Thursday, September 24, 2015

US Sets Food Waste Reduction Goals

Food waste in the U.S. is a big problem, accounting for about 31 percent of the nation’s food supply, or 133 billion pounds. It makes up 21 percent of U.S. municipal solid waste in landfills, and as a result it accounts for the lion’s share of landfill methane emissions.  Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 21 times that of carbon dioxide — and landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

It is not just the waste of food, but the enclosed losses - from excess production costs, transport storage and packaging, and monetary costs of consumer purchases.  In western economies most food waste losses are post production, an area well worthy of targetting for reductions.

Given the size of the problem, it is a major deal that last week U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the nation’s first national food waste reduction goal. 

The goal is a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. The federal government is leading a new partnership with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and state and tribal governments to reduce food waste and loss.  “Our new reduction goal demonstrates America’s leadership on a global level in in getting wholesome food to people who need it, protecting our natural resources, cutting environmental pollution, and promoting innovative approaches for reducing food loss and waste,” Vilsack said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time the US federal government has worked on the issue of food waste. In 2013, the Department of Agriculture and EPA launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which gives organizations and leaders the place to share practices for reducing, recovering and recycling food waste. 

By the end of last year, the challenge had over 4,000 active participants, well over the goal of 1,000 participants by 2020.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NEW - Online NT Flora List

It has been a slow gestation, but at last an online version of the NT plants list and related materials, with the following email in the inbox today.....

The Northern Territory Herbarium of the Flora and Fauna Division of the NT Land Resource Management Department is pleased to announce the first release of FloraNT (Northern Territory flora online)

The main features are:
·        Checklists of:
o   NT Plants;
o   NT Threatened species; and
o   Introduced naturalised species.
·        Searching of flora information by any combination of spatial attributes, plant name or plant characteristics including conservation status to produce a species list meeting the search criteria.
·        Browsing by plant name to access fact sheets and other information.
·        Attached to names in the above lists:
o   fact sheets including distribution map, illustrations, photos of each plant, conservation status, distribution, flowering times and other information; and
o   pdfs of descriptions and keys.
·        Searching of spatial data by any combination of spatial attributes, plant name or plant characteristics including conservation status to produce point data extracts meeting the search criteria.

Please note there are about 3300 images awaiting bulk upload.

For anyone else interested in the NT flora, this should be a very useful resource and reference  Let's hope it is kept up to date, even if only several times a year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Early Rainfall or Not - late 2015?

The BOM recently issued the late August 2015 assessment of onset of the rain season across N Australia.  For the Darwin / Daly region, a slightly higher chance now of earlier rain that exceeds the 50mm accumulation. 

Maybe for the Top End it is now somewhat confusing as it could be argued that it is about evenly poised between early and later accumulation of 50mm of rain, as the difference is quite small for earlier rain.  Is there much difference between 5% either side the 50%?

I think there are serious quibbles about the definition used - 50mm of accumulated rainfall after September 1, but that is what they are using at present.  There is no value apparently placed on close events nor size of an individual event or period between events, features that could be more relevant for effective rainfall.  More work needed in this space I think.

However, some progress is being achieved.

Recent analysis is available here -

with additional links to further mapping on adjacent pages.

The BOM links to this rainfall outlook do seem to indicate a good rainfall situation for central Australia though with more rainfall considered likely for the pre End of year period.

If you think the analysis needs more work, contact the BOM!   The more that do, the greater likelihood of further R and D on this important area.


This was written a month ago, and yes, there was some early rain, in some cases more than 50mm. has been extremely dry since and the pattern of continuing dry weather at least around Darwin seems to be likely to continue.  Any pasture growth from those early events is well and truly now dried off.

Would 50mm after 1 October be more appropriate as a measure of early seasonal change, rather than 1 September?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Anaerobic Digestion - Is There a Better Future in Australian Rural Areas?

Farming: How Anaerobic Digestion can benefit you*

GTS Maintenance

Although Anaerobic Digestion has been around for decades, many farmers have not heard of it. This article looks at both the process and the main advantages of anaerobic digestion.

What is Anaerobic Digestion?

Anaerobic digestion is the process of fermenting organic materials in a sealed tank without oxygen for a prolonged period of time. Through doing this, two by-products are created: methane-rich gas (biogas) and a nutrient-rich fertiliser (digestate).

The methane created by this process can be used to produce energy for either industrial or domestic purposes through powering a generator. Some sites even purify the methane, add propane and odoriser, and use the energy for cooking or heating in the home through pumping onto the National Grid.

What Plants to Use?

Plants with a high calorific value will extract the most methane during anaerobic digestion, so crops such as maize, grass silage, rapemeal and wheat are among the best crop to use. Food waste, slurry and manure can be used too, which gives the perfect opportunity to dispose of your waste in an efficient and environmentally-friendly way. This also prevents waste from filling up landfill.


Digestate can be used as fertiliser and soil conditioner as it contains nitrogen and potassium, both being plant nutrients that can significantly improve growth. It is made from dead micro-organisms and remaining indigestible material during the anaerobic digestion process. It can be used straight from the digester or separated into liquor and fibre.

By using digestate instead of synthetic fertilisers, you can save energy, reduce your carbon footprint as well as decreasing fossil fuel consumption. As none of the potassium, phosphorous or nitrogen is present in the biogas after anaerobic digestion, all of these nutrients are present in the digestate.


Biogas can either be combusted to make heat and electricity, or as mentioned earlier, can be purified and pumped into the mains gas grid or used as road fuel. You can find more information on how to use biogas for heat only purposes, electricity only purposes or to create combined energy at Biogas Info.

The variables that can make a difference to the yield of biogas differ depending on the feedstock you use (crop, waste, manure etc.), as well as the length of time left in the digester. The purity and the energy left in the feedstock will make a massive difference in the yield of biomass, so if your feedstock has been left in storage for a long amount of time it may have already started breaking down. This table shows the potential biogas yields of 22 feedstocks that are commonly used for anaerobic digestion.

What this Means for You

There are many benefits to using anaerobic digestion as a means of waste disposable and energy creation. Biomass helps to reduce fossil fuel use, and decreases greenhouse gas emissions. This means that you are not only creating a cost-efficient way of creating energy, but decreasing your carbon footprint and helping the environment.

There are also many cost advantages that will benefit you directly including:
  • Self-produced fertiliser
  • Self-produced renewable fuel
  • Additional income
  • Reduction in landfill tax bills
  • Reduction of slurry and waste storage
While this article was originally prepared for the UK scene, the same broad situation operates in Australia.  Yes, some pig and dairy producers notably have embraced anaerobic digestion, and the CRC CARE in Adelaide is actively encouraging greater use, it has been very slow to develop more widely. Is there a role in the management of horticultural waste products eg mango fruit? 

Modest sized generic anaerobic digestor system
It does not necessarily interrupt development of composting, rather it is complementary.  

One issue in Australia is that there is not usually the big winter demand for heating so common in Europe and N America, where heat from biogas can be easily used.  however, where some co processing of food is done, then that heat can be used for water heating, space heating or similar to great advantage in cost reductions.

Or. like the landfill gas story in Australia, small scale electricity production is an option, for direct use or export to the grid. 


You can find even more information on what anaerobic digestion means for farms and local communities in this article that appeared in Farming Futures.

* First published 28 May 2015 here 

[partially sourced from ReFocus magazine newsletter of 15 September 2015]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Nyngan Solar Plant - Largest in Southern Hemisphere - Celebrates Three Months of Full Operation

Since achieving full generation in June 2015, the Nyngan Solar Plant has generated 60,000 MWh of renewable energy — 102 MW of which have been sent into the National Electricity Market.

Said to be the largest solar power plant in the Southern Hemisphere, the project is the result of a partnership between AGL Energy and First Solar. It is expected to produce around 230,000 MWh of electricity annually — enough to meet the needs of approximately 33,000 NSW homes.

The CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Ivor Frischknecht, said the $290 million plant was successfully delivered on time and on budget. It has involved the installation of 1.36 million solar PV modules and has provided economic benefits for the Nyngan community, with more than 250 people employed on-site during the peak of construction.

The project has also seen the construction of a ‘twin’ solar plant at Broken Hill, which will soon begin operation. Total capital expenditure for both the Nyngan and Broken Hill Solar Plant is approximately $440 million.  “AGL’s Solar Project at Nyngan and Broken Hill represents a big investment by the company and also by ARENA,” Frischknecht said.  “It’s already achieving one of ARENA’s key aims of increasing the amount of renewable energy in Australia.  “And the knowledge gained from its successful launch and ongoing operations will lead to further improvements in technology and reductions in costs for the sector.”

Maybe these projects do start to indicate that Australia can deliver some serious solar energy projects for the country.  So far, while some have got funding it has been a slow journey in a country with strong credentials for using solar power - distributed, smaller scale and reliable for rural and remote use, with the exception of night time or poor solar conditions options.

There are a lot of older coal generation facilities way past their economic lifetime, and likely to be replaced over the next decade.  Maybe more solar plants will deliver low carbon and improved facilities for better distributed energy production with stored energy systems also included.  I do wonder about the distribution system, however.

Lets hope there are more successes to come.

[ partially sourced from Sustainability Matters newsletter 15 September]

Monday, September 14, 2015

Australian Headlice Treatment to be Commercialised in India


Australian head lice treatment closer to commercialisation after $279 m deal

We hear so much about poor commercial success of Australian export business other than raw materials, but maybe that perception should be receiving a serious rethink.

With established biotech companies such as Cochlear and CSL acknowledged as leaders in their fields and very significant businesses and export earners, and a swath of next generation companies starting to also emerge, a most unlikely company has joined the fray, and in India, surely a significant market?

Headlice are a pain............ask ANY parent of school age kids.  Adults are also not immune either from the serious business of cleaning headlice eggs and washing adults off.  There have been some treatment advances that offer less nasty products which have until recently been agrochemicals.

Pharmaceutical start-up Hatchtech has signed a deal with India’s Dr Reddy’s Laboratories to commercialise a head lice treatment product, a product focussed on a cunning option that interferes with insect development.

Fairfax reports that Dr Reddy’s will pay an $85 million pre-commercialisation payment and the rest of up to $279 million after sales-based targets are accomplished for Xeglyze Lotion.

Established in 2001 by Dr Vern Bowles, Hatchtech has received investment from university venture capital body Uniseed, as well as QIC, and the VC firms OneVentures, Blue Sky and GBS Ventures.  "This success is another good success for the venture capital market. We'd like to think we are the third successful venture capital exit in 12 months," CEO Hugh Alsop told Fairfax.

Hatchtech’s Xeglyze is a lotion with an active ingredient called Abametapir, which stops enzymes critical for the survival of lice and their eggs.

Smart heh??

[ partially sourced from Manufacturers Monthly newsletter]

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Quinoa to be Grown AND Processed in Western Australia

A $500,000 grant from Coles has provided the impetus for the first quinoa processing plant to be built in WA.  This is a big step for local food processing in Australia where so much has been written about the loss of food manufacture in Australia.

Australian Grown Superfoods, involving Highbury farmer Ashley Wiese, Dumbleyung farmer Megan Gooding and agronomist Garren Knell, received news it had secured the Coles Nurture Fund grant late last week

Mr Wiese said the grant money was the missing link in moves to get quinoa onto Australian supermarket shelves, although I do not agree necessarily with the statement, as my observation is that there is quinoa already present in reasonable quantities in major supermarkets [including Coles]. 

He said - "The total investment in the plant will be $1.5 million, so this grant will make up a significant portion of this and will help us reduce the risk," he said.  "It has given us confidence that we are doing the right thing and are on the right track.  "We are getting the production, we know the market is there, it has just been the processing part of the equation holding us back.  "The only alternative to process quinoa without a domestic plant was to send it overseas, so we would have had to ship it out of the country to process it and then ship it back.  "With the fall in the Australian dollar that would have been a very expensive exercise. Plus, in conversations we have had with our customers, they want traceability of the product and we were nervous we could lose that if the product had to be shipped overseas."

Mr Wiese said there would still be a cautious approach to increasing production of quinoa.
quinoa growing at altitude in S America

quinoa grain colour varies with different varieties

This year's crop totals 500 hectares and should produce 300 to 400 tonnes.  "We will increase production slowly," he said.  "Initially we will target the domestic market and hope to replace some of the Peruvian conventional product in the market now.  "We are also looking at exporting to Asia, but that will take a few years.  "We are conscious of taking it slow and making sure the demand is there before we increase production.  "Even though the grant came with no strings attached we are talking to Coles and this grant has provided us with a foot in the door with them and conversations are happening which is a great thing for us.  "We are keen to supply Coles and that is where we will start and at this stage we won't look to expand too far ahead of that.  "If we are going to get into the export market we will have to lift supply."

Mr Wiese said there has already been a large amount of planning done on the plant and it could be built and ready for processing as early as December this year.  "Megan's family has built a pilot plant in Narrogin and that has worked really well and gave us the confidence we could build a larger scale plant," he said.  "The plant will be built on my property and the sheds are going up now and most of the machinery is built so it will happen quite quickly."

Coles managing director John Durkan said the project was exactly the type of innovative business that the Coles Nurture Fund had been set up to support  "We chose it to receive one of the first grants because it is innovative and providing a local product that is currently imported into Australia and will be available in WA," Mr Durkan said.

Coles launched Coles Nurture Fund in April, announcing it would provide $50 million in grants and interest free loans over five years to businesses in the food and grocery sector so they could grow and innovate.

Quinoa production is expanding modestly around Australia and expanding into non traditional areas including the tropics and sub tropics, even with interest in the NT and Queensland, with continuing interest in the broad north Australia area, where production may be an irrigated or partially irrigated crop in the dry season, whereas so far most has been produced in temperate areas.  There is a range of varieties available, including those with different grain colours, and some of these seem to have potential for north Australia.

Local market demand is increasing, but one has to wonder if it will be a short lived curiosity, only to be cast aside as fashion changes, or if some detrimental issue arises with the product and will it continue to displace sales of other food products.

There is no doubt that post production aspects of the whole production chain for many agricultural products is a stumbling block to wider use and potential for export.  It is much easier to increase in paddock production than to commit $$ to post growing processing or treatment, yet that is often where the bottleneck is!

Lets hope it progresses well. 

partially sourced from online edition of Qld Country Life 10/915

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Future of Work in Australia

This post is based around an infographic from Macquarie Telecom published today.  I have tried to incorporate the infographic itself, but it changes shape and size so that approach makes it unreadable.

Best option might be to use the link and read the story directly yourself.

It will likely affect YOU............especially if in prime working age.

I read of AI even being used in compiling intricate and detailed legal opinion via gleaning material off the web and developing it into a cogent and reasoned legal advice.  Who would have believed that experienced legal practitioners might be replaced - or disrupted -  by a machine???

will get you to the infographic and with additional linkages of some interest.

Work and the nature of work is changing, so be aware.  Might be a bit tricky to replace a plumber, oe electrician, especially for repairs, or even a hairdresser........but where knowledge is critical it might happen sooner than one realises.

An interesting read.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Zoysia Seed in Short Supply for Australia

Not good news for late 2015 as turf  / lawn planting season approaches for most areas of Australia.

Zoysia seed is produced in the USA and seasonal conditions have not been favourable, especially in the west of the continent, and seed yields for many turf crop species have been significantly reduced as drought has meant reduced water availability, as well as overall reduced rain and hot weather.  

Seed yields are down, and quality has been affected.

Both Zenith and Compadre seem to be affected significantly, along with couch grass, bent grass and some other temperate species.  Obtaining seed lines of zoysia that will make the quality required for import to Australia is seemingly somewhat problematical.  It is not an issue that Australian suppliers and importers have much control over either.

While some seed is currently available, stocks are low.

Best advice - if planning to use zoysia seed for sowing this warm season, or any other seed for that matter.........sort out your supplies soon, very soon.

We do still have some seed..............and can assist with information and technical support.

Friday, September 04, 2015

WA Organic Farmer Loses Appeal over GM Contamination From Neighbour

A decision yesterday on the appeal by WA organic grain grower against his neighbour, claiming his adjacent GM crop of GM canola destroyed his organic certification.

Quite a lot of media attention including this one -

and some from both organic and GM advocates.

The appeal in a 2 to 1 judgment supported the original decision, which the organic grower, Steve Marsh lost, in essence supporting the use of GM crops near organic crops. The judgments need careful reading in extending the outcomes to more general situations, but does essentially support the co-existence of both options in the farming community, but not necessarily without some planning to ensure the co-existence of both systems.

So far it has been a lawyers picnic - with costs on both sides now apparently exceeding [ by some margin] over $1 million Australian dollars.

My view was that it would go to the High Court, and it is seemingly looking as if it might, even though all judgments so far have gone against the organic farmer, and by some implication, the Australian  organic certifying agency, which uses an absolute zero tolerance for GM  contamination, which is different to many other countries where reality allows a very, very, tiny contamination level. essentially a non meaningful amount of GM contamination, which could be random.

A High Court challenge would be very expensive, and the organic farmer is already potentially liable for over A$0.8 million in legal expenses for the defendant- which could mean loss of the farm.

A complex story that is not yet over.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Amazing Shark Journey

Mako Shark Phones Home, Revealing Epic Journey