Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dioxin Found in Imported Phenoxy Herbicides in Australia

There has been a monster fuss over dioxin in the phenoxy herbicides used in the 1970s.  Agent Orange, helicopters, defoliation.....Vietnam era one says.........the manufacturers do it better now.

The good ones do.............but with a race to the lowest cost product for the ultra competition which drives the cost issue in agriculture and horticulture in Australia..............guess what?  Imported product has suddenly appeared on the scene with plenty of dioxin present as a by product of the production of technical grade 2,4-D and 2,4,5 -T.  Same  quality control issue as the 1970s, one would suspect.

Phenoxy herbicides are not banned and many do a great job at low rates, and modest cost.  Combination products are widely used - eg 2,4-D and MCPA or dicamba, and often in horticulture and even home garden use as turf herbicides.  2,4-D was probably the first real herbicide and has been used since the 1950s.

But the costs have fallen and there are many manufacturers in China, and some it now seems are really cutting corners.

Yes, Australia has probably not done enough monitoring of ongoing imported products either. 

As is often the case, initial supply is fine - meets specifications etc.  As volume goes up.......sadly, quality plummets!  Or a different lower cost producer replaces the decent producer who is meeting quality requirements and the exporter [ often not the producer] says little.......but quality is going down, but not enough to indicate the product is not doing its job. 

It is the by product that is the problem - dioxin.
Herbicide spraying - Vietnam war era.

It is deadly stuff.............look it up eg wikipedia, plenty of detailed reports on line.  It is VERY NASTY!

It is unclear how widespread the problem is in Australia, but some believe that it is not major, restricted to some importers and formulators using lower cost product to drive their sales into the market.  It might take some time to sort out, but as a guide.........BEWARE if using phenoxy herbicides.  You should be now anyway.

Everyone seems to have thought the dioxin issue was dead and buried.........and with quality technical product from quality manufacturers it broadly had not been an issue for many years.  However, it is back.

It is interesting to also speculate how much poor technical product also went into other Asian countries - Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Cambodia etc where cost is probably an even bigger concern.  They are unlikely to have respected regulators to get on top of this issue.

Is it any wonder many do not trust Chinese product?  Whether agricultural chemical or baby formula, seems immaterial - they are suspect, and one wonders why Chinese want our rural products???

See -


UPDATE - also see this article from later in the week after the blog written.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fodder for Asia – Can the NT Be Part of the Developing Fodder Trade


A recent article in the online edition of Queensland Country Life argued the case that northern growers might think to target Asia for feed grain and fodder, rather than the current focus on exporting protein crops, noodle wheat and oilseeds.
See here -

There is some strong rationale to give this some serious thought.
Other issues may make some of these ideas difficult to execute, with issues such as freight problems including actually getting material over the wharf and onto vessels and appropriately costed freight rates, attractive enough to make it worthwhile.

But that does not exclude trying.
With a strong trade in export live cattle and boxed beef to Indonesia, and a developing trade in boxed beef and live cattle to China and adjacent countries, developing options for fodder is not silly.
feeding dairy cattle

Northern regions can grow vegetation, and there are a number of producers of feed for export live cattle vessels.  So producing quality hay and fodder is possible, as is fodder cube mixes.
Can we do it easier and better than grain production?  I believe so.

There are perception issues – of some significance.  The northern region of Australia does not easily grow Lucerne [ alfalfa] that elusive “best quality “fodder so in demand for dairy cattle and increasingly for finishing stock [ both cattle and sheep] for slaughter in Asia.  While lucerne has a good track record, there are alternatives that can stack up in comparison with near similar protein levels, and general nutritional levels, and some of the cubes produced can be adjusted to give levels of what the user demands.
Inherently, tropical fodder is considered probably less digestible than most temperate feeds, due to higher fibre levels and a different stem structure.  But that may not be deal breaker.

The real deal breaker is likely to be actually getting the material into the market cost effectively.  How can this be overcome?  The market is growing, a well identified fact, and Australian fodder is going into the market now.  Can the NT also get into that market for fodder, a market expected to grow significantly?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Almonds are Flourishing

The world is keen on alternative foods and nuts are among the desired options.  Nourishing, rich in plant based oils and fats [ no saturated bad fat], a reasonable protein level, and often a fairly rich range of amino acids.

Most people think peanuts, if you ask about nuts.  There are many more - cashews, almonds, pistachio, brazil, macadamia, walnuts are among the bigger names, and of especial  interest in Australia right now are almonds.

Growers have done it tough in recent years, but with some better weather, and investments in superior harvesting and processing options, it seems as if matters might be turning around.

The fall in the Australian dollar and drought and pest problems in California – which produces 86 per cent of the world's almonds – are further positive trends for Australian almond production profitability.  US production is suffering from water shortages in California and other western areas and further falls in production levels are expected this year, and possibly into next season.

almonds in shell

processed almond options

Once you add in a wider range of marketed types of processed almonds - from basic options to extremely fancy tastes such as smoked, chilli, salted, etc it seems almonds are, well, sort of, the flavour of the month.

There are several articles recently that offer more details.

See -  and also

While little is certain in agriculture or horticulture, there are some optimistic signs for Australia's almond growers in the near future.

As a buyer of local almonds I think quality is definitely up........try some yourself, or do as I do, add almond meal to your daily muesli!

Monday, July 22, 2013

RUMOUR - Indonesia to Remove Live Cattle Import Quota

Strong rumours are doing the rounds that Indonesia may completely remove live cattle import quotas from Australia.

More when there is more!


RI to end beef, live cattle import quotas

Linda Yulisman, The Jakarta Post | Headlines | Sat, July 20 2013, 10:25 AM

Indonesia will remove import quotas for beef and live cattle to stabilize domestic prices and curb inflation, a trade official says.

The government would set a parity or “normal” price for beef as a benchmark to assess the necessity for imports, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said on Friday in Jakarta.

Meat and live imports will be allowed only when domestic beef prices rise by more than 15 percent from the parity price, a move that will still support the local livestock industry, according to Gita.

“The price mechanism as a trigger to import or not to import is very important. But we should first determine the parity price, which should match our aspiration to curb inflation and maintain price stability,” Gita told reporters at his office.

The ministry was working on the policy framework, which would be ready in the next two months, he added.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, has seen demand for beef surging rapidly, outpacing the capacity of its domestic livestock industry to meet demand.

To support its target of attaining self-sufficiency in beef by 2014, the government curbed imports and reduced its import quota for live cattle by more than 30 percent last year and another 30 percent this year.

In addition, it cut the beef import quota by almost 60 percent last year and by 6 percent this year.

It has set an overall live cattle import allocation of 267,000 head for this year, with a beef import quota of 32,000 tons, 20 percent of which are prime cuts.

The planned measure will follow on the heels of recent changes in the import arrangements for horticultural products as Indonesia grapples with mounting pressure from trade partners who regard its import procedures as troublesome.

In January, the US lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) as it considered Indonesia’s trade measures “restrictive” and Indonesia’s “complex web of import licensing requirements” unfairly limited US exports.

The US has advanced to the Dispute Settlement Body of the world trade governing body, which has already set a panel to resolve the issue.

In the meeting of the WTO’s Council for Trade in Goods last week, the US reiterated its concerns about “a complex web of opaque trade restrictions in Indonesia affecting agriculture” in addition to energy and consumer goods.

However, Gita refuted speculation that the elimination of the beef and live cattle import quotas was mainly to comply with demands from trade partners, saying that the reform was necessary to reduce domestic prices. “What we’re doing is to improve efficiency and licensing transparency to help address the problems at the WTO,” he said.

For the rest of this year, the government would permit the unlimited importation of live cattle for “as long as possible” to attain price stability, Gita said. Earlier on Friday, Australia said Indonesia was boosting live cattle imports from that country by 25,000 head over the next three months, Reuters reported.

The move was aimed at maintaining domestic beef prices at between Rp 75,000 (US$7.40) and Rp 76,000 per kilogram, Gita said. That would be 20 percent lower than the national average price of Rp 93,000 per kilogram.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Could the NT Develop Industrial Solar Energy Systems on Warehouse Roofs?

Don’t think it’s possible to provide clean and renewable energy that creates jobs and fuels private investment? Think again and then check out CLEAN LA Solar.

A program developed and supported by the Los Angeles Business Council, a coalition of environmental, business, health and research organizations, and the CLEAN LA Coalition, it’s the largest urban rooftop solar program in the nation. Its five-year goal is to power more than 34,000 homes while creating some 4,500 construction, installation, design engineering, maintenance and administrative jobs in Los Angeles.

CLEAN LA Solar allows businesses and commercial property-owners to generate energy for the city’s power grid through rooftop solar panels, and then sell the power to the Department of Water and Power (DWP). This policy is known as a feed-in-tariff (FiT), and is a great way to promote clean, solar energy.

California has a legislative requirement to generate 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Currently, most of L.A.’s renewable power is generated outside the L.A. basin and transmitted inefficiently to customers. By contrast, the CLEAN LA Solar program will provide incentives for clean-energy production within city limits. The result will be more efficient power delivery and a reduction in the city’s reliance on polluting, coal-fired power plants. The FiT also does not require new or upgraded transmission lines.

The goal is to generate 150 megawatts of solar electricity, or enough power for 30,000 homes. The business council hopes to attract investments totaling about $500 million from a group of companies that want to invest in the city’s push to go green. The program’s first project site is an 80-unit apartment building in North Hollywood that went online with 336 250-watt panels (for 84 kW of installed capacity) on June 26.

Solar Provider Group, the international solar firm behind the North Hollywood solar installation, moved its U.S. headquarters to a new office in downtown Los Angeles and is hiring employees. Over the next 18 months, SPG will hire up to 50 additional Los Angeles-based employees in sales, engineering, manufacturing and construction. The company plans to invest up to $50 million in the city by the end of 2016, over the course of the 100 MW program. SPG is also evaluating additional investments elsewhere in California and throughout the U.S.

While the CLEAN LA Solar program gets rolling, a rooftop solar provider is looking at a way to allow customers to be independent from utilities by generating their own power, according to an LA Times article.

Lyndon Rive, chief executive of San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity Corp., said in an interview with the paper that his rooftop solar company plans to roll out a system that would allow customers to generate power by solar panels during daylight hours and store the energy in battery packs at night.
These are not academic exercises or something on the drawing board that could happen on a large scale someday. It’s happening right now—a model for all urban areas to note.


There are some innovative steps being taken in some overseas locations to really try and move solar power into more mainstream options, as seen by this initiative.  As the costs fall, it definitely makes more sense to consider solar as a sensible option.

For the NT there are a lot of empty roof tops in the industrial areas of Darwin and nearby areas, above businesses that predominantly use electricity during sunshine hours.

It seems a no brainer that there must be development potential there, and it allows small increments of additional energy capacity at modest cost rather than having to opt for large chunks of energy increase at a time, which is how normal utility systems are developed.

Is it financing know how  that is restricting development and would better financing models offer better solutions?  Not my field........but it sure seems odd the NT is not doing more.

Yes, there are some issues with efficiency in crystalline panels in hot weather, of which we have plenty, but alternates are getting better and cheaper all the time.

Is it time for the NT too?? 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Solar Energy Flies

This event is momentous - of the order of the first flight by the Wright Brothers, and the cross channel flight of the Gossamer Albatross in 1979 [].

Do not expect to  travel commercially on a solar aircraft yet........but it does show ingenuity and engineering skills as well as use of advanced material, all of which are already coming to a place near your commercial aircraft.

Lets celebrate............a good, no GREAT news story!!


NEW YORK (AP) -- A solar-powered aircraft completed the final leg of a history-making cross-country flight last Saturday night - July 6, gliding to a smooth stop at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The Solar Impulse touched down at JFK at 11:09 p.m., completing the final leg of the cross-continental journey that started in California in early May. For Saturday's final leg, the aircraft left Dulles International Airport a little before 5 a.m.

The flight plan for the revolutionary plane, powered by some 11,000 solar cells on its oversized wings, had called for it to pass the Statue of Liberty before landing early Sunday at New York. But an unexpected tear discovered on the left wing of the aircraft Saturday afternoon forced officials to scuttle the fly-by and proceed directly to JFK for a landing three hours earlier than scheduled.
Pilot Andre Borschberg trumpeted the milestone of a plane capable of flying during the day and night, powered by solar energy, crossing the U.S. without the use of fuel.

'It was a huge success for renewable energy,' Borschberg said while standing in front of Solar Impulse on the runway at JFK. 'The only thing that failed was a piece of fabric.'

Bertrand Piccard, the other pilot who took turns flying the Solar Impulse across the United States, said the flight across the country tested the entire project team.  'Flying coast-to-coast has always been a mythical milestone full of challenges for aviation pioneers,' Piccard said. 'During this journey, we had to find solutions for a lot of unforeseen situations, which obliged us to develop new skills and strategies. In doing so, we also pushed the boundaries of clean technologies and renewable energies to unprecedented levels.'
Solar Impulse in flight across the USA

Borschberg noticed balance issues with the wing in the early afternoon Saturday off the coast of Toms River, N.J., said Alenka Zibetto, a spokeswoman for Solar Impulse.

Officials said the pilot and aircraft didn't appear to be in danger. They said the eight-foot tear on the lower left side of the wing wasn't expected to worsen through the final portion of the trip.  'It was supposed to be the shortest and easiest leg,' Piccard said. 'It was the most difficult one.'

Piccard said in addition to the wing issue, another problem with the landing was Borschberg's lack of air breaks to avoid making turbulence in the wing with the tear.

Despite the relatively short distance, Saturday's commuter-like hop was a long flight that lasted 18 hours and 23 minutes. The slow-flying aircraft was traveling between two of the world's busiest airports and was required to take off very early in the morning and land very late at night, when air traffic is at a minimum.  'This is a leg where everybody is quite moved,' Piccard said shortly after the plane was in the air over Washington early Saturday.

The aircraft soars to 30,000 feet while poking along at a top speed of 45 mph. Most of the 11,000 solar cells are on the super-long wings that seem to stretch as far as a jumbo jet's. It weighs about the size of a small car, and soars with what is essentially the power of a small motorized scooter.

The Solar Impulse left San Francisco in early May and has made stopovers in Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Dulles.

The cross-country flight is a tuneup for a planned 2015 flight around the globe with an up-graded version of the plane.

Solar Impulse's creators view themselves as green pioneers - promoting lighter materials, solar-powered batteries, and conservation as sexy and adventurous. Theirs is the high-flying equivalent of the Tesla electric sports car.

Europe saw the solar plane first with a test flight from Switzerland and Spain to Morocco last year.
Promoted as solar-powered, what really pushes the envelope with this plane is its miserly energy efficiency, Borschberg said before the flight.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Live Cattle Trade - Farcical or Fabulous?

Over the past two years this business is best seen as farcical.  When Australia was unable to send live cattle - by Australian government decree - and then Indonesia did not want them.

Recently it was announced at meetings between Prime Minister Rudd and Indonesian President Yudhoyono, the development of a A$60 million proposal to assist with development of the Indonesian beef industry with implications for additional animals going into the live export trade, sourced from northern Australia.

That latter part implies an easing of Indonesian restrictions on animal numbers moving in the supply chain.

Yes, the Indonesian authorities recently allowed a "bring forward" of some numbers of animals from the latter part of the year, enabling some animals to be shipped prior to Ramadan, although it seems no significant change in overall numbers is occurring, as yet.  These recently shipped animals are unlikely to be ready for slaughter for some time, and probably well after the end of Ramadan.  The Idul Fitri period after Ramadan is when demand for beef is very high, and logically more animals should have been shipped earlier if there was to be much influence on the already high beef prices around Jakarta for this high demand period.  More boxed beef may be imported too. 

And there have been noises in the media that Indonesia will likely purchase cattle properties in northern Australia to assist them with live cattle numbers.  Remember though, that any local producer is probably going to be subject to local Australian regulations too, and will the Indonesian owned cattle producer /exporter be exempt from Indonesian import restrictions and regulations?
typical cattle being fed in holding areas prior to live export

Really..........where is all this going?  Nowhere?  There has been strong links developed between industry groups in both north Australia and Indonesia, probably even strengthened over the past two years.  They recognise their interdependence............and the red tape that is in the way of increased live cattle trade development, in any form.

This process is too slow, and there is little information flowing publicly from both governments.

The live cattle trade was fabulous, with obvious commercial and social benefits to both countries previously .........and is now farcical!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Overcoming Herbicide Resistant Weeds

This issue is an important one in Australian agriculture especially in areas with annual ryegrass as a weed.  While there are also some areas with herbicide resistance in summer grass and some other weedy species, it is the annual ryegrass issue now more regularly occurring in much of the temperate grain production areas.

Worryingly, a recent survey has highlighted the poor knowledge that farmers have about the issue in general.  Alternately though, it seems consultants and advisors are quite knowledgeable about management of problems.  But it is imperative that the issue is addressed through management on farm.  This work was done by Monsanto on glyphosate and reported here -

Loss of major herbicides would be a disaster, at least in the short term.

A recent innovation in WA by one farmer has been work on developing an amended chaff collection system, which allows in paddock burning of the collected weed seeds. More here -

and a video here -

But this farmer also uses standard recommended practices of rotating herbicides, crops and managing the weedy species to prevent seeding [ through hay production prior to seeding]. 

There is also a new seed destructor system now appearing in some areas, which destroys the seeds after harvest.
Harrington Seed Destructor - tow behind model and there are a few more articles on this system on the GRDC web site - and search.

Managing herbicide resistance is not an easy task but a necessary one, and using low doses inadequate to kill all the target weeds is not a sensible option, and false economy.

What is at stake is the continued use and development of minimum tillage, seen as a great advance in cropping over the past 40 years, and certainly contributing to lowered costs and greater efficiencies in grain production systems, generally world wide, not just Australia.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Agricultural Science is a Resurgent Career Path for a Graduate

It seems as if the landscape is changing for agricultural science graduates.  A few years back, the available courses were shrinking as fewer wanted to do this course.  Some ag science courses, notably at Uni of Western Sydney, the former Hawkesbury College, were quietly abandoned.

Times change and now enrolments are up and the near future at least is quite positive for agriculture and for agricultural science graduates.

Ag Science is hardly a dull area to work in, with lots of science as well as a decent dose of technology. Everything from use of UAVs in agriculture and weed management, to driverless tractors, precision farming in crops and vegetable production, modern genetics in both plant and animal development and new equipment showcase the technology around agriculture today.  Add to that use of computers in the science area alone makes for a vibrant, modern area of work.  And then there are the post production systems [maybe less so with a lot of noise about less crop and vegetable processing] as well as the business driven parts of agriculture including international trade, agricultural policy development and so on......Not to mention opportunities for work overseas.
The changing landscape of Australian agriculture is creating a raft of opportunities across the sector, according to NAB’s General Manager of Agribusiness, Khan Horne.

Following the conclusion of the Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program in Geelong last week, Mr Horne said a number of factors are colliding to create a boom for agricultural careers. “We’ve seen strong growth in corporate agriculture, increasing by around 40 percent in the five years to 2011,” and for the first time in years, agricultural student enrolments are up, and quite significantly. 

According to the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture, enrolments have increased across the board by around 15 per cent.  “Agriculture in Australia has an exciting future. In the coming decades food production will need to increase by an estimated 70 percent to feed the growing global population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.  “This challenge will need to be met by innovative and educated minds, and I’m encouraged by the shift we’re starting to see and the quality of the leadership being shown across the industry.”

Larger operations require a range of employees to support the business – from farm managers, agronomists and veterinarians to the full range of business functions including business managers, human resources, finance and communications.

modern agriculture at work

This in turn will result in an even greater need for agricultural graduates and those with experience in the sector, as well as for graduates who want to work in related areas.  “What’s interesting and quite unique about the agriculture sector is the level of passion it inspires in those involved,” Mr Horne said.  “There’s something innately appealing about working in an industry that feeds and clothes Australians and millions of people around the world. And for many the professionalism of running a farm enterprise is only improved by the lifestyle factors and benefits of living in a regional or rural location.  “For those who aspire to running a farm business and businesses along the value chain, there are significant barriers to entry. The capital required to take on a property can be prohibitive, especially if you’re going out on your own or starting out in the industry.  “The corporate sector offers the experience and lifestyle, without the high cost of entry or financial risk.”

Today approximately 29 percent of farm managers are women. Further training and tertiary qualifications amongst farmers have increased significantly since the mid-1980s. In 1986, one in ten farmers had some form of further education. At the most recent Census in 2011, this had jumped to one in three.

Mr Horne said that farmers across the board are recognising the need to increase their skills, and are relying more on consultants and other specialists in all areas of their business. “These factors place the industry in a strong position to drive future growth and make inroads with the severe shortage of skilled staff.  “It’s well established that there are not enough graduates to fill the available jobs in agriculture.

The latest findings show that there are now five jobs to each graduate.  “Given the skills shortage, the average starting wage for an agricultural graduate is more than that of a veterinarian. It’s certainly appealing to school students deciding on a career path and to those already working but who are interested in a career change.”

2013 marks the 20th year NAB Agribusiness has sponsored the Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program, which to date has produced more than 700 graduates.

And yes.......I am an agricultural science graduate too.......but definitely not a new one!!

Is there a feel good factor at work ability to be part of modern food production systems?

[ part of this is from a media release by the NAB]