dozens of new jobs for harvesters and processors and more than $20 million into our economy."

However, Mr Mulherin warned there was more work to be done before Queensland could claim the title as the ass end of Australia.

Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries emerging industries development officer Nicholas Swadling said most of Australia's wild donkey populations were found in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. "The exporter we have been working with is based in Brisbane and will process and export the donkey meat and skins from Queensland, but most of the donkeys will have to be sourced from inter-state," Mr Swadling said. "While the signing of the protocol with China has given stakeholders confidence, the next step is to commence trials to ensure the industry can be commercially viable. "Transport and refrigeration costs will be heavy and harvesting donkeys from out of the way places is going to present challenges. "We also need to investigate how many processors are interested in coming on board and if enough donkeys can be sustainably sourced from the wild herd to meet the huge Chinese demand."

RSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty said the animal welfare charity would not oppose the donkey trade, as long as the animals were not subject to cruelty. "There's no doubt there are people out there who really don't approve of horses or donkeys being used for food, but our stance is - as long as the slaughtering is carried out humanely - it's okay," he said.

sourced partially from Qld Country Life

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tipperary Station on the Market - STILL

It has all been a bit of a major shambles..........the proposed sale of the Tipperary Station aggregation to AACo. It finally got knocked on the head after a major board rejig amid all sorts of toing and froing among the major players. The final outcome being that Tipperary was not bundled into AAco, although Futuris did manage to sell down its holding in AACo to overseas interests.

A search on the financial pages will document the sordid details.

But Tipperary Station may have new suitors, if the current financial press is to be believed.

Brockstar eyes Tipperary Station acquisition

22/06/2009 10:54:00 AM

United States-based portfolio manager Brockstar is in due diligence to acquire the famous Tipperary aggregation of cattle stations in the Northern Territory owned by prominent barrister Allan Myers.

Brockstar director of Australian operations Peter Smith told The Australian Financial Review that he could "not confirm nor deny" that Brockstar had made an offer of up to $140 million for all bar one of the aggregated stations. "We are running the ruler over it at this stage," Mr Smith said.

The US-based Brockstar manages private portfolio investment opportunities and looks at submissions concerning project financing and credit facilities between $US1 million and $US500 million. The group of properties Brockstar is looking at includes the 205,500 hectare Elizabeth Downs, the 194,600ha Douglas Station and the 209,800ha Tipperary, as well as Litchfield.


There is no doubt that good quality agricultural and pastoral land is valuable, with a lot of overseas operators looking at Australia. Sovereign risk is acceptable, and there are opportunities in northern areas of Australia, especially in comparison to South America or Africa. So watch this space!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cattle Empire Slows in Brazil

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), private lending arm of the World Bank, has withdrawn a BRL90 million loan to Brazilian cattle industry giant Bertin, following complaints that it was using the money to expand further into the Amazon region.. The move came two weeks after a Greenpeace report revealed that financial backing for the Brazilian cattle industry had turned it into the largest single source of deforestation in the world. Bertin has so far received BRL60 million in loan money, which it promised to return and will decline to receive the remaining BRL30 million.

This came from a news item in the weekly newsletter Global Development Briefing.

Oh dear...........

But it might be a positive for the Australian cattle and livestock industries.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Phytoremediate Explosives - Plant Grass - for a Quick Solution

Mounting evidence shows native grasses could destroy explosives pollution
The Kansas City Star

Missouri researchers are investigating whether native grasses can clean up pollution caused by explosives at hundreds of locations across the country.

Besides the obvious reason, TNT is not good for you.

But grass, it turns out, might be dynamite for the problem.

TNT contaminates hundreds of sites in the US and Australia, from military firing ranges to old production dumps to waterways, and poses a threat to the human nervous system and to the liver and kidneys. It’s suspected to cause cancer. It can cause allergic reactions and attack the immune system, and it may lead to birth defects.

Left alone in the soil, TNT breaks down into an even more toxic substance.

If the problem is left in the dirt, maybe that’s where the solution can grow.

Three Missouri researchers have hit on an idea that could potentially scrub away the TNT danger:
Simply plant the right kind of grass.

The notion started with mounting evidence that native grasses could render harmless a common weed killer. That herbicide, atrazine, is the second most common herbicide used in agriculture in the U.S. and has been a stubborn pollutant in the nation’s waterways. Mounting evidence has shown that certain native grasses, and the microbes that thrive around their roots, convert the toxic leftovers from atrazine into harmless carbon dioxide.

Robert Lerch, John Yang and Chung-Ho Lin began talking about how chemically similar atrazine is to the explosives TNT and RDX. “If it worked for atrazine, we thought it might work for these things,” said Lin, a research professor for the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry.

Should their idea succeed, it would offer a greener, cheaper and possibly quicker way to clean up more than 530 sites across the USA contaminated by the explosives.

Trinitrotoluene, or TNT, and cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, also called RDX, began creeping into U.S. soil and waterways decades ago, before the manufacturers of explosives came under stricter regulation.

The problem isn’t small. Of the 538 locations identified by the US Department of Defense with RDX or TNT contamination, 20 are Superfund sites — classified by the federal government as the country’s most dangerous abandoned toxic waste sites. Congress rejected a Pentagon proposal in 2005 to exempt the military from regulations for pollution from munitions.

“It’s a serious problem, and it’s widespread,” said Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defense Council. To clear a field tainted by those explosives — typically to haul away the dirt for incineration — can run from $100,000 to $1 million an acre.

The researchers in Columbia have doped soil samples with explosives and planted two species of grass.

In essence, the explosives practically disappear.

It’s unclear whether it’s the grasses — Eastern gamagrass and switchgrass [Panicum virgatum] seem to work best — do the work themselves, whether it’s two forms of bacteria that thrive in soils around grass roots that do the trick, or if something happens in how they work together.

But in a closet-size room basking in fluorescent lights, a solution to explosives pollution looks to be taking root.

The scientists added RDX and TNT to cup-size soil samples and planted the grasses. In just weeks, the toxic chemicals degraded harmlessly into carbon dioxide and water. “It’s a controlled situation to look at how these chemicals break down,” said Yang, the director of the Center of Environmental Sciences at Lincoln University.

The next step, perhaps still a year or two away, is to test the process outdoors.

The researchers are talking with the Army — the initial research has been covered by $110,000 in Defense Department grants — about trying the grasses on already contaminated sites.

Since the grasses are native and grow easily across the Midwest and the Southeast, they pose no threat of kudzu-like exotic species seen as their own environmental threat.

Initial tests show that the amount of RDX in soil is reduced by 50 percent in a matter of weeks, and TNT contamination drops by 95 percent. So, Lerch said, a year or two after planting, a field could be cleaned of the explosives contamination. And the cost might run less than $3,000 per acre.

“If this works, it will be great".

partially sourced ENN news

Also interesting to note that switchgrass is also a promising third generation cellulosic source for ethanol production and is being researched extensively for that role as well.

Presumably the same process might be operating with a number of other grass species noted as being tolerant to atrazine. This could include a range of common tropical and warm temperate turf species that are tolerant to the herbicide.

Anyone in the Australian military out there that might want to fund a project here in Australia??