Monday, December 10, 2012

Sandalwood Oil - Potential Cure for Warts

The hot, north west of Australia seems to be in the middle of a potential new medical breakthrough.

A US company has demonstrated that sandalwood oil, might be a possible cure for warts.  Warts - which most people have somewhere on the body including the genitals, are caused by a virus.  Early trial results indicate that sandalwood oil, applied topically, over a period of a few days, seems to cause the wart to blacken and drop off, with the sandalwood oil apparently moving into the body and removing the virus in the bloodstream such that the warts go away ........not to return.

Much more trial work is needed before any commercial development is approved, but it could rapidly increase the demand for sandalwood oil from current uses - mainly perfumery and similar areas into the medical area. With potential demand increasing quite dramatically.

It is also an area where the oil, rather than any extracts would be used, because of the complexity of the product and a tricky issue to actually identify any very specific molecule as the active agent.  It might  be syngeristic effects anyway, involving a few or many compounds in the oil - and there about 300 of them present.

Sandalwood oil is now produced in and around Kununurra, and production is also being extended to the Katherine area of the NT.  Growing the tree commercially is a tricky project as it is a hemi-parasite requiring both nursery production followed by growth in the field.  A nursery is shown in the photo.  Sandalwood is grown in association with several host plants both in the nursery and in the field, and these vary in different parts of the world where it is produced.  As well as indian sandalwood in the north west, some native sandalwood is also harvested in temperate areas of WA.

It could be a very interesting development, and potentially a considerable profitable industry for the north west region of Australia.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Donkeys Guard the Sheep

Wild dogs, or dingoes here in Australia, cause havoc with sheep production in areas where they are common.  They have also been known to cause losses with young calves.

Many graziers were in despair at how they could control these predators, which were causing at times very significant losses with new lambs.  Baiting is common, but can cause losses of working dogs, as well as other non target species, including native birds.  It is also expensive and hard to organise on much larger areas, typical of the large western area sheep stations.

A new form of biocontrol has emerged.............get a donkey!!!

I jest has been shown that having a donkey in a flock of sheep almost totally prevents the attacks by dingoes on lambs.

The first of an expected emerging trade in what are actually feral donkeys in the NT, has seen several donkeys sent to a Queensland sheep station in the far west to act as a deterrent to attacks by wild dogs.

And more donkeys are expected to be sent interstate over coming months.

The grazier has already noted less problems and the donkeys have settled in well, already much quieter than when they arrived.

It might sound weird.......but it seems to work.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Emerging Carbon Economy in North Australia

The print media is all over this today, with syndicated versions of the press release on line and in print at many regional newspapers.

It could be a good thing - but there is work to do beforehand, and it will not happen overnight.

There are some issues also worth considering, that are not in the report.  Algae production has started at Karratha - growing algal cultures and harvesting for conversion to biofuel or other materials including animal feeds is promising.   So is use of duckweed especially in wastewater ponds, or any nutrient rich water source, even irrigation tailwater [ ther ewill be more of that] to clean it of nutrients before it re-enters downstream rivers.

Northern Australia has and is suffering from disinvestments in agriculture [broadly interpreted term] over many years.  There are few if any crops specifically with varieties developed for the region [ sugar may be an exception] and with major seed companies now dominating this sector I cannot see them investing in the region as the market is so small.

It may be possible to identify crop varieties from eg Brazil, or possibly through varieties developed in international centres eg IRRI or ICRISAT and used in Asian or African / Indian areas, but some work will be needed to identify them.  And governments have little appetite to spend those $$ at the moment.
While it is possible that the beef herd could expand significantly, the Australian government has not helped over recent years with their activities in curtailing the live cattle trade.  Yes, new abattoirs are coming, but they may not necessarily quickly allow for herd increases.  And can these animals be more methane efficient anyway?  If feed quality went up - maybe, and that often involves more legume in the diet - will we see more of a pangola / leucaena finishing system?  It works and that was demonstrated in the 1970s at Kununurra.

Do not hold your breath........but actively offer ideas.

The media release by the Federal government is below but the report is more difficult to find.  Try the link here for the report, and there is a summary also available -

The report is brief, 20 pages and easy to download.

Media release

Tapping the carbon market of northern Australia could provide a valuable new revenue stream for the region – once key obstacles are removed, according to a government report.

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions from fire and livestock, sequestering carbon in soils and vegetation, and the production of renewable feedstock for aviation biofuel are three of the main opportunities identified in The Emerging Carbon Economy for Northern Australia report.

"These opportunities will provide northern farmers the potential to reap a billion-dollar return," Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean said.

"CSIRO found the benefits of the carbon economy will not be confined to climate change action, but could generate environmental and livelihood benefits," he said.
The region covers some 300 million hectares north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Mr Crean said the federal government would work with state and local governments to help regions "embrace the carbon economy" by generating credits that they can sell to big emitters under its carbon market.
While the report identifies possible areas of income generation – such as a potential of $200 million dollars a year in abatement of carbon emissions through better savannah-burning management and $240 million from the livestock industry – it also specifies how much work still needs to be done.

For instance, the property rights to carbon would need clear ownership rules, while the scale of carbon stocks in the soil and its potential enhancement "warrant continued scientific enquiry", the report said.

Similarly, while indigenous groups have been able to earn carbon credits for savannah-burning under the government's Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), the report found "practical barriers to wider implementation of this method remain".

Likewise, the government is yet to approve a methodology allowing farmers to earn credits under the CFI for methane abatement efforts in the livestock industry. The northern beef herd counts some 13 million animals.

The biofuel potential could amount to 5 per cent of the jetfuel use in Australia, although that assessment also is based on "early stages of investigation", the report said.

The Coalition has vowed to scrap the carbon tax and planned emissions trading market if it wins office, although it has signalled it may continue with some of the government's carbon farming program.

Read more:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chinese Win Right to Develop Ord Stage 2

One of the worst kept secrets is now public knowledge - The Chinese company has been the winning bidder for Ord Stage 2 to develop the irrigation extension, and will develop a sugar mill and sugar farming.

It is a 50 year lease, not a sale.

It is expected that further development of the Wyndham port will occur, as the obvious export point for the sugar.  There are other complementary issues - co-generation of electricity, probable bioethanol production, along with the farming and general developent of the area. begs the question.......will the NT side of the border be the next to be developed??  That is still probably 5-7 years away, maybe even 10 years, but it is a logical step to take.

The ABC has quite an article on the web site -

But I expect there might be a lot more detail to be available later today.

A big development issue for the north to get a tick.  It has been a long time coming!

UPDATE - As expected, more information is becoming available on this story, with this link providing more details from the ABC WA country hour web site:



Monday, November 19, 2012

New Abattoir for the Kimberley - Second for North Australia

Now not one, but a second abbattoir in north Australia.  It is not really a surprise as a processing facility for cattle has been mooted in the Kimberley region for several years.  It now seems as if it is actually going to get built.

It would be an additional facility to the one proposed for near Darwin, and owned by AA Co, which has already commenced construction, or is just about to start.

This week apparently will see construction start on a $20 million abattoir in the Kimberley with 50 per cent of produce destined for the Asian market.  This is an interesting strategy, as it seems to imply that some product may go onto the Australian market - read north Australia - where all beef is currently imported from southern areas [except for a few small local facilities eg Gumbulanya in the NT supplying local aboriginal areas].

A joint venture between Yeeda Pastoral Company and Kimberley Pastoral Investments said that an agreement had been secured to supply free-range beef to Singapore.  Beef prices in Singapore are very high - around S$60 per kg for scotch fillet steak, which is roughly double Australian prices in equivalent $$.  And all is deep frozen - no chilled beef at all.  The bigger market is probably for cheaper cuts for asian meals, but maybe not necessarily ground beef.

Jack Burton of Yeeda Pastoral Company said the abattoir would be built between Broome and Derby and estimated that by 2014, 55,000 head of cattle would be processed at the site each year.  There is no indication whether it would operate seasonally or year round, but the latter is assumed.  The Darwin facility will be a year round operation, except for a brief maintenance period [4-6 weeks expected].

Burton said the new facility would help process heavier cattle which have been unsuitable for export since Indonesia introduced weight restrictions in 2010.  “This would never be for the replacement of live export, but for cattle that don’t suit live export,” Burton said.

The announcement has been supported from the local Kimberley pastoral industry as well as by the local and state government.  WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman said he was pleased to see confidence in the industry.  "I’m looking forward to the day we cut the ribbon on that facility and see this become the sharp point for agriculture in the north," Redman said.

The facility is expected to be built by late 2013, which would be slightly ahead of the larger facility proposed for Darwin.

There has not been an abattoir functioning in the Kimberley since the Broome meatworks closed in 1994.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Big Future for NZ XSTOL Aircraft

A relatively new  NZ aircraft has made some very positive steps to being a very useful aircraft for low maintenance and remote regions use.

This is the aircraft known as a P-750 XSTOL, which shows some links with the old Fletcher FU-24, a stalwart, tough agricultural aircraft of the 1960s, used as a crop duster.

With recent sales to both Russia and China and interest from African countries as well as positive sales developments in both NZ and Australia the future does look quite bright.

More details are on their web site -

The ability to operate in a variety of modes including passenger and freight configurations, even within a single route and on an outwards / return run has some strong positives for many smaller operators in remote areas.  Couple that with an apparent low maintenance schedule, and what appears to be a tough aircraft capable of operating on very short and rougher runways - often typical of remote regions, and certification for RPT operations would seem to be an attractive package.

It has a low stalling speed and can operate in place of helicoptors for survey work.  There has been design work go into factory incorporated alterations that can allow easy changes for cameras and sensors for geophysical work [for which the mining industry has a big demand] and similar types of work often carried out in rural areas - including water bombing.

While it is a single engine aircraft, it is getting some strong endorsements in reviews within industry magazines.

Sounds very suitable to operate in the remote regions of the Northern Territory as a dual passenger / freight aircraft.

Oh more thing - also well suited to jump out of, if that way inclined!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Compadre Zoysia Seed Sowing

The included video is a description of one person's experience in a cool climate area in the US. But the general principles are the same. Seeding a new lawn deserves a reasonable effort in site preparation, sowing details, irrigation and general care and management to ensure a successful outcome. And that equally applies to using zoysia sod or plugs.

We have available guides for sod laying, seed sowing for zoysia, but the video is a good overview. You will note the care taken to ensure that erosion is minimised on a sloping area. It is a tricky site with stony soils, and a lot of tree vegetation close by. Future information may show if the exercise was successful.

There are three options to establish a Compadre zoysia lawn - sod, seed or plugs.

Sod is expensive, seed requires a reasonable effort and plugs are intermediate in cost and complexity.

However, there are times when sowing Compadre seed is the most appropriate option.  If sod is not readily available, then seed is the option.  Availability of sod may be poor, high priced or not available readily in your area - if so plugs are often also ruled out and seed must be used.

We supply Compadre zoysia seed, and can provide information sheets on seed  sowing, sod laying and turf maintenance.

Seed sowing requires site preparation, particularly to remove weeds and ensure a good seed bed, and a reasonable amount of attention to detail for the first 2-4 weeks to ensure adequate moisture and surface management to give the seed establishment the best chance. 

Good germination and establishment are vital to a sucessful lawn from seed.

They have not used hydroseeding which is used a lot across the Gulf states of the US, as well as in Australia.  It is a very successful option, as the mulch in the mix helps to both protect the surface and to hold moisture. 

However, most operators require a reasonable sized area to cover.  And you need to make sure they have cleaned out the tank between jobs to ensure there is no seed left from the last job, especially if it was not Compadre zoysia.  Cleaning out a spray seed tank can be costly - it is time consuming.

Information sheets on seed sowing of Compadre zoysia are available, as are complementary fact sheets on sod laying and general zoysia turf management.

For Compadre zoysia seed sowing, as the video also emphasises - good moisture management is vital for the first four weeks or so, with the tuf requiring less input and effort from then on.  The payoff is reduced maintenance and fertiliser inputs over the life of the area, and much less mowing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Computer Systems Drive Modern Agriculture

Paul Wallbank an Australian commentator on technology joins Tony Delroy to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

This week we’re talking about how the agricultural industry is using smartphone apps and the web. A list of apps for farmers is available from the NSW Department of Primary Industry website.

We’ll also be looking at how machines are talking – in agriculture, the next generation of farm equipment will be sending data straight to the farmers’ tablet or laptop computer using the technologies we’re seeing in jet engines and other high tech equipment.

This was the topic last Thursday night [ 18 October 2012] and you can listen to the podcast or replay available off the Tony Delroy Nightlife show [ ABC radio] .

He seemed a bit surprised that stodgy old farmers [and many are older citizens] are actually fairly major users of technology in their business.

From phone apps related to fertiliser and crop prices, to RFID ear tags in animals to aid management, precision agriculture operations in grain growing, robotic operation tractors, drones [ yes - in use already in some places] to photograph and highlight areas in fields of disease, fertiliser deficiencies,, poor plant populations etc, not to mention monitoring rangelands, automated gates / drafting and animal medication and watering systems.  Then there are uses of google and satellite images for rangeland management, property management planning, use of weather radars on phones or in the farm office.  Plus the wide range of computer technology in equipment including spray rigs, seeders, harvesters [ often connected to other systems for precision agriculture and ultimately management of the next crop], grain dryers, moisture meters and many, many more.  Then there is the office - with networked computers, agricultural farm management software, modern accounting software and use of skype, email and webinars for training.

Agriculture is not necessarily a staid industry with straw chewing, slow talking hicks.  The modern farmer [meaning across a wide range of enteprises] is switched on to modern technology.

Sometimes though, they do not get the best of services in telecommunications to the rest of the world.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Compost Berms for Erosion and Sediment Management

Traditionally erosion and sediment control seems to have started and stopped with using a silt fence.
Experience in the tropics often seems to indicate that silt fences may not be the solution that is best suited to these conditions.  They often are poorly constructed, commonly with poor insertion of the tail into the ground.  The intensity of rain commonly dislodges soil particles and along with a lot of water these fines clog the fence.  Common result is a failed fence.  Not to mention the need for a lot of maintenance.  They have a place – but there are smarter options.
Mulch and compost berms are gaining a lot more credibility in many seasonally wet tropical regions as a superior option to provide erosion and sediment management.  If you have tried them out………they are worth considering.

That is particularly true in north Australia where copious volumes of green waste are dumped at local landfill sites and then ground up at many of the regional towns and cities, to produce mulch.  This material is commonly then given at least a partial pasteurisation in a stacked row, and reused for garden mulch.  As well as garden mulch – it is ideal for building small mulch / compost berms that can provide excellent erosion and sediment management on construction sites.
The berms can be built with readily available machinery, or if available a mulch blower.

There are a range of on line resources available to help you gain more understanding, and the concept is strongly recommended by the US EPA as well as many other organisations.

This link is to the US EPA site with many links to a range of construction site tools of which compost filter berms are but one………albeit very useful.

The next link is to an article where berms are compared to silt fences in the USA.  The article is over 10 years old, but mostly still relevant.  There are many advocates for the use of mulches but read about it yourself.
The article is a good overview of using berms.
And the trees or vegetation often removed for construction can also be utilised to reduce sediment and erosion – even laid in a simple matrix on the ground, with plenty of leaves and small branches inter mixed with larger branches.  It is a smart idea, a simple easy option to reduce erosion problems.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Live Cattle Exports or Boxed Beef - Both Needed

A lot has been said and written about the suspension of live cattle exports in mid 2011.  And there will be more to come.  A lot has been misinformed drivel, mostly from those with a burning desire to stop the trade, no matter what.  Beef cattle are grown for slaughter - and that should be clean and as stress free as possible is well understood - but they need to die to produce meat for consumers.

Well designed and effctive and efficient abattoirs are needed, and changes to the process are probably good, even if arrived at through a poor process.

But many want the trade stopped - absolutely.

Live cattle trading to SE Asia from north Australia does have quite a long history, and there have been successful abattoirs in the north as well, including more than one near Darwin.  But they are not around any more, for various reasons.

BUT.......there is still a demand for beef in the areas to the north and as has been very well put in the article below, boxed beef does not just cut it in some markets.  They need access to freshly killed beef, not even just for religious reasons.

This is a rational and sensible overview of the issue.  Yes, Indonesia aspires to beef self sufficiency, but most in the industry think it probably unachievable, due to a number of factors.  Result - a need for live cattle imports.  For some time yet!


Boxed beef not viable: Thorne
 SPECIALIST agribusiness lawyer Trent Thorne says the boxed beef trade's viability is one of several myths used to support demands for the live cattle trade's demise while being touted as a means of improving animal welfare.
Mr Thorne, of Brisbane's McCullough Robertson lawyers, said the Federal Government's snap suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia last June caused an escalation in misinformed debate around the industry, especially in social media.
He said that in particular, critics were incorrectly saying the live export industry had forced abattoirs in northern Australia to close and banning live exports could make them viable again.
Mr Thorne said several other myths were being perpetuated about the trade including that meat processing could occur domestically and frozen beef could be sent to the relevant Asian markets; and that cattle transportation on live export vessels is inherently cruel.
He said those comments were made so frequently that the wider urban community started believing that the various allegations had merit, despite the fact they lacked any factual basis.
Most abattoirs in the northern regions closed more than 15 years ago, well before the live export industry started to send large numbers of cattle to Indonesia, the biggest live export market. The closure of these abattoirs was primarily due to poor economic viability, caused by several factors.
Mr Thorne said northern abattoirs were forced to close for about four months every year because of the wet season, as producers were unable to deliver cattle to the abattoirs over this period.
The difficulty in obtaining staff in these remote areas was a problem that had only been exacerbated by the resources boom.
The cattle herd on most of the northern properties are from the Bos Indicus breeds, which are genetically adapted to excel in tropical environments and poor quality pastures but not favoured by Australian meat-eating consumers who have historically eaten beef derived from the Bos Taurus breeds.
The northern abattoirs didn't have sufficiently large population bases near to their operations to economically justify their continued operation.
Mr Thorne said the meat processing sector was also one of the more volatile industries in the country, which is evidenced by the frequent closure of abattoirs that are much closer to larger urban populations than those in the northern parts of Australia.
And finally, he said most cattle stations in the Northern Territory were "breeder blocks" not attempting to fatten cattle for slaughter.
Mr Thorne said a report from the Federal Senate inquiry established after the snap suspension which investigated operations and animal welfare conditions in all of Australia's export markets, not just Indonesia, had also echoed similar sentiments.
He quoted a section of the report which said: "The live export industry plays an important role in the Australian economy. It is also a significant source of training, employment and business opportunities for indigenous communities. The committee does not support the argument that phasing out of the live export industry would reinvigorate the domestic (meat) processing sector.
"The committee is also not persuaded that the benefit to the processing sector would justify the economic and social dislocation involved".
Mr Thorne said while AA Co was considering building an abattoir near Darwin, the project would require a "substantial" amount of Territory and Federal Government funding for infrastructure, to make the commercial opportunity a reality.
"The vulnerability of the live export industry was laid bare because of the suspension in June 2011 and these northern regions do need processing facilities closer to the producing regions to offset the massive transport costs that make it presently unviable to send cattle to facilities at Rockhampton or Biloela or further south," he said.
"However, it is clear that private commercial operators cannot open these abattoir facilities in these regions without some form of government funding and assistance."
Mr Thorne said Australia does process and export a large amount of packaged frozen meat to overseas countries but that won't work in Indonesia or South East Asia.
He said one of the main problems for the average rural Indonesian consumer a problem shared across large parts of South East Asia is that they have no access to refrigeration facilities.
Most of the meat and produce sold in these areas were sold via wet markets, Mr Thorne said, where the consumers purchased meat within hours of the animal being slaughtered, and the product was then taken home and eaten almost immediately.
Also, the transportation infrastructure in rural Indonesian was poor and there was limited access to refrigerated trucks to distribute frozen meat.
"From the consumer's perspective, there is also a benefit in purchasing their meat fresh from wet markets as they can definitely determine that the meat has been processed in accordance with their religious beliefs halal," Mr Thorne said.
"Also, the boxed beef and live export trade are not perfect substitutes, as they appeal to different segments within a market. More affluent, urban-based consumers are likely to shop at a supermarket and would be satisfied with frozen meat, whereas rural consumers require meat to be freshly slaughtered."
Mr Thorne also quoted Meat and Livestock Australia's submission to the Senate's inquiry which said, if Australia ceased to supply livestock to overseas markets, the trade would not simply be replaced by the chilled and frozen meat trade, which was evidenced when Australian sheep exports were banned to Saudi Arabia in 2004.
MLA said livestock imports from other destinations increased, but in contrast, "not an extra kilogram of Australian boxed sheepmeat was sold to this market in 2004".


Thursday, October 18, 2012

More Compost Benefits - Biological and Economic

Alternative ideas about compost benefits are coming thick and fast.  Are there any more out there?

These are some additional ideas about the benefits of compost and very succinctly worded!  Remember that the previous post included those that were well recognised and testable - claims that could not be refuted easily.  There are a few that could be extended, but overall - comost has many beneficial attributes and definitely worth using or making - even at home, and it can be done in apartments too [ using bokashi, a microbial culture that aids organic breakdown].  Look it up if you have not heard of it - plenty of articles available.  Compost bins for domestic use are easy to make - and come in various options, but having a lid is usually a good idea as well, as some animals might access the compost bin.  Many are made in heavy duty plastic similar to the common mobile garbage bin.

Benefits of Compost

Enriches Soil
• Adds organic material
• Improves fertility and productivity
• Suppresses plant diseases
• Discourages insects
• Increases water retention
• Inoculates soil with beneficial microorganisms
• Reduces or eliminates fertilizer needs
• Moderates soil temperature

Prevents Pollution
• Reduces methane production in landfills
• Reduces or eliminates organic garbage
• Reduces or eliminates sewage

Fights existing Pollution
• Degrades toxic chemicals
• Binds heavy metals
• Cleans contaminated air
• Cleans stormwater runoff

Restores Land
• Aids in reforestation
• Helps restore wildlife habitats
• Helps reclaim mined lands
• Helps restore damaged wetlands
• Helps prevent erosion on flood plains

Destroys Pathogens
• Can destroy human disease organisms
• Can destroy plant pathogens
• Can destroy livestock pathogens

Saves Money
• Can be used to produce food
• Can eliminate waste disposal costs
• Reduces the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides
• Can be sold at a profit
• Extends landfill life by diverting materials
• Is a less costly bioremediation technique

Source: U.S. EPA (October 1997). Compost-New Applications for an Age-Old Technology. EPA530-F-97-047.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Soils Benefit if Compost or Mulch is Used

Twelve Benefits of Compost
 Many scientists and farmers speak highly about the use of compost and mulch in soils.  There are often soil and crop improvements attributed to using these organic additions but are they real benefits?

While there is a certain amount of quackery over many soil additives, with some very dubious clams being made for them, it is now considered that there is a reasonably comprehensive set of truisms that can be attributed to compost use, with compost consderd in a broad sense to also include organic mulches.

These benefits and soil improvements are seen in temperate regions in the US, Europe and Australia as well as in tropical regions, with the latter often seeing very big improvements as the soils are tending to be lower in soil organic matter anyway.  Small additions of organic materials can mean big crop performance improvement.

The twelve well recognised benefits of compost are listed below. 

The following list of compost benefits have been approved by the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO). This organization is made up of state Department of Agriculture regulatory officials from every state in the US. These claims are permitted to be made, and are considered as valid, on compost labels, literature and websites in the US and are also relevant elsewhere.

Compost -  

a. Improves soil structure and porosity – creating a better plant root environment;

b. Increases moisture infiltration and permeability, and reduces bulk density of heavy soils – improving moisture infiltration rates and reducing erosion and runoff;

c. Improves the moisture holding capacity of light soils – reducing water loss and nutrient leaching, and improving moisture retention;

d. Improves the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of soils;

e. Supplies organic matter;

f. Aids the proliferation of soil microorganisms;

g. Supplies beneficial microorganisms to soils and growing media;

h. Encourages vigorous root growth;

i. Allows plants to more effectively utilize nutrients, while reducing nutrient loss by leaching;

j. Enables soils to retain nutrients longer;

k. Contains humus – assisting in soil aggregation and making nutrients more available for plant uptake;

l. Buffers soil pH.

There are many articles and newspaper stories about the benefits of compost - so if you are not using compost or any other organic additions such as mulch, why not?  The photo shows mechanised compost production using a row turner.

In the tropics where rainfall is often in short higher intensity storms, surface mulches and composts provide a very effective surface barrier that prevents the dislodging of soil surface particles caused by the energy of impact of rain drops - this dislodgement commences the process of soil erosion.  A mulch cover can greatly reduce that problem while also controlling the infiltration of the rain.   "Cover"is a significant term in the universal soil loss equation [ USLE] used to calculate erosion, and is a factor that can be easily modified - as distinct from some of the other factors.  And soil cover is why dense grassland or rainforest is less prone to erosion.

The carbon in the organic materials often remains in the soil for some time so it also contributes to sequestring carbon, although not always for really long periods. [ that is another complicated issue - you could read about biochar or terra preta soils]

Surface mulch and compost are great contributors to better soils and the products grown in them!. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Energy Efficiency in the US is Going Up

Many look at the US and gas guzzling cars and wonder about energy use.  It is not all doom amd gloom, with energy efficiency seemingly a positive issue, due to significant improvements over the past few years, and more coming it seems.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy talked about this unique positioning last week when it released its annual state ranking for energy efficiency. True, the top states are blue: Massachusetts, California, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. But look at the states moving up the line most quickly.
“These findings show that energy efficiency is being embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike at the state level,” said Steven Nadel, ACEEE executive director. “That nonpartisan status is crucial because too many conversations about U.S. energy policy begin with the false premise that the only way to safeguard our reliable energy future is to expand our supply. While some supply investments will be needed, the truth is that step one should always be energy efficiency, our cheapest, cleanest, and fastest energy resource.”
The use of combined heat and power systems are also increasing.  This is of interst to Australia as the BluGen system, which uses a gas powered fuel cell and is ultra efficient based on European testing, was developed here and is trying to break into significant domestic markets around the world.  There is some success in Europe already.

“The issues related to CHP on both political tickets are the same when you look at energy independence, clean energy, energy security – all the things that CHP brings to the energy debate. So regardless of how the election turns out, we should continue to see a bright future for CHP,” said Joe Allen, USCHPA chairman and Solar Turbines director of government affairs.  This is now of more interest in the US given moderately abundant national gas supplies, and much lower prices, and a widespread need for many months for heating.
Perhaps energy efficiency escapes partisan titles because it is technology neutral – we can save any kind of energy. Massachusetts is number one for the second year in ACEEE’s ranking largely because of its Green Communities Act, legislation enacted in 2008 that boosted renewable energy and sustainable practices. In contrast, Oklahoma is rising quickly in the ranking, partly because of its natural gas efficiency programs. Oklahoma also significantly increased its electric energy efficiency budget and upped its energy savings, as did Montana and South Carolina.

Other policies that are neither green nor blue also boosted efficiency in states. For example, 24 states now have portfolio standards, targets to achieve a certain amount of energy savings by a prescribed date. Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have the most aggressive portfolio standards, according to ACEEE. (On the national level, various pieces of legislation propose national efficiency portfolio standards, but Congress has taken no action on them.)
While the nation may face a stalemate on many issues, it does not on energy efficiency. The resource is growing rapidly. Utility energy efficiency budgets were $7 billion in 2011, a 27% increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, energy savings increased 40% from customer-funded efficiency programs to 18 million MWh, roughly equivalent to the electricity Wyoming uses each year, according to ACEEE.

Massachusetts’ held the top position for the second year because many parties sat at the table and worked together, according Jeremy McDiarmid, Massachusetts director for Environment Northeast, an organization that has played a key role helping the state develop energy efficiency policies.
Such cooperation is hard to find on the national energy scene. Still, energy efficiency, at least, appears to be welcome at almost any table, when and if, the parties finally gather.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Elders Goes Online

In a development that is a milestone for Australian agribusiness, Elders - the Australia wide agribusiness – has just opened an online version of its rural supply business, thought to be the first online supply business for farmers in Australia.
Farmers are able to order selected animal health and agricultural chemical products from its AgSure website, and have those products delivered to their farm.  Like customers across many areas, farmers are looking for the best prices. "Farmer buyer behaviour is changing," Elders general manager of strategy and marketing Mark Geraghty said in a statement, "they're shopping around, researching online and are looking to buy at a time, and price that suits them."

The on line system is designed to complement their branch structure, not replace it.
This should allow around the clock ordering, which should be a boon for many in the rural industry.

Delivery may be an issue, so it is to be hoped that their logistics are well sorted out.  That is a characteristic of excellent businesses operating online – all the way from Amazon to Nespresso coffee supplies.  Get the logistics wrong and customers disappear!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Silent Spring - 50 Years Old

This link takes you to an article especially pertinent today, the 50th anniversary of the publicaton of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

Many argue that was the birthday of the modern environment and conservation movement.  The book chronicled the role of DDT in the environment and the damage it was causing from unprincipled use.

DDT is a very effective agrochemical and still has uses today, particularly when impregnated in mosquito bed nets, for malaria is a great option that really works.  It is just that, in some ways like the use of glyphosate today, DDT was used for everything!  And society did not know enough about the problems that arose until afterwards, and it was hard to get people to listen.

And then came the book Silent Spring.  A slim volume, and I read it, in the mid 1960s studying agrochemical use as an undergraduate in an ag science faculty.  It was a game changer.

It is still in print, and still worth reading if you have not done so before..

It is true to say, the genesis of the environmental movement can be traced to that book release.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tide Power Coming to the NT

A major announcement today that an agreement has been reached between Tenax and the local electricity supply utility to commence development of tidal power commercial studies here in the NT.

This will be offshore from Darwin in the Clarence strait between the mainland and the Tiwi islands.

It will be tidal flow operating in both directions, and would provide power reasonably uniformly except for near the low and high tide points, and be influenced by the moon!  Yes.....tides are.

The potential is very large, at least equal to existing power capacity locally.  There will be an issue of possible power storage requirements, but if one looks around there arre numerous studies around the world looking at that issue - improved batteries, flywheels and so on, and there is optimism that stiorage issues canbe at least partially solved.

Yes, there is some way to go, but the company has done a lot of investigations already on possibilities and the supply authority is serious about delivering on the distribution network.  That is some way off....with first serious operations getting under way within about 18 months or so.

But it is part of several planned sites by the company so they are positive it can be delivered, using a series of turbine systems anchored to the sea floor.

Watch this space.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Coming Asian Century - Where to Australia?

A lot of words have hit the press about Australia's role in the so called coming Asian Century.  Be it supply of minerals, or possibly food, it has been painted as a rosy time coming for Australia.

A more sober assessment is now being seen as closer to the real situation.

This is attached below.

It posits a reduction in the role of mineral exports with some thoughts being developed around "what else can be done?"  Some think an expanded role for agriculture and livestock - maybe, others think we need to focus on redeveloping older infrastructure.

Would it see a more gradual move to develop the north of Australia?  That has not been a focus so far.  What ever, the news article does provide some sober thinking from some reasonably knowledgeable people, and also looks at a few social issues, rather than just location and economics.

But it does not seem to look at a greater role for the north of Australia, which seems odd to those living in the north of the country, especially today when Conoco was inferring a very large upgrade to gas processing facilities in Darwin with a very long pipleine from WA [ yes - not committed, but a definite idea float!]

The 'Asian Century' may not be that good

WE'VE heard so much about the potential for Australia to benefit from "the Asian century" that it seemed right that two eminent Asian economists opened Wednesday's official conference on the Asian white paper with a warning: it might not be that good.

Malaysian-born, Melbourne-trained economist Jayant Menon, now with the Asian Development Bank, said that if all went well, Asia by 2050 could have living standards similar to those of Europe today. But it is also possible that countries such as China, India and Indonesia could reach middle-income levels, then lose momentum, as Malaysia and Thailand have.

Asia too has challenges to overcome, Dr Menon reminded us. It has been very successful in its "catch up" phase of growth, but to reach Western levels, Asian countries will need to spread the benefits to all their people, become innovators at the frontiers of technology and science, develop lower emission technologies, attractive cities, and deep financial markets — and in China, among others, cope with a fast-shrinking labour force.

Professor He Fan, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was similarly frank about China's future challenges, which include a fast-shrinking labour force, due to its one-child policy. China's workforce will peak next year, he said, then start shrinking — putting a serious brake on growth.

And while Australia could expand its exports to China to high-value agricultural produce, manufactured goods and services, he noted, they will have to compete there with manufactures and services from all over the world — and proximity will not be the big advantage it has been for exports of bulk minerals.

Professor Anne Krueger, former deputy chief of the International Monetary Fund, was also wary of assuming that Asia is set to continue its stellar growth path. She backed Dr Menon's warnings, saying Asian countries will face slower growth as they approach convergence with the West and in China and Korea, workforce growth reverses, and fewer workers have to support many more retirees.

The Gillard government appointed former Treasury secretary Ken Henry to head a taskforce to prepare a white paper (policy statement) on how Australia could best position itself to benefit from what it calls "the Asian century". Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan constantly beguile us with images of Australian schools, health care professionals, farmers and niche manufacturers finding new markets among Asia's rapidly-growing middle class consumers.

At the seminar, hosted jointly by Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the International Monetary Fund, no one disputed the central thesis that Australia's future lies in developing closer ties with Asia. But there was a clear gulf between the optimism of officials' confidence that Asia will sustain high commodity prices for a decade or more, and the estimate of Victoria University professors Peter Sheehan and Bob Gregory that within a year or two, mining investment will start falling, and detracting from our growth rather than sustaining it.

Both the officials and the outsiders agreed that what we call the resources boom really has three distinct phases. To summarise Professor Gregory's version:

  Phase 1: rising commodity prices. Between 2003 and 2011, the world decided to roughly double what it paid for our minerals. That added about 10 per cent to Australian incomes, and drove up the Australian dollar, making our imports cheaper. But that phase ended a year ago. Our minerals prices have fallen since, and could fall a lot more ahead.

  Phase 2: rising mining investment. That began in 2003, and is still building to its climax, now expected to be in 2013 or 2014. Mining investment is now running at 10 times the levels of a decade ago. In the last year, in constant prices, it grew by $33 billion while the whole of GDP itself grew just $45 billion. It dominates the economy, but soon it will be shrinking, and we will need to find new drivers of growth.

  Phase 3: rising mining exports. You might think that has happened already, but not that much. In the past decade, the volume of mining exports has grown just 3.9 per cent a year, not much faster than GDP. The next five years will see much more spectacular growth: Sheehan and Gregory estimate that it could add $100 billion a year to our GDP.

But on their scenario, that would be offset by a similar fall in the value of mining investment, as Phase 2 goes into reverse. And Sheehan and Gregory point out that there's virtually no jobs in mining — the vast Pluto LNG project will employ just 600 people, once it is up and running — and many of them are 100 per cent owned.

"An extreme example of these trends is the Shell Prelude project, which is a $15 billion wholly foreign-owned LNG project situated in waters offshore in Western Australia", their paper notes.

"Shell is constructing in Korea a massive platform which will be towed to the offshore site, and from which all drilling, liquefaction and shipping activities will take place. None of the gas will be piped to the Australian mainland. The domestic impact is likely to be minimal, other than through the tax paid."

They want the Federal government and the states to combine to create a new growth driver for Australia by setting a joint, semi-independent infrastructure authority, which could borrow under Federal government guarantee, and invest heavily in tackling Australia's infrastructure backlog, which has been estimated at $700 billion.

Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson was not impressed. He suggested that the private sector will provide the growth engine, and if the states need more money for infrastructure, they should stop exempting small business from payroll tax, and cut back their other tax concessions.

Presumably Parkinson is giving similar advice to Swan about the Federal government's own tax concessions, which Treasury last totted up at a cool $112 billion a year. There's enough money there to finance any number of initiatives to keep the economy ticking on.

the second part originally written by TIM COLEBATCH, THE AGE 20 Sep, 2012 08:00 AM and acknowledged.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Recycling is BETTER

Many working in the waste industry including recycling tend to believe that recycling is a better option.

Now there is Australian data to back that up.  Recycling is BETTER.  More jobs in that sector, substantial energy savings - 241 million Gjoules per year, plus water and greenhouse gas generation savings.

These are substantial benefits.

Yet in the NT we seem to be stuck in a time warp, with little progress other than send it to landfill.  Even the greenwaste is inadequately managed with the monster piles created in Darwin inadequately dealt with to use productively as a source of nutrients and carbon for agriculture, mining site rehabilitation and similar issues, including simple issues of land cover to protect the surface from erosion and the loss of soil into waterways.  Come on construction can do better, so can the landfill site operators.

Mulch is expected to be in short supply in both WA and SA in future years if not already, due to significant market development by commercial companies and use of product in both commercial and domestic horticulture and agriculture. 

Then there are other materials such as glass and metals.  The latter are valuable and there is an effort to recycle generally, but what of glass and used tyres?  Both have had commercial development yet are not embraced.  Used tyres especially are a valuable component for civil construction and erosion management [ see ].  Locally there has been a recent report on using glass in civil construction - but is it happening?  So far, it seems no.

Locally we can do much better.

There is a link to the full report below. However, one view of the report is that it has excluded any details on tyre recycling, data on organics recycling is somewhat dated and it lacks much direction on where the industry might go.  A lot of collated data, but I am not sure how useful it really might be, although it fills a lot of report space.

Recycling trumps landfills

These figures come as results of the release of the Australian Recycling Sector Report, prepared by consultancy Net Balance for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

The lengthy and far-reaching report covers recycling processes and markets, the economic value of the industry, its environmental benefits, the regularity environment, standards, industry barriers, data collection and a future outlook.

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Rod Welford said the study "confirms [recycling] generates more jobs than landfill". Key aspects of the report are summarised below.

Volumes and dollars
The report draws on the most recent figures reporting that 26 million tonnes of material was recycled in Australia in 2008/2009. The study quoted the Inside Waste Industry Report 2011-2012, noting from this volume the value of recycling in Australia was around $6.145 billion.

Most of this revenue (50% or so) is attributed to the sale of recovered materials, but the report cautions markets are highly variable. More than half ($3.8 billion) of the revenue from recycling was generated in NSW and Victoria.

The contribution of the recycling sector to Australian employment is estimated at a little less than 1% - meaning approximately 22,000 people (full time equivalents) are employed in recycling in Australia.

This equates to 9.2 full time employees for every 10,000 tonnes of waste processed.

Environmental Benefit
While recycling remains a relatively small employer in Australia, the report makes clear the environmental benefits of recycling are considerable.

In total, the report estimates recycling generate approximately 241,000,000 GJ-equivalent of energy savings. This is enough energy to power around five million homes.

Other key environmental savings estimated include 172 gigalitre of water, equivalent to 10% of Australia's water consumption and 15 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions as a carbon dioxide equivalent.

Barriers to improvement
A summary of the barriers impeding greater recycling put a lack of investment in recycling and limited infrastructure as the primary challenges facing the sector.

A lack of business recycling uptake, the distance of materials to markets and consumer behaviour are also key barriers.

The full report can be downloaded from the DSEWPC website. Further information on the Australian recycling industry is also available in the Inside Waste Industry Report 2011-2012.