Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Plants CAN Do Maths -YES.

Humans do math or at least some humans can do so.  
New research shows that to prevent starvation at night, plants perform accurate arithmetic division.  The calculation allows them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn.  Plants feed themselves during the day by using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starch. Once the sun has set, they must depend on a store of starch to prevent starvation.

In research to be published shortly in the open access journal eLife, Professors Martin Howard and Alison Smith, scientists at the John Innes Centre show that plants make precise adjustments to their rate of starch consumption.  These adjustments ensure that the starch store lasts until dawn even if the night comes unexpectedly early or the size of the starch store varies.
Starch is a carbohydrate consisting of a large number of glucose units joined by glycosidic bonds. This polysaccharide is produced by all green plants as an energy store. It is the most common carbohydrate in the human diet and is contained in large amounts in such staple foods as potatoes, wheat, maize (corn), rice, and cassava.

In photosynthesis, plants use light energy to produce glucose from carbon dioxide.  The glucose is stored mainly in the form of starch granules, in plastids such as chloroplasts and especially amyloplasts. Toward the end of the growing season, starch accumulates in twigs of trees near the buds.  Fruit, seeds, rhizomes, and tubers store starch to prepare for the next growing season.
The John Innes Centre scientists show that to adjust their starch consumption so precisely they must be performing a mathematical calculation — arithmetic division.

"The capacity to perform arithmetic calculation is vital for plant growth and productivity," said metabolic biologist Professor Alison Smith. "Understanding how plants continue to grow in the dark could help unlock new ways to boost crop yield."
During the night, mechanisms inside the leaf measure the size of the starch store and estimate the length of time until dawn. Information about time comes from an internal clock, similar to our own body clock. The size of the starch store is then divided by the length of time until dawn to set the correct rate of starch consumption, so that, by dawn, around 95% of starch is used up.

"If the starch store is used too fast, plants will starve and stop growing during the night. If the store is used too slowly, some of it will be wasted," according to Prof Smith.
The scientists used mathematical modelling to investigate how such a division calculation can be carried out inside a plant. They proposed that information about the size of the starch store and the time until dawn is encoded in the concentrations of two kinds of molecules (called S for starch and T for time).

 If the S molecules stimulate starch consumption, while the T molecules prevent this from happening, then the rate of starch consumption is set by the ratio of S molecules to T molecules, in other words S divided by T - so the plants are doing maths!!

plants growing and doing maths

Monday, June 24, 2013

Brazil - Compatriot of North Australia?

A recent article on the ABC web site about Brazil opens up some ideas about synergies between northern Australia and Brazil.

products of Brazil
The article is here - .

Climatically, much of Northern Australia and Brazil are similar, especially the northern parts of Brazil, and the more southern area are maybe more similar to SE Queensland, as broad generalisations. 

Brazil agriculture

It is not without some strong parallels, that the Embraer aircraft of Brazil are well represented in commercial RPT fleets across north Australia, with Air North a significant operator of the aircraft - they are operationally designed to better suit tropical operational areas, and operate in remote and less technologically able areas; they are good aircraft.

The Brazilian mining giants including Vale are rapidly digging iron ore holes in Brazil, along with some in Australia, and looking at other mineral operations as well.  They are major competitors to Australian companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio, as well as Xstrata [ now Glencore] in international markets as well as emerging mining countries, eg Africa.

Both Australia and Brazil, are sized similarly, with large parts of the areas in the tropics.  Brazil is certainly a major cattle producer, even if less proportionally is exported than Australia, and disease issues also restrict options for export.  It would be a worry for Australian beef exports, boxed or live, if Brazil [as well as Argentina] ever got their act together and that region emerged as a serious, long term competitor.  They might in relation to China, still.

Australia's abattoirs have significant involvement by JBS, the Brazilian company that is probably the wold's biggest meat processing business.

There is a huge agribusiness system operating in Brazil, and Nufarm [ Australia's home grown agrochemical and seed company] is operating widely in Brazil.  It is likely that the r and D coming from Brazil in relation to variety development [ peanut,soybean, corn, sorghum etc],  seed technology may be applicable in Australia, or at least adaptable, and home grown technology including precision agriculture and controlled traffic systems are certainly of widening interest in Brazil and Argentina.

Socially the Brazilian economy is less endowed with support systems such as operate in Australia - with our social support, welfare and medical [ Medicare system] good examples where the Australian people are much better supported.

Should Australia, and north Australia especially, be seeking to improve and develop major interaction with Brazil?  Surely knowing much more about a competitor is useful.  It is true some activity is occurring, but increasing the tempo of those interactions might be considered a very smart option.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Recycling Coffee Pods??

This topic has developed a bit of heat recently, as consumers beat up the place about how terrible it is not to recycle those pesky coffee pods that are now proliferating across many countries.

This appeared recently and is a reasonable summary of the US story.

But wait.........our house has several of the machines, and it has never been an issue.  Yes, we use aluminium ones from a major supplier.  But they get recycled as per normal, even with the grounds in them.  They do not weigh much and recyclers do not worry.  Why you ask?

used coffee pods

Aluminium is heated to melt as part of guess what?  The coffee pod item is crushed, some coffee spills out, some does not, and the aluminium mass is then heated ......the organic residual that is the coffee grounds burns off in that process.  Hey presto ...........clean aluminium that can be poured for another ingot of aluminium - ready for reuse.

Sure, slightly simplified, but surely with an aluminium pod, where the metal is recyclable many times, almost indefinitely ........It Is NOT An Issue!

Maybe with plastic it might be, but there are systems you can refill yourself, with your own selection of coffee.  Been around for a number of years, and Di Bella sells them.  See .

Storm in  a coffee cup?

Friday, June 21, 2013

New Australian Mung Bean Variety:- Jade - AU

Mung beans were once a reasonably profitable crop in the NT in the 1970s and 1980s.  But growers used older and less than suitable fairly traditional varieties, and eventually the variety King was developed by the NT Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries as one variety better suited to the NT conditions.  It grew reasonably well, with better yields.

It was also used in Queensland and further variety development was also done there.  Over the past 20 years or so, there have been a few varieties released, but then industry still remains relatively small and fragmented, and varieties are still less than ideal for many conditions. 

But work has been done to try and develop a better variety with some disease resistance, and that larger bean size, of greater interest to users.
near mature mung bean crop [ not Jade-AU].

From the work, a new mungbean variety bred by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) will be planted commercially this year after its official launch recently at the Australian Summer Grains Conference on the Gold Coast.

The new variety, Jade-AU, will be available in limited quantities for planting this spring season. Full details of the variety which has PBR accreditation, is on the PBR website.

Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh said the new mungbean variety was the result of research investment led by DAFF and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). “It is expected to give growers long-term benefits in production and profitability.

In fact, an independent economic analysis has shown that this collaborative breeding project is delivering an 18:1 return on investment,” Mr McVeigh said in a statement.  “Jade-AU is a large green shiny mungbean that fits Australia’s main export market.  “It is expected to deliver up to $100 extra per hectare for growers compared to the current variety Crystal.   “This is due to an average 12 per cent higher grain yield and its better tolerance of leaf diseases such as powdery mildew. “Jade-AU has proven performance across the existing mungbean growing regions from central Queensland to northern New South Wales.

While Jade -AU has had limited testing, it does seem suitable for production in the Burdekin Irrigation Area. Further evaluation in the Burdekin is planned for next season. 

Maybe it is worth testing even further north in the NT. 

Jade-AU is co-owned by DAFF and GRDC and protected by Plant Breeders Rights.

The Australian Mungbean Association is the exclusive agent for its commercialisation, seed increase, and distribution to growers.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Live Cattle Export to Indonesia - Moving Again

Indonesian authorities have moved forward by just two weeks the quota for live export cattle from Australia for the 3rd quarter of 2013.

A boat of around 8000 head left Darwin this week, for Indonesia.  More shipments are planned in the near future.

But exporters are reputed to be cautious.  It seems that so far no increase in numbers has occurred but rather a bringing forward of the permits for the next quarter.  Which is helpful, but not a game changing event.

Most of the players it seems are likely to go quiet, and allow the issue to play out slowly.  And that is on both sides.

Australian exporters certainly would like the numbers to go up - considerably, but there are some political issues at play here on the Indonesian side and "quietly, quietly" seems to be the catchcry right now.  Both sides seem to know it is a valuable trade and offers benefits for both sides, but it is a bit tricky to balance various competing, often political, interests.

Could this situation change soon?  Some think it might, but do not hold your breath seems to be the message.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Coles to Back Off Due to Farm Lobby Pressure

Coles retreats at bush boycott

COLES is expected today to deliver farmers their first victory in their battle with the supermarket giants, pulling from sale shopping bags supporting Animals Australia.

Angry beef and fat lamb producers yesterday called for a mass boycott of Coles supermarkets because of their partnership with the animal rights group, saying the retail giant was deeply "anti-farming".

A spokesman for Wesfarmers -- Coles's parent company -- said last night it had taken notice of the "deep and genuine" level of interest in the issue from both sides of the debate.

Wesfarmers is expected to announce this morning it is withdrawing all bags from sale.

The spokesperson would not confirm the move, but said the company had great regard for its roots as a farmer-owned co-operative and wanted to avoid "further polarisation" of its stakeholders.

The National Farmers Federation had called on Coles and Wesfarmers, to reconsider their partnership with the animal rights group and to stop selling the shopping bags.

It is the first time the peak lobby group has so stridently attacked Coles -- which last year sponsored the NFF annual congress in Canberra -- accusing it of endorsing a "radical" organisation that wanted to shut down farms and rural jobs.

Coles and competitor Woolworths have also been at the centre of a growing row with struggling dairy farmers over the damage caused by continued sales of cheap $1-a-litre milk.

Sheep producers who supply Coles with thousands of lambs a year yesterday announced a blackban on sales to the chain. The moves follow outrage within farming circles at the decision to sell the Animals Australia bags at 500 of its stores this month.

Queensland cattleman Stuart Ogg said he was appalled at Coles's misjudgment and would make sure none of his Brahman-cross cattle ended up as prime beef steaks in its stores.  "Coles always seem to be looking for a point of difference or a cheap publicity stunt and don't care who they hurt in the process," the Carnarvon Gorge grazier said. "We have a very solid and sustainable industry; Coles siding with Animals Australia is a slap in the face for industry -- it's like them saying they don't think we are producing our meat properly."

One of NSW's biggest prime-lamb producers, Andrew Freshwater, announced he would be halting the supply of thousands of lambs a year to Coles until it reversed its stance.

Mr Freshwater said five other suppliers -- all the major producers in the eastern states -- were backing his stance, while other farmers intended to stop buying fertiliser and insurance from Wesfarmers. "I've had a gutful; (it's time) to make Coles sit up and take notice," he said.

Coles yesterday began selling more than 15,000 of the bags at checkouts in its metropolitan supermarkets, with 30c from each $1 sale going towards Animals Australia's campaigns.

NFF chief executive Matt Linnegar said Coles could not have it both ways -- it could not claim to be the best friend of farmers and a strong supporter of homegrown produce while supporting Animals Australia and its extremist anti-farming campaigns.

Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White yesterday wrote to supporters calling for them to write, email or tweet Coles affirming their support for the campaign and the anti-factory farming bag sales.

Copyright acknowledged  - The Australian newspaper. Reprinted in its full online version.

Probably a good outcome - if true.  But this is but a battle - the war is still on!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Coles Supermarkets now Supports Animals Australia - Forgets Farmers

Supermarket dominance is probably not a good thing.

But when your major marketplace decides to support the opposition, by becoming a supporter for a major group that  advocates against livestock slaughter would you as a grower and producer of livestock continue to sell them produce, that is, your livestock?

This is effectively what Coles [ one of two dominant supermarket chains] has done in Australia this week by selling shopping bags labelled with Animals Australia signage, effectively supporting the pressure group.  Remember this is the group that has been opposed to live cattle export, and supports no livestock use for human consumption and was the prime agency in providing film footage that shut down the live export trade in 2011.

It is being dressed up as Coles supporting "√ęthical" treatment and slaughter of stock.  But many see it as Coles outright support of phasing out livestock use.

Some farmers are now boycotting Coles, farmers who have been previously selling stock direct to Coles for sale in their meat section of the supermarket.

Woolworths is very doubt hoping that Coles will deliver a signifcant gunshot wound to their own foot.  Many think that Coles have definitely fully put their feet in their mouth.

The material online is amazing on this subject - see 

While the article is rational, do not forget to read the comments.  Many of those are not.  About 8-10 pages when I last checked- probably more than almost anything else over the past year or so.

The Australian farm community is up in arms over this issue.  Much of Coles marketing claims relating to meat products over the past several years, since the UK mafia.....sorry management arrived, has been mostly window dressing, or should that be spin, delivered to an ill informed public.

Will they now embrace grass fed livestock, a current marketing push by industry, as there are strong claims that grass fed stock are better flavoured, and could deliver a better return to growers, and would Coles pay more as beef buyers?  That might deliver some small, but real gains in cents per kg of carcass, to producers.

Update - midnight 4 June  It seems that the MD and chairman of Wesfarmers may be getting involved, they were not happy!! - this small bit of info was on the radio news.

Monday, June 03, 2013

New Melbourne Produce Markets - What a Fiasco!!

Of little relevance to the NT?  One would not think so, with mangoes, flowers, Asian vegetables, melons and other dry season produce all potentially sold or at least partially sold through one or more southern produce markets.

The Victorian government has been orchestrating a  move to a new market site at Epping, with planning and development occurring over the past few years.

But guess what? - the new market is smaller than the existing one at Footscray, the existing wholesalers will not fit, space is more cramped than the current site, the trading floor is significantly reduced and there is to be a ballot for locations.  This effectively reduces the number of wholesalers, and the group are very unhappy over the whole issue.  Some are expected to have to completely close.

The whole thing seems to be a bit of a shambles, according to some media reports.

Many wholesalers and the producers organisations are saying the job losses could exceed those recently announced at Ford.  Interestingly, the media seem to be ignoring this issue, with most of the noise in the specialist agricultural press and radio areas.
existing Melbourne Markets, Footscray