Friday, February 22, 2013

Indonesian Meat Market Rumblings - Diverse Views Abound

Recent interviews with senior agricultural economists in Indonesia seem to caste doubts on the ability of local production to meet demands within the next five years.

This is in contrast to some official government views that indicate all is well - or if beef is short -" to eat rabbit".

Indications are already being discussed that Australia's live cattle imports to Indonesia will be reduced again this year and next year.

Most observers seem to be aware that beef prices have risen very substantially in and around Jakarta, and that is causing a lot of angst to consumers.  Eating rabbit rendang just does not just seem right, with the traditional beef rendang seemingly on the outer, due to costs.

More on this issue here, based on interviews in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government might not like this type of reporting but I think we are now approaching a time when the gloves are really coming off, and local issues will be even more apparent in Indonesia.

There is a willing supplier [Australia], willing buyers, now with better slaughter procedures, but Indonesian official thinking does not now, nor did not then, like how Australia went about the whole issue of cattle export to Indonesia.

Australia will suffer, is suffering, and there does not seem any light ahead.  With Northern Territory cattle producers suffering most, and with dramatic falls in cash flows and NT property prices.  Even a new abattoir now planned to open late in 2013 near Darwin, will not fix this problem.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Recycling Green Waste into Black - Biochar

Biochar offers some strong positives for use in agriculture, and not only in boosting highly durable long lasting soil organic carbon.

There are many articles on the subject, and Wikipedia has a good overview -  I have some previous blog posts as well on soil carbon and biochar.

The article below comes from the online edition Qld Country Life and due acknowledgement is made to them.

But it is a report on a forum in which the message is being delivered to Australian farmers that biochar is not some pie in the sky airy fairy might be real, very soon and here.

It is true that delivering adequate carbon to larger farms is a difficult and costly issue with even the logistics expensive.  But systems similar to that below will evolve, and maybe quicker than peope realise.

Using pyrolysis is a reasonably well understood process system so marrying that into a field suitable system requires application and not inconsiderable $$.  But doable.

This is a reasonable step on an evolving process.


Revolutionary recycling

14 Feb 2013

TO farmers in the Burdekin it may have looked like something out of a Dr Who episode - but it is possibly the forerunner to one of the most revolutionary machines to hit the agriculture industry in decades.

A farm may never use one, but research shows that the product the unusual looking machine produces – biochar - can increase the fertility of the soil, increase moisture retention and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Biochar is a form of charcoal and is produced by heating organic matter in a low oxygen environment. The process is termed pyrolysis which is “a thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures without the participation of oxygen”. Pyrolysis can even be achieved by microwaving.

Biochar has the potential to help mitigate climate change, via carbon sequestration. It can increase soil fertility, increase agricultural productivity and provide protection against some foliar and soil-borne diseases.

The man behind the biochar producing machine at the Ayr CFI forum is Dr James Joyce. Dr Joyce did his PhD on biomass gasification and, noticing a great biomass in sugar cane trash, set out to design a pyrolysis unit that met the criteria of low capital and operating cost, mobility, flexibility and ability to handle un-shredded cane trash.

The result to date has been a series of biochar machines of various sizes. His company BIG (Black is Green) presently has two machines in Canada, one in Hawaii, Germany and Wales and two in India.  The machine not only turns potentially methane emitting, green waste into stable charcoal or biochar, the heat it produces during the process can be used to generate electricity.

One problem he has come across is finding locations with a good supply of biomass where electricity generated can be uploaded into the main grid.  The machine can convert 1.2 – 1.5t/hr of green, agricultural or industrial waste (7000-10,000t per annum) into 0.2-0.3t/hr of biochar.

Currently there is a gate price of $700/t for biochar with most outlets selling biochar at $1000-$2000 per tonne.

In Europe 80 per cent of the biochar produced is being mixed into stock feed with experiments revealing impressive weight gains and health benefits in ruminant animals.

In India biochar has become extremely popular in home gardens from which owners not only feed themselves but obtain an income from selling the produce.

Whichever way you look at it, biochar production appears destined to become a major industry throughout the world for use as a soil conditioner/ fertiliser, stockfeed additive and as a way of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Investors in this technology are surely on a win-win situation.    

What is biochar?
Biochar is a stable form of charcoal produced from heating natural organic materials (crop and other waste, woodchips, manure) in a high temperature, low oxygen process known as pyrolysis. Biochars can be produced from a variety of organic sources or feedstocks.
  • Due to its molecular structure, biochar is chemically and biologically in a more stable form than the original carbon form it comes from, making it more difficult to break down. This means that in some cases it can remain stable in soil for hundreds to thousands of years.
  • The production of biochar via pyrolysis also yields bioenergy in the form of synthesis gas (or ‘syngas’). Syngas consists of a variety of gases which in turn can be captured and used to produce heat and power.

  • Not all biochars are created equal

    There are many different types and qualities of biochar. The key chemical and physical properties of a biochar are greatly affected by the type of material being used and the conditions of the pyrolysis process (i.e. temperature and time).
  • For example, biochar made from manure will have a higher nutrient content than biochar made from wood cuttings. However, the biochar from the wood cuttings will be more stable over a longer period of time. The two different chars will look the same but will behave quite differently.
  • Similarly, biochars produced at higher temperatures (700°C compared to 400°C) are more porous and more adsorptive. These biochars have greater potential to adsorb toxic substances and could be used to help rehabilitate contaminated environments

  • Understanding the characteristics of a particular biochar is important to match it to the requirements of its end use.

    Wednesday, February 13, 2013

    Livestock Shipping within Indonesia to be Boosted

    While Indonesia does not want to continue the live cattle trade between Australia and Indonesia, and is promoting self sufficiency there is currently a big black hole in the internal cattle transport within Indonesia, as well as some doubts that they can actually produce enough animals, even in the long term, to meet demand.

    It will have to be by ship, between the eastern islands and west Java, and today in Darwin the Indonesian transport mnister who was here to see how Australia transports livestock, announced that new ships and ports were being built to handle the cattle.

    Several large vessels able to carry 1500 head each plus port facilities at Sumba in NTT [ Nusa Timor Tenggara] and near Lampung in west Java, are planned.  Realistically, they are 18 - 24 months away, maybe longer.

    Who knows how much the beef demand will increase during this time?

    It was an absolute essential option if animals were to be moved from production areas in NTT [ mainly Sumba] to west Java where the demand is growing.  Also relevant is the issue of flooding around Jakarta, with the capital also possibly being moved elsewhere, which could also influence the live cattle trade centres.

    It will be interesting to see how this develops, and how good will be the handling, transport and slaughter procedures.

    cartoon copyright news ltd

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    Updated Reports Seem to Confirm Mad Cow Disease [ BSE] in Brazil

    A convoluted story some 2 years in gestation it seems, yet recent reports from a number of sources would seem to confirm that Brazil has some BSE in the beef herd.

    Recently a number of SE Asian and Middle East countries have essentially banned further imports of Brazilian beef, and more countries seem to be joining the list.

    A bit of a disaster for Brazil with suspected cattle in Parana state, in the rich agricultural areas of the SW of Brazil.

    There are numerous media reports, many from December 2012 onwards when first indications of confirmation seems to have reached the media.  A lot more since then.

    What might this mean for both Australia and the US in relation to Asian markets?

    A relevant media release is here -

    and here -

    This story is evolving steadily, with more information likely over coming weeks.  The next report is from OIE, and is less alarmist, but I am sure that many countries will still close off beef from Brazil.

    Brazil is hoping the next meeting of OIE will clarify their status - hopefully as low risk.  But markets are funny at times, with customers maybe preferring non Brazilian matter what.  Perception is an odd characteristic. 

    Friday, February 08, 2013

    Capturing CO2 with Nickel

    Sounds as if serendipity is alive and well..........but the concept works and is cheap and easy.  If it works well once scaled up then the implications are potentially major.......think of all the power stations around the world! 

    British researchers have discovered that sea urchins use nickel particles on their exoskeletons to effectively capture CO2 and turn it into a solid form, an intriguing finding that could offer an inexpensive way to capture and store carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

    Scientists from Newcastle University were studying how marine organisms absorb CO2 to make shells and skeletons when they discovered that sea urchin larvae have a high concentration of nickel on their exoskeletons, which helps them absorb CO2.  When the researchers added nickel nanoparticles to CO2-saturated water, they discovered that the nickel completely removed CO2 and turned it into calcium carbonate, a chalk-like mineral.

    Current efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants involve either pumping it underground or using an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase to convert it to calcium carbonate.  But both methods are expensive, and the Newcastle researchers say that using nickel to capture and store CO2 bubbled through water could be a thousand times cheaper than employing carbonic anhydrase. “
    It seems too good to be true, but it works,” said Lidija Siller, a physicist at Newcastle.
    The research was published in Catalysis Science & Technology.

    Thursday, February 07, 2013

    New Ideas - Where do Winds Come From?

    Not only do trees fix carbon and produce oxygen; a new and controversial paper says they collectively unleash forces powerful enough to drive global wind patterns and are a core feature in the circulation of the climate system.

    If the theory proves correct, the peer-reviewed international paper co-authored by Australian scientist Douglas Sheil will overturn two centuries of conventional wisdom about what makes wind. And it will undermine key principles of every model on which climate predictions are based.

    The paper, Where do winds come from? A new theory on how water vapour condensation influences atmospheric pressure and dynamics, is not designed to challenge the orthodox view on climate science. But Sheil, a professor of forest ecology and conservation at Southern Cross University's School of Environment, Science and Engineering, says he is not surprised that is how the paper has been received internationally.

    Boiled down, he says, bad science is protecting shoddy climate models.

    The paper, lead authored by Anastasia Makarieva, sparked a long-running and furious debate about whether it should be published at all. At the end of a bruising assessment process the editorial panel of the prestigious journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics chose to publish and be damned.

    This above is a brief extract from the Weekend Australian article on the subject.

    It is controversial, but then so was Copernicus's assertion that the earth rotated about the sun, while Galileo also had a few controversial ideas and theories, since often proved true.  Science advances by new ideas being developed and then tested........let's wait and see what occurs as a result of this paper.

    See more here -

    and the paper is here -  including a brief abstract.

    and more comment here -

    Certainly generating a lively debate so far.  Data though, is plausible......will be more to come for sure.

    Wednesday, February 06, 2013

    China - Friend or Foe?

    For Australia this is a very pertinent question.  We sell a lot of resources to China and import considerable amounts of finished goods.  There has been somewhat of a question mark about Chinese companies involved in electronics and communication equipment with one recently being excluded on security grounds from the new NBN network in Australia.  And there is a lot of chatter about the illicit cyber activities of China.

    A recent US publication seems to state in no uncertain terms that China's territorial ambitions are somewhat worrying.

    See below where part of the material is reproduced.

    The US trade publication Defense News last week posted a video on its blog from a US Naval Institute conference featuring an extraordinarily blunt assessment of China's maritime strategy and ambitions from US Navy Captain James Fanell, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Information Operations for US Pacific Fleet. The moderator describes Fanell as the 'top intelligence officer' in the Pacific Fleet, which means he is advising some of the US military's senior decision-makers on China's military strategy and capability.

    Fanell's language is, well, bracing. He calls China 'hegemonic' and says it displays 'aggression'; he claims China 'bullies adversaries' and that it has become a 'mistrusted principal threat'. Watch Captain Fanell's presentation from about 21 minutes into the above video, or read below for some more select quotes:

    • '(China's) expansion into the blue waters are largely about countering the US Pacific fleet.'
    • 'The PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare...Make no mistake: the PRC navy is focused on war at sea, and sinking an opposing fleet.'
    • On China Marine Surveillance, which supervises and patrols China's claimed maritime territory: 'If you map out their harassments you will see that they form a curved front that has over time expanded out against the coast of China's neighbours, becoming the infamous nine-dashed line, plus the entire East China Sea...China is negotiating for control of other nations' resources off their coasts; what's mine is mine, and we'll negotiate what's yours.'
    • 'China Marine Surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China's expansive claims...China Marine Surveillance is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organisation'.
    'In my opinion, China is knowingly, operationally and incrementally seizing maritime rights of its neighbours under the rubric of a maritime history that is not only contested in the international community but has largely been fabricated by Chinese government propaganda bureaus in order to "educate" the populous about China's rich maritime history, clearly as a tool to sustain the Party's control.'

    Northern and Western Australia has embraced Chinese businesses [mostly state owned enterprises] to invest in resource development, including land development.  Are we adequately assessing the longer term risks versus the shorter term gains, especially in light of assessments such as that above?

    Many say it is the same as Japanese investment in the period 1960 - 1980.  But in those times, it was private capital, not government capital that was taking the risk. 

    The issue of Chinese investment is something to consider, especially in light of security assessments and I have no doubt that the debate will continue

    With Chinese New Year rapidly approaching, and a strong Chinese influence in the development of the NT over the past 150 years, we have definitely benefitted from the people of Chinese ethnicity in the NT as well as in cities like Darwin, and there is a strong Chinese influence locally......for the better. 

    BUT......private citizens are not the same as a government, in most people's view.  

    Monday, February 04, 2013

    Bribery and Corruption Rampant in Indonesian Beef Trade

    Late last week this story hit the local headlines in Australia, with the detaining of Indonesian nationals in Jakarta apparently attempting to bribe Indonesian government officials over the beef quotas recently established.

    It seems it has been around frozen beef quotas, not live cattle but, if you have done business in the country it is known that corruption and bribery have been relatively common.  Sure, attempts are made to eliminate bribery, but more recently, these anti-corruption practices  are starting to reach into relatively high places.

    The ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald have run articles on the topic, and, being away overseas, I missed them.

    See below is the SMH article -
    AN INDONESIAN company with deep links to the Australian beef industry has been caught red-handed offering bribes to an Indonesian politician, apparently to circumvent the country's strict quota on beef imports.

    A number of Australian exporters use the company, Indoguna Utama, to ship beef to Indonesia, and one company, Mulwarra Export in Sydney, is part-owned by Indoguna's founder, Elizabeth Liman.

    Two directors of Indoguna, Juardi Effendi and Arya Abdi Effendi, were arrested by Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission at a city hotel on Wednesday with 1 billion rupiah ($101,000) in cash in the car boot.

    They are alleged to have been on their way to deliver a bribe to Lutfi Hasan Ishaaq, the president of the Islamic political party PKS.
    Indonesia's agriculture minister, Suswono, represents the party in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government.

    Anti-corruption officers sealed the office of the head of Mr Suswono's department, the director-general of livestock and animal health, as part of the investigation.

    Mr Suswono imposed strict beef import quotas in the wake of Australia's short-lived ban on live cattle exports in 2011, on the pretext that Indonesia wanted to become self-sufficient in beef.

    The quota, applying to live cattle as well as boxed beef, gutted the export trade with Australia and has resulted in shortages of beef in Indonesia, soaring prices and the inclusion of pork in traditional beef meatballs.

    The commission's deputy chairman, Bambang Widjojanto, said the bribe was an attempt by Indoguna Utama to get access to a larger import allowance.

    The arrests raise the question whether the quota - 32,000 tonnes of boxed beef this year - has become simply a bribe-raising exercise for PKS, which is part of Indonesia's governing coalition, with two cabinet ministers, including the communications minister.

    Indoguna Utama lists five Australian exporters as ''partners'', including Andrews Meat in the Barossa Valley, Jack's Creek Wagyu Beef in Queensland, and Western Meat Packers Group in Western Australia. Mulwarra Export's owner, Greg Darwell, told Fairfax Media on Thursday that Elizabeth Liman was a passive minority investor in the company. He said he knew nothing about the bribery allegations, and they surprised him. ''I personally, in the 16 years that I've been owner and runner of Mulwarra, have not directly seen any corruption,'' he said.  His company's exports to Indonesia had dropped by 20 per cent under the quota but, he said, it had picked up markets elsewhere, and was growing.

    Another Australian exporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was ''common knowledge'' bribes were ''part of the trade up there, on a daily basis, quota or no quota''.  ''They're going to desperate measures to get beef into the country,'' the exporter said.

    A spokesman for the Corruption Eradication Commission, Johan Budi, said its investigation would not extend to any Australian companies, and he did not yet know if the agriculture minister would be questioned.

    Read more:

    This is fairly serious stuff, but the implications are even more sinister with overtones that the beef quota might have been manipulated downwards in broad terms, to elicit bribes from importers, to get around the system.  That might be described as fairly serious organised high level corruption.

    Most market analysts believe that Indonesia cannot produce enough beef themselves to meet market demand - by a long way, and for quite a period of time yet.  Even if production went up domestically [ rather than by feeding imported animals] sheer logistics would be inadequate to move animals from eastern areas where beef production is increasing, to the volume demand markets of west Java.

    It is a sensitive issue, and local beef prices in Indonesia have risen substantially since curbs were placed on importing both live cattle and frozen beef - with particularly greater rises in low quality meat cuts, those used and favoured by many Indonesians.

    This story has quite some way to go yet, I am sure.

    Friday, February 01, 2013

    Innovation LIVES in Australia

    Too often the catchcry has been that Australia is not innovative.  It lacks leading edge action in fields such as electronics and even solar where Australia was once considered a leading edge player or in similar advanced engineering and science fields.  Never mind our leading edge technologies in agriculture!

    This may not be as true as many would think.

    The opinion piece below by the regional manager for STMicroelectronics a significant world player, is very different and he is adamant that Australia IS an innovation leader in many ways.  BUT - not in necessarily mass market stuff, but in advanced areas where features are more important in a smaller market, that places emphasis on features, ease of use and time saving.  These are more important in non major, but higher cost markets.

    Read for yourself -

    There are areas such as RFID use, in agriculture and cattle identification and management as well as transportation systems and logistics, where Australia is prominent, not to mention the company Dyesol as  a leader in solar optics and PV from dye pigments.

    It is nice to hear from someone outside the Australian public that looks at things somewhat differently, that it is not all doom and gloom for advanced technologies and, more importantly, their deployment in real world use.  That last issue is an advantage when you are smaller - sometimes a tad easier to get started and then progress to full use.  Think Qantas with automated checkin, automated weighing, telemetry, watering and medication systems in rangeland grazing or even the new self serve immigration gates now more widely used around Australia [ at least for Australian and NZ passport holders].  These are all world leading deployments of the technology.