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!