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??

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Radical New Genetic Pathways to Change Livestock Breeding

It seems as if Australian science has delivered another major advance in agriculture, this time in the methodology of livestock breeding. It could have very important ramifications for almost all livestock groups, but especially cattle. Now a driver in dairy cow improvement, it is coming to beef production soon.

And so far, once again, other parts of the world have been quick to implement it's use.........with Australia lagging behind.............AGAIN!

Genetic breakthrough to change livestock breeding

WHEN Mike Goddard reflects on the path that led him into livestock genetics the response takes time.
"It seemed like a fun topic."

It is an incongruous reply for a Melbourne born and bred man who has dedicated himself over the best part of 40 odd years to improving methods for genetic selection, but one Professor Goddard has never seen as a disadvantage.

But taking Professor Goddard's modesty aside (when asked his reaction to a recent honourary doctorate awarded by the Norwegian University of Life Science he said "it was nice") Australia's and the world's advancement in livestock genetics has been a slow and often lonely road.

"We have been trying to use genetic markers since about 1990 but it is only in recent years that it has started to take off," he said. "The technology was never quite been good enough and in fact a lot of people gave up."
So where are we at now, and just what role does Australia play?

Questions Professor Goddard takes great pride in answering.

In terms of the future, he says genetics is about to take off - the technology is working and the world's need to produce more food from less has governments seeking solutions.

The dairy industry in the United States has started using a new Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) chip that can test 50,000 gene markers at once, and New Zealand, Holland and Australia are following closely. "This means instead of having to wait five years while a bull's progeny are tested, producers can test for DNA markers when the bull is born, and when the bull is a year old and semen available it can be used."

With this science, Professor Goddard said there is the potential to double the rate of genetic gain.

As far as Australia's role in genetic advancement, considering its size "we have been at the forefront in livestock all along".

"If you were to nominate one scientific area where Australia contributes more to world knowledge than expected from its population size, it would be in genetic improvement of livestock," he said.

In 2001 Professor Goddard and his colleague Ben Hayes authored a paper that showed how to predict the total genetic value of an animal using genome-wide dense DNA markers. This work, the Meuwissen, Hayes and Goddard paper, widely revered in genetic communities as breakthrough science, has since become proven thanks to the commercial release of a SNP chip for cattle in 2004.

The ability to track tens of thousands of genes in the one test, as predicted by Professor Goddard and his colleagues, has opened the flood gates on the potential for rapid genetic gain, and word travelled quickly. In the world's leading genetic early adoption country, the United States, 4500 progeny-tested dairy bulls have been tested and thousands more are scheduled. In Australia where Professor Goddard admits it has been an "unfortunately slower" around 2000 dairy bulls have been tested.

For beef and sheep, DNA testing is not a new concept, but Professor Goddard says we can't yet predict genetic merit in beef and sheep as accurately as in dairy cattle. "In dairy there is not the multiple breed problems - if it works in Holstein that is three quarters of the job done."

What Professor Goddard and his colleagues are aiming for is a commercial arrangement with a DNA company such as Pfizer, but to retain a centralised common estimated breeding value database from which producers can benchmark stock.

"For years it has been relatively easy to find the gene for traits that are controlled by a single gene such red coat color, but many traits are controlled by lots of genes which each have a small effect so the advantage with the SNP chip is that we can test up to 50,000 markers all at once."

Beef will be next to follow the dairy lead, and sheep after that, he says.

Professor Goddard, a former tropical livestock genetics expert at James Cook University Townsville, has acquired an international reputation for his broad grasp on livestock genetics.

His passport wears the mismatched marks of a seasoned traveller who is regularly fronting international genetics conventions, and in Australia his unique skill set has him stretched across duties within the Melbourne University, Department of Primary Industries and Beef CRC - as a start.

His professional career has coincided with the livestock genetics movement.

It began as a young veterinary graduate, in the 1970s, when he completed his PhD on a breeding program for guide dogs for the blind at University of Melbourne. It was working with the genetics/breeding scheme of dogs that Professor Goddard's unfaltering intrigue in genetic possibilities started. Livestock, he said, was just the next natural step.

Looking back he said it is difficult to conceptualise that a lot of the work has only just started to eventuate, but he has no doubt that genomic selection will spawn a whole new way of selecting animals.

Already he said work is being done in the beef and dairy industries on identifying genes for feed conversion traits, and in time there is the hope that producers and processors will be able to test livestock and decide for which market the animal would be best suited. "Gradually genetic selection will be introduced into all livestock sections and it will revolutionise them."

"This I have no doubt of."

extract from Queensland Country Life 18 June 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Beef is Better from Pastures and Climate Friendly Too

Grass and other perennial plants may be just what the doctor ordered for farmers facing the uncertainties of climate change. And beef and dairy products from free-ranging, grass-fed cattle--along with legumes and grains grown in addition to grass--may be just what the doctor ordered for consumers.

That's the "post-oil agriculture" vision portrayed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and other participants at the Farming with Grass Conference held in Oklahoma in 2008. In 2009, the Soil and Water Conservation Society published the proceedings from that conference in an online book titled "Farming with Grass."

ARS scientists Jean L. Steiner and Alan J. Franzluebbers co-wrote the foreword to the book and the closing chapter, "Expanding Horizons of Farming with Grass." Steiner is at the ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Okla. Franzluebbers is at the ARS J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center in Watkinsville, Ga.

The closing chapter was written with Constance L. Neely, vice president of Heifer International in Little Rock, Ark. Steiner, Franzluebbers and Neely explain that perennial plants, in diverse agricultural systems, have great potential to enhance resilience against uncertain climate and market conditions.

Steiner's ARS colleagues Bill Phillips and Brian Northup--who co-wrote their own chapter on forage-based beef production--are in the second year of a 5-year study to develop a system to produce grass-fed beef for the southern Great Plains. Phillips and Northup are at the ARS lab in El Reno. ARS scientists in Booneville, Ark.; Mandan, N.D.; and Watkinsville, Ga., are also looking for innovative ways to include grazing cattle in economically diverse farming systems.

In summarizing stories from the conference, participants envisioned mixed livestock, perennial plants, and other crops, instead of large stands of a single-row crop monoculture. The goal is to sustain farms and rural communities both economically and environmentally, while offering local, healthy foods and other new products.

ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Don Comis, (301) 504-1625, June 9, 2009 --View this report online, plus photos and related stories, at

This was a recent media piece from the ARS in the US - considered the senior agriculturally focussed r and d group in the US Federal bureaucracy.

Funny about the livestock production systems, though. Sounds much like most of Australia's open grazing on pastures systems of producing cattle - right NOW and especially true of northern Australia.

It is true that finishing cattle on pasture is a bit more tricky - you do need quality pastures, with both good protein quality and higher digestibility of the forages, and often that may need [at least in Australia] some irrigation, or using high quality leguminous feed - even leucaena can assist in this task[ a tree perennial legume]. And there is a focus here in Australia also, to move more production back to pastures, rather than lot finishing.

I remember being lectured as an undergraduate in agronomy about the need for rotations, looking after soil health and quality, soil carbon issues and organic matter, and some of these principles were part of [ and still are] themes I espouse as an agricultural consultant.

It looks a lot like back to the future..........

Friday, June 05, 2009

Climate Change and Land Use

Recently released is the new World Watch Institute Report on climate change and land use.

Nothing too radical really, but a sensible approach to improving everyday land use with a focus on the actions that can mitigate climate change.

Some of the actions may not be practical - afterall, most grain crops are annuals - so you cannot farm perennials to meet the world grain needs. But you can improve what is being done now.

It is also true to say that for many countries already, some of these steps are being taken, with minimal and conservation tillage having a significant use in many of the major grain production regions of the world.

It is interesting to note they advocate using biochar [agrichar] to enrich soil carbon. Unfortunately the Australian government does not seem too interested in this needs more research! BUT.......biochar results may not start being discernible for a number of years, probably after the current term of the government; maybe it is time to start sometime soon on expanded research. At least in Australia, initial research has been quite positive on a role for this product so work on further R and D should be cranked up and not left without funding. CSIRO has got some money......for a 3 year trial period. But unfortunately, they are unlikley to do much in the tropical areas of Australia.

Read the summary. Make up your mind. Climate change is everyone's business.

Worldwatch Report: Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use

Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use
Author: Sara J. Scherr and Sajal Sthapit ISBN 13: 978-1-878071-91-0 Paperback 50 pages
Summary Table of Contents
E-book $12.95

Land makes up a quarter of Earth’s surface,and its soil and plants hold three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. More than 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions arise from the land use sector. Thus, no strategy for mitigating global climate change can be complete or successful without reducing emissions from agriculture, forestry, and other land uses. Moreover, only land-based or “terrestrial” carbon sequestration offers the possibility today of large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, through plant photosynthesis.

Five major strategies for reducing and sequestering terrestrial greenhouse gas emissions are:

• Enriching soil carbon. Soil is the third largest carbon pool on Earth’s surface. Agricultural soils can be managed to reduce emissions by minimizing tillage, reducing use of nitrogen fertilizers, and preventing erosion. Soils can store the carbon captured by plants from the atmosphere by building up soil organic matter, which also has benefits for crop production. Adding biochar (biomass burned in a low-oxygen environment) can further enhance carbon storage in soil.

• Farming with perennials. Perennial crops, grasses, palms, and trees constantly maintain and develop their root and woody biomass and associated carbon, while providing vegetative cover for soils. There is large potential to substitute annual tilled crops with perennials, particularly for animal feed and vegetable oils, as well as to incorporate woody perennials into annual cropping systems in agroforestry systems.

• Climate-friendly livestock production. Rapid growth in demand for livestock products has triggered a huge rise in the number of animals, the concentration of wastes in feedlots and dairies, and the clearing of natural grasslands and forests for grazing. Livestock- related emissions of carbon and methane now account for 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions—more than the transport sector. A reduction in livestock numbers may be needed but production innovations can help, including rotational grazing systems,manure management, methane capture for biogas production, and improved feeds and feed additives.

• Protecting natural habitat. The planet’s 4 billion hectares of forests and 5 billion hectares of natural grasslands are a massive reservoir of carbon—both in vegetation above ground and in root systems below ground. As forests and grasslands grow, they remove carbon from the atmosphere. Deforestation, land clearing, and forest and grassland fires are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Incentives are needed to encourage farmers and land users to maintain natural vegetation through product certification, payments for climate services, securing tenure rights, and community fire control. The conservation of natural habitat will benefit biodiversity in the face of climate change.

• Restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands. Extensive areas of the world have been denuded of vegetation through land clearing for crops or grazing and from overuse and poor management. Degradation has not only generated a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but local people have lost a valuable livelihood asset as well as essential watershed functions. Restoring vegetative cover on degraded lands can be a win-win-win strategy for addressing climate change, rural poverty, and water scarcity.

Agricultural communities can play a central role in fighting climate change. Even at a relatively low price for mitigating carbon emissions, improved land management could offset a quarter of global emissions from fossil fuel use in a year. In contrast, solutions for reducing emissions by carbon capture in the energy sector are unlikely to be widely utilized for decades and do not remove the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. To tackle the climate challenge, we need to pursue land use solutions in addition to efforts to improve energy efficiency and speed the transition to renewable energy.

Yet so far, the international science and policy communities have been slow to embrace terrestrial climate action. Some fear that investments in land use will not produce “real” climate benefits, or that land use action would distract attention from investment in energy alternatives. There is also a concern that land management changes cannot be implemented quickly enough and at a scale that would make a difference to the climate.


It is a sensible and sober assessment. But action is needed.