Friday, September 30, 2011

Carbon Science - There is More Phytosynthesis Occurring!

It is not all doom.....recent experiments and measurements have shown that current phytosynthesis - globally - is about 25% more than has previously been calculated.

The work is based on isotopic analysis of atmospheric carbon dioxide, but essentially follows flows of oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out and through the atmosphere.

Plants take up CO2 and emit oxygen, and from that, using isotope analysis total phytosynthesis is estimated..........and it is a lot more than previously thought.

It will have considerable effect on the performance of the climate change models, but this nett phytosynthesis increase still has to be incorporated into the large and complex models used.

Read more details here in a CSIRO media release- it possibly related to more CO2 in the atmosphere boosting plant utilisation, seen as a response to more CO2 in the atmosphere? That is not mentioned.

And there is more as well - with this story also reporting an increase in plant productivity via uptake of carbon - essentially the same data as above but reported in a different way, referring to productivity of land plants. Remember, they produce oxygen!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Should Australia Be Selling the Farm??

Not according to a leading American resources analyst, anyway. And many Australians probably agree.

Leading American investment analyst James Dines has criticised Australia for allowing China to buy large swathes of its natural resources in what he calls "resource imperialism".

Australia was in danger of squandering its "irreplaceable inheritance ... traded for easily printed paper", Mr Dines said.

Mr Dines, the keynote speaker this week at the RIU Victorian Resources Roundup conference, told an audience of mining executives, brokers and investors that the end of capitalism as we knew it had arrived and that we were in the second great economic depression.

His entertaining, if alarming, speech would have prompted mixed feelings among a crowd that included executives with a strong Chinese presence on their share registries.

State-owned Chinese companies are also becoming a major foreign investor in Australia.

Mr Dines, editor of the Dines Letter and author of numerous books, described natural resources, including farmland, as a source of real wealth that should be kept for "your descendants".

By pursuing resource imperialism, China was building stockpiles of commodities well above its immediate needs, such as rare earths - it already produces 97 per cent of the world total - and copper.

The Australian Foreign Investment Review Board blocked a $252 million bid by state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Mining to acquire Australian rare earth miner Lynas in 2009.

So, what is motivating China?

The world's most populous country wants to secure its resource needs for centuries to come.

More in the article here -

And it is not only Australia.......China [mostly through state owned enterprises - and that is the nub of concerns] is much more active in many less developed countries, especially in Africa and South America, even Afghanistan which seems to have some large mineral deposits that are largely unexplored, and which the Chinese are eyeing off.

Some say they have stuffed their own land for agriculture and horticulture with poor farming practices and pollution and they need to find other do the same???

Definitely resources imperialism!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Potential New Cacao Varieties

Do you like chocolate? Delicious not so sweet dark chocolate?

Over the past few years we have seen increases in interest in wine varieties, followed by new and different olive oil flavours. Coffee is going the same way, with new blends, varieties and types offered in the market place, to titillate and entrance consumers and coffee lovers.

Watch this space..........chocolate may be next!

Recently reports of work by USDA staff in conjunction with several other agencies as well as commercial choclate company partners have been chasing new and different types of cacao.......the source tree for chocolate.

While West Africa is the source of much of the world supply of cacao, the centre of diversity is actually in south America, and up into lower central america, areas now being investigated for additional genetic diversity in cacao.

The researchers found hundreds of new cacao tree samples during the trips. One of these, discovered by collaborators from
Maranon Chocolate, was Pure Nacional, an old, very rare, and highly coveted variety that has garnered a great deal of interest from makers of fine-flavoured chocolates. Chocolate is produced from cacao.

This industry covets new and unique flavour sources.

Usually, cacao trees are found along rivers, but these gems were found at a higher altitude than normal, and in Peru instead of Ecuador or Venezuela.

The industry flourished in Africa as commercial plantation trees in the new World succumbed to some nasty plant diseases. These new collections may offer some advantages for Peru to create a niche industry for the new cacao varieties.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cattle Slaughter in Indonesia - Issues of Truth

While resumption of trade of live cattle to Indonesia has resumed, the slaughter issues that led to the cessation of the trade are still making news.

There is a Senate inquiry running now in Australia and there have been significant doubts raised during hearings over the veracity of the video footage used / shown.

While the issues over veracity are both technical and animal behaviour related, they do pose some curious issues, issues that lead to more doubts about the origin and honesty of the video footage.

I do not know.......but some do believe the video footage may not be entirely truthful. If so........then the whole episode is a bit of a rort.

Whether that is the case does not necessarily indicate that slaughter could or could not be could be and probably should be. And remember that good slaughter practices lead to better outcomes for the animal and the meat quality after slaughter.

This whole saga has a long way to run yet.

But while the live cattle trade has recommenced, it will not recover the prior volumes quickly. All those animals have grown and many now exceed the 350kg limit. More to read here:

There are many other articles available too.

The cost to Australia is very large, and damage to relations with Indonesia cannot be easily costed in monetary terms. NT cattle producers have, however, lost a lot of money, money that will not be reappearing any time soon.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fake Agrochemicals - Farmers BEWARE

It had to happen........the rural and related agrochemical and fertiliser industries are worth many millions of dollars and both agrochemical and fertiliser sales annually are also worth millions of dollars, even in a relatively smallish market such as Australia.

A recent scam involved sales of dirt.......yes common a marketed and manufactured fertiliser from an overseas source, with the material actually making it to a rural location before detection. That also was a major biosecurity concern, as well as a straight out scam.

With input costs a major factor in producing crops, shaving these by a few dollars can be important. But the new scam is to produce suspect agrochemicals for sale. They do not perform as expected and often on investigation, formulations are just plainly wrong, or they even are made using dodgy liquid ingredients including tainted and dangerous wastewaters, or may not even contain the active technical ingredient, or contain by product chemicals that could damage crops.

Yes, there are successful low cost reputable formulators, capable of offering suitable agrochemicals at discounted prices, and supplying to Australia. But it is very necessary to be sure about who you are dealing with and their reputation, both technically and financially.

Needless to say, China seems to be a source, but some eastern European operators are also involved.

The old maxim applies .......if it seems to good to be true, it probably is too good to be true!!

This is expanded further in a recent on line article:

It should also be remembered that any agricultural chemical used in Australia should have been assessed and given the okay by the relevant Australian authorising agency, the APVMA.

If in doubt have a look at their web site, and this statement is off the web site -
'Before an agricultural or veterinary chemical product can be legally imported, supplied, sold, used, promoted or advertised in Australia, the APVMA must register it. Part of the APVMA's role and responsibility is to monitor and enforce compliance of agricultural and veterinary chemical products in the market place."


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Carbon Farming and Cattle - Can Co-exist

It is not all gloom and doom in the cattle and carbon equation. There seems to have been a position developing that would exclude any mutual benefit. This need not be so.

When cattle are grass grown, then these two issues can be developed alongside one another, according to some advocates. There is a new and potentially exciting market developing for grass grown livestock. This is a niche position that the north of Australia should be aiming to occupy.

Is this a line of production that could be developed for the new AA processing facility in the Darwin region? Afterall, it is possible to develop and finish cattle with high growth and liveweight gains using a leucaena / grass mix.......a mixed pasture possible to use in the region.

A recent article adds to this issue.

It is worth reading some of the articles within the link to the carbon ranch below.
Life down on the carbon farm
20 Sep, 2011 04:00 AM

"Personally," says American conservationist Courtney White, "I think an answer to the climate crisis is to eat more meat—from a carbon ranch".

Mr White's concept of the "carbon ranch" is an opportunity to unite a range of solutions to various challenges, including climate change, farm productivity and regional economic decline.

Currently, Mr White said, "the carbon landscape is broken into pieces, and we often pit each carbon use against each other".

Mr White will tell Australian audiences that carbon can be managed and exploited in ways that unite these uses into a single theme of regeneration of landscapes, communities and economies.

The executive director of the Quivera Coalition in the American South-West, Mr White has been instrumental in developing a rancher-conservationist alliance that has successfully sidestepped the toxic wrangling of landholder-environmentalist relations to produce results satisfactory to all.

He will be talking about the Coalition and the carbon ranch at the Carbon Farming Conference, to be held in Dubbo, NSW, on 27-29 September.

Mr White has developed a "carbon map" to show that rather than a series of separate issues, carbon is common factor across all landscapes and endeavours, from wilderness to city and everywhere in between. "We have to start with the idea that we can put this puzzle together," Mr White said.
He believes that uniting carbon-related issues within the overall framework of climate change can bring exponential benefits to landholders and the regions they live in.

Some progressive ranchers have already begun drawing those pieces together, Mr White said. They are using rotational grazing to boost grass productivity, moving to grassfed beef production versus the lotfed beef more common in the US, selling direct to local urban consumers, and paying attention to ecosystem services.

Some landholders are also engaging with the energy question, including a young New Hampshire farmer he recently met who is growing 100 per cent of his farm's energy needs on 10 per cent of his land.

Sequestering more carbon in the landscape is only half the equation, Mr White said. The other half is lowering farming's emissions footprint.

Lowering emissions through changed energy use, restoring ecological functions and overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is relatively straightforward, in Mr White's view.

More challenging is the question of ruminant methane, an issue that as led to the "eat less red meat" theme now common in discussions of climate change. "For the purposes of a carbon ranch, the methane emission issue is just one part of the overall 'footprint" assessment," Mr White said.

The real challenge is not necessarily to reduce methane production - although that can help with productivity - but to reduce overall farm emissions to the point of becoming carbon-neutral or carbon-negative. At this point, methane emissions become less relevant, leading to Mr White's observation about eating meat from a "carbon ranch".

Along with its direct contribution to addressing climate change, Mr White's vision of the carbon ranch also includes a range of "co-benefits" from uniting the carbon landscape. They include improved ecosystem services, habitat protection, rural economic development, maintenance of culture and diversity, and greater opportunities for succeeding generations.

* More details of Courtney White's "carbon ranch" concept can by found at

* Details of the Carbon Farming Conference can be found here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More Energy from Wind Turbines - Focus the Wind

Wind turbines are a common enough device today, and produce significant amounts of energy world wide.

The Japanese are claiming a new modification can increase output energy by 2x to 3x with some modest modifications.

Essentially a wind lens that focuses the wind to improve performance. Read more here:

It consists of a focusing ring around the outside of the turbine blades, which creates a low pressure area and subtly then pushes more air over the turbine blades. The youtube video at the link is a positive endorsement, and if able to be scaled up, the technology would be a very significant enhancement.

It might be that more effort could be directed at the smaller domestic to mid scale turbines used in cities and small rural areas eg farms. These models have notoriously performed well below nominal output ratings as stated by the manufacturer, although the "cleanliness" of the wind flow can be a big issue in urban areas. It has been turbid flow, so the wind turbine performs badly.

I can see more rapid development in these smaller units with this design option, allowing development of larger ones over time.

If it works at a larger size, it would be a very big move in increasing turbine efficiency.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sediment Socks Work Better with Compost

Compost socks

Using a sand filled coil as an environmental salvation tool is quite common. Seen round the streets and building sites these long thin “socks” are a common tool for erosion and sediment management in almost any site where sediment movement could be expected.

Traditionally, it was sand that went into these socks.

But performance can be enhanced, by the simple change from sand to compost or fine pasteurised mulch products. That is a simple and easy change to make, and it may cost nothing different.

An even better option can be to add some of the bioremediation type products available that have oil and hydrocarbon remediation attributes. There are a few brands available, but an easy one available in Australia is Enretech -1 , a powdered product that can be added to the sand or even the mulch mix.

Fine hydrocarbon materials, metals and rubber , commonly moved off roads in wet weather will be trapped by the socks and the hydrocarbons bioremediated, avoiding their movement into waterways.

The mulch is superior to sand in capturing the hydrocarbons, and as good or better in slowing sediments in general.

And costs about the same as sand filled socks.

So.........think about the issue and make the switch to a better sediment sock!

and are applicable almost anywhere around the world.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Problems with Glyphosate??

This article appeared in a recent on-line edition of Queensland Country Life. It is an important issue and needs a wide readership as the use of glyphosate is of considerable importance for weed control, plant health and overall yield performance.

While the issue is aimed at broad acre farming it is probably of as much or more relevance for the urban use of glyphosate, especially by local councils, where the indiscriminate use is seen as great waste areas around the local posts and trees, often resprayed every year, even though there is NOTHING growing, and the bare areas are getting larger!!

Glyphosate is a very good agrochemical.........more careful use is needed.

There has also been a series of articles I have seen suggesting that glyphosate has even more sinister effects, including effects on people. Some of these have been a bit outrageous, but often there can be some truth hidden within the rants.

However, the issues with more general nutrition effects have a degreee of documentation. But it is about over use........and not sensible usage, including various rotation systems.

Maybe the Otto von Liebig's and the scientists at Rotheamstead of the 1800s were right afterall about sensible sustainable farming!!

Glyphosate: friend or foe?
05 Sep, 2011 04:00 AM

Glyphosate, the chemical underpinning the world's most productive farming systems, may becoming an agent of harm, a visiting US scientist believes.

"Glyphosate has been a very powerful tool for us in weed control, but it's been seriously abused by continued overuse," said veteran American plant pathologist, Dr Don Huber. "I feel that's one of the main reasons that we're seeing a lot of other factors come to threaten the sustainability of our production."

Dr Huber links glyphosate to the increasing severity of diseases like fusarium and take-all, and the explosion of Goss's wilt of corn and Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) in soybeans in America's mid-west.

Now retired from his career as a plant pathologist at Purdue University, but retaining the title of Professor Emeritus, Dr Huber is in Australia to air those concerns at the invitation of Owen McCarron, director of the IPM Masterclass series.

If it is allowed to accumulate in the soil, glyphosate doesn't just kill weeds, Dr Huber told Rural Press.
The chemical is a strong chelator, meaning that it can bind positively-charged mineral ions in the soil to its own molecules, making the mineral unavailable to plants. It is known to have an affinity for copper, zinc, manganese and molybedenum, among others.

"Glyphosate can make a number of elements unavailable for the plant to use, so there are many of the physiological functions of the plant that are compromised," Dr Huber said "In that compromise period that plant becomes very susceptible to diseases, fungal diseases especially."

Glyphosate also affects important soil organisms in different ways, according to Dr Bob Kremer, a microbiologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and adjunct professor at the University of Missouri.

In the soil, where it is carried by spray, rainfall or plant roots, the chemical is an energy source for some microbes - including those responsible for its degradation in the soil - but a killer of others.
Among the organisms that flourish in the presence of glyphosate appear to be certain strains of fusarium, which in European studies were shown to multiply in the presence of the compound, Dr Kremer told Rural Press.

That appears to line up with old Canadian research which found that wheat sown in fields that had been fallowed with glyphosate was more susceptible to fusarium head blight than control wheat plantings.

"(The researchers) hypothesised as the susceptible weeds died, it built up the fusarium populations and then when the wheat was planted later, there was a higher instance of fusarium head blight compared to fields that did not receive glyphosate treatment," Dr Kremer said.

Other organisms are suppressed by glyphosate, including the rhizobium bacteria reponsible for nodulation in legumes and the the algaes that are an important soil glue.

But Dr Kremer said the research needed to clarify these effects isn't being done. When he wants to interpret some of his own observations, he often has to look at research done decades ago.
And yet, he acknowledged, some of these processes, and glyphosate's chelation effect, have the potential to be highly damaging to crop profitability.

Dr Huber became interested in glyphosate when, after a long career in plant pathology, he and his colleagues saw crop diseases that had been adequately managed for decades suddenly burgeon out of control. Goss's wilt of corn, for instance, was first discovered in the US in 1969, but only in the past few seasons it has emerged as a major pest of the Mid-West corn belt.

Dr Huber believes that genetic modification for glyphosate resistance contributes to disease vulnerability.

"Just the presence of the glyphosate resistance gene reduces the efficiency of the plant for many of the micronutrients - like manganese, iron - up to 30 or as much as 70 per cent, depending on the original variety," he said. "When glyphosate is applied there will be an additional reduction in uptake and efficiency of micronutrients that are immobilised by the chemistry."

He is calling for "much more prudent use, and certainly much greater research to establish glyphosate's safety".

"There are a lot of indicators that it's not nearly as benign a product as we thought. With the growing residues that we're finding in our soils and crops and feedstocks, there's a very serious concern for the health and safety aspects of the products."

* Dr Huber will be talking in Bendigo, Vic. on September 5 and Corowa, NSW, on September 7. For more information call Oen McCarron on 0419 006 100 or email

[ from online edition of Qld Country Life]

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Wagyu Cattle Oil - for Cooking!!

If you like beef you probably have heard of Wagyu cattle. The fabled highly marbled cattle originally from Japan with superb meat quality.

An Australian company has developed a boutique world class cooking oil - yes, cooking oil - from wagyu cattle with some pretty interesting properties.

is the link to a recent article about the product.

While I do not see it suddenly overtaking olive oil as a preferred option for most culinary purposes, it might offer some superior options for use with meat in roasts or grilling, or maybe in meat dishes where butter may have been the fat material preferrred for use in casseroles or similar dishes.

Chefs do seem to think it might be useful.

It is new, it is Australian and it does sound interesting.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Watching Tropical Weather

For those in Australia's tropics another wet season is approaching quickly, and weather conditions seem to have recently changed to being warmer and more humid, a foretaste of the approaching build up weather.

Hurricanes, Typhoons and Cyclones are different names for similar major tropical weather events - depending where you are located.

Keeping watch on these systems is becoming more sophisticated, with more information also readily available to the public via web sites. I remember observing Cyclone Thelma as it barrelled around the north coast of Australia a few years ago, wondering if our home in Darwin would be impacted.........all from a laptop computer in an upmarket hotel room in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, SE Asia. More tools are now available.

One data tool I had not seen previously is demonstrated for Hurricane Irene, truly a very large diameter system of current note. will take you to the introductory area with a further link to NASA in the USA.

This shows a combined mapping of wind and rain data for hurricane Irene, and some hints of real time data on cloud heights being linked to intensifying wind patterns, while they were happening.

Will this be available for Australia as well this cyclone season??