Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Integrated Pest Management by Drone

Australians are an inventive lot.........but at times they do not seem to capitalise on the commercial success of their inventions.

It has been a big week on this front - what with the Flow Hive as well as a successful system for dispensing predatory insects [ for integrated pest management] by.....drone, to save time and improve evenness of dispersal.

This has appeared on several web sites here in Australia but deserves wide coverage.  

A great idea for Australian agriculture which is rapidly moving towards using IPM in many crops.  This technology might be the key to further advances as certainly the dispersal of the insects and disease agents can at times be difficult, especially in remote and difficult terrain.

More here including photos -


Drones are emerging as the latest tool in biological pest control on Australian farms.

A former Queensland strawberry farmer turned inventor has begun using drones to spread predatory insects over farmland so they can kill pests that would otherwise eat the crops.

"It's going to be the only way that beneficial bugs are going to be dispensed in the future," Sunshine Coast inventor Nathan Roy said.

Over 18 months, Mr Roy has developed and trialled a drone system using an eight-bladed helicopter carrying a special bag with a spreading device.

"You have to be very careful how you handle the bugs. You have to store them and you have to cart them the correct way. And then when you're doing the mixing on site there's a bit of a technique to that as well," Mr Roy said.  It has been a very big learning curve for the inventor, from getting patents to obtaining the necessary licences from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Key to achieving success has been finding the Goldilocks spot in the sky — how high the drone should work above the crops.

Too high and not enough bugs get where they need to be, but too low, and there are too many.
Mr Roy has also researched the best time of day, humidity and wind.

But Mr Roy has had success on a number of farms including Merv Schiffke's strawberry operation at Bellmere, north of Brisbane.

"All your insects and stuff there, they can adapt quickly and get resistance to chemicals, but they can't get resistance to some little critter eating them," Mr Schiffke said.

Currently people spend hours spreading beneficial insects on crops by hand — a task accomplished in minutes by an unmanned aerial vehicle.

"What would take four or five people, two or three hours to put out over a couple of hectares, they can do in 10 minutes," Mr Schiffke said.

"So I think it's going to be very effective. Its going to be very uniform and I think what they're doing is going to be something the industry will use into the future."

Using drones could also have big implications for the rearing of beneficial pests, taking it from a labour intensive and expensive niche market to the mainstream.

"That's been a real hurdle for us. We get these great bio control agents and we get them out to our growers and then they often find it's a bit laborious you know," entomologist Dan Papacek, who runs the Bugs For Bugs insectary at Mundubbera.

"So the next step is going to be this step towards improved, mechanised release systems and that's a very exciting part of our way forward I believe," Mr Papacek said.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Beehive Design Revolution

Bees are fundamental to modern agriculture and horticulture.  Without them, few flowers would be pollinated and so fruit is produced........think vegetables, zucchini, melons, pumpkins, nut crops and fruits.

Beekeeping can mean getting stung, yet the system is critical for food production.

This story is truly about thinking out of the box!

Originally on the ABC web site it is worth reproducing and then reading by anyone connected with food.

It could be a major game changer for apiculture.


A highly successful crowdfunding campaign has seen Byron Bay inventor Cedar Anderson become a millionaire business owner overnight.

Stuart and Cedar Anderson invented the Flow Hive. Photo: ABC
What if you spend years quietly tinkering in a shed on your invention, to find you have to take the reins of a multi-million dollar company overnight?

That is the reality for Byron Bay inventor Cedar Anderson, after his beehive invention went gangbusters on a crowdfunding site.

“The idea of having a 9:00am to 5:00pm office job was just frightening. To me, freedom is being able to do what I’m inspired to do. It’s being able to work on inventions, whenever I have an idea,” Cedar says.

But nowadays, he dreams of only a nine-to-five existence as his new venture sees him working all hours, seven days a week.

But do not feel too sorry for him. He brought the whole thing on himself.

As a child of parents who founded a community in the hills near Nimbin, Cedar had a wild and free childhood in nature, nurturing his natural curiosity.

“We’d go and pull apart an old car and pull out the dashboard and get all the light globes out and the horn and take it back and connect it to car batteries and make the lights go and try and make an instrument out of a lot of car horns,” he said.

“I guess rather than sitting down watching the TV, we were figuring out how things work.”

Figuring out how things work became an obsession, helped by his dad Stuart, the Mr Fix-It guy of the community.
Cedar Anderson had a brainwave after his brother got stung. Photo: Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar/ABC

While tinkering ran in the family, so did beekeeping.

Cedar is a third-generation beekeeper and, as a kid, recalls pulling apart the family’s bee hives, wearing makeshift bee suits and rubber gloves gaffer-taped at the wrist.

He also remembers his brother Chris getting badly stung. A small light bulb went off in his young head. “There must be a better way,” Cedar said.

“Ten years ago Cedar had this idea, ‘come on, we must be able to get honey from a beehive without opening it, extracting and stressing the bees’,” Stuart recalled.

Tinkering in his bush shed and living off the smell of a honey-stained rag, Cedar began developing prototypes of what would eventually become the Flow Hive.

In the past few years, Stuart came onboard and solved a few major design problems.

It was a beautiful, sunny day when they walked down to the hives to see if the prototype would work.

 They turned the handle and honey started to flow.

“We couldnt believe it. We just sat back in disbelief laughing. We had invented the beekeeper’s dream.”

But how to get it to market? They may have been children of the rainforest, but they were also children of the digital revolution.

Cedar wanted to bypass the venture capital phase and take the Flow Hive directly to consumers via a crowdfunding campaign.

The genius of this idea was that people could place an advance order for the hive so Cedar and his team would know how many to manufacture and have the dollars in hand to make them.

Cedar’s sister Mirabai slaved away on a video:

She hoped to pique interest. From the moment the video appeared, things moved quickly.

“That video went viral overnight and had a couple of million views, and that really kicked us into high gear. The media interest was massive,” colleague Yari McGauley explained.

The astounding success of the crowdfunding campaign garnered even more attention.

Hoping to raise $US70,000 ($96,952) to buy a new tool for the factory, they flew past that target in a few minutes, reaching more than $US2 million in just one day.

At the close of the campaign eight weeks later, they had $US12.2 million in advance orders.

After the champagne wore off, they had a major headache — of the logistical kind.

They had to manufacture 24,000 orders and export them to more than 130 countries.

Cedar’s life changed dramatically. Never a consumer, he suddenly had to spend up big on the infrastructure to keep things running.

“All of a sudden they’re telling me I have to have an office and I dont want an office, that’s my worst nightmare, but okay, we need an office, and now they want me to go to the office,” Cedar laughed.

It’s a steep learning curve of how to manage a team of employees and negotiate a complex business — not to mention how to be a dad.

Cedar Anderson with partner Kylie Ezart, their son Jhali and father Stuart. Photo: Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar/ABC

To add to the general chaos, his partner Kylie Ezart gave birth to their son Jhali in the middle of the campaign.

Although Cedar admits to feeling stress for the first time in his life, his brother Gabe has been surprised by his demeanour.

“He’s just taking it in his stride and he’s quite calm and collected about it. He just works through what he needs to work through, it doesn’t seem to faze him at all.”

No one thinks their sudden wealth will change Cedar or Stuart.

Both of them are still driving their old utes around, running them on vegetable oil to save money and the environment.

“Yeah, I have changed,” Cedar laughs. “With a bit of coaching, I went and purchased my first new pair of shoes in 20 years. It was a bit of a dropping of the guard.”


available only until 9 November

Friday, October 23, 2015

Precision Pastoral Enterprises - Remote Sensing Plus!

This project is a serious attempt by Australian researchers to develop remote sensing technology that will dramatically improve knowledge and understanding and bring quantitative data to remote pastoral enterprises in Australia.......and maybe before too long to elsewhere around the world.

This is advertising a field day at remote Glenforrie station some 400 kms S of Karratha in the middle of WA.  The technology will be discussed and demonstrated.  Yes, it works!

This is a promo for the event........

The revolutionary Australian technology that combines pasture monitoring from space with automated mustering and weighing of cattle will go on full public show for the first time this month.

The Precision Pastoral Management Systems (PPMS) package saves labour, time and money, improves livestock productivity, increases sustainability and protects vegetation and wildlife in Australia’s – and potentially the world’s – arid rangelands and savannas. The full package will be demonstrated publicly for the first time at a field day at Glenflorrie Station in the remote WA Pilbara on 28 October.

Principal Research Leader Sally Leigo, of the NT Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, says: “PPMS is an integrated package of tools and technologies that automate the management of livestock remotely, muster and draft animals automatically, report on pasture condition and carrying capacity, reduce the pastoral workload and help to balance livestock numbers with feed availability to avoid overgrazing.

“It’s a game-changer for rangelands grazing because, for the first time, it puts hard data on cattle liveweights and feed availability in the hands of the manager, while reducing costs, lifting earnings and sustaining the pastoral landscape.” 

The technology was developed exclusively in Australia, with trials over several years on five real working Australian cattle stations and with full support from the pastoral grazing industry. “This end-user engagement ensures a product that graziers and pastoralists want and need, leading to a ready domestic market for the technology,” Sally says.

Details of the field day here

While Australia has been a leader in developing RFID technology for tagging cattle and more recently sheep, that technology was initially driven by biosecurity issues but it was not very long before it was realised that the data which could be gained had real world uses for property and herd  management.

Then a simple metering device for adding nutrients to water at water points points in pastoral lands was developed.

More R and bring this to where it is today.

More to come as well, when you add the known technology in the wings now [ or even on the wings ] .........

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Improving Germination Speed of Zoysia Seed - Seed Priming

When I first started research and development on zoysia the germination of the seed was a very tricky process.......low germination was common, especially with fresh seed.

Then a few scientists, including myself, began work to see if this could be improved.  Some work on related species showed that quite a few tropical grasses had tightly oppressed covers [glumes] around the seed [ caropysis], and that removal or damage that allowed moisture to penetrate improved germination.  Zoysia also exhibited this trait, and germination could be improved by piercing the glumes.  It worked in the lab, but a practical larger scale option was needed.

A process devised by a Chinese scientist showed that seed treatment with potassium hydroxide was effective in dramatically improving germination as it seemed to both soften the hard glumes and allow water to penetrate as well as overcome dormancy in the embryo.

This then became a commercial treatment, and is used today.

Light is also required and best germination in the laboratory is achieved with light [ and remember that seed is sown very close to the surface for that reason] -   no light and germination is much lower in the lab.

The other technology that relies on the inherent physiology and biochemistry of the germinating damp seed is a technique known as seed priming.  

Short term wetting of the seed starts the physiological and biochemical processes leading to germination........but if you then dry the seed along the way.....that process stops.  When you re-wet the seed, the process continues,  but restarts from the point you redried the seed, so the second time germination and seedling emergence process is much shorter.

For zoysia these processes are now being looked at  as a means to reduce the time from sowing to emergence, which can be normally up to 14 or more days, especially in cooler conditions.

You can prime the purchased seed ie the seed ready to germinate as having been treated to soften the glumes - overnight is currently recommended - in water.  Then the next day the damp seed is washed and spread out and dried in the light or even sunshine which provides a light stimulation.

This technique is now being recommended in the US for improving the time between sowing and seedling emergence.

While exact times and water temperatures are not stated in technology leaflets, the recommendation is a dark period soak eg overnight followed by draining and then drying out in light / warm sunshine.  I would be cautious about the temperature of tropical sunny days, but the principle seems clearcut - with this recommendation by one of the major seed producers of zoysia seed in the US.

Once the seed is dry, it is then sown normally, with an expected shorter time to germinate in the field. This potentially is a great boost in agronomic management options including irrigation, and allows seedlings to be established in the field much quicker.

We have not evaluated this here in Australia but the scientific principles are sound and broadly work for a range of other species, although timing of the soak period does vary among different species.

If you try the technique we would be interested in hearing of the experience.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Drone Delivers Mail in Singapore

As reported from Singapore - drone delivers mail!

Move over carrier pigeons. 

SingPost delivered the mail to Pulau Ubin [ an off shore island near Changi airport] using a drone, The Straits Times has reported. SingPost had help from the IDA to create this drone, and sent over a T-shirt and a letter from Lorong Halus to Pulau Ubin. 

This trial run took five minutes and covered about 2km. 

Friday, October 09, 2015

Humane Abattoirs?

Maybe a contradiction in terms, but improved animal welfare in abattoirs is a win-win situation.

Well treated animals before slaughter actually deliver better quality carcasses, as well as improved animal management and welfare.

One of the leaders to improve animal welfare in slaughterhouses has been Temple Grandin from the USA.  She is well  known for her work by those in beef production and the meat industry.

But just recently she has made it into The Economist magazine, an unlikely vehicle to be discussing animal welfare and abattoir design in light of improved animal management and outcomes.

It is a long article - and well worth reading as it does actually discuss some of the innovations that can improve animal welfare and abattoir performance.

See it here -

and think about how simple changes can improve meat quality next time you have a steak!

Some parts of the world do have a long road ahead for improvement, but many western country abattoirs are now making the changes that do really improve animal welfare before slaughter and these should offer some solace to all meat eaters that animal welfare does not have to be compromised in abattoirs. 

Remember that  "In her view, properly performed slaughter [ of cattle] is less cruel than a more natural death at the jaws of wolves"

Monday, October 05, 2015

Insects to Eat Styrofoam - Waste Problem Solved?

Could biology solve the problem of disposing of plastic waste?

It might just be the case according to a recent study at Stanford University.

Reporting is here -   along with some photos.

But in essence the larvae of mealworms can be raised on styrofoam!  Yes, styrofoam.

The world uses a lot of styrofoam each year with a large amount in simple, single use styrofoam cups for coffee and similar take away drinks.

I have personally observed the good old cockroach tuck into styofoam.........but this technology of raising insects on styrofoam seems such a simple option that would lend itself to mass production.

I just wonder though, at the real will to set something up.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Improve Your Irrigation Efficiency AND Save Water and $$

It is a broad generality that most home owners and commercial property managers over water both gardens and specially turf areas.  We are not speaking about the events around establishing the area where extra water may be needed, but once the area is established.

Ideally, water needs to be available at 100 - 150mm below the surface, and there are irrigation systems that deliver water to that specification eg KISSS systems  see

But there is usually a lot that can be done with existing overhead sprinkler systems before committing to a major retrofit.

Less frequent but longer irrigation periods are a first option, but often the period itself can be reduced.  And it is not set and forget either - adjust both of these as seasons change, with naturally more water required in hot dry periods than cooler and damp seasons.  And remember to irrigate early morning or early evening, when winds are lower as are temperatures.  Adjusting droplet size and pressure may also be possible and that will improve efficiency too.

And do not forget to adjust the watering systems to avoid watering the hard surfaces where possible.  Grass will not grow in concrete...........except weeds in cracks!

Even raising mowing height will help save water. 

Using a rainstop or similar device to override the irrigation turning on is a very sensible option, as this prevents scheduled irrigation occurring if there has been rain.  Surely it is sensible to not irrigate if it is not needed.  Rainstop is a commercial Australian product used in commercial systems, but there are proprietary systems from major commercial brands.

While these save money, there is a cost to fit them.

But the bigger advantage is the health improvements to your turf or garden areas - with the first and most notable change likely to be reduced sedges in turf areas, an outcome driven by the drier surface conditions that help reduce these problem weeds.  While sedges can be controlled with appropriate herbicides, they are not an instant fix [ maybe 12 -18 months to clean up an area] and really need to be used once irrigation regimes are adjusted, not before.

All of the above changes do not necessarily reduce the aesthetics of your lawn.  Even a small amount of slow release fertiliser can help by improving the root systemof the turf species and thus extracting more water from depth{"page":38,"issue_id":271411}

California is experiencing severe drought - somewhat similar to the experience in temperate Australia a few years ago, and this article [ link shown above] gives an overview of experiences there with improved irrigation management.

In north Australia with somewhere around 70% of water used outdoors, it is a very practical and relatively east option to save water used outdoors.  Give it a go!  Your garden and lawn area will benefit!