Friday, January 23, 2009


Great news...........our single grower of Zoysia Compadre turf now has a modest amount of quality turf sod available.

The project to develop a viable area of Compadre sod for turf sales has taken longer than expected, after a few minor setbacks, and the development of suitable operational techniques. But the area is likely to expand over the next year to meet projected demands, especially in the new construction market, where Compadre zoysia can be a serious competitor to other vegetatively propagated species in the instant turf market, on both quality and price. The aim is superior quality at a better price. That is very achievable. End users do like what they see.

Seed sowing will remain a major market, especially for larger areas in both construction projects and new dwellings, but turf sod does have a special niche market in some segments of the new home construction market.

And of course, seed remains an option to sow for an expanded quality sod production area.

In this region especially, the shade tolerance of Compadre zoysia is particularly important, as most new house areas quickly develop shrubs and trees. Most other turf options then fade away in the shaded or semi shaded areas, leaving bare soil, whereas Compadre zoysia continues to thrive in modest shade.

Go for it ...........use Compadre zoysia.

It is a great lawn, low maintenance, low [but not nil] fertiliser option that continues to look good. For best results use a slow release turf type fertiliser 2-3 times in the first year at recommended rates then only once or twice a year, and reduce the rates by about 50%, after that. We recommend Multigreen slow release turf fertiliser[ available from Elders], but other brand options are also suitable. Mow at 25 - 35mm. Mowing frequency would normally be about every 2 weeks in the warmer and wetter half year; every 3-4 weeks in the dry season. Weeds are not usually a major problem but if they do appear, we can assist with cost effective solutions.

Remember.......Compadre zoysia will not normally make your skin itchy, as can happen with most paspalums [bahia grasses]. The ideal turf for a quick game of touch footy for shirtless kids!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Save Water - Saves Energy Too

A recent report by CSIRO and the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) gives a clearer picture of water and energy use in Australia and New Zealand and highlights areas offering potentially significant water and energy savings. The report: Energy Use in the provision and consumption of urban water in Australia and New Zealand, shows a strong nexus between water and energy.

“Ensuring a reliable water supply for our cities into the future will require more energy due to increasing populations and the trend to develop new, more energy-intensive water sources like desalination plants, reuse and more distance sources,” CSIRO scientist and project leader Steven Kenway says. “However, the provision of urban water services uses relatively little energy compared to heating water for residential and non-residential purposes. A 15 per cent reduction in residential hot water use could offset all energy used by water utilities in 2006/07. “Saving hot water represents a real win-win-win: it cuts energy and water use for consumers, reduces energy demand for utilities and helps households and utilities save money on energy and water bills.”

Looking forward to 2030, the project team considered three water consumption scenarios ranging from 150 through to 300 litres per person per day for residential water use, based on a population of 15.8 million for Australia’s major cities, which is currently at 12.5 million.

“Under Australia’s current average consumption, which is 217 litres per person per day, total energy use to provide water could increase by up to 130 per cent above 06/07 use, if a mix of desalination, recycling and new surface water sources is used to meet the expected demand,” Mr Kenway says. "Even with this increase, urban water utilities would only account for 0.3 per cent of the total energy used by Australia’s major cities in 2030.”

WSAA Executive Director, Ross Young, says the scenarios reinforce the need for the water industry to continue to implement energy-saving initiatives, but also to plan water resources with a clear understanding of where energy and water savings can be made most effectively. “The urban water industry will continue substantial initiatives already implemented to generate green energy from biogas and hydro-electricity generators and measures to increase energy efficiency. These initiatives have already delivered substantial energy savings in the urban water industry,” Mr Young says.
“This report demonstrates where the ‘low hanging fruit’ may be in terms of reducing energy use and the greenhouse gas footprint of the urban water industry and households.

“Analysis showed that installing a Water Efficiency and Labelling Standard (WELS) 3-star shower rose would cut by 45 per cent both water and hot-water-system energy consumption in households with high water use,” he says. “Replacing an old WELS 2-star washing machine with a 4-star front loading model would cut energy use by more than half and save 10 kilolitres of water annually, assuming 250 washes a year; 50 per cent of washing on cold-wash cycle and 44.5 kWh/year electrical consumption by pumps and motors.”
Copies of the report are available at:

This has clear implications for many areas of Australia. It is NOW that a change to efficient water heating is needed. Solar, heat exchange systems [especially for hotels, industrial use and large buildings] and even gas are relatively efficient. Much of Australia could benefit by using solar water heating.......and even though some token efforts are being made, it is obvious that more effort is needed.

Capital costs are higher, but with short payback periods solar water heating is a desirable option for almost all of Australia. Yet, builders often pick the cheap and nasty low capital cost options that are not a good choice for the user, over even a few years.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Could Farming in the Tropics Promote a Killer Disease?

This is the premise being actively promoted in a new study of the disease meliodosis, based on results from the Northern Territory of Australia. Meliodosis is deadly........without active and well managed treatment you die. At least in the NT, there is a good quota of experience with the disease and mortality rates are now around 20%. Still, that is very high.

The disease also occurs in SE Asia in the tropics - Thailand, Laos, Malaysia etc, and is something to be mindful of when involved in agriculture in these areas.

Read the press release.........

Gardening and farming in the Australian tropics creates an environment "ideal" for the spread of a killer bacteria, a scientist has warned. Darwin-based researchers have worked to identify the soil types favoured by the bug Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is now at the centre of an outbreak of a pneumonia-like illness in the NT capital. Ten people have been infected, and two have died, from the illness Melioidosis since the wet season began late last year.

Dr Mirjam Kaestli says the bacteria was thought to favour damp soil and areas where there was standing water, but her research also found it thriving in household lawns and dry paddocks across rural Darwin. "These findings raise concerns that pseudomallei actually might spread due to the influence of our land management changes," says Dr Kaestli, who is a research fellow at the Tropical & Emerging Infectious Diseases Division at the Menzies School of Health Research. "Residential gardening and farming generates conditions which are ideal for the proliferation of these pseudomallei.

"We primarily found the bacteria in irrigated lawn areas like on residential properties ... also soil disturbance caused by livestock animals seem to increase survival chances for pseudomallei in areas otherwise not favourable."

It is thought the constant aeration of paddock soils from hoofs, along with raised acid levels from urine, encourage the growth of the bacteria.

The Royal Darwin Hospital treats up to 40 cases of melioidosis every wet season and, while it has a 20 per cent mortality rate this has halved over the past 15 years because of improved diagnosis and treatment. It is listed as an emerging disease, with cases rising in Thailand, and Dr Kaestli warns there were concerns the number would also increase in Australia.

Melioidosis cases have been detected as far down the eastern seaboard as Brisbane.

"Because we have seen this association with disturbed soil, and because there are more and more developing of previously undisturbed area, I would not be surprised if we are seeing higher numbers in the future," she said. People with type-2 diabetes, chronic lung and renal disease, heavy alcohol consumers or those who use of immunosuppressant drugs are known to carry an increased risk of contracting Melioidosis. Dr Kaestli said people in the tropical areas should take precautions by wearing shoes when working in the garden, washing their hands later with an anti-bacterial and taking extra care to keep cuts dirt free.

Her study is published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Africa Saved by Organic Food - Really??

In the 1970s and 80s, two well renowned CGIAR Centres - IITA and ICRISAT had major programs originally in India and then in Africa to examine crop production. A focus of much of the work was plant establishment and performance in the heavy but erratic rains of the monsoonal and similar tropical areas. Crucial issues to improved performance and crop yield were the use of soil mulches [often legumes] to reduce erosion and lower soil temperatures to mangeable ranges in which seeds could germinate and establish. Mulch also enabled soil moisture to be retained and thus allowed better establishment. Without satisfactory establishment and early growth, crops would fail to perform.

This system was very successful, and similar modified large scale systems have been developed for the tropics in Australia and Brazil, for example. Part of the Australian system involved a ley farming phase in which tropical pastures were used for animal grazing with the leguminous residuals aiding the next crop establishment, in the manner above.

This is not organic farming, although undoubtedly, using organic residuals over time will build soil carbon and enhance soil quality. In Africa, the tropical soils are often nutrient deficient, and yields are restricted by poor plant nutrition. Finding and adding those plant nutrients at low cost is near impossible, except for very small restricted areas - for example home gardens. Yes, it is undoubtedly true that soil mycorhiza can allow release of nutrients from otherwise non available sources, but the amounts are unlikely to be adequate to completely supply enough to grow good crops.

A new media release by the organic lobby in Australia uses a recent UNEP article that espouses the view that organic agriculture will radically improve African agriculture. Organic agriculture to be the saviour of Africa!

I am not so sure, except for those smaller areas. Yes, some of the soil carbon principles are important. BUT........this is not new for the tropics; it is nearly 40 years of old news, written up and published in eminent journals and as layman's reading, and acted on around the world in the tropics.

Read the media release and the link to the UNEP article.

It's Official: Organic farming provides answers to feeding Africa

A major study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concludes organic farming offers Africa the best chance of breaking the long inherent cycle of poverty and malnutrition. (1)

Research conducted by UNEP suggests that organic, small-scale farming can deliver the increased yields which were thought to be the preserve of industrial high-tech farming, in addition to reversing environmental and social damages, leading to greater food security.

The head of the UN's Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, says the report "indicates that the potential contribution of organic farming to feeding the world may be far higher than many had supposed."(1)

Dr. Kristen Lyons is a senior lecturer at the School of Biomolecular and Physical Sciences at Griffith University (QLD) and the director of Mukwano Australia, a non-for-profit group supporting the development of health care services in African organic farming communities.

"Organic agriculture offers an alternative - and sustainable - future for African farmers," says Dr. Lyons. She says the report provides a clear direction for reducing the current crisis in agriculture and food systems in developing countries - organic, all the way. "It demystifies the assumption that genetic engineering and other high-tech approaches to farming are required to feed the world.
"In contrast, it is organic farming systems that have demonstrated the greatest potential to feed the world's one billion starving people, and to ensure the long term sustainability of global food production," she says

The UNEP report proposes that African communities need to look to alternative methods of farming as genetic engineering is prohibitively expensive and therefore out of reach for most African farmers. (1)

Organic farming in Africa has lead to benefits to the natural environment, with the UNEP report showing a 93 per cent of case studies reporting benefits to soil fertility, water supply, flood control and biodiversity. (1)

Also, when sustainable agricultural practices, which covered a variety of systems and crops, were adopted, average crop yields increased by 79 per cent. (1)

Overall, the report found an increase in organic farming in Africa could lead to savings on production costs (due to no expenditure on synthetic inputs), promote economic viability and encourage food self-reliance. (1)

Data: (1) United Nations Conference on Trade and Development United Nations Environment Programme, Report: UNEP-UNCTAD Capacity-building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development, Organic agriculture and food security in Africa, Unite Nations, New York and Geneva, 2008
[media release by BFA Australia]
Of course this report is in contrast to recent publications about the need to boost food production, and fast in these areas.

The truth probably is somewhere in the middle. But I doubt, given the wide range of problems that interfere with accumulation of quality organic residuals in Africa, that enough can be accumulated to go totally organic. Embracing the work of the 70s and 80s to enhance establishment and reduce erosion is a vital start to improvement. The technology has been around for some time; getting it adopted widely is more difficult, and often social and machinery issues can interfere with adoption of promising technolgies. is not organic farming, as most people would define it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oestrogen in the Water

Several years ago we were involved in an environmental report on effluent reuse for Alice Springs in Central Australia. One of the issues highlighted by us was the potential for oestrogens to move through the effluent system and ultimately into the environment - and water - as the effluent was discharged. This issue was not recognised by many then as a significant issue, yet it is becoming much more of a problem.

While this system did not involve effluent reuse for potable water, at least in the short term, there was strong evidence of this problem as a potential issue to be considered. More compelling evidence is now accumulating of a worrisome trend in the western world of increasing amounts of oestrogen accumulating and causing detriment, not only to the environment and animals, but to mankind itself.

When the following article and similar starts to appear in the mainstream press, then it is time to really take note. It is reproduced in its entirety, and was in the Weekend Australian in Australia, January 10, 2009.

It is seriously worth noting.
It's wise to be wary of the pill

Angela Shanahan January 10, 2009
Article from:
The Australian

THIS week news of an important report was published in L'Osservatore Romano which, if you will excuse the painful pun, should have been a godsend to eager environmentalists. After all these people are great doomsayers and the contents of the report was the stuff of science fiction horror stories.

According to the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, an alarming rise in male infertility in developed nations is possibly caused by the quantities of synthetic female hormones, particularly estrogen, in the food chain and water. These quantities are directly attributable to increased use of the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy.

The original report published in German has been widely publicised but mysteriously, the only response to this terrible scenario, which seems to be with us just as surely as global warming, were a couple of letters in this publication and in The Sydney Morning Herald that could have come straight from a 19th-century Old Bigot's handbook of insults. They hysterically decried the whole thing as a Vatican misogynistic plot. Never mind that it didn't come from the Vatican. But apparently, in some people's minds, any taint of Catholicism is enough to justify screaming "ignorant, stupid, unscientific" and of course predictably "misogyny".

Strange then that in 1998 women's groups and environmentalists formed an alliance in Japan against the legalisation of the contraceptive pill. Apparently some Japanese women and environmentalists, including the Women's Network for Ecology, were worried enough about the effect of introducing synthetic hormones in a country that relies on very intensive agriculture and aquaculture to campaign against its legalisation. That is aside from widespread suspicion among Japanese women that there is a definite link between the use of the pill and breast cancer in their Western sisters.

The evidence that synthetic hormones can have grotesque environmental effects has actually been around for a long time and it is mounting. As long ago as the 1980s, studies were done in the US which showed the effects of estrogen pollution on wildlife, famously alligators in Florida with deformed genitals. But more recently, in February 2008, the University of Cardiff published a study that claimed a link between sexual deformities in birds around sewerage outlets of large British cities and the increased amount of estrogen finding its way into rivers and estuaries.

Recently during research for a story on the viability of using recycled water in Canberra, I came across several papers that pointed to the problem of estrogen in recycled water. Indeed, according to Canberra Hospital professor Peter Collignon, an opponent of recycling sewage water into the potable supply, estrogen can be more of a problem in recycled water than microbes because it cannot be filtered out and we simply do not know how well it breaks down. Just as the Romans drinking from lead cups unwittingly caused infertility in themselves, perhaps we are seeing after 30 years of contraceptive pill use the long-term effects of introducing artificial estrogen into our wider environment. So you see this is not just a preoccupation of the misogynistic old Vatican.

But how can it be misogynistic to point out that artificial hormones can have a bad effect on men as well as women? And who exactly are the misogynists? Is it the people warning of the possible dangers of long-term exposure to artificial estrogen for both sexes, or the hysterical letter writers and doctors who seem to be saying, "There dear, just go ahead and take your pill and everything will be all right?"

As a woman I think Australian women ought to think again about this great biochemical boon to the human race, or perhaps I should say to men. Australian women have one of the highest rates of contraceptive pill use in the world. Most women feel obliged to use it as soon as they become sexually active and the average time women stay on the pill is 10 years. That is 10 years of suppressing one's normal hormonal cycle and replacing it with artificial hormones with all the physical and psychological ramifications, including the decline of libido.

However, even though we have the highest rate of breast cancer in the world, and there is a lot of research pointing to the pill as at least a partially causative factor, many doctors (even some of my own acquaintance) have no compunction in prescribing it to girls who have just reached puberty. In fact one doctor I know told me she feels legally obliged to give it to any sexually active girl, no matter what age. Furthermore, not only is long-term pill use implicated in infertility and sexually transmitted disease, what is worse is it has not prevented our abortion rate from being one of the world's highest.

There are so many reasons for being wary of the contraceptive pill. Why are we not questioning its prevalence?

The reason is, of course, that it is the sacred cow of the sexual revolution. One imaginative letter writer claimed the Catholic view of the pill was that it was "the great Satan", and actually that is not a bad description. It was marketed as an instrument of sexual freedom, and it has provided that, particularly for men. But one might ask if for women it has been the means of sexual liberation or just a way of turning us into empty vessels for sex? Is it like the sexual revolution itself: a pretty and alluring package that turns out to be - for both sexes - like a series of empty boxes, one inside the other. At the end, there is nothing but an empty box.

The environmental effects of the pill on men may in fact gradually reveal the extent of the damage to our whole society, something that Francis Fukuyama points out in his essay, The Great Disruption: that we can't just introduce something such as this for 30 years and not expect unforeseen consequences, moral, social and, of course, physical. But tragically it will be young men and boys who suffer before women will also free themselves of this burden.


There are not many clear references, but the message is quite clear, unambiguous and getting even more mankind killing itself off?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

How Will Food Production Change over the Next 25 Years?

This link will take you to a recent article on food production systems and the cry for a more efficient way of producing food. It is uk centric, but does have some relevance world wide. I am not sure that some of the claims regarding environmental damage and similar issues are as clear cut as the passing remarks indicate.

Cities require huge volumes of food to be transported into and through them. With Asia about to develop even more mega cities [ 9 million and up population], this situation is about to get a lot worse. The sheer logistics of providing food for those cities is mind blowing. If you have ever crossed the causeway between Singapore and Johore Bahru and noted the lines of trucks carrying food, that gives an idea of the logistical problems of feeding a city, in this case Singapore that has effectively outsourced ALL food production.

Two recent Australian ventures are tackling some of these issues by building monstrous greenhouses, for year round production, essentially hydroponically, or close to that by various soilless cultural options. One is in the New England area - 20 ha of tomatoes - year round, and the other announced last week will be on the South Coast near Sydney in an even larger operation through a joint Dutch / Australian venture. These sophisticated growing systems have superior management of water, compost, plants , disease and nutrition and aim to reduce growing costs while enhancing environmental performance. Both rely on Australia's abundant sunshine which allows year round production. Both are on major link roads to metropolitan areas, with excellent transport connections.

Some Australian agricultural science operatives have proposed green roof and wall systems for FOOD production, not just for carbon dioxide capture and heat reduction on the inevitable concrete surface, using a few ornamentals. The food production option has a huge amount of merit, as does the revival of the household veggie patch, which was common in the pre 1970s periods in many suburban yards - world wide.

There is a need to also get real about form and function in the food we choose and eat. It might be nice to consider that every carrot must be equal in size, shape and colour......but does it always matter? In some cases it might....odd shapes can hide disease at times, but in most cases it is IRRELEVANT to taste. Having a few less than perfect forms means far less wastage of produce to meet unrealistic at times consumer demands. Unless they will pay enormous prices - a bit like the high priced "perfect" fruit used for Japanese gifts.

While the article referred to above makes a low key plea for organic production, the reality is that certified organic production will NOT produce enough to feed the masses. A recent article on the "Politics of Food" by an Oxford professor debunks that myth. But we will have to do more with organic residuals - compost manures and related materials, as that is where many of the residual nutrients finish up, and those nutrients can be reused to grow additional food. Getting them back to the production areas is an issue in itself, unless production areas change. In Australia the vineyards have made enormous progress in use of efficient watering systems, organic compost and semi organic production - saving money and doing it better.

On this issue of food availability, it is also noted that the worlds food deficit areas are mostly where the abject poverty and malnutrition occurs. And the Politics of Food book, rightly infers that producing more in those areas, with more science and even a good dose of GM crops, and solving a few conflicts would aid that issue enormously.

Subtly, food production areas are changing in Australia, with poultry production relocating away from outer metropolitan city areas back to rural areas closer to the production areas for grain, and processing is moving too, to where the birds are grown. It is cheaper to produce both eggs and poultry in those areas close to grain areas and move the finished product. Moreover, the residuals are being used on land around the poultry production areas to grow hay and other crops. Sensible thinking.

We in Australia do not have the monster cities of Europe, Asia or the Americas, and suitable agricultural land is reasonably available, except that many of the great horticultural areas with good soils close to major cities are being converted to land for houses. That has been happening for many years. And it may not be stoppable. In Australia availability of water may be an issue, although treated effluent is potentially suitable for some horticultural uses eg open space irrigation, even to be able to free better water for food production. Do you realise that Sydney, developed when a single use of stored dam water was acceptable, places about 90% of the cities effluent into the adjacent ocean, although that is being reduced - albeit quite slowly.

But we as a society need to think through these type of choices. If regular food production is forced further away from consumers, will it be come too expensive? You cannot grow mangoes in Melbourne; they will always need to be transported from production areas in the tropics. That inherently makes them costly in Melbourne.

As more Australians live in the tropics however, a diet change to locally grown produce might be a good option. That might mean asian vegetables - and some are very good- rather than the usual temperate peas, parsnips and potatoes. And all of the last three will always be imported to the Australian tropics - we do not have a highland area nearby to grow them although some may argue the Atherton Tableland might fit - but not really high enough.

Think of your choices......

Friday, January 02, 2009

Milk Company Manager in Court

While now many months after the events in late 2008, a recent short newspaper article indicated that the woman who was the Managing Director of Sanlu - the major milk company involved in the problems - has been in court.

Information available so far indicates she knew of the problem several months before advice went to the Chinese government.

There is potential for her to be executed if found guilty.

That will not bring back the dead children, however.