Friday, May 31, 2013

Greenhouse Emissions Decline in the EU

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- The EU's environmental agency says the 27-nation bloc's greenhouse emissions in 2011 were the lowest since it began monitoring them in 1990.

The European Environment Agency says greenhouse gas emissions dropped 3.3 percent compared to 2010, and were 18.4 percent below 1990 levels. It cited a milder winter in 2011 as the main reason for the drop.

Agency director Jacqueline McGlade said Wednesday the European Union was 'making clear progress towards its emission targets.'

The agency said nearly two-thirds of the emission reductions came from Britain, France and Germany, while the largest increases were in Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.
Press release from EU environment Agency

Some might question the statement that the European Union was 'making clear progress towards its emission targets.' and put up the thesis that declines in manufacturing due to economic turmoil and a less ardous winter were really the major factors in the decline in major economies emission.  That said, the overall declines over 20 odd years is the key metric, and that is very significant.

This data is for 2011.  Will 2012 also show further declines?  You might think so, if the factors highlighted are major issues, as Europe continues to be mired in low economic activity.

This region is one that has invested in less carbon intensive energy production, and major efforts to improve the energy management of its citizens.  Think solar panels, energy efficiency, better use of public transport and many, many more tweaks, both larger and smaller, and this is paying off.

For that congratulations are in order.  But do not stop now...........

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

More Money Coming For Agriculture

Slowly but surely money is commencing to flow back into agricultural research.

Even in Australia several large amounts have gone to both the universities of Sydney and Adelaide, yet government funds generally are still being restricted.

The EC is slowly moving funds into agriculture in its own countries.  See the following article -

The European Commission has earmarked a fund of €4.5bn to spend on agricultural research between 2014-2020 to boost innovation and crop science.

A new European partnership for research and innovation has already been put in place, bringing together representatives from the scientific and farming communities and forming the basis of a true strategy for sustainable increase in agricultural production.

According to Georg Hausler, senior civil servant in Commissioner Dacian Ciolos's cabinet, the link between science and farming was broken, partly due to consumers' fear of genetic modification.

"Farmers are asking for innovation and are unable to get it. It's investment in seeds and innovation that's needed."

Farmers in eastern European countries in particular had tremendous opportunities to increase productivity, simply through improved knowledge transfer on best practice and farming methods, added Mr Hausler. "There is huge potential to increase production through better techniques and crop science."

Will we see a corresponding move of more $$$ into R and D for agriculture in Australia?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Indonesia To Allow More Boxed Beef and Live Cattle

Well, yes, they have made the announcement, with some restrictions.

Boxed beef must be flown in to Jakarta, Bali or Medan - not shipped, but it appears that there will be no restrictions on the amounts of higher quality beef cuts that can be brought in this way.  No mention of other beef cuts though.  And the third quarter live cattle numbers have been brought forward to the month of June. 

This might seem a good start, but industry players are being very cautious.

Some say the issues with boxed beef involve organisation and access to the volumes needed [which I mentioned yesterday], and right now, a lack of clarity about the operation of the process.  This latter issue may well improve over the next few weeks.

The live cattle trade will be harder to organise and supply, as mobilising the required vessels and cattle will be much more difficult.  It also seems to ignore the fact that once shipped and after arrival in Indonesia, the animals will need to grow to a reasonable size before slaughter. Peak demand period is for post Ramadan Idul Fitri holidays, with day 1 on 8 August, and the Public Holiday on Friday the 9th.  National Day is 17 August.  It will be difficult to get animals shipped and grown before then. 

In reality, 30 -45 days growth in feedlots in Indonesia is a realistic consideration.  Some will remain longer, obviously, but the beef gap is now, and will be ongoing until numbers build up again, if that is possible.  Will they remove the current live weight maximum of 350kg or even increase it a little?

Nothing has been indicated by Indonesian authorities so far about ongoing live cattle exports in the latter part of the year.

Yes, there is some cautious optimism, but this is but a very small step forward.

More information is expected over the next few days and weeks.

Some news articles are around as well - see and here 

Both articles are very short of any detail.

Monday, May 27, 2013

More Live Cattle or More Boxed Beef for Indonesia - Confusion??

The more things change, the more they remain the same in the ongoing beef availability saga in Indonesia.

While some speak about a 35% gap between supply and demand [ as reported in the Jakarta Post over the weekend] many official positions are saying is is much less, maybe 10%.

However you adjust the data to suit the needs of various players, the nitty gtitty is that beef prices are up a massive 50- 60% over the past year, pretty well since live cattle imports from Australia were heavily restricted by Indonesian authorities from 2012.

There have been media leaks that there will be an increase in live cattle imports, but the reality is that this cannot allow adequate time for the animals to grow to a respectable market size and weight in the period up to Idul Fitri the post Ramadan holiday period - even if they were shipped now.  Shipping will not happen that quickly, even thouh adequate supply is believed to be available.  It takes time to organise the logistics of the exercise.
cattle loading on the wharf

More likely is that extra boxed beef import licences will be issued.  Maybe with live cattle to come as well.  But the boxed beef will allow quick supply if available from either Australia, or elsewhere.

Indonesians buyers might find this a bit tough as well, given the major increases seen in boxed beef supply to China over the past 5 months from Australia. 

Indonesia - do not expect cheap beef as an easy way out of the suppy and cost dilema that is emerging rapidly in the country.

As far as is known, there are no decisions YET.  There is in-fighting between Trade and Agriculture ministeries in Indonesia over the issue, and hopefully a face saving solution will appear soon.

As a suggestion - check out the Jakarta Post online, in English.  It is possible the news may be there first! - is the web site.

A decsion has to happen soon or there might be a lot more rabble rousing in Jakarta, especially, over beef prices.  It has happened already in 2012 and 2013.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Heirloom Seeds Now Big Business!E28023BC-CC5A-4081-A1E3-F6BB2BCB85FB

This link takes you to a brief video link story from the USA about how a heirloom seed business grew to be a million dollar enterprise with markets selling the seeds world wide.

There is a market for heirloom garden varieties........we all recall those especially great tomato varieties grown many years ago by your grandparents.  Today, they have been replaced in the ordinary market.  however, there are a few who now want to grow these varieties, mostly in the home garden.  Often the older varieties are not as disease resistant, nor maybe as good at storing fresh.  But hey, if grown at home is that a big issue when in most cases it is the taste that is cherished.  Sometimes that is a real issue, other times less so.  But most are suitable for use fresh off the plant.

There are some who have continued to produce the seeds of these heirloom vegetables and flowers, and now they are often seen in speciality shops.  Most are in the US and Europe, but there are few operating in Australia also.  As demand has grown for these seeds, so have they.

This video showcases a quite successful US operation.  Lots of hard work and some independent marketing has helped build the business, and it is a real business.

Is this an opportunity as well?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Food Quality and Safety - Luck or Vigilance in Australia?

Australians like to believe we have excellent food quality and safety standards.  That is probably so, although there have been a few incidents in the past, say ten years, over some processed smallgoods in which some people died, and an occassional salmonella issue, particularly with poultry.

Overall mark - a tick.

Yet issues about Chinese food quality and safety continue to make headlines - not only in China but around the world.

Most recent - the issue of cadmium contamination in rice in southern China, which is making headlines this week.  Yesterday, Government officials in southern China sought to calm public ire about toxic substances menacing the region's main food staple, rice, after the city of Guangzhou said that nearly half the rice tested [44%] at restaurants this year had excessive cadmium, a heavy metal that can cause cancer and other illnesses.  Cadmium contamination in the body is one of the reasons why there is a major international recall and removal / replacement issues with a particular hip joint prothesis, so cadmium can be nasty, and high levels potentially fatal. 

Food is an obvious source of all heavy metals in the body, with a lot of historical precedents, as the cause of heavy metal problems in people.  Cadmium is one of those heavy metals, which just continue to accumulate in the body. 

Whie there is heavy industrialisation in China, and air pollution, the source of the cadmium is so far unidentified.

In Australia cadmium in foods is partially regulated through restrictions on the cadmium levels in fertilisers, especially superphosate and related phosphorus fertilisers, which can add cadmium to soils, ultimately reaching the products grown on that soil.

We do take our food for granted, not always realising the long chain of regulatory procedures prior to the consumer using the food products.

There has been a vigorous discussion this week on an Australian agribusiness forum about consumer views on use of Chinese food products imported into Australia.  Think major supermarket chains, frozen vegetables, fresh garlic, and other products.  Consumers in Australia are concerned over the intrinsic quality of imported Chinese food, and according to some views are worried that price which dominates supermarket chain thinking, might be compromising food safety.  It is NOT a xenophobic reaction........but one based on quality as well as a fair go for Australian producers.

Maybe we need to boost testing of imported Chinese food products.

And remember, Chinese consumers are buying Australian food products - think milk, among others, and paying more because we are seen as having clean safe food products.

applying superphosate fertiliser to pastures

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Are All Green Roofs Effective?

Quite a common question and one where there is probably no definitive answer.

It depends.......why is it there, what is it expected to do, what species are present, where is the site [ location /climate] and how it was built.

A recent article in Scientific American online has had a huge response in comments, many debunking the assertion the green roofs don't work, as claimed by the author.

Truly, there is no real evidence presented - either way, in the many words delivered on the topic.

But how can a successful green roof be assessed?

While not an exclusive list consider the following claims that are made.

  • Reduces roof temperatures and thus air conditioning and /or heating loads for the building
  • Produces more oxygen in a city environment
  • Absorbs CO2 and other gases by the plants and even some particulates or metals into the soils
  • Uses rainwater and so reduces stormwater loads in the neighbourhood as well as absorbing materials in the rainwater [gases and particulates]
  • Improves roof aesthetics
  • Costs more to install and maintain
  • May require an additional water source to meet plant needs in periods of water drought
  • May allow food production on the site as a small food garden
  • Must be maintained at some additional cost
This is far from a full list, but indicates that a green roof is not for all.

Careful design can do a lot to improve the situation and allow a green roof to function effectively at minimal costs.  While some push for native species on green roofs, that is not an essential feature by my views.  It has to function at modest cost and inputs, once established.

In the warmer regions, grass can be a useful species.  Yes, it may have to be mown sometimes, but many are tough species, and you can select those with minimal nutrition and mowing needs.

In Darwin there is a great green roof, which many do not even think about - the Speakers Green at Parliament House.  That is built over the roof of the basement car park, and uses zoysia grass - it generally looks fantastic!  This area is highly maintained and used intensively for functions, while being decorative.

In Singapore, the new water facility at Marina Barrage has a  very large green roof - again it is grass!

Some types of green roofs can be identified as intensive or extensive. [ Both examples above are extensive types, although the former could be argued over and is used frequently]. The intensive type often has garden beds, small trees, formal paths and grassed or untended areas with mass plantings as a mixed development and may be used intensively, while extensive green roofs are ones that are sometimes just grassed, or with mostly less tended scrambling plants, less if any in the way of paths and garden beds, and often not greatly used.

The article is worth reading but many comments are very critical of the author, often for failing to really understand the subject.  So yes, there are a range of views.

In my view the green roof can be a great asset, but need a degree of planning involving several different professional inputs is needed for successful development.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Better Tasting Tomatoes

Do you think tomatoes are tasteless?   Many do.

They hanker back to fresh vine ripened tomatoes where both smell and taste were terrific.  If you grew up in a summer tomato production area like I did you can probably still smell that great odour from ripe tomatoes and taste the ripe flesh.

Today, even growing the same varieties, they are never quite the same.  Produced too far from fresh markets, they are picked too green to allow travel time and prevent damage.  When working in a tomato field, picking was made to be about getting what were called semi ripe tomatoes - thosse expecte to be at their peak in just a few days.  With major markets 50 -80km away, you knew they would be used at their peak flavour.

While modern plant breeding and production has delivered varieties that retain "taste"and ripeness over extended periods, so that production is often several thousand kilometres from the user, and they arrive in a good condition in the shops.........they are just not quite the same.  Many say taste less!

Fear not, the same plant breeding processes are on the trail and may have discovered some genes that are linked to six specific volatile compounds that enhance the perception of sweetness - the single most critical factor in any person's rating of a tomato.  These volatiles can fool the brain, with tomatoes having high levels being preferred to those varieties naturally sweeter [ based on sugar compounds].

The work is now underway to incorporate these genes into tomatoes to combine better taste and smell, while retaining keeping quality and extended ripeness.

This issue has been around for over 25 years - ever since tomatoes became a mass production crop grown a long way from consumers, but hopefully we may see some change soon.

fresh tomatoes on the vine

More here -

Friday, May 10, 2013

UAVs Already Operational in Agriculture in Australia

Like I said a few weeks back - UAVs , or drones, are coming soon to a place near you.  And agriculture is the lead area where they will be used.

Read this article [ ABC today, 10 May 2013] -

With a great shot of the helicopter - an unmanned Yamaha 4m long fitted with controlled droplet low volume spray rig for weed spraying serious woody weeds, in remote parts of Western Queensland.

The most interesting part is the expected usage rate of their equipment - and they are not the only supplier remember - in coming years.

They really do fill a niche in agriculture and land management.
[photo from ABC web site]

near Camooweal, near NT / Qld border spraying prickly acacia


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Zoysia - Ideal for Low Maintenance Areas, Median Strips

The low maintenace or awkward to access areas such as median strips, within the road areas are well suited to low growing grasses such as zoysia.

Not the super puffy japanese type - Z.tenuifolia, but the more common z.matrella or Z.japonica forms.

While these varieties are also very widely used on golf and sporting areas in a higher maintenance mode, they can also be left with very low maintenance and used to provide excellent cover on median strips.

More common in Asia than north Australia, the short, dense, tough, low nutrient requiring grass which is zoysia, is tough enough to withstand some pretty rugged street conditions across some of the big cities in Asia, with widespread use in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, a few areas in Vientiane [ most main streets are less ordered than some other areas], although less so surprisngly, in Singapore, although more comon nearby in Johore Bahru.

It deserves more widespread adoption in north Australia where it should quickly reduce mowing frequency in areas where it is used.  That alone should significantly reduce maintenance costs.  While not as water efficient as Bahia grass, it is among the top two or three for water efficiency, and with lower mowing frequency, it will still be offering reduced overall maintenance costs.

Zoysia on median strip - Kuala Lumpur city centre

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Turf Institute in North Korea

One would hope that turf research was not getting precedence over other more important food and agriculture priorities but it has been on centre stage today in North Korea.

Media reports show Kim Jong Un visiting a new North Korean turf institute near Pyongyang.

Will zoysia be a new weapon for peace?  Certainly appears in some of the photos.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Green Walls Grow in Singapore and Malaysia

Policy changes and enhancements are driving more green walls and roofs in SE Asia.

Becoming very common in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and now in many new developments.

A good example is the new Park Royal on Pickering Hotel in Singapore which is Singapore's first Platinum Green Mark hotel.  Quite an achievement...........and a lot of green walls help to reach this achievement.
In the foyer of Park Royal on Pickering

Green Roof and shading