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!