Thursday, March 26, 2009

Food Waste is a Blight - for Producers and Users

A while back I published a blog about food waste and the enormous lost cost of all that waste [February 26, 2009].

Lo and behold, figures for Australia have come to light today. This waste is $5.3 billion per year. Holy Toledo.........that is a big bucket of $$. What do you waste? Do you compost your organic waste? Use the leftovers? If not why not?


Australians bin $5.3 billion of food each year

Australians love their food. Strangely enough, we also love throwing it out. According to a 2005 study by the Australia Institute, Australians bin a staggering $5.3 billion of food a year, including $630 million of uneaten takeaway, $876 million of leftovers and $241 million of frozen food.
In my mother's day, that would have made an awful lot of bubble'n'squeak.

It seems in the 21st century, though, we can imagine no better use for this food than as landfill.

"When people or restaurants throw away their food, they also waste all the resources, fuel and energy that went into getting that food from paddock to plate," chef Kylie Kwong says. "I use a lot of rice in my cooking but I need to be careful with how much I cook, because if I throw out a kilo of white rice, I'm also wasting the 2385 litres of water that it took to grow that rice."

If it makes you feel any better, Australians are hardly alone.

The British chuck out 15.7 million tonnes of food annually while, in the US, more than $100 billion of food goes to landfill every year. US food blogger Jonathan Bloom describes this as a double disaster, since food rotting in landfill is a major producer of methane, a greenhouse gas scientists estimate to be 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

So what to do? In the US, food chain TGI Friday's has responded with the unthinkable - cutting back on portion sizes. New York's Hayashi Ya Japanese restaurant has even introduced a gluttony surcharge, with customers paying 3pc extra for not finishing their food.

Australian restaurants have yet to be so bold but the local industry has nevertheless made great leaps since the 1980s, when greenwaste recycling was unheard of. "Back then, only the very biggest businesses recycled anything," says John Hart, chief executive of Restaurants and Catering Australia. "And even then, it was just the basic stuff like paper and glass." Last year, Hart unveiled Green Table Australia, a nationwide scheme intended to help restaurants and catering businesses lower their environmental footprints by, among other things, a smarter approach to food waste. "Where there are clusters of food businesses, say, in a mall, we are trying to get them to share greenwaste disposal by putting their scraps into a Biobin that turns it all into compost," Hart says.

Some chefs, though, such as Detlef Haupt, are attacking the problem from the other end. As the executive chef at the Sydney Convention Centre, Haupt oversees the production of 1.3 million meals a year. Now, food wastage is a fraction of what it was when he arrived 10 years ago, thanks, in the first instance, to accurate ordering. "We order by grammage per person," Haupt says. "If you have lunch for 1000 people, you don't order for 1100 or 1200 - you order for 1000. "But to do this you must be confident in your capabilities: you have to make sure you have the talent in the kitchen to deliver 1000 portions, which means not overcooking or undercooking a single steak."

Haupt takes a different approach in the convention centre's freestanding restaurant, Bayside Lounge, where it's harder to predict numbers. Here, all protein items - fish, poultry and meat - are individually Cryovaced upon their arrival, then labelled and dated, thereby extending the food's life span by up to a week. Such measures require considerable capital outlay - Cryovac machines don't come cheap - not to mention a certain Teutonic gift for precision. "It helps that I am a complete control freak," Haupt says. Yet even Haupt has waste, mainly in the form of deli products such as packaged sandwiches. In this instance he makes a call to the good people at OzHarvest.

Launched four years ago, OzHarvest is a food charity that acts like a kind of culinary SWAT team, rescuing meals that would otherwise be chucked out and delivering them to people in need. "My background is in hospitality, I have my own events company," OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn explains.
"I put on special events and through all my years there was always food going to waste, gorgeous food that cost lots of money to produce, like smoked salmon, chocolate mousse, canapes, it would all be thrown out at the end of the day. "And so I decided to do something about it."

OzHarvest now operates five vehicles that pick up leftover food from all over Sydney every day and deliver it to 148 charities. "So far, we have delivered 3.3 million meals to charity in the last four years," Kahn says. There is a particular pleasure, Kahn says, in seeing a homeless man eating a plate of stuffed mushrooms and lemon tarts. "It's like Christmas when our van turns up," he says.

Most of the food is donated by corporations, big city law and accountancy firms, plus a smattering of restaurants. For legal reasons, private homes can't contribute. So, what should you and I do with that bunch of wilted fennel and bowl of old rice? "Get creative!" Kwong says. "Cooking with leftovers is the most original form of recycling and you shouldn't always feel you have to cook to a specific recipe." Kwong recommends cutting up leftover vegetables and throwing them in a salad or a pasta dish, or cooking them in a stir-fry, sauteing, or even braising or blanching them.

Fruit that is spoiling makes great smoothies. Leftover rice is perfect for fried rice: "All you need is onion, eggs, some bacon and soy."

When it comes to food, revisiting old values such as moderation and thrift won't just save you money: it will also make a real difference to the environment. "In today's world, there has become a real disconnect between the food we buy and the impact it has on the environment when we waste it," Kwong says. "We need to change that."

How to avoid leftovers

When shopping, make a list and stick to it. Never shop hungry.
Apart from eggs, many things can be eaten after their "best before" date.
Freeze leftovers rather than let them go off in the fridge.
Get creative: soft avocados become guacamole, while old fruit becomes jam, juice or smoothies. For recipe ideas, see
Cook in bulk. Cook twice as much as you need and freeze the extra portions. This will use ingredients that might otherwise be left over.
Learn what a portion is so you don't unintentionally overcook: an average portion of rice for an adult is 50g (or a quarter of a mug); for pasta it is 100g.


Even the most efficient kitchen will produce some waste, particularly if you use lots of fresh produce.
However, plate scrapings and leftovers that are beyond rescue should not be thrown in the bin; instead, start a compost heap. Virtually anything can be composted, from fruit and vegies to bread and tea bags. Meat, dairy, fat, grease, oil or lard should be avoided.

After a couple of months, your food scraps become a fantastic soil dressing.

[partially sourced from Qld Country Life]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Biotech Crops CAN and DO Make a Difference for Many Farmers

While many people in the developed world rail against the use of biotechnology in crops and plants generally, they seem to accept that same technology in medicine. Yet, in many parts of the world now, biotechnology influenced crops are making a major challenge to older style varieties and offering a substantial boost to farm incomes. In India alone, the use of GM cotton has been an outstanding success

The following article provides a summary of their current range, and it is generally a very positive impact on users.


In agricultural-based developing countries, biotech crops are an engine of rural economic growth that, in turn, can contribute substantially to national economic growth.

Global adoption of plant biotechnology continues to grow, according to a recent report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications showing that 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries grew biotech crops on 125 million hectares in 2008 - a 9.4pc increase over global acreage in 2007.

Notably, 90pc, or 12.3 million, were small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

More than half (55pc) of the world's population lives in these 25 countries, equivalent to 8pc of the 1.5 billion hectares of all cropland in the world.

In 2007, biotech crops saved 14.2 billion kg of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 6.3 million fewer cars.
The increase in approvals and adoption demonstrates that countries around the world, especially developing countries, recognise the benefits of plant biotechnology.

Allen Van Deyzne, senior scientist at the University of California-Davis, said the report makes it clear that biotechnology "can be useful for everyone regardless of economic status, with 15 of the 25 countries studied being from developing nations". "The report shows the continued interest in using advanced tools for sustainable food production worldwide and that innovation in biotechnology is no longer limited to a few countries and corporations," Dr Van Deyzne said.

Denise Dewar, executive director for plant biotechnology at CropLife International, said the increase was a testament to the fact that, "when given the opportunity to choose between conventional or biotech seed, farmers will plant biotech crops". "In 2008, our industry saw incredible adoption of the technology in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia, where farmers stand to gain the most," she said. "Worldwide, farmers are seeing the tangible benefits of biotech crops, such as increased crop productivity and income and decreased impact on their land."

The table provides a graphical image of the extent of biotechnology influenced crop plants. And there is more coming. In the NT, where Panama disease is an emerging problem, biotechnology may offer solutions and enable development of new resistant types.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

If Permanent Grasslands are Cropped the Soil Carbon Does Not Change

The headline is provocative but it seems this is the case, at least in temperate areas of north America.

And one major point to emerge is that some of the earlier modelling assumed the areas would be ploughed.........which might just NOT be the case in many areas today. This is a seemingly critical flaw being used in calculations about the potential for carbon to be emitted from grassland converted to farming.

Farming practices have moved on, but the climate scientists have failed to rejig their algorthims!

is a direct link to a media release about the research findings, recently published in Soil Science.

In the NT, and much of northern Australia, it is likely that any conversion of pasture land to cropping would be done under a no-till system, or at worst with minimum tillage. It is also likely that cropping / faming would not occur continuously for a number of years but rather have some alternation between farming and a pasture phase of several years. An exception to this would probably be the development of irrigated areas in the Ord Irrigation Area, where native vegetation is typically annual savannah grasslands.
So it seems that ploughing is the culprit, not cropping per se.

It all adds to the conundrum that is soil carbon storage.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Soil Carbon Storage

Many are of the view that just by using no-till or some form of conservation tillage you can store enormous amount of carbon in your soil. Not so.......or at least it might not be as clear cut as it seems.

The article below summarises recent research from Canada. The gist of it is that it might have to be very much local research to really get answers.

This has big implications for the Northern Territory. We will need to get this work done locally, not rely on answers from elsewhere. Our combination of a range of factors even probably make it more critcal to understand the local situation, especially as there are not too many similar environments around the world to even compare.

So far the NT has done little to understand the issue.

Soil carbon storage is not always influenced by tillage practices
Source: Soil Science Society of America Published Feb. 27, 2009

The practice of no-till has increased considerably during the past 20 yr. Soils under no-till usually host a more abundant and diverse biota and are less prone to erosion, water loss, and structural breakdown than tilled soils. Their organic matter content is also often increased and consequently, no-till is proposed as a measure to mitigate the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. However, recent studies show that the effect of no-till on carbon sequestration can be variable depending on soil and climatic conditions, and nutrient management practices.

Researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Qu├ębec City) investigated the impacts of tillage (no-till vs. moldboard plowing) and N and P fertilization on carbon storage in a clay loam soil under cool and humid conditions in eastern Canada. Corn and soybean had been grown in a yearly rotation for 14 yr. The results of the study were reported in the 2009 January-February issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal.

The authors concluded that their investigation indicates “…no-till enhanced soil organic carbon (SOC) content in the soil surface layer, but moldboard plowing resulted in greater SOC content near the bottom of the plow layer. When the entire soil profile (0-60 cm) was considered, both effects compensated each other which resulted in statistically equivalent SOC stocks for both tillage practices”.

The effects of tillage and N fertilization varied depending on the soil depth considered. When considering only the top 20 cm of soil, the lowest C stocks were measured in the plowed soil with the highest N fertilizer level, whereas the highest SOC stocks were observed in the NT treatment with the highest N rate. The authors hypothesized that while N fertilization favored a greater residue accumulation in the top 20 cm of no-till soils, mixing of crop residue with soil particles and N fertilizer by tillage stimulated the mineralization of residue and native soil carbon.

However, when accounting for the whole soil profile, these variations in the surface 20 cm of soil were counterbalanced by significant SOC accumulation in the 20- to 30-cm soil layer of tilled soils, resulting in statistically equivalent SOC stocks for all tillage and N treatments. This study further emphasizes the importance of taking into account the whole soil profile when determining management effects on SOC storage, especially when full-inversion tillage is involved. The authors conclude that “only considering the top 20 cm of soil would have led us to an erroneous evaluation of the interactive effects of tillage and N fertilization on SOC stock”.

Field studies of the impact of tillage and fertilization on carbon storage have yielded contrasting results in various parts of the world. An explanation of the high intersite variability of the influence of no-till on soil carbon storage will require that we understand the impacts of no-till and fertilizer management on SOC sequestration for various soil and climatic conditions.

Further, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are pursuing their investigations to understand the factors that control the accumulation of soil carbon at depth under moldboard plowing. Specifically, they now focus their efforts on the role of clay particles and soil aggregation in stabilizing carbon.


So, back to the drawing board!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Earth's Soils

Always remember that - "man's continued existence depends on a thin 150mm layer of soil and the fact that it rains"

I have had that quote displayed in my office in just about all offices occupied over many years. A poignant reminder of how fragile our very existence is on this planet. Soil is critical and certainly not all that well mapped, described or understood in relation to management and nutrients in many parts of the world. It is abused in others, from poor physical management methods in cropping often seen in semi arid tropical areas , to over saturation with nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen in some of the naturally good quality soils of the eastern USA.

There is now to be a co-ordinated and expanded effor to increase understanding and mapping of soils on this planet earth. This is also currently topical for the Northern Territory, with many land owners actively researching land and soil data as part of the new management regime in the Top end of the NT.

The media release is appended below.


Scientists to map out earth`s soil

Source: The Earth Institute at Columbia University Published Mar. 6, 2009

Some of the answers to the world’s greatest challenges -- such as climate change, food security, and water scarcity -- lie right beneath our feet. Responding to these and other critical issues, a group of scientists from around the world have announced an ambitious new plan to digitally map the Earth’s soil and its properties. Scientists, industry leaders, and government officials gathered at Columbia University to launch, a pioneering new tool that will shape future policy making, especially in those regions of the world most vulnerable to environmental shocks.

Knowledge of the world’s soil resources is fragmented and dated. will provide accurate soil information in real-time as well as state of the art analysis of soil properties, meeting the needs of various stakeholders, including policymakers, the climate change community, farmers, other land users, and scientists.

“On the current trajectory we will not meet our Millennium Development Goal to cut hunger by half by 2015,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “We need to speed up, and fortunately can do so if we mobilize much greater global cooperation. Today’s meeting speaks to the MDG hunger challenge and many others as well, including climate change, agriculture deficiency, nutrition, and water availability. Soil mapping is one of the pillars to the challenge of sustainable development and the Earth Institute is proud to be a founding partner in this undertaking.”

Work has already started in sub-Saharan Africa, through an $18 million grant awarded to the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to create Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS). AfSIS will be the first-ever, detailed digital soil map of that region’s 42 countries. The Nairobi-based Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of CIAT will lead this effort.

“The best science and technology available must be deployed immediately if Africa’s soils are to be managed in a sustainable manner,” said Kofi Annan, chairman of AGRA and former UN Secretary-General, in a pre-written statement. “Fortunately, this is exactly what is happening. I refer to the Africa Soil Information Service –AfSIS for short. AfSIS is a most welcome addition to the arsenal of tools deployed against the scourge of hunger in Africa, and I heartily congratulate the scientists who developed the project.”

The global digital soil map will use enormous advances in technologies for accurate collection and prediction of soil properties. Conventional soil maps, which are based on technology that existed before the computer, only provide descriptive, static information and are difficult to decipher for those outside the soil science community. Digital soil maps, which are essentially a spatial database of soil properties, are quantitative, dynamic, and will be comprehensible to scientists, policy makers, and government officials.

“Improved soil management for better crop productivity is crucial for providing food security – an intensifying challenge in the context of population growth, increasing numbers of hungry people, and the impacts of climate change on agriculture,” explained Pedro Sanchez, director of AfSIS and director of Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “This initiative will provide farmers, policy makers, and scientists crucial information on how to address declining soil fertility in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa,” Sanchez continued.

Part of the funding will also provide initial support for the formation of the global consortium that is developing the methodology and raising funds for The consortium, which is led by World Soil Information (ISRIC), also includes the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the US Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Australia), the University of Sydney, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the French Research Institute for Development.

The information system will be freely accessible on the Internet. A ministry of agriculture, for example, can access to anticipate fertilizer needs for farmers. Government officials will draw on the information to understand the extent of soil erosion and costs for addressing it. Scientists will utilize the data to forecast the effects of climate change. The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), a center at the Earth Institute, will work with regional partners around the world to integrate and deliver the data using rapidly developing information and communication technologies.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Sign of the Times??

Is this a sign of the times? Is the China tale over, with issues of quality and cost now rapidly appearing. Even Australian manufacturers such as Fisher and Paykel opted to use Thailand rather than China in recent times for off shore manufacturing.

Manufacturers bringing die casting back home
3 March 2009

A RECENT survey conducted in the US shows American manufacturers are turning their backs on Chinese die casters and bringing their work back home.

The North American Die Casting Association (NADCA) reports that a recent survey of its members reveals a significant majority, 78%, have evidence that buyers of their products are shifting to domestic sources for diecast components. The survey identifies three reasons for these shifts: buyers’ concerns about the product quality, supplier proximity, and overseas logistics.

Daniel L. Twarog offered examples from NADCA’s survey of diecasters’ indications that their businesses are benefiting from broad-scale changes in the industrial supply chain.

Milwaukee-based Stroh Die Casting sales manager Andy Stroh indicated to NADCA that OEMs want to locate domestic suppliers because they have trouble with the quality of imported diecastings. "One company has talked to us about bringing some parts back — particularly plated or painted parts," he said. "Poor packaging results in parts getting damaged during shipment." Stroh also confirms the observation that domestic manufacturers increasingly prefer nearby suppliers. "We are tooling up an aluminium diecast part for a company in Green Bay, WI, that was previously made in China," Stroh explained. "The customer had quality issues with the part and difficulties relaying part changes effectively. That's why we got the work -- because of our proximity to the customer, understanding of their needs and our willingness to build the new tool quickly."

Proximity to suppliers may be a determining factor for OEMs because delivery raises cost and production time. Together, these increases may eliminate any savings from offshore production.

Chicago White Metal Die Casting president and COO Eric Treiber confirmed both trends. He indicated to NADCA that his company was awarded some contracts both because of quality issues and proximity concerns with offshore diecasters. "We have, within the last year, produced castings that were previously sourced offshore," according to Treiber. "It is our understanding that two magnesium castings we produce, which were previously sourced offshore, were brought back to the U.S. for reasons of quality and proximity of the supply base."

Another diecaster revealed that his company is now producing an order for about 500,000 zinc components that had been manufactured in China.

The reason, "Metal costs fluctuated in China, and suppliers would not take orders at prices that had previously made them competitive. Adding increased transportation costs, you can see how the trend changed. At our plant, we remained tooled and had machine capacity at our U.S. plant to be able to absorb the work without any capital outlay."

While acknowledging that the diecasting industry “is facing its share of challenges during these economic times,” and that diecasters must take necessary steps “to maintain a profit and stay afloat,” NADCA president Twarog concluded from these and other examples that “good news seems to be on the horizon.”

Clearing for Clearing

Amendments to the Interim Development Control Order 17 which had prohibited land clearing in the Daly Basin area of the Northern Territory were gazetted today. Approval will be given for modest clearing in the Daly Basin of the Northern Territory, with 2000 ha in total likely to be approved in 2009.

Work has been taking place behind the scenes in developing the now extensive requirements to meet the new criteria established for this modest clearing.

It is something many property owners have been hoping would occur and a lot of effort has been expended to develop sound criteria that satisfy the interests of the multitude of interested parties across the environmental, pastoral, fishing, rural and government areas.

The hard part now will be getting it all together to actually have clearing occur before soil conditions become too dry for effective clearing - around May / June.

There are still quite a few hurdles to negotiate for land owners, before the bulldozers start.