Friday, March 23, 2012

Civilian Drones Seem to be the Issue of the Moment

While I blogged about the use of unmanned vehicles, or drones in rural applications recently, it seems the topic has deveoped a life of its own.

Today the national newpsaper in Australia, "The Australian" has a significant article about UAV use in civilian mode. Click on the link and read it:

Much of the story is a bit short of real facts for Australia and a bit skewed in relation to some of the facts, also for Australian use. Australia already has some rules for their use, developed by the air traffic management services nationally. They may get modified as usage develops- but there are some rules already. The newspaper article does not mention any Australian developers of UAV machines, yet there are several who are of world class, and already supply military products world wide.

Ideas abound on use - be imaginative. There must be many many options worth considering for agriculture in the broad sense at reasonable cost.

Definitely keep a watch on developments.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Resilient Agriculture that is Productive and Sustainable

Agriculture in Africa has long been considered as a real basket case. Production unable to meet societal needs, low productivity of crops, ravaged by pests and diseases, constant drought, flood or pestilence.

That can be changed, and is changing for the better in a number of African countries. Ghana has halved hunger in 2011, well before the goal of 2015, through a postive environment within government as well as adoption of innovation and newer technologies.

In Zambia, conservation technology and use of no-till for cropping has reduced crop water use and yields for maize are now five times the sub-saharan average.

Genetic engineering to improve bananas by developing plant disease resistance in Uganda also seems to offer a path towards major yield improvements and longer life of banana plantations, mostly owned by small land holders.

Also importantly, creation of new and effective grain storage and grain trading systems are leading to better grain trading across Africa and reducing food price volatility.

Improvements in the tropics of the world are critical to improving food security, and better food security also reduces tensions and conflicts.

A lot is founded on agricultural science, some on enabling conditions.........but it is happening.

Resilience in agriculture is critical..........and the gains in productivity need to be sustainable. Some of the system enhancements are making a real improvement, and improvement that will slowly translate into better fed, healthier people. Particularly when you also factor in some of the other improvements across other fields eg into malaria management, control and maybe eradication that can greatly improve the health and working productivity of people.

But the agricultural development is real, and a monster driver of better conditions.

The article below covers this in more detail, but the majority of people in the western countries still think agriculture is a dead end in many parts of the developing world. Not so!

Read more -

Friday, March 16, 2012

Food - Production, Processing and Purchasing - Who Wins?

Australia has been a significant producer of food - for itself, for export and for processing. Whether it be agriculture [ think wheat, sorghum, beef for example] or horticulture [ apples, stone fruits, oranges, mangoes, pineapples, bananas].

Supporting these endeavours have been scientists in agriculture /horticulture, food processing, crop handling and many other areas along with economists, specialised farm management experts, operating in both R and D and support roles such as plant pathologists, and entomologists.

But will the push by the two major food retailers curtail these endeavours in their escalating drive for profit at all costs? A push to use the cheapest food whether imported or processed, irrespective of real quality and with scant regard for local production.

A recent article [ link here ] with a cold hard look at supermarket practices by a respected economist seems to think that this might be the case.

It is sobering reading.

I am fed up with wondering if the panopoly of frozen food in the supermarket freezer is imported, often Chinese, or local? And more importantly whether for example it was grown using sewerage effluent or some other dodgy practice. You know that Australian [or New Zealand] produced food is safe and wholesome; yet the other stuff is at times dubious.

As an agricultural scientist I have seen and know that some overseas production methods are at best dubious, while some others are ok.

But it is the relentless pursuit of a dumbing down approach to our local food supplies that is a worry. Too many local producers are getting screwed by the supermarkets into prices that are uneconomic, often by a small margin. Where is the fairness and honesty?

We have relatively cheap food produced locally......lets support Australian produced food, and demand that the major supermarkets do too. It will not cost us very much, yet will make a difference to local Australian farmers. While they extol their Australian purchasing, there are many, many more non Australian food goods on their shelves - stuff we produce and process well - think of much of the canned fruit you see, jams, frozen vegetables. It is no longer Australian!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Salt Resistant Wheat - A Big Step Forward by Australian Science

The news has been a few more years in development following the discovery of the actual gene in the 1990s, that can convey salt resistance in wheat.
The news was even on AM this morning, with the interview of people involved, following publication of the article in the journal Nature.
[link to AM story - ]

This has been a big step forward by the staff at the Waite Institute [ Uni of Adelaide] and Centre for Plant Functional Genomics in Adelaide with the incorporation of the gene from a wheat ancestor into durum wheat and the material moving into the pre production phase of a new commercial variety, with commercial availability likely to be 4-5 years from now.

While durum wheat is a smaller crop area than the more traditional bread wheats, it is also an important one, as prices can be quite a bit higher. Durum wheats conventionally are used for pasta and related products.

Salt tolerance is a very important trait, as both in Australia and elsewhere the areas suitable for cropping, but damaged by salt ingress are increasing, as well as the possibility of being able to use less than ideal water for irrigation, a major issue in many areas of the world.

The interview is a bit superficial I thought, as the real issues are of world wide relevance for wheat production. No doubt work is already under way to extend this to bread wheats. A better overview is here on a science report -

The other part of the work is that now the gene hs been identified, it may be feasible to also incorporate it into other major crops - with other grains an obvious first target - think rice, maize, as major ones initially. It also comes soon one of the same groups has been associated with improving iron levels in cereals, a similar outstanding achievement.

Farrer, the grand father of wheat breeding in the Australian context, would be pleased with the wheat breeders of 2012.