Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder - An Answer ??

While this area is not my forte, the bee colony collapse disease / disorder [CCD] may have an answer. If the results are true, and treatment is will be a major breakthrough in a syndrome that has really flummoxed researchers as well as causing major problems in horticulture production over the past few years.

This text below came from Wikipedia, but I have also seen other data that supports the prognosis, and alludes to relatively simple treatment regimes.

Applying proteomics-based pathogen screening tools in 2010, researchers announced they had identified a co-infection of invertebrate iridescent virus type 6 (IIV-6) and Nosema ceranae in all CCD colonies sampled. These results, if confirmed, may finally offer an explanation for genuine cases of CCD. On the basis of this research, The New York Times reported the colony collapse mystery solved, quoting researcher Dr. Bromenshenk, a co-author of the study, "[The virus and fungus] are both present in all these collapsed colonies.”

More details on Wikipedia.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Strategic Alliance to Build Carbon Management Reforms - Origin and Australian Carbon Trust

Origin Energy & Australian Carbon to work together on energy efficiency

Australian Carbon Trust and Origin Energy today signed an agreement to develop a strategic alliance for dedicated and more accessible financing, designed to accelerate the uptake of energy efficiency technologies and practices by Australian businesses.

To read the following release click here

This is an interesting follow up to the previous post.

Origin and its senior executives have long been strong advocates for a realistic carbon management system in australia, becoming increasingly but quietly vocal in most of the right places - where policy change happens. There are many statements on record to support that position.

This is an interesting development that should offer strong support to smaller businesses to also move to better carbon managment practices.

Bring it on!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Clean Technology Is Still Thriving - BUT a Carbon Price Would Help

A recent report indicates that the US clean tech industries are still developing, despite a complete failure of policies to develop a carbon price or any real progress on climate change type in the US at national level.

Australia is not much better, given the current policy imbroglio here, after the failure of the prevous government attempts through an ETS - a cap and trade scheme.

But the US industry personnel are still pushing ahead, and many are very positive.

It is not if, but when, in their view, and they want to be around and active. Or they will operate elsewhere - Asia, Europe or maybe China.

This recent article offers some interesting views.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Composting in Australia - More Action Needed

Breaking down the benefits of composting
Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A press release worth reading.......

Increasing the use of organic compost to intensive agriculture industries such as citrus could save 30% of irrigation water and deliver millions of dollars of extra income through increased crop yields to regions such as the Riverina as well as providing significant carbon abatement and sequestration opportunities for the nation, according to the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA).

CEO of the WMAA, Val Southam. believes greater investment in the utilisation of organic materials in agriculture may be part of the solution to restoring health to the Murray-Darling Basin without jeopardising the livelihoods of farmers and regional communities.“The economic and environmental benefits of composting are enormous. In addition to improving water use efficiency, there are significant environmental benefits accrued through carbon abatement and sequestration.

Organic material diverted from landfill could abate 2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year- approximately 461,893 cars off the road annually.

“Around 420,000 tonnes of compost is used in our intensive agricultural industries per year. Compost improves soil condition by adding organic matter, and a 5% increase in soil organic material will result in the quadrupling of a soil’s water holding capacity. It also suppresses weed growth thus reducing the need for chemicals.” Southam said composting also prevents the loss of valuable top soil and reduces the damaging effects of erosion - savings of between 2.3 and 17 tonnes per hectare of soil loss due to erosion can be achieved. “Our industry is calling on all levels of government to provide R&D funding to fully evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of composting and fund programs which promote awareness of the benefits of compost use in our agricultural industries and wider community,” she said.

Chair of Compost Australia (a division of WMAA), Peter Wadewitz believes there’s much more government, industry and the community can do to increase the use of compost. “At least 20 million tonnes of organic material is available for recycling through composting. Composting organic material such as cardboard and food scraps can reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by as much as 50%. “The Recycled Organics Industry is already processing over 5 million tonnes of organic material annually but the benefits to our environment and economy from increasing this amount are significant,” Wadewitz said. “In addition to increased R&D funding and raising awareness of the benefits of composting, one option may be to establish tax incentives for producers of recycled organic products in more sustainable agricultural production systems,” he added.

Compost for Soils reported that SARDI (South Australian Research and Development Institute) citrus trials (composted green organics, grape marc, animal manure) showed a positive return on the initial investment.An application of 40 m3ha-1 of composted green organics in Loxton North produced the highest benefit at 5.38 – that is, for every dollar invested around $5 is returned to the grower.


While this information is not new, in our current debate about carbon, and improved productivity in Australian agriculture, this is a very timely press release and should be heeded around the country.

There is so much wasted food and recyclable organics available. There is technology available to do a lot more, from very simple systmes to quite complex operations. Other countries see this as a valuable resource for agriculture, yet we in australia with relatively poor soils and low moisture holding capacity in soils, really do need this material to improve productivity of the land.

And that applies especially so in the tropics, with higher temperatures driving a faster turnover of the soil carbon as well as a faster soil moisture cycle........and even poorer soils in general.

There are structural issues, with local government [or their contractors] often the handler of organic wastes, yet it must have better leadership at State or National level to achieve serious change.

Yes, there are skilled people that could achieve more.........let there be some action along the lines proposed in terms of R and D!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Erosion and Sediment Control with Recycled Organic Waste - Berms

The following is very pertinent to the Top End of the NT today, as we experience a major 100mm per hour storm across the Dariwn region.

Where is your soil going today??

Erosion and sediment control, particularly on civil construction sites often seems to start and end with using a silt fence.

While silt fences can be effective, to be so, they require correct installation, and ongoing maintenance. While there are machines to install silt fencing [yes, they do exist!] rarely have I seen one in Australia, and especially on smaller civil works sites, they are, as they say, as rare as hen’s teeth!

Installing a silt fence is a tedious job, particularly the preparation of the footings, in which a lower area is buried, as well as refilling the trench. Mostly, and somewhat sadly, it is often done poorly, and the silt fence is often relatively ineffective.

In Australia with high summer storm rains, and especially so in the tropics, it is quite common to see a silt fence struggle with high rainfall intensity, and they sometimes breach. There are other options that can be simple and easy to install, and repair if necessary.

Top among the options is using a mulch or compost berm or contour bank. Many regions have mulched green waste available, and creating a berm is relatively simple using readily available on site equipment such as a bobcat or small backhoe. Accessing the greenwaste is often through the local council, or sometimes even using on site available cleared green materials can be useful too.
Ideally, pasteurised mulch is the preferred material, with coarse materials suitable. Ground woody waste, even small woody branches are usable. However, where pasteurised mulch is NOT available, unpasteurised mulch can do, although there will be a need to spray and kill any weeds that emerge within the berm – glyphosate is the normal option. Plants developing from the pasteurised mulch are very slow to almost none, although a few plants might be expected from blown in seeds, after a while.

There are some excellent resources on line, but the simple plan is to develop several berms across a slope, on the contour. They should be lightly keyed into the ground, often by building on a ripped base area or similar simple disturbance. Unlike an earth bank, they are supposed to be porous........just that all the water does not flow through at once, and sediment is collected and deposited along the way.

More information here: from Georgia in the US; a sub tropical region of the US - a very comprehensive overview of berm use and construction - shows how to build a system

When the project is completed, the berm can then be used as part of the organic materials often used on site as part of the landscaping, or often left in place in small drainage lines to continue to function until there is improved cover on the nearby soil areas.

They work extremely well, are cheap to construct and maintain, and VERY environmentally friendly!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Compadre zoysia in Palmerston, NT

Compadre zoysia a success in Palmerston

The Palmerston City Council needed an attractive low maintenance grass to complement the new landscaping and pathway connecting the main office buildings to the public bus facilities.

The grass of choice was Compadre zoysia sown by seed. Seed was chosen as the large area to be grassed meant that use of turf sod was too great a cost, and that the 12 week development period was acceptable given that this was landscaping expected to remain in place for a number of years.

The use of seed sown Compadre also enabled the Council to better assess the performance of the grass being seed sown, in a fairly prominent location and subject to considerable traffic and use by the public.

The area was sown in the latter part of the dry season and as expected, initial development was slow, although as soon as warmer weather came it soon grew faster and rapidly filled in.

It now has high coverage, is being regularly mown with conventional rotary landscape turf mowers, and is already a great asset along the footpath to the buses.

It is short, does not require much maintenance and mowing intervals could be expected to be longer, yet aesthetic appearance should not decline. In practice, irrigation frequency and water use has also been lower, once the area was well established. It is very dense – one of the variety’s great attributes, and there are few weeds.

It will be expected to further develop over the next month or so with a few minor enhancements including a modest fertiliser application. One or two light fertiliser applications each year of slow release turf fertiliser [ March and August] will be adequate, using rates about 20% of normal couch recommended fertiliser rates.........yes, only 20% of the rates recommended for couch.

Look out for this turf, if in Palmerston, Northern Territory. A very cost effective means of achieving a great high quality turf.
At the time of the photo, it had not been irrigated for about 10 days and had just been mown, hence looking a bit stressed.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Tropical Agriculture Food Production is NOT Efficient

A recent report indicates the poor efficiency of crop production in the tropics. The conclusion seems to be why bother with food production in this region.

An alternate conclusion may be that the region has not received the same inputs into research and development for food production that has occurred in temperate regions. Another alternate view may also be that inhabitants of the tropics may have been able to obtain a far greater percent of requirements from existing vegetation through more "hunter / gatherer" activities.

If you have lived in some curent societies in rural aras of the tropics that is still very common, with local sourced food very important over and above any crop production.

Yet, modern rice production in some regions of the tropics does have very high grain yields. And it is true the grain yield/ stover ratio in some other tropical crops eg sorghum, millet, tef etc is lower than the temperate zones. Again, is this inherent or just an outcome of less R and D?

Biogeographical studies also tend to conclude that high rainfall tropical regions should concentrate on efficient biomass production [think sugarcane, tree crop horticulture, cocoa,trees for wood] with tropical crop production [annual crop production is inferred] moved to the medium rainfall regions. Those regions also tend to have greater seasonal variability too! Their definition of the tropics is too broad.

The issue of grains for meat production is also not especially relevant for beef and goat production in the tropics, as most is grown on grass........or food residuals, and rarely is grain used for finishing, let alone growing animals!

Read this article linked below............draw your own conclusions.

Tropical agriculture "double-whammy": high emissions, low yields

Food produced in the tropics comes with high carbon emissions and low crop yields, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

In the most comprehensive and detailed study to date looking at carbon emissions versus crop yields, researchers found that food produced in the tropics releases almost double the amount of carbon while producing half the yield as food produced in temperate regions. In other words, temperate food production is three times more efficient in terms of yield and carbon emissions.

"Tropical forests store a tremendous amount of carbon, and when a forest is cleared, not only do you lose more carbon, but crop yields are not nearly as high as they are in temperate areas," explains lead author Paul C. West, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a press release. The researchers found that one ton of food emitted approximately over 75 tons of carbon in the tropics, whereas a ton of food grown in temperate regions released just less than 27 tons of carbon.

The tradeoffs between the release of carbon to the atmosphere and agricultural production are markedly different between the world's temperate and tropical regions. In this representation, for each hectare of land cleared for agriculture, each rail car is equivalent to 68 tons of carbon released to the atmosphere and each bushel represents 3.9 tons of maize produced. "This creates a kind of 'double whammy' for a lot of tropical agriculture: we have to clear carbon-rich ecosystems to create tropical croplands, and unfortunately they often have lower yields than temperate systems," says co-author Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. "In terms of balancing the needs of food production and slowing carbon dioxide emissions, this is a tough tradeoff."

Rising human population, increasing consumption of meat (which requires more grain per area), the demand for biofuels, high commodity prices, and economic development plans have pushed many tropical nations to pursue large-scale agriculture over forest protection. However, the authors say the realities of carbon loss in the tropics makes a strong argument for intensifying agriculture on already cleared land, rather than more deforestation. "Our results corroborate recommendations to concentrate reforestation and avoid deforestation in the tropics to have the greatest worldwide impact," the authors write.

But, West admits, "the realty is there will be some of both [agriculture intensification and deforestation]." The authors explain in the paper that "despite the clear benefits of concentrating reforestation and forest conservation efforts in the tropics, several local and regional factors influence implementation. […] Choices are made locally and are influenced by local and regional food security, transportation costs, labor, poverty, and technology rather than global atmospheric carbon. Thus, local and global outcomes must be coupled to manage ecosystem services and assess their tradeoffs."

The study also highlight that agriculture comes with additional tradeoffs on top of carbon including impacting ecosystem services such as "soil and groundwater recharge, runoff, and nutrient regulation as well as ecosystems, species, and genome diversity of landscapes." The broad study looked at 175 different crops worldwide using government data and satellite imagery. "We have a very fine resolution of both what the carbon stocks and the yields are globally," says West. "Spatially, it is much more explicit than anything that has been produced before."

Approximately 20% of the temperate region is used for crops, as opposed to 10.5% of the tropics. In all, deforestation contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than global transportation: 12-20% of the total greenhouse gas emissions are due to the loss of forests. Scientists say that such emissions are driving global climate change.

CITATION: Paul C. West, Holly K. Gibbs, Chad Monfreda, John Wagner, Carol C. Barford, Stephen R. Carpenter, and Jonathan A. Foley. Trading carbon for food: Global comparison of carbon stocks vs. crop yields on agricultural land. PNAS. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1011078107.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Can Energy be Less Black in Australia?

Australia's energy markets, their regulation and development might be in for some serious challenges it seems, right at the nub of change - policy intervention.

Australia has much of our energy production from coal, including some from particularly dirty brown coal. These are all on one side. Shall we say the brown, or maybe black corner.

Then there are the new energy producers, with renewable energy in various forms, but commonly wind in the majority at present, but more alternatives coming, or at worst, gas as the primary energy source. The green corner, you might think.

Lobbying from the black corner has so far been quite successful, with their success relatively undiminished. Even a few more recent successes. There has been a focus on preservation of the policy status quo. BUT.......the green corner is pushing hard, and might be on the cusp of some decent gains.

Read the article here and look at the links. An interesting time is upon us.

Can the politicians yet be convinced that it is within their power to actually do something??

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Phytoremediation with Napier grass

Napier grass for Phytoremediation

Phytoremediation often seems a simple but slow and unobtrusive process. Not visually obtrusive, no flash pumps nor any drill rigs, but a simple plant, just growing and doing its thing to improve soil quality.

Recent research by a group that involves the Australian CRC, CARE – based in Adelaide – has shown that a commonly used tropical pasture grass – Napier grass , Pennisetum purpureum may offer some simple options for phytoremediation of soil in the tropics.

The specific details are detailed in a generic way in the following link on the ABC web site :

although more details are on this link, direct to the CRC CARE:
but the potential seems to operate through metal uptake from soils as well as degradation of some hydrocarbon materials.

Napier grass is a fairly common perennial pasture species used in the tropics, particularly in those regions with rain most of the year. Napier grass which is perennial, has a few relatives in the grass genera that are very deep rooted and do grow on poor, dry soils for example – pearl millet, an annual species. It would be interesting to see how these species perform in the tropics.

There are not many plants considered suitable for phytoremediation use in the tropics so another candidate species is very welcome.

Cannot understand why it is being imported into Australia though, unless these characters are very specific to a new cultivar as would have thought the generic plant was readily available in northern Australia. Bana grass [ same species ] is used commonly as a windbreak grass in north Australia, and there is at least one Australian derived cultivar. See the following for more information:
and there is plenty more online.

Vetiver grass [ Chrysopogon zizanoides] also has a reputation as a species with metal accumulation properties, as well as being a great erosion control species and one that will colonise on tough soil conditions. Plenty of information on the web site

Friday, October 22, 2010

Endosulfan Registration Cancelled in Australia

Registration of Endosulfan Cancelled in Australia

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) on Tuesday advised that it had cancelled the registration of the insecticide endosulfan.

This decision followed a recent assessment of new information by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC) that the prolonged use of endosulfan is likely to lead to adverse environmental effects via spray drift and run-off.
A full risk assessment conducted by DSEWPC concluded that these long term risks could not be mitigated through restrictions on use or variations to label instructions.

From 12 October 2010, agricultural products containing endosulfan are no longer registered in Australia. The three current approvals for endosulfan have also been cancelled, and the five products containing the chemical will be phased out over the next two years.

Read the Full Report here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Plant Power - Build Better Plants for More Carbon Capture or Bioenergy

WOW!!! Scientific American seems to have woken up to a fact probably well understood by many in the agriculture research area, and also by many farmers.

Better plants for carbon capture, biofuels, or for that matter almost anything else requires an investment in R and D, specifically some decent plant breeding and genetics. Along with some public policy work to see that the plants get used.

The article below appeared in in mid October 2010, and at least the review does build a case for a decent and ongoing investment in plant research, something that seems to have been over looked in the rush to develop geosequestration of carbon. Algae also probably has a place, especially for coal power stations, as does agrichar.

The comments about a price for carbon are very US-centric, and reflect what I would consider as "head in the sand" thinking by many US policy gurus, as another study, on mainstream media reports today, has indicated that many countries already have an explicit or implicit carbon price, including China and the EC countries, and that the US is probably out of line in its current thinking.

The article really says little that is new, but getting this approach into the mainstream thinking is very necessary to ensure the $$$$ do flow into a very useful avenue of development, in a time when agriculture seems to be less endowed with investment for long term progress.

Review article below.

Flower Power: Genetic Modification Could Amply Boost Plants' Carbon-Capture and Bioenergy Capacity
A new review sums up options for increasing global carbon-sequestration by flora, and speculates that genetically engineering crops and trees could enhance the process, trapping gigatons of the greenhouse gas as well as increasing bioenergy production.

Human activities currently add about nine gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere yearly.
Photosynthetic organisms on land and in the ocean absorb about five of those gigatons through the natural uptake of CO2, leaving to humans the task of dealing with the rest. But no matter how much carbon there is, capturing it and preventing it from reentering the atmosphere is an immense engineering challenge; even today's best technology is orders of magnitude less effective than photosynthesis at trapping atmospheric carbon.

A new analysis published in the October issue of Bioscience suggests that by 2050 humans could offset between five and eight gigatons of the carbon emitted annually by growing plants and trees optimized via genetic engineering both for fuel production and carbon sequestration.

Bioenergy crops represent an opportunity to mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide in two separate ways, says lead author Christer Jansson, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Earth Sciences Division. First, they are a carbon-neutral energy source that could offset the burning of fossil fuels. Second, "if they are the right kind of plants, they have a chance to transfer a lot of carbon underground for long-term sequestration," he says.

Plants take up CO2 and store carbon in their biomasses. Carbon can stay for decades or centuries in leaves, stems, branches, seeds and flowers aboveground, whereas carbon allocated to underground root systems is more apt to be transferred into the soil, where it can stay sequestered for millennia. Therefore, an ideal bioenergy plant would produce lots of aboveground biomass for fuel as well as have an extensive root system. Preliminary research indicates that genetic engineering approaches could be employed to enhance both these traits.

Using genetic modification to enhance photosynthesis and thus biomass yield is a realistic approach, says Stephen P. Long, a professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign who was not part of the study. Long notes that transgenic tobacco plants, with simple modifications applicable to other plants as well, have already been shown to be more productive. "We are in a position now where we certainly know enough to where we could engineer quite a few of these changes," he says.

Meanwhile, regarding the problem of coaxing plants to allocate more carbon to their root systems, Jansson says an important difference between perennial and annual plants is a good place to start. "Perennials are more efficient than annuals at hiding carbon underground," he says. That's because annuals, which make up most of the world's food crops, spend much more energy producing seeds, stems and leaves than for building their root systems. On the other hand, perennials like switchgrass and Miscanthus have more extensive root systems—necessary because they remain dormant for part of the year and then must grow up again from their roots.

Whereas it may be exciting to imagine a bioenergy or food crop that produces lots of aboveground biomass and has large, carbon-sequestering root systems, research into whether this goal is realistic is still in its early stages. "Perenniality is a complex trait," Jansson says. He suggests it may end up being easier to modify perennials so they possess desirable annual-like features, as opposed to the other way around—but it's too early to tell. For the short term Jansson is confident that science can modify plants so they are more drought resistant and salt tolerant. Crops that could be maintained with brine or brackish water, such as industrial wastewater or seawater, would help preserve freshwater supplies. "These are important traits that need to be introduced into food and bioenergy crops," Jansson says, adding that "we will see this sooner" than enhanced photosynthesis or perennials with annual traits and/or vice versa.

The authors stress that genetic engineering should not be viewed as a cure-all, but rather part of a larger breeding effort. Further, Jansson says, "One problem is that the different aspects we mention—increasing photosynthesis, improving bioenergy crop yield, and putting more carbon into the root systems—are highly interlinked, and thus not necessarily additive." It could be, for example, that a modifying a plant to grow more roots takes away aboveground biomass production. Again, research in this area is too preliminary to tell.

Allison Thomson, who studies climate change and land use at the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Md., also expressed the need for caution when interpreting the study's projections. They are valuable in principle, she says, but also based on many assumptions regarding future economic conditions, land availability, and the size of bioenergy's role in a larger future energy strategy. For example, she says, "you can't really say how much bioenergy we are going use if you're not also considering other available energy sources and how much they emit." Furthermore, she points out, whether or not there is a price for carbon, which is hard to account for at this point, will figure heavily into future energy scenarios.

Also important to consider are potential land-use issues related to increasing demand for food. "When we do modeling, that's the one demand you can't ignore," Thomson says. "People want to eat before they want bioenergy."Besides all the unknowns, there is also existing regulatory policy regarding genetically modified organisms, which imposes high costs of compliance, thereby making it difficult to assess whether the ideas discussed in the paper are all doable.

Long says: "The bottleneck and damper on all this is really, 'How do you get transgenics out there, and meet all the regulatory requirements and costs?'"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rainwater Harvesting in the Tropics

Rainwater Harvesting in the Tropical north

In north Australia where rainfall is mostly very seasonal, with relatively well defined wet and then drier periods of the year it is possible to collect significant amounts of rainfall – rainfall harvesting. The hardest issue to contend with is the need to store relatively larger percentages due to the seasonally dry conditions.
This is particularly so in the north west of Australia – Darwin and areas west around the Kimberley coast where 4 – 8 months may have zero rain, and rainfall declines as you move away from the coastal areas.
However..............look at the data. Columns 2 and 3 show the amount potentially falling on the roof, in Kilolitres [KL] under a range of roof areas , for two different annual rainfall amounts

Roof area [sq metres] Rainfall – 1000mm/yr Rainfall - 1500mm /yr
200 200KL 300KL
250 250KL 375KL
400 400KL 600KL

If you assume a capture rate of 80%, the amounts potentially available are shown in the tables below. A capture rate of 80% could be considered in the low range area, as in the tropics much of the rain falls in significant storms, and in this situation a smaller proportion is wasted in first flush diversion or similar systems that divert the first smaller volumes of rain to ensure clean water is captured and goes into storage.

Roof area – sq m 80% capture of 1000mm/yr -KL 80% capture of 1500mm/yr-KL
200 160 240
250 200 300
400 320 480

The roof areas selected have been used as examples of small, medium and medium/large areas under roof with gutters and collection systems, and include the additive potential from a house roof, garage and sheds. They apply equally to urban and semi-rural locations.

For straight “in house” domestic use, with sensible management, a family of four could use less than 100KL. And there are a lot of options and management ideas to be considered.

For use outside the household areas, a modest lawn and garden could be developed with usage in the 100 – 200KL/year, especially if sensible grey water and effluent use was practised, using systems that allow subsurface disposal of these products.

One option is the use of KISSS subsurface irrigation systems [see] along with a range of approved alternative wastewater treatment systems – that is, a system somewhat superior to the older style septic tank, which treats effluent at least to secondary standard or better.

There are a wide range of these, and in Australia each State or local government region has approval systems for various brands and types, so you need to check what is legally available and approved.

The really tricky part is to work out how much you need stored around the end of the rainy season.

Some sort of monthly water balance is required, to calculate input and usage, but as a very broad guide, somewhere between 100 and 150KL would be needed at around the end of the rainy season.

More storage allows more extensive outside greenery development, naturally. Also remember that this stored water is a valuable resource for any fire fighting, and bushfires can be a threat in the drier months.

Tank Management

A few short comments.......
· Many users of tank water do not worry about water treatment, but there are some simple treatments if needed. Use in line or in tank UV treatment – this seems to be now seen as the most efficient way to kill any nasties in the water
· Clean water in – means clean water in the tank, so keep gutters clean and use pre treatments such as first flush diversion, leaf guards and similar systems.
· Keep mosquito larvae out of the tank.......screening has usually been seen as a simple solution, and of course this also keeps some particles out of the tank. The screen must be cleaned regularly to allow easy flow of the water into the tank, and two stage mesh systems do work well. In parts of Asia some areas use copepods [small animals that eat mosquito larvae] in tanks to prevent development of larvae.

Mosquito and mosquito larvae management is vital in those areas known to have the dengue mosquito present.

This is not a complete guide to using rainwater and tanks, but to show it is very definitely possible in this region, based on rainfall, and usage patterns and known areas of roof cover.

Even if there is no need to provide all of a households water needs, there are opportunities to collect and store rainwater for outside use – filling swimming pools, washing cars, garden watering to reduce using expensive treated potable water.

If planning a new house..........a suitable place for a tank may be under the driveway or under the lawn areas, rather than an above ground object in the yard! Many designs allow for traffic across the top of the tank.

It is not always difficult and can be an option where groundwater supplies are poor, or there are other issues around groundwater usage.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Urban Agriculture - Concepts for 2050

While 2050 might be 40 years in the future, planning and development thinking has already been evolving about what agriculture might be like.

There have been options mulled over including : -
  • agriculture and horticulture as part of green roofs on multi story buildings
  • use of the vertical surfaces of building to have plants growing on the facades
  • use of warehouses to convert to hydroponic production [ currently being done in some rundown city areas in the USA]
  • local community gardens
  • locally reprocessed and used organic wastes and water

and the most recent scenario is even more ambitious.

It is the integration of production, processing and sale of fresh produce including fish farming and potentially some animal production such as chickens and other poultry in an integrated manner in a single facility.

It also potentially offers urban recycling as presumably a facility might also require composts and recycled water.

The link is: -

It is an intriguing concept and it would have many advantages for many cool regions of the world.

It is reproduced below. Read and think........

Last week at the Nordic Exceptional Trendshop 2010, held in Denmark, one presentation took urban agriculture to the next level. A collaboration with NASA, you might even say it launched urban agriculture out of this world, and into the future.

The idea is called Agropolis, a combination grocery store, restaurant, and farm all in one building, employing the most advanced technologies in hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic farming. As it stands, Agropolis is still just a mere idea, with little more than some cool graphics to back it up.

But regardless, Agropolis ushers forth a new wave of thinking about urban food systems.

The team behind the Agropolis concept proposes that this new generation of store would be an ecosystem unto itself, a finely tuned orchestra of parts in balance, that would not only be totally envrionmentally sustainably and friendly, but also just plain producing the freshest food around.

But what would all these innovative, NASA-inspired state of the art hydroponics and other high-tech solutions look like in practice? ............According to the vision of Agropolis, a customer would walk into a store that is covered in green. Vegetables growing on the walls as far as the eye can see. And below the floors one would see tilapia swimming, working in tandem with vegetables in an aquaponic system. You would buy a tomato that was literally just picked, from a plant that you can see in front of you. The store would bring a whole new meaning to local, and one-up the notion of hyper local, since all the food available to eat or buy would have traveled zero miles from the farm to the store. At most, just a few steps.

It all sounds grand, and more than a little space-age. But the challenge given to the team that came up with Agropolis wasn't entirely outside reality: Create a farm without relying on arable lad. As the Earth's healthy soil and other resources dwindle, it may not be out of the realm of possibility that a system like Agropolis be needed, particularly in urban areas.

And while urban agriculture has come a long way, incorporating all kinds of creative and innovative ideas and technologies, in order to make it work on a large and global scale it may be time for something as futuristic and high-tech as Agropolis. But imagine if, in fifty years, or some other future point, our grocery stores did include built in farms, how our relationship to food would change. For one thing, the variety of food we eat might change--are there some vegetables and fruits that can't be grown using these artificial systems? Would we only eat tilapia, and no other meat?

Other vertical and urban farm project proposals include a variety of "staple" crops and animals that all work seamlessly together. But is biting into a fresh, hydroponic, LED light feeding tomato really as good as getting one from your local organic farmer who's tomatoes ripen in the sun?

What will the foodies of this imagined future look like?

In this brave new world of urban agriculture, one this is certain: While Agropolis insists that the store/restaurant/farm will be a sort of ultimate consumer experience, it'll be a much different experience than what we have access to now.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bottled Water - Reverse Marketing

In developed countries, there has been a surge in the use of bottled water over the past decade.

Sure, drinking water is a good idea...........but the bottled water marketing gurus have turned drinking water into an an art form with their "messages". But good ole tap water is kicking back!

In an unlikely area............New York City. They have a program to kick the bottle so to speak, and use conventional ready to go tap water. There are many, many dubious claims made by users and bottlers within the bottled water industry. They play on fear and paranoia - mostly, as there is little evidence that bottled water delivers anything but extra cost to users, and it is disease free.

Can this be a welcome change and be a campaign that could be developed in Australia too with various partners?


The New York campaign uses the following slogans:

NYC Water doesn't just taste great:

  • It’s Healthy: NYC Water helps you maintain a healthy weight because water contains zero calories, zero sugar and zero fat. A typical 12-ounce can of soda contains about 150 calo­ries and the equivalent of 10 tea­spoons of sugar. Sports drinks, which are marketed as healthy alternatives, have as many calories as sugary beverages and usually contain high levels of sodium.

  • It’s Affordable: NYC Water is a great deal. At approximately one penny per gallon, it is about 1,000 times less expensive than bottled water.

  • It’s Green: Plastic water bottles produced for the U.S. use 1.5 million barrels of oil a year—enough to power 250,000 homes or 100,000 cars all year. And it takes more than 3 liters of water to produce each bottled liter of water.

  • It’s Convenient: NYC tap water is available right from your tap. DEP’s Water-On-the-Go fountains will make tap water easy to get in public places in each of the five boroughs all summer.

All are true..........absolutely!!

It could be a marketers dream.

[ top image x BBC; lower cartoon x Greenberg, Ventura Star]

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sustainability - What Is It?

Sustainability may be a desirable objective.................but what is it and how does it influence decisions?

There have been well accepted definitions including the more commonly used one by Bruntland.

see more here...............

BUT there is a lot of conjecture, still..............and we cannot predict the future.

This article does ruminate over that issue and offers a few more thoughts. Worth reading, and it is short.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Global Warming "Undeniable"

Melting glaciers, more humid air and eight other key indicators show that global warming is undeniable, scientists said on Wednesday, citing a new comprehensive review of the last decade of climate data.

Without addressing why this is happening, the researchers said there was no doubt that every decade on Earth since the 1980s has been hotter than the previous one, and that the planet has been warming for the last half-century.

This confirms the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported in 2007 with 90 percent certainty that climate change is occurring. The IPCC also said that human activities contribute to this phenomenon.

The new report was released after U.S. Senate Democrats delayed any possible legislation to curb climate change until September at the earliest. Prospects for U.S. climate change legislation this year are considered slim. That is even wishful thinking, as there are too many vested interests operating to conspire against the legislation. Yet, the US is doing a lot more than Australia and investments in both wind and solar energy are increasing quickly, and are impressive, almost in spite of political apathy at legislator level, but probably not at President level.

Released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as "The 2009 State of the Climate Report," the new report draws on the work of 303 scientists from 48 countries, including data from last year. NOAA is the US premier government agency invloved with weather and climate.

The 10 key planet-wide indicators of a warming climate identified by the report are:
-- Higher temperatures over land
-- Higher temperatures over oceans
-- Higher ocean heat content
-- Higher near-surface air temperatures (temperatures in the troposphere, where Earth's
weather occurs)
-- Higher humidity
-- Higher sea surface temperatures
-- Higher sea levels
-- Less sea ice
-- Less snow cover
-- Shrinking glaciers

The seven indicators expected to rise in a warming world rose over the last decade, the report said; the three indicators expected to decline did so over that same period.

Article continues:

Yet, despite this the world political leaders - including Australia continue to fluff about, making lots of additional hot air and doing really very little.

Change to both mitigate and cope will be painful..............but the sooner we start, the easier it will be!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Compadre Zoysia for Roadsides and Median Strips

We have long advocated zoysia, especially seed sown versions such as Compadre, for use in transport corridors.

One of Australia's largest road organisations, the NSW RTA is now using zoysia for road corridor use, median strips and similar road applications.

They find the slower growth is a big advantage ........less mowing, maybe only one third as much mowing, as well as reduced intrusion into plants used in association with the grass. Previously, intrusion by faster growing species such as couch and kikuyu meant large maintenance budgets and regular spraying to eliminate ingress by the grass into adjacent plant communities such as Dianella spp, and similar lower growing species.

The use of seed sown Compadre zoysia offers significant cost advantages over turf sod in similar circumstances, and will achieve the same effect. There will be some added maintenance and management during the establishment phase of about 12 weeks, but by using hydroseeding on a weed free seed bed a first class result can be achieved. Zoysia's require less fertiliser in comparison to most other grasses, while still achieving adequate to good quality. Sometimes that fertiliser can be nil!!

It has been done in Darwin........and I am sure it can be done in your area too, if warm and wet in the summer.

One of the transport corridors done in Darwin was the nature strip around the bottom roundabout in McMinn street, near the Waterfront. And the roundabout was also done with another zoysia - Zoysia tenuifolia - also known as petting grass, which needs almost never being cut.

Contact us for more details. Compadre zoysia seed is also available.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lawns in the US Get Bad Press - But Zoysia Grows

It is almost certain that the lawn and turf industry in Australia is not the same as the US. Most lawns in urban areas of Australia are of modest condition, and there are plenty of gardens and even vegetable patches on suburban lots. Some areas of the US have caveats that insist that the whole front area must be lawn, for appearances only, and with that understood it is conceivable that turf areas in the US can generate bad press coverage, from a range of groups. Think Wisteria Lane from the TV show 'Desperate Housewives" for manicured lawns.

It is absolutely true that US lawns are typically over watered, overfertilised, over mowed and under used. But not all are like that.

And there are trends emerging that has seen wider use of good turf species that require much less fertiliser, manicuring and mowing, especially some of the zoysia species in warmer areas as well as a few other species that require less inputs, although some are also less aesthetically pleasing. Zoysias are generally similar in appearance to existing turf areas, and thrive on substantially reduced inputs.

Even high class golf facilities in warm temperate and sub tropical parts of the US are changing to zoysia grass fairways, and much of Asia already has. Zoysia grass costs less to maintain than couch [Bermuda grass] a common golf course grass!

However, good turf still beats bare dirt for many sports, and I do not see any Football World Cup games on dirt! Turf will be around for a while yet.

Read the article.............

But adequate turf does not require massive inputs, nor huge amounts of time if you get the species right...........try zoysia.

U.S. Lawns Getting an Eco-Makeover
By Adrianne Appel*

Homeowners, corporations and schools are catching on to the idea of creating a wild space where nature can thrive. Credit:Adrianne Appel/IPS

BOSTON, Jun 13, 2010 (IPS/IFEJ) - A radical, underground movement is growing in the suburbs of the United States.

From coast to coast, eco-concerned homeowners are ripping out their manicured, chemically-treated lawns and replacing them with organic food gardens, native flowers and sometimes, just rocks. "It's a growing endeavour. It gets bigger and bigger every year," said Steven Saffier, coordinator of the Audubon Society's At Home programme, which encourages people to let their lawns go wild to support birds and other wildlife.

The lawn, the one-third acre or more of trimmed grass outside the front door of so many U.S. homes, is getting an eco-makeover as people learn about the lawn's impact on the larger environment. Groups as diverse as urban garden clubs, environmental groups and wildlife protection groups are spreading the word that a big, lush lawn harms biodiversity and is an eco- disaster. "Lawns contribute to climate change," Saffier told IPS. "The fossil fuels used in fertiliser and pesticide production add CO2 to the environment."

Lawns in the U.S. are grown mostly from non-native grasses that require large amounts of water, pesticides and fertilisers. Many homeowners aim for perfection, considered a dark green mat of closely-mown grass without weeds, a look promoted by chemical and fertiliser manufacturers here.

But homeowners, corporations and schools are starting to catch on to the idea of creating a wild space where nature can thrive.

Last week, Saffier helped dig a garden with a native spice bush plant at a Pennsylvania school.

The group had barely covered the roots of the plant with dirt when a swallowtail butterfly landed on a leaf and laid her eggs. "That's the kind of thing we are going for, on a larger scale," Saffier said. What happens on individual lawns is multiplied many times over, because more U.S. surface area is devoted to lawns than any other irrigated crop, according to an analysis by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Lawn Institute, which represents the 35-billion-dollar per year turf industry, estimates that 25 million acres of lawn are growing in the U.S. This land previously hosted native trees, shrubs and grasses and entire ecosystems, but not anymore.

"The nutrient, hydrology and nitrogen cycles that happen naturally in biodiverse ecosystems are completely absent in lawns," Saffier said. These acres of contiguous lawn have contributed to the severe decline in the U.S. bird population, Saffier said. "The lawn is a landscape that offers nothing to the bird," he said. Ninety-six percent of birds eat mainly insects, like caterpillars and bugs, and these insects are highly specialised and eat just one, two or three types of native plants. "The birds won't find insects on the lawn," Saffier said. Fewer caterpillars mean birds do not have enough food to feed their young. Of the 800 major bird species in the U.S., 200 are in dangerous decline, Audubon says. Populations of meadow larks and other grassland species in the mid-western U.S. have plummeted 60 percent, while interior forest birds, like scarlet tanagers, have also seen a precipitous decline. Shrub land bird species, like the Brown Thrasher and Eastern Towhee, have decreased 75 percent since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, of the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada.

Bird populations are doubly harmed when lawns are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. "It only takes a trace amount of chemicals on insects or plants to impact birds. Birds have very sensitive nervous systems," Saffier said.

Of the 30 most common pesticides used on lawns, more than half are toxic to birds and fish, and linked to cancer and birth defects in humans, according to the environmental group, Beyond Pesticides. Eleven of the 30 are endocrine disrupters, chemicals that interfere with reproductive and other hormones in humans and animals.

Lawns and gardens are sprayed with more pesticides per acre than farmland, with weed killer the most used yard chemical, at 90 million pounds per year. About 78 million U.S. households spray pesticides on their yards each year, according to Beyond Pesticides. Lawn grasses tend to shed rainwater, so the chemicals run off into surface and groundwater after a downpour, increasing the chance that animals as well as humans will be exposed to them, John Kepner, project director of Beyond Pesticides, told IPS. "Children are the most vulnerable," he said.

Lawns were originally a flagrant display of European wealth, a sign that a household was rich enough to devote land to grass rather than food. They remain a status symbol today, says Julian Agyeman, chair of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. "The paradigm is that you should have a lawn at any cost, even if you can't afford it," Agyeman told IPS.

Millions of U.S. poor can't afford homes and lawns - and sometimes not even enough food - and are hired, often at low wages, to mow and spray chemicals on the lawns of the wealthy. "Adding insult to injury, the poor can't afford a lawn and then end up caring for the lawns of those that can," Agyeman said.

Food Not Lawns, a group with chapters in many U.S. communities, works with people who are ready to completely let go of the lawn as status symbol. "We call it lawn eradification," Steve Mann, co-founder of Food Not Lawns Kansas City, Missouri, told IPS.

Instead of turf, people are encouraged to grow fruit and nut trees, like pecans, walnuts and almonds, as well as vegetables. Since 2007, 250 people have consulted with the group. The group is seeking zoning changes from the city so neighbours can sell their extra garden produce, and hire others to help them.

They've encountered surprising opposition from local realtors. "Just think, you could pick up some fresh lettuce and tomatoes for your dinner right down the street. What's wrong with that?" Mann said. The opportunity for gardens in Kansas City is endless, given the amount of lawn space. "My god, people here have acres of it," Mann said.

Penny Lewis, executive director of the Ecological Landscaping Association, a group of professionals and homeowners, told IPS the lawn paradigm must change. "Rather than the status symbol being the picture-perfect lawn, it becomes the eco-friendly lawn," she said.

*This story is part of a series of features on biodiversity by Inter Press Service (IPS), CGIAR/Biodiversity International, International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ), and the United Nations Environment Programme/Convention on Biological Diversity (UNEP/CBD) -- all members of the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (

Monday, June 14, 2010

Restoration of the Loess Plateau in China

Things tend to be done on a large scale in cities, new roads and now landscape restoration.

The loess plateau in China has traditionally been a key part of productive agriculture, but it has suffered some terrible erosion in achieving some of the production and many many areas are now totally lost to agriculture. There are many images on the net of this damage, and I have previously blogged about it. But all may not be lost.

The article below is reproduced in its entirety...........and worth reading.

The concept was, to my best knowledge, originally espoused by CSIRO scientists in the early landscape ecology. Especially relevant to arid zones, and at that time after a long drought, but also for any disturbed landscape in which the key is to get basic biology re-established in the soil. Often low forms of plants establish first, lichens, worts etc along with microbes......and things go from there as organic matter starts to accumulate.

Needless to say, add organic matter and you get a big boost, and this naturally happens in minor soil depressions where organic residuals accumlate, but a liberal dose of added mulch is just fine!!!

We used similar technology to deal with erosion and soil restoration on a major mine development in Indonesia in the late 1990s, by adding significant organic matter to help kickstart plant re-establishment in a monsoonal environment where erosion control was also a key factor in its success.
As the article says:
"It starts as a physical intervention, but it becomes a biophysical intervention once the biology stops gravity being such a destructive force,” Mr Liu said.
“The principle is to start the accumulation of organic matter and total vegetation coverage, and at a higher level understanding the role of biodiversity.”
“It’s an advance over the concept of simply tree planting, which is simplistic and doesn’t talk about other factors like soil condition or other forms of vegetation.”

This is the key issue............absolutely!


Restoring China's lost Loess Plateau
MATT CAWOOD 11 Jun, 2010 10:18 AM

ABANDONED 1000 years ago by one of the first civilisations because of land degradation, China’s Loess Plateau has become the focus of a modern land restoration effort that has transformed agriculture and the local environment.

Key to restoration of 35,000 square kilometres of the 640,000 sq km plateau was the surrendering of farmland to purely ecological plantings.

According to a film made by soil scientist John Liu, in Australia last week to talk to the National Business Leaders Forum, local farmers strongly resisted the idea of giving over farmland to trees, but were persuaded by compensation payments on land taken permanently out of production.

As reported in Mr Liu’s film, Hope in a Changing Climate, available on the internet here , engineering landscapes and re-planting vegetation across key ecological recharge areas has changed the environment in ways that have lifted farm incomes threefold.

The Loess Plateau, which takes its name from the mineral-rich wind-borne sediments that make up much of its soil, was for several thousand years the base of China’s Han people.
It is thought the plateau was the second place on Earth to have a settled agriculture based on cultivation of the soil, after Mesopotamia.

Mr Liu said that China’s extensive written records show that over thousands of years, the plateau progressively lost its ability to sustain the Han. Their primitive agriculture degraded the landscape and destroyed the ecology, until about 1000 years ago the Han power base shifted east to what is now Bejing.

The plateau has since earned the distinction of being the most eroded place on Earth. Eroded loess provides the “yellow” in China’s Yellow River.

In 1995, when Mr Liu was invited to record the initial stage of the landscape restoration project, the plateau was being farmed at a subsistence level by desperately poor farmers who unwittingly compounded their own ecological troubles.

According to Mr Liu, Chinese scientists calculated the cost of sediment loss against the cost of restoring the landscape, and decided that restoration would be a quarter of the cost of allowing degradation to continue.

Less wealthy in 1995 than now, the Chinese borrowed US$500 million from the World Bank and set about rebuilding the landscape - mostly by hand. In typically picturesque Chinese terms, the project aimed to give the eroded hills “a hat, a belt and shoes at their feet”. That translates to tree cover on the upper slopes, farming terraces on the lower slopes, and dams in the valleys.

Massive landscape engineering was involved in the transformation - an approach unlikely to get much traction in Australia - “but the results are stunning”, Mr Liu said.

At one level, the project is an endorsement of the “front of pipe” approach to water management floated earlier this year by Australian landscape campaigner Major-General Michael Jeffery of Outcomes Australia.

On the Loess Plateau, more porous vegetation-covered soils and the flat terraces now catch and rainfall that once ran off the plateau during the rainy season, leaving it in drought during the dry season.

Water captured by the soil instead filters down through the terraces, fuelling crops. Waterways run clear, and farm productivity has soared.

Better productivity on the slopes, and the dams below, have allowed greenhouse agriculture to flourish in the valleys, extending the income-making opportunities for the local communities.
“It starts as a physical intervention, but it becomes a biophysical intervention once the biology stops gravity being such a destructive force,” Mr Liu said. “The principle is to start the accumulation of organic matter and total vegetation coverage, and at a higher level understanding the role of biodiversity.” “It’s an advance over the concept of simply tree planting, which is simplistic and doesn’t talk about other factors like soil condition or other forms of vegetation.”

Since 1995, Mr Liu has travelled to 60 countries looking at landscape regeneration techniques. He is a founder of the Environmental Education Media Project, which numbers the World Bank, Rockerfeller Foundation and Syngenta among its sponsors.

Although only briefly in Australia, Mr Liu was introduced to the environmental benefits of time-controlled livestock grazing practices in use here.

Also see here with more photos -

[article reproduced from the Land online]

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Soil Stability Enhanced by Using No-Till Agriculture

Nothing new in that statement, you say.

For users and advocates of the conservation farming approach, it would seem to be old knowledge. But similar outcomes might also be expected for areas where similar practices are now also being used. For example, use of recycled organics in transport corridors, rehabilitating mining sites with similar products and similar off farm uses.

A recently concluded 19 year study across a wide region of the US has delivered some quite definitive results. Using plant residues on the soil surface, along with no till farming delivers significant improvements in soil stability and resistance to erosion.

The "cover" term in the universal loss loss equation has been so modified as to bring modifications to soil loss. And as said above, the same should apply to other areas where surface cover with organic materials is practised.

The critical part is this - "No-till stores more soil carbon, which helps bind or glue soil particles together, making the first inch of topsoil two to seven times less vulnerable to the destructive force of raindrops than ploughed soil.

The structure of these aggregates in the first inch of topsoil is the first line of defense against soil erosion by water or wind. Understanding the resistance of these aggregates to the erosive forces of wind and rain is critical to evaluating soil erodibility. "

Get your soil cover in place.
Especially so in the tropics where erosion impacts from high intensity storms can create erosion problems very quickly. And it is a wise practice for many civil engineering developments as well.