Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Generosity Counts

Generosity: It Doesn’t Cost a Penny to Pay It Forward

When we hear the words “giving” and “generosity” we typically think in terms of financial donations. Yet, we have far more to offer than money. For example, we can give people access to our personal network, or leverage our influence to help someone else gain an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.

In 1792, on a chilly December day in Salzburg, Austria, an unmarried embroiderer gave birth to her third child, a baby boy named Joseph Mohr. The child’s father had deserted the mother immediately upon learning about the pregnancy. The abandoned mother, already short on money, was fined a year’s worth of wages for having conceived a child out of wedlock.

With an absentee father and an impoverished mother, Joseph’s life prospects were dim. This was especially true in the late 18th century, when so-called “illegitimate children” were socially stigmatized. They were routinely denied apprenticeships and educational opportunities.

One place where Joseph felt accepted was at his local church, where he sang in the choir. The cathedral’s vicar, Johan Nepomuk Hiernle, took notice of the boy’s musical talent, and intervened on Joseph’s behalf so that he could receive an education. Joseph did well in school, and he excelled musically, learning to play the guitar, violin, and organ. Eventually, he decided to enroll in seminary.

Joseph’s plans were blocked, however, as his illegitimate birth prevented him from studying for the priesthood. Hiernle again came to his aid, successfully seeking an exemption so that the young man could attend seminary. After completing his studies, Joseph was ordained, and then appointed as priest of a small parish in Oberndorf.

His second year at the church, Joseph scrambled to pull together a concert for Christmas mass. He had written a poem and shared it with a friend whom he asked to compose a melody to go with it.

Joseph’s friend obliged, and together they performed the song for the congregation on Christmas Eve. The tune, “Silent Night,” has gone on to become a holiday favorite, popular with churches and carolers almost 200 years later.
Thought to Ponder
If not for a kind-hearted vicar, who generously used his connections to aid a fatherless, underprivileged young boy, “Silent Night” would likely never have been written or sung. In fact, who knows what would have become of Joseph Mohr without the vicar’s support and guidance?

At some point, I’ll bet someone has generously intervened in your life in order to give you a better shot at success. As a way of honoring this person, take a brief moment to comment on the impact their generosity had on you. How might you be able to “pay forward” their generosity?


I obviously did not write this, but the thoughts are too pertinent to ignore.  I was especially touched in 2013 by the Typhoon Haiyan [ Yolanda] in the Philippines, as I have been through several cyclone events including one similar in intensity to this one.

Truly some thoughtful ideas at this time of Christmas and New Year.  And free!

All the best to readers for Christmas and New Year of 2014. Be generous - however you can.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nutella - Produced from Australian Hazelnuts Soon

Nutella is a speciality food spread well liked by kids and adults alike.  And hazelnut chocolates are also a bit of a treat.  More of these will be locally produced over the next few years as new production of hazelnut trees start bearing nuts.
A new agricultural industry is emerging in Australia with more than two hundred thousand hazelnut trees now successfully imported from Chile.
Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said a second consignment of hazelnut trees cleared quarantine on 27 November 2013 thanks to several years of careful planning to ensure biosecurity risks associated with the introduction of new planting stock were managed.

“This sort of collaboration, between government and the horticulture industry, is a model other sectors could draw on if looking to create new agricultural industries and products in Australia,” Minister Joyce said.
“This is a good example of a committed importer who was willing to work through our biosecurity requirements in order to establish a sustainable industry here.

 “Their perseverance has created an opportunity for some of our farmers to diversify and grow this alternative crop, increasing their farm-gate returns and positively impacting their local communities.”
The Department of Agriculture has worked closely with scientists from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the Chilean quarantine service and the Australian importer—Agri Australis, part of the Ferrero Group—to import the high-quality hazelnut trees.

The consignments of Chilean hazelnut trees were placed in mandatory quarantine and screened for pests and diseases of biosecurity concern. This group of trees now joins the first consignment which was released from quarantine at the end of last year, and will be planted near Narrandera, in NSW.
 Agri Australis General Manager, Alessandro Boccardo, said working through the biosecurity requirements had been important to fulfilling the business objective – to develop a reliable Southern Hemisphere supply to ensure counter seasonal availability of a high quality standard.

 “The intention is to develop a large scale hazelnut demonstration farm near Narrandera in the Riverina– planting a million trees over 2000 hectares – that will demonstrate the sustainability and profitability of the hazelnut business to Australian farmers and potential investors.
 “By 2022 the modelling forecasts about 5000 tonnes of hazelnuts will be harvested from the demonstration farm – and we’re hoping local growers can match that volume in the medium term,” Mr Boccardo said.  Ferrero, through Agri Austraia is keen to assist other local growers to also plant hazelnuts and to be part of the project to boost Australian sourced nut product for their Nutella production facility in the Sydney area.

 The hazelnut project highlights the role biosecurity plays in facilitating the safe entry of new plant and animal material to improve the competitiveness of Australia’s agricultural industries.
 The department’s role is to protect Australia’s biosecurity status and the environment from pests and diseases, and this underpins the productivity of our primary industries.

 Agri Australis was presented with a Biosecurity Award from the Department of Agriculture for its collaborative approach to meeting Australia’s biosecurity requirements.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Vegetable Powered Christmas Tree

It is getting close to Christmas and this is a good news story about vegetables doing their bit for society.  No, not as food but as a battery......yes, a battery!!
Scientists have used Brussels sprouts to power a Christmas tree in London. 

A battery, made up of a thousand Brussels sprouts, will generate lights on a Christmas tree through the festive season, only using the power harvested from the produce. 

Scientists created the worlds first vegetable powered Christmas tree for Britain's Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair. 

Please click here to read more information.

Brussels sprouts powering a Christmas tree in London

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Toilets - What Are They Worth?

As they say........shit happens!   But where it happens is important to many.

In developed areas we take toilets for granted.  Many do not have them around the world and there is a society cost.  A toilet is a major development issue in many countries.

And it can be especially important for women and teenage girls even more so than men.

The infographic shows this clearly.  Combine this issue with lack of opportunities, or failure, to wash hands to prevent and improve disease management, even in western societies is also relevant.

Simple stuff really.  And it needs support to happen.  It shocked me to see people toileting in public areas because there were no toilets, while working in some developing countries - an issue that seems so simple to remedy.

The infographic may not be as clear as needed - try here if you need to see it better - http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/08/30/whats-a-toilet-worth-infographic

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In the Christmas Giving Spirit

This is in the spirit of Christmas giving.  While produced by a Spanish bank [ Banco Santander ] for a 130th Anniversary event, it is truly uplifting.  And it is popular - about 20 million hits on you tube!

Enjoy the break from dry agricultural issues.............

Friday, November 22, 2013

Compadre zoysia seed - AVAILABLE FOR SALE

Compadre zoysia seed available NOW.  We supply predominantly anywhere around Australia and also overseas in the Asian region.

Have a new lawn this summer..................

In Australia we prefer to use Australia Post Express satchels that provide prompt and trackable delivery.  Sizes up to 5kg available.

For large quantities, commercial road freight is used.

E-mail to office@abovecapricorn.com.au  for more information.

Written advisory sheets for site preparation and sowing as well as ongoing maintenance available, and there is also additional information on this blog if you search under zoysia on the LHS.

Compadre zoysia lawns have been successfully established over the past few years, from seed, in the NT, NSW, Qld, WA and with new areas also recently sown in Victoria.  We provide free consulting advice to help with your questions.

A new Compadre zoysia lawn - approx. 20 weeks from sowing

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Does Biodiesel Deserve a Better Deal??

Biodiesel and ethanol both fall under the category of “biofuels,” which describes any fuel synthesized from plant or animal matter. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Biodiesel offers a significantly improved environmental impact compared to both ethanol and standard petroleum-derived diesel. It can be used in standard diesel engines with little or no negative impact on engine health. Just add it to the tank of your Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen or Mercedes diesel vehicle – or pretty well any other diesel including light trucks.  In tropical warm weather it even starts well in the morning.

Meanwhile, ethanol deserves scrutiny for its relatively high emissions, and the way it can damage engines that aren’t specifically designed to burn the fuel.

In recent years, ethanol has been the target of a backlash from environmentalists and critics of government waste, who argue that the limited benefits of the fuel don’t justify the federal support it received over the last few decades. In the USA, the Renewable Fuels Standard, which sets a production mandate for both ethanol and biodiesel, has recently been a target of reformers, who would like to see the standard cut to reflect the low demand and perceived declining promise of ethanol. If that happens, biodiesel production could get caught up in the reforms, with the EPA opting not to raise production targets for biodiesel in 2014.

Biodiesel can be produced from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled food by-products like restaurant grease, or from algae, which can be grown using waste materials like sewage. It can be sold in a variety of blends with petroleum diesel or as a pure 100-percent blend known in some areas as B100.

Locally in the NT there is one small scale production facility near Berrimah, using waste vegetable oils and greases………plus one large mothballed facility at East Arm where current production is zero, but capacity is 130 million litres per year.
The mothballed biodiesel facility near Darwin

The cost of the fuel to consumers varies depending upon blend and location, but may be more expensive than mineral based diesel.  That extra cost brings the benefit of about a 50-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2010 study by Argonne National Laboratory in the USA.

Should there now be more emphasis on biodiesel production, with this very high reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, especially as Australian mineral derived diesel seems to be remaining persistently high in price?  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Donating to the Haiyan Disaster in the Philippines - Is Your Preferred Aid Donor Operating with Best Practice?

Our region has seen some awful disasters in recent times.

Going back to the Aceh and Nias disasters of about 10 years ago, through to more recent events in the Philippines of both earthquakes and the very recent Haiyan typhoon [ cyclone], aid donors have been active in the region.

There are many agencies operational - local ones based in the recipient country, plus many international ones [ Oxfam, Red Cross, Save the Children, AUSAid, CARE, Caritas etc ] with many of the latter group also with Australian operations that seek donations from Australians, as well as from other countries.

Australians tend to be a generous lot, and do give quite a lot of money to the aid cause.

The big question is - are you getting value for your donation, and is the money being spent wisely?

A good starting point is whether your preferred agency operates according to a series of best practice guidelines for aid.

Best practices have all or many of these characteristics:
  • They are comprehensive, aiming at all aspects of an issue.
  • They are flexible and responsive, reacting to the needs of the population and changes in circumstances and conditions.
  • They persevere, keeping at it as long as is necessary – indefinitely, if that’s what it takes.
  • They look at issues and people in their context – family, history, community, etc.
  • They target the underlying causes in addition to the symptoms of an issue or problem.
  • They have – and stick to – a clear mission.
  • They evolve over time, as need dictates.
  • They are managed by competent people with appropriate skills.
  • Their staff members are trained and supported to provide high-quality, responsive service.
  • They foster strong staff/participant relationships based on mutual respect.
  • They collaborate, both internally and externally.
  • Both the organization and individual staff members have a set of core values that strengthen their dedication, morale, and resolve, and that give them a shared sense of purpose for the work.
Why promote the adoption and use of best practices?

One answer to this question is obvious: employing a method or program that’s been tested and found successful increases the chances that you’ll accomplish your goals, and that life will therefore be better for the folks who participate. There are, however, further reasons why the use of a best practice can be advantageous.
  • Using a recognized best practice makes it easier to justify the work. .
  • Using recognized best practices can bolster the credibility of an organization. It shows not only that the organization is using a tested process, but that it has been thinking ahead and conducting research to make sure it’s doing the best job possible.
  • Using best practices can make it easier to get funding.
There is a downside to this advantage as well, as it also minimizes the possibility of innovation and the development of new best practices. Moreover, it ignores the fact that best practices don’t always work in every situation, and that some organizations may get outstanding results using practices that don’t show up in the research.
  • Using a best practice removes a lot of the guesswork from planning. Employing a program or method whose structure and process are carefully documented makes it easier to set up and implement, and increases the chances that it will go smoothly.
  • The originators of the practice are known, and might be available to consult on how to best implement it. If the originators aren’t available, there may be others experienced with the practice who can help.
  • Most important – and most obvious – we know that best practices work. They’ve been shown to provide the changes in behaviour or conditions and the outcomes we’re interested in.

Promoting the adoption of best practices should probably be an ongoing activity, but some times are especially appropriate for it.
  • Before a new intervention or program begins.
  • When there’s a serious community problem that has to be tackled.
  • When what’s being done isn’t working well.
  • When the community requests it.
  • When funders or officials request or demand it.
As research results become more and more easily available through online sources, more large funders insist that proven practices be followed by those they fund. You as a donor should also be thinking of how your funds are used.

A word of caution here: as mentioned above, strict use of best practices can sometimes get in the way of flexibility and new ideas.

Some have tried to categorise aid agency performance based on a few criteria.

A 2011 research paper looks at “five dimensions of agency ‘best practices’:

aid transparency,
minimal overhead costs,
aid specialization,
delivery to more effective channels, and
selectivity of recipient countries based on poverty and good government / governance”
and calculates an overall agency score.

With the recent disasters, the last point is probably not directly relevant - aid needs to go to a specific country, so four issues are probably relevant.  However, the governance issue is especially critical in some areas [with Afghanistan seen as a bad example in recent times - too much corruption / poor governance], and in disaster areas can distort what is happening, as governance is often lacking at least initially, although improving once the major effort starts to build momentum.

Not all agencies do the right thing - there are a few shonky ones around. 

Major aid agencies tend to be effective and efficient, but all can do better.  A good point is always to see what their overheads are, and reject those where overheads are excessive.  There are some online comparisons around.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sowing Compadre Zoysia Seed - Starter Fertiliser

The starter fertiliser we suggest is Nitrophoska Blue , Yara Mila [ sometimes sold as Yara Hydrocomplex] , Crop King 55 or Crop King 88.  All are okay and have slightly different NPK blends, and different retailers sell them,  so you need to see what might be around in your area through Bunnings, Elders, Landmark etc.

Companies such as Lesco and Scotts which specialise in turf products and equipment, also have small prilled, turf starter fertiliser with some slow release nitrogen.  Quite good to use but can be more expensive and may be more difficult to source.
Commonly the NPK ratios are around 20: 12: 15, often with 5-10% sulfur as well, plus trace elements, for these starter fertilisers.
There are other brands as well, but many other brands are less well known and less available for smaller users.
Use what is available and attractively priced in your region.  These products are soluble fertiliser and can be mobile ie leach, and need additional fertiliser within about 4 weeks of application.
We recommend 2kg / 100 sq m at or before sowing, another 2kg/100 sq m at about 4-6 weeks [after emergence and when small seedlings are present] and then to switch to a slow release turf product at about 8-10 weeks, and then repeat every 12 weeks after that, until cooler months [say May or June].  From the next year in September / October restart the slow release fertiliser and repeat at 12 weeks intervals.  From midway in the next year, cease fertiliser application when cooler weather starts, then recommence with a 2 or 3 times per year schedule of slow release turf fertiliser from September /October,  omitting mid-summer and mid-winter periods. [more details on product in an earlier post] 

For zoysia use half of the recommended rate on the bag, so normally use about 2kg/100 sq m [ usual recommendation is 3-5kg/100 sq m, which is based around couch - do not need as much for zoysia.]
It is very important to spread fertiliser evenly.  Use a push type spreader or a small hand applicator for smaller areas.  Lightly water into the ground after application, aiming to avoid burning the small seedlings.  In hot weather, apply fertiliser late afternoon or early evening to avoid burning plants.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What Mowing Height for Compadre Zoysia?

The non answer is - "it depends"!!

A good option is to aim for around 20 -25mm cut height, a height easily achieved using a common rotary mower.

Some people have used a much higher cut height - 100mm and even up to 150mm.  Personally, I believe that is probably too high, although for less maintained larger commercial areas there can be justification for maybe more than 25mm as a cut height.  Cutting too high all the time often reduces lawn vigour, especially lateral development, so that when cut lower at a different time of the year, the appearance of the area is not good.  A good compromise is to use a cut around  35 - 50 mm, which can reduce mowing frequency even more while having a reasonable appearance.  A word of warning though - zoysia turf can get spongy if cut too high repeatably, and develop thatch, as well as often developing a bit of loss of leaf green colouring due to lower light at the grass surface.  Yes, an area can be left to grow a little, for example, if the owner is away for a period, but getting back to a lower height is desirable, and that may take two cuts to reduce lawn height from 100mm or more, back to 25mm

Compadre zoysia can also be cut much shorter which encourages better lateral development and a dense surface appearance.  To do it well, a sharp bladed cylinder mower is preferred, and a cut of 5-10mm is certainly possible, although a good flat, hollow free surface is essential to have a good final finish and avoid scalping of the surface.

The occasional cut with a rotary mower at 12-15mm is okay though as it will pick up surface debris and reduce accumulation of thatch.  All zoysia turf varieties do have more material closer to the ground and it is surprising how much additional leaf material will be cut once you start lowering the mowing height below 20mm - you can often double the amount of clippings collected.

Compadre sod production
That also raises an important issue - with zoysia turf it is important to collect the clippings and remove them after mowing.  Some types of turf can tolerate leaving the clippings on the surface eg carpet grass and Bahia grass, but it is not prudent to do so for zoysia.  It promotes thatch development, and can boost disease and related problems.  Yes - collect and remove the clippings when you mow.  The exception is when a lawn is still developing and some additional organic material may be useful. But leaving material may be unwise if there are a lot of weed seeds present on the area as can occur in new lawn development.  Use some judgment on this one!

In most warm areas, a 20 - 25mm cut of zoysia turf, and modest fertiliser and irrigation, will allow at least 2 -3 weeks between mowings in the warm season and up to 6 weeks in cooler periods of the year, while still maintaining a great appearance.  You might also get a longer period as well particularly with prudent reduced irrigation, that does not reduce aesthetic appearance.  I do!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Which Fertiliser for Compadre Zoysia?

Choice of fertiliser is always a bit of a conundrum these days with so many types and blends available.

There is some benefit in using organic fertiliser for example pelletised chicken manure , or DPM - densified poultry manure.  It adds organic matter and some nutrients but the nutrient level is relatively low, and it can be more expensive if freight costs are an issue eg in rural and remote areas.  It can be short in some nutrients as well.  It can be useful if the turf is growing on light sandy loam soil or sand.

Conventional inorganic fertiliser is modestly priced, and there are blends that mostly meet criteria for use on turf, but all have generally rapid availability of nutrients and they can often leach quickly.  Because they are mostly readily available you get rapid lawn growth = more mowing, then the nutrients disappear and you need more, maybe in 4 weeks.  And more mowing still!!  Not the best choice at all.

Slow release turf fertilisers are ideal.  They release the nutrients, especially the nitrogen, over an extended period [often 10 -16 weeks, but longer release period products are also available].  The result is less mowing, a better appearance lawn and better availability of plant nutrients.  Many are available in small bags through garden stores and chain shops - 2-4kg sizes, but for best cost effectiveness, buy a 25kg bag and store it in a sealed plastic bin, in the bag.  It will stay usable for 2-3 years at a lower cost.

Domestic Compadre zoysia turf - Darwin area, 20 weeks after sowing seed

The blend is important, and a general use product has around 15- 25% nitrogen, 1-3% phosphorus and 10 -20% potassium, plus some sulfur [ 5-10%] , trace elements if possible, and most importantly a small amount of iron - 0.5 -1.0%.  The iron boosts the lawn colour to a lovely green, without much effect on growth.

The potassium level is important, particularly in wetter and /or warmer climates.  Potassium is mobile so can leach out in wetter periods but its role is to strengthen cell walls and provide better stress resistance, hence the need for decent potassium levels in hot weather.  Modest to low phosphorus is better, assuming the soil does have a reasonable base P level.  With more P you tend to promote legume growth [ essentially a weed in turf].

For zoysia, which is not a prolific growing lawn, the iron is especially important as mowing is less frequent and that delightful green colour is impressive for many weeks, without being cut off.

The other question is always how much.  We suggest halving any recommendation on a fertiliser bag if applying to zoysia, of any type.  Many products recommend 3 - 4kg/100 sq m for slow release fertiliser for eg couch lawns.  For zoysia - 1-2 kg/100 sq m is usually enough.  The exception may be on new lawns less than 1 year old, when you are building up a store in the soil when the recommended rate may be okay in peak growth periods.

And of course in cooler months - applying fertiliser is really not needed as the lawn is not growing very much anyway.  And not too much in wet summer conditions - it means more mowing!

If one of the common types of slow release turf fertiliser is used with a nominal 12 week release period, for zoysia of any type - twice a year is okay, once established.  Nominally apply in Autumn and Spring [or late wet season and late dry season].

The fertiliser question is always tricky and individual areas may require a slightly modified approach in areas where particular nutrients are in short supply or even may be in abundance.

But the above maxims apply in many areas, and are a suitable starting point.

Enjoy your zoysia turf.....and apply a bit of TLC!!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Australian Consumers Want Australian Produced Canned Fruit and Frozen Vegetables

In a stunning announcement, Woolworths has admitted that local consumers prefer /want Australian produced frozen vegetables, and that they will now source most if not all product from Australia, and not China as is the case now for many of the lower price items.

They have announced a major, near $17 million contract with Simplot, to source product from their processing plant in Tasmania, a major and possible business saving contract for the company, as well as the supplier growers, which has been discussing shutting down totally in Australia.

Media reports are focussing on the deal to grow and process in Australia, but is not the real issue that maybe, just maybe, that consumers in Australia are beginning to favour the quality, safety, health status and food biosecurity issues related to poorly supervised and often less appropriately produced product from places such as China, where there have been so many food safety alerts over food products?

And is Woolworths now tapping into that concern?  The media report from late yesterday seemed to have more focus on that aspect, yet today there is maybe a bit less emphasis on that aspect.

This is an important deal for Australian vegetable growers, and especially those in Tasmania.  And for whatever reason, Woolworths also deserve some plaudits to "use Australian".  Now lets see how it develops.

It also follows an earlier deal in which Woolworths switched to Australian canned fruit, rather than overseas product and saw a 40% sales rise in the canned fruit product.

See more here - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-18/simplot-woolworths-deal/5030720

and here - http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/woolies-imports-freeze-boosts-farmers/story-e6frg8zx-1226741990944

Monday, October 14, 2013

Freckle Freaks the Banana Industry in the NT

A fungal disease which was found in the Cavendish banana variety in August has become a catalyst to the destruction of banana trees across the Northern Territory.

A $2.8m plan to control the fungus which is known as banana freckle, will be undertaken in an effort to protect the spread of the disease to Queensland where 90 percent of the country's bananas are grown.

Australian Banana Growers Council representative, Doug Phillips said that the disease would cause significant damage to the industry.

This eradication program commenced in the NT last week, with a significant plantation near Batchelor a major loss with many more smaller and domestic crops also affected.  Others have boosted biosecurity to ensure they do not get the disease on their property. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Opium Poppy Production Coming to the NT

This past dry season the NT has had a couple of small crops of opium poppy grown.

Yes, legally.

Opium poppy production is quite a large industry in Tasmania, but therapeutic demand has outstripped production, and they are looking at geographically diverse areas to grow more.

Some companies have been investigating production in Victoria, but one of the major companies has grown trial areas in the NT.

And they have done well.  So well, that up to 500ha is planned for next year, with potential for significant area increase after that.

Yes - the NT has seen crops come and go before, often before they increase in area even to be successful.  But this has some reasonable promise.  Strong demand for an industrial, not food  product into a market that seems to continue to grow modestly.  The company wants to diversify geographically, but I am sure the NT will get the "extra" areas needed with the bulk of ptoducyon still in Tasmania.

Legal issues need to be addressed, but id does look promising.

More here - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-11/opium-poppies-in-the-northern-territory/5015606 with some audio also available.

As an agronomist, it is great to see another possible crop showing local potential.  With rice and guar also being revived it seems a throw back to the 1970s, when crop production seemed to offer much potential - will we see a few other possibles again? Mung bean, more peanuts, and probably a few more.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

World Soil Day - International Year of Soils

Soil is getting some worldwide recognition:

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has declared December 5 World Soil Day, launched an effort called the Global Soil Partnership, and designated 2015 the International Year of Soils.

The goal is to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions, and sustainable development.

Do your bit -------for your soil.

One of many soil profiles that is reasonably common

Monday, September 16, 2013

Global Food Wastage - US$750 Billion Annually!!!

The article below is a recent one that has looked at food waste globally.  There are studies for Australia and the USA that I am aware of [ the US one was the subject of a post a while back], but different regions tend to have food waste in different parts of the food chain, with production and other early areas more common in less developed areas.

But the big one is that the further along the chain the loss is, the greater the energy and other embedded costs are that are lost, or wasted.  Westernised societies thus do not do well in this regard.

We all need to lower our food wastage and losses - this is another timely reminder.  It is not a new issue - see the old poster from WW1.!!

Not a new issue - but a bigger one!

Around the world some 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste is produced annually, at a direct economic cost of some $750 billion, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The report claimed that the huge volume of food going to waste annually is not only causing major economic losses but also wreaking significant harm on the natural resources that mankind relies upon.

The study, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources is said to be the first to analyse the impacts of global food waste from an environmental perspective, looking specifically at its consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.

 Who wastes what?

 According to the FAO, 54% of the world's food waste occurs 'upstream' - during production, post-harvest handling and storage, while 46% happens 'downstream,' at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.

As a general trend, developing countries were found to suffer greater losses during agricultural production, while food waste at the retail and consumer level tends to be higher in middle- and high-income regions - where it accounts for 31% to 39% of total wastage - than in low-income regions (4% to 16%).

 The report also found that the later a food product is lost along the chain, the greater the environmental consequences - as the environmental costs incurred during processing, transport, storage and cooking must be added to the initial production costs.

Hot spots

Several world food waste hot-spots' were identified by the study:

The waste of cereals in Asia was found to be a significant problem, with major impacts on carbon emissions and water and land use. Rice's profile is particularly noticeable, given its high methane emissions combined with a large level of wastage.

The volume of meat waste across the globe was found to be comparatively low. However, the meat sector generates a substantial impact on the environment in terms of land occupation and carbon footprint, especially in high-income countries and Latin America, which in combination account for 80% of all meat wastage. Excluding Latin America, high-income regions are responsible for about 67% of all meat waste

 Meanwhile fruit waste was said to contribute significantly to water waste in Asia, Latin America, and Europe - mainly as a result of extremely high wastage levels.

Similarly, large volumes of vegetable wastage in industrialised Asia, Europe, and South and South East Asia was shown to translate into a large carbon footprint for that sector.
Causes and solutions

 A combination of consumer behaviour and lack of communication in the supply chain were found to underlie the higher levels of food waste in affluent societies.

According to the FAO consumers fail to plan their shopping, over purchase, or over react to 'best before dates’, while quality and aesthetic standards lead retailers to reject large amounts of perfectly edible food.

In developing countries, significant post-harvest losses in the early part of the supply chain were reported to be a key problem, occurring as a result of financial and structural limitations in harvesting techniques and storage and transport infrastructure, combined with climatic conditions favourable to food spoilage.

To tackle the problem, FAO has launched a '
tool-kit' that contains recommendations on how food loss and waste can be reduced at every stage of the food chain and details three general levels where action is needed:

High priority should be given to reducing food wastage in the first place. Beyond improving losses of crops on farms due to poor practices, doing more to better balance production with demand would mean not using natural resources to produce unneeded food in the first place.

In the event of a food surplus, reuse within the human food chain -  finding secondary markets or donating extra food to feed vulnerable members of society - represents the best option. If the food is not fit for human consumption, the next best option is to divert it for livestock feed, conserving resources that would otherwise be used to produce commercial feedstuff.

Where reuse is not possible, recycling and recovery should be pursued: by-product recycling, anaerobic digestion, composting, and incineration with
energy recovery allow energy and nutrients to be recovered from food waste were all said to represent a significant advantage over dumping it in landfills.

 “All of us - farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers - must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can't,” urged FAO director general, José Graziano da Silva.

Read More
Recycling Food Waste into Animal Feed within the UK’s Legislative Framework
Paul Featherstone, group director of SugaRich, looks at legislation and logistics to reduce the waste of former foodstuffs and instead turning them into valuable resources.

 VIDEO: Micro Anaerobic Digestion Biogas Unit Wins U.S. Defense Award
UK based small scale biogas technology specialist, SEaB Energy, has been selected as one of the Winners in the 2013 Defense Energy Technology Challenge.

Biofuel from Food Waste Certification in US Following Corn Plant Conversion
California based renewable fuel specialist, Aemetis has been granted approval to produce ethanol from separated food waste at its 55 million gallon per year renewable ethanol plant in Keyes, California.


Monday, September 09, 2013

Green Walls - Getting Artistic, as well as Green

While the concept of installing green walls is now more common in buildings – both new and during refurbishing, a recent trend has been to actually make the walls a piece of art.
This is achieved through changes of texture and colour in the plants being used, their leaf length and shape, and growth habit.

Photos of a few examples illustrate this trend quite clearly.
One is a large outdoor green wall on the outside of a building, with the pattern providing a clear arty look.

outdoors green wall - with art pattern
The other is inside the ground floor foyer of a refurbished bank building, and in this case the green wall in enhanced through use of a clear roof to adequately direct light onto the wall, which covers the full width of the foyer from front to back.  Again, an arty pattern is used to generate additional interest in the display.
Sure, the use of an art design means that more effort is needed to maintain the full collection of plants in the green wall, clearly showing the design.  In many less art focused or design focused walls, the emphasis has been on the functionality of the green wall itself, with concepts of more oxygen, soothing greenery and so on – rather than any art pattern.

 This option of a pattern or design allows the green wall creators some additional flair in the design process.  I am sure we shall see more along this trend line over the next few years as better understanding of plant performance itself in these green wall scenarios, as well as better use of more variable colours in the plants – there are many, many leaf patterns and colours available,  not just the more common green and yellowish or variegated leaves.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Robotics in Horticulture and Agriculture

Just when you thought it safe and you escaped from the drones overhead, technology on your farm may get even scarier.

Robotics are coming to a farm near you - sometime in the next year or two.  Initially, they will not be everywhere - but they are coming, and reasonably quickly.
A group of engineers from the University of Sydney are leading the charge to create the first robot in the world to measure yield, pick vegetables and even weed crops.

Mark Calleija, a researcher from the Centre for Field Robotics, says his team is in the starting stages of building a generic machine that can work with vegetables, cotton and grains on a commercial scale. Not considered an easy feat by the industry, there are going to be many trials ahead but the initial progress is positive.

"It's looking like, in the next year or so, we are going to have a tele-operated partially autonomous robot out in the field that will be able to gather data and provide useful crop intelligence back to the farmer," he said.
Mark has predicted that within the next two to three years there will be autonomous weeding, autonomous crop intelligence and autonomous harvesting.

While robotics have seen developing use in industry, with fixed robots, the trend has been to try and match and develop co-operation between robots and their mentors [ if that is the term].  A recent Scientific American magazine [May 2013] had an intriguing story of industrial robots and their operators, and the level of co-operation that can be developed.  It was extraordinary - and made for real improvements in speed and quality of work.

How quickly it will develop in agriculture is probably still even too early to speculate.

But agriculture has often been a keen user of new technologies - it is not a backwards looking industry at all, and current use of drones is quite relevant to how robotics may move in the industry.

Develop a decent option - it will be commercialised and used!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Indonesia Likely to Modify Live Cattle Import Rules

Several different sets of discussions, both in Australia and Indonesia, seem to be heralding a major change in attitude from Indonesia over beef imports to the country.

Last week in Brisbane was a very important meeting between Indonesian officials at a high level, and Australian participants in the live cattle trade to the country - the term of note is free and frank discussions - to try and develop some improvements and sensible co-operation in improving beef food supplies in Indonesia.  There is a monumental need to get the beef price down to around 75000 Rp per kg.  It has been well over 100000!  Indonesia also pretty well admitted that self sufficiency in 2014 for beef supplies was not achievable.  Then the ANZ Agribusiness area examined [ commissioned by the Indonesian Government] what self sufficiency might mean to Indonesia - for example was meeting 70% of demand a more reasonable goal, and a more achievable one?  This document is not yet publicly available, although there has been some media comment around.

Today saw announcements coming from Indonesia about a possible 60000 head increase in live cattle imports, and a potential change in how imports might be adjusted - with the critical issue being market beef prices.  If they rise, then that triggers more imports; if it falls below the nominated figure [ nominally around 76000Rp /kg] then trade reduces or stops.

All of the changes seem to signal a positive note for the live cattle trade into Indonesia, as well as some increase in boxed beef from Australia.

There is sure to be more, and clarification from Indonesia is certainly needed to ensure local pastoralists are able to begin some planning about how to be part of the increased live cattle trade.

More is here - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-29/indonesia-live-cattle-changes/4921398
and here - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-29/female-cattle-exports/4919486

and here - http://adf.farmonline.com.au/news/state/general/elections/indoz-meeting-held-in-brisbane/2669324.aspx?storypage=0


and here too - Original Jakarta Post article: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/08/28/govt-issue-new-rules-meat-imports.html [ update on 29/8/13]

There certainly has been major discussions.  Lets see how it transforms into better co-operation between Australian and Indonesian interests in this important cattle trade business. 

It can be a win-win for both countries and their respective business areas.  And hopefully quite quickly, as we do need each other!