Tuesday, March 22, 2016

World Water Day - March 22 2016

March 22 is World Water Day in 2016.  Also being celebrated concurrently is World Wetlands Day.

In developed economies we do okay with water - even in dry regionssuch as Namibia and in dry times eg California at present.

But not everyone has equitable access to water.

Use water wisely, and avoid wastage.

Even monsoonal Australia where there is seasonal abundance followed by drought, has this year had a very poor monsoon, and ground water is likely to be poorly recharged, which will mean less water for horticulture and agriculture - the warnings are clear already.

Most take adequate water as a given...........that is NOT the case really, and there are serious warnings already about the supply of water around the world in future years.  For some, that is already the norm.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mosquitoes, Stormwater and Infrastructure - A Primer

Mosquitoes and other biting insects are a bit of a pest.  If living in the tropics they are a nuisance, as well as a vector of some serious diseases.  Zika virus is the newest one to hit the headlines, but there are plenty more.......and more serious too.

Locally in north Australia the more notable issues relate to Ross River Fever, Barmah Forest virus, Murray Valley Encephalitis as well as Dengue Fever and possibly Chikungunya Virus in some areas, Overseas in Asia, Dengue and Malaria can be of major concern.

Often the pesky biting is enough to cause problems, even without disease issues.

Standing shallow and still water can be a major haven for harbouring mosquitoes.

An article prepared for Stormwater magazine way back in 2002 is still relevant in providing ideas, guidelines and a reality check about water and mosquitoes.

It was prepared with the US situation first and centre of mind,  but is a relevant readable article for use in Australia too.  Information on insecticides is a bit dated but the concepts are useful to understand.

The link is here :


The other link below  refers to Zika virus details based on US data - although the primary carrier mosquito is not nominally present in Australia.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Zoysia Boost for Golf Courses and Fine Turf in the Tropics - Professional Support

For northern Australia the most effective direction to seek out better options for turf quality and performance might just be to head offshore to Asia.

Enormous improvements  in turf management are occurring in Asia especially Thailand and China, with the emphasis in China on the southern warmer areas, where year round turf growth is possible.  Zoysia is already the preferred grass for many sportsfields used for football in the region.

The stand out grass for Thailand is zoysia - in a number of flavours, while China may require a few options depending on location and altitude, but zoysia is in the species mix.

More recently - early in 2016 - the organisation that is the effective comptroller of all things golf - The Royal and Ancient organisation has been sponsoring a series of seminars around Asia to enhance course management, with a number of distinguished speakers both from within and outside of Asia.

Seminars have been held in Beijing, PRC and in Thailand, both in March 2016.

Both have some relevance to Australia, but the one in Thailand offers better guidance for areas of Australia that are north of  Brisbane or Perth, including Darwin and Cairns.

Zoysia turf gets a big plus for Thailand and may offer a lot of potential for these similar areas in Australia.  And that includes domestic use as well as commercial areas - sportfields, golf courses and other managed grass sites.

Zoysia is strong in a number of areas relevant to current directions of concern for turf management, offering less water and fertiliser use as well as reduced disease incidence.

Zoysia matrella was 22% more efficient in water use and 25% more efficient in N use than couch. It does not require as much water or nitrogen to produce a dense sward and many courses can be operated on much lower inputs.  However, potassium can be often required in areas where clippings are removed.

A case is also made for using tropical carpetgrass in densely shaded areas eg under trees where it continues to show how it is the stand out performer in shade.

A more detailed overview is available here - www.randa.org/Thailand and there are nine free downloads available for those interested in golf course management, with zoysia turf a major discussion point.

These offer some very thoughtful ideas for anyone involved in turf management across north Australia.

And of course we can assist you with professional support, more information and seed of some high quality seeded zoysia varieties - with Zenith outstanding  - which we offer,  a significant part of many of the newer improved sport turf areas in Thailand.  

[Unfortunately Compadre variety is currently unavailable in Australia - maybe it will be later in 2016].

Developing a Zenith football field 2015 at a Darwin school, sown by hydroseeding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Zenith Zoysia Seed - Plant Now.

This week and next week a monsoonal burst is expected across the north of Australia.  Warm weather is also persisting along the east coast as well on the west coast.

Potentially that is a suitable time to plant Zenith Zoysia seed, although some care with erosion management may be required, if storms are likely [ as always]. Planting over the next few weeks can jump start your lawn before the cooler weather.

We can supply high quality new season stock of Zenith zoysia seed, with a recent germination test above 85%.  

Call 0407 034 083 or email office@abovecapricorn.com.au for pricing.  While prices have risen [mainly due to exchange rate changes between US$ and A$], we are very price competitive when you consider the relatively low sowing rates of 0.5 - 0.75 kg  / 100 sq m that are recommended.

Zoysia from seed makes a great lawn in 8-12 weeks, at a very competitive price.

Zenith zoysia from seed at about 10 weeks from sowing.

Some Plants Can Fart

Some plants can fart. 

Researchers at the University of Albany in New York have discovered a defence mechanism in the roots of Mimosa pudica, the sensitive plant whose leaflets fold when touched, and is weedy throughout Australia's north and north east. 

Mimosa pudica flowers 

The roots are also touch-sensitive, releasing sulfurous odours from tiny, hairlike sacs dotted along the roots, sufficiently powerful to stink out a room. They’re even clever enough to tell what’s prodding them, as a finger touch always triggers the fart response but glass or metal objects don’t — useful in distinguishing predators from harmless objects. 

The stink bomb also may warn off competitive plants’ roots that grow too close. 

Closely related Acacia species are next to be studied for smelly behaviour.

I also wonder if the Mimosa pigra  plant  / tree - the Giant sensitive plant - is similarly endowed?

[ from Twig - Life magazine in the Weekend Australian of Feb 27 2016]

Monday, March 14, 2016

High Tech Agriculture in Singapore Grows

High-tech farmers cropping up

1 of 2

Sustenir Agriculture co-founders Benjamin Swan (top) and Martin Lavoo. Mr Swan (left) and Mr Lavoo showing off the produce from their high-tech vegetable farm in Admiralty. The farm maximises efficiency by growing crops in rows of vertically-stacked
Mr Swan (left) and Mr Lavoo showing off the produce from their high-tech vegetable farm in Admiralty. The farm maximises efficiency by growing crops in rows of vertically-stacked racks. The vegetables absorb light from LEDs, and nutrients are fed to them through tubes. Vegetables such as kale and arugula are grown at the farm.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Local farmers using high-yield methods to ramp up Singapore's food production capabilities

A new breed of farmer is appearing in Singapore.

They are using high-tech and high-yield methods to transform their work from back-breaking labour into lucrative businesses.

From running indoor vertical vegetable farms that grow crops in stacked layers, to raising fitter fish that are robust against aquatic diseases, farmers here are finding ways to overcome the limitations of traditional farming.

Sustenir Agriculture, for example, is an indoor farm which currently produces about 54 tonnes of vegetables a year - an output which its founders consider highly efficient for a 344 sq m space.

Grown in rolling racks less than 3m tall, the plants are packed tightly together, allowing for maximum light absorption. Their modular design means the racks can be moved around easily and the concept can be replicated elsewhere.  "Traditionally, when people look at vertical farms, they haven't been looking at them from an urban standpoint," said the farm's co- founder Martin Lavoo.
"Especially if they are farms of gigantic size, most of them are placed in the outskirts of the city or in relatively rural areas. We wanted to look at how we can put this in the middle of the city - say, Raffles Place - delivering straight into the heart of demand."

The farm's controlled conditions also allow them to grow imported varieties such as the Tuscan kale. "This means a lower carbon footprint - we won't have to air-freight them from the United States or Europe," said the other co-founder of Sustenir Agriculture, Mr Benjamin Swan.
Since 2014, the farm has been producing vegetables such as kale and arugula.
Sustenir is based in an industrial facility in Admiralty.

Its vegetables absorb light from LEDs and are tube-fed with nutrients while carbon dioxide comes through the air-conditioning ducts.

Before anyone can enter the area where plants are grown, they have to don a jumpsuit and take an air shower to remove dirt particles to ensure that the vegetables are not contaminated. They are grown at temperatures ranging from 14 to 22 deg C.

It takes about two weeks for the produce to grow before it is harvested - about half the time needed for outdoor farms to grow vegetables under normal conditions. It is then sold to restaurants.

While the vegetables sell for $19 per kilogram - about 10 per cent more than it would cost businesses to buy from wholesalers - both Mr Swan and Mr Lavoo say the quality is worth the price.
"The usability of our product is actually much higher because ours contain less stalk than those you see in supermarkets, for instance," said Mr Swan, adding that their vegetables can stay fresh for up to two weeks as they are locally produced.

According to figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) released last year, 10,848 tonnes of leafy vegetables consumed here in 2014 were produced locally - 12 per cent of Singapore's total vegetable consumption that year. This was up from 7 per cent in 2010, meeting the AVA's long- term target of 10 per cent.

Dr Jonatan A. Lassa, a Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, who researches food and environmental security issues, said that growing crops in a controlled environment can have several advantages, including a lower carbon footprint and less water wastage.

Both Mr Swan, 35, who used to work as a regional project manager for Citibank, and Mr Lavoo, 29, a former regional sales manager, said the concept of sustainability encouraged them to set up Sustenir Agriculture.  Half of the company's 688 sq m facility is currently unused and there are plans to grow spinach and strawberries.  "The beauty of vertical farming is that the multiple is infinite," said Mr Lavoo. "We can go as many storeys up as we like. The sky is literally the limit."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'High-tech farmers cropping up'. Print Edition | Subscribe

Friday, March 11, 2016

Panama Disease - An Update

Still a big story - the ongoing threat of Panama Disease across the world.

More here -http://www.scidev.net/global/farming/news/scientists-fight-deadly-banana-fungus.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=SciDevNewsletter&utm_campaign=international%20SciDev.Net%20update%3A%2029%20February%202016

Full story below  from www.scidev.net 

Scientists race to halt banana catastrophe

By Caterina Elizondo Lucci, Esther Nakkazi, Inga Vesper, Yao-Hua Law

Scientists in developing countries are scrambling to find a cure for a devastating fungus that threatens to wipe out the global banana trade and plunge millions of farmers into poverty.

Around the world, banana farmers are fighting a losing battle against Tropical Race 4, a soil fungus that kills Cavendish bananas, the only type grown for the international market. The disease was first spotted in the early 1990s in Malaysia, but has now started to wipe out crops in large parts of South-East Asia as well as in Africa and the Middle East. [1]

The Tropical Race 4 pathogen, a new strain of what is known as Panama disease, escaped from Asia in 2013. By 2015, it had infected plantations in Jordan and Mozambique, as well as Lebanon and Pakistan, with many scientists fearing an epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. [2]

“The impact on affected farms is immense, with significant losses of plants and the inability to eradicate the fungus from affected fields,” says Altus Viljoen, a plant pathologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The disease can be devastating for small banana farmers, who provide much of the 17 million tonnes of Cavendish bananas traded every year — mostly to rich countries where the fruit is popular as a healthy snack. [3] Bananas are also a staple food in many tropical countries, and the main source of protein for more than half a billion people around the world.

Tropical Race 4, a variant of the Fusarium oxysporum fungus, is transmitted by infected plant matter, but also from the clothes and shoes of plantation workers.


In Indonesia and Malaysia, the fungus wiped out more than 5,000 hectares of Cavendish bananas in 1992/93, says Agustin Molina, who leads the banana research efforts in the Asia-Pacific region for Bioversity International, a global research organisation.

“The banana export trade in Malaysia and Indonesia failed to prosper because of Tropical Race 4,” he says. “Now tens of thousands of banana farmers in the Philippines, China and Taiwan could be affected.”

Molina and his team try to work with local farmers to raise awareness of the threat and contain the spread of the fungus. He advocates footbaths, regulating the movement of workers and tough quarantines for seedlings and other imported plant matter.

But despite such efforts, Tropical Race 4 has crossed the Pacific Ocean. With the fungus now in Mozambique, other East African countries largely dependent on Cavendish exports — such as Uganda — fear for their crop.

“If nothing is done in the next ten years, billions of dollars worth of crop will be lost,” says Enoch Kikulwe, an associate scientist at Bioversity International’s Uganda branch.

The reason for Tropical Race 4’s rapid spread is globalised trade (see chart 1). Uganda, the world’s third largest banana producer, imports second-hand trucks and farming equipment from China, but these are rarely disinfected before shipping — putting the country at risk. Likewise, Sudan exports bananas by lorry to Lebanon and Oman, while seedlings grown in Jordan or Pakistan are sold to Mozambique.

Credit: Panamadisease.org

Once the fungus has infected a plant it spreads to its xylem, the tubular tissue that transports water around the plant from the roots. These tubes get clogged, and the plant wilts and dies. The fungus continues to feed on the dead tissue and releases spores that enter the soil and attach to any material that comes in contact with the plant.

Sub-Saharan African scientists are stepping up research on the disease in the hope of preventing its continuing spread. But funding is scarce and local governments are not yet sufficiently aware, says Eldad Karamura, regional coordinator at the Banana Research Network for Eastern and Southern Africa.

“We are threatened,” he says. “We need greater awareness of the problem by policymakers and to train more scientists and buy equipment,” he adds.

At present, a laboratory at Stellenbosch University in South Africa is the only one in Sub-Saharan Africa that can test for the presence of Tropical Race 4. A Ugandan expert committee on the disease says the country could do testing too, but would need US$2.5 million to set up test facilities. More long-term plans could include research both on genetic modification to produce fungus-resistant plants and on other banana species to replace Cavendish in international markets, the committee says.

Karamura has seen first hand the devastation that Tropical Race 4 causes on banana plantations. “When I visit farms in Mozambique or Asia, I don’t come back to Uganda with my shoes — I leave them there,” he says.

However, the fungus poses the greatest threat to Latin America and the Caribbean. The region is responsible for 25 per cent of bananas grown worldwide, and 80 per cent of global exports. But local farmers are still reeling from a previous infection, this one caused by Tropical Race 1, the first instance of Panama disease.

Panama disease emerged in the 1950s in Latin America, nearly wiping out global trade in the Gros Michel banana, a predecessor to the Cavendish. As with Tropical Race 4, the fungus’s spores can survive in the soil for decades.

To get a sense of the potential impact of Tropical Race4 if it were allowed to spread globally, it helps to talk to Javier Chinchilla, a small-scale farmer of Gros Michel bananas in Costa Rica. He is sticking with the less popular banana type as he cannot compete with larger Cavendish growers.

The ghost of Panama disease haunts him still — his farm used to have 30,000 banana plants in the 1980s, but now he is down to 500.

“We sell Gros Michel at the farmer’s market, but it is increasingly difficult to get good crops” because the fungus lingers in the soil, Chinchilla explains. “My two brothers had to go out of business. Now it’s just me, my father and six other farmers that continue. But our families depend on our work with bananas.”

Chinchilla tries to keep his farm afloat by planting coffee, squash and maize in between the banana plants. But like thousands of other farmers in the region, he has abandoned large swathes of land to Panama disease.

“Production is, to some extent, nomadic,” says Ana Cecilia Tapia, an agronomist at the University of Costa Rica. “Farmers move their farms when a patch is contaminated, since there are no technological resources to attack the disease.”

The experiences of Phillippine banana growers with Panama disease

Faced with the high risk of Tropical Race 4 infection, the Central America-based International Regional Organization for Agricultural Health (OIRSA) has brought together researchers and policymakers.

The group tries to mobilise funds for research and preparation, such as better monitoring of crops. “We also coordinate actions with regional plant protection organisations and set up specialised groups for the care and handling of Tropical Race 4,” says Carlos Ramón Urías, OIRSA’s regional director for plant health.

The group advocates moving away from the current heavy reliance on Cavendish. There are almost 1,000 different banana species. If more of these were grown for sale, farmers would be less affected by the disease’s arrival, while the fungus would also have less chance to spread.

But the preferences of consumers, mostly in Europe and the United States, restrict these options. The Cavendish, which makes up 47 per cent of all bananas grown globally, is what many customers think the fruit should be: large, long and yellow. Because of this, farmers such as Chinchilla fear buyers will snub local varieties, which might be smaller, savoury or even red or green.

With little international action, the responsibility to find a solution, or at least a coping strategy, for Tropical Race 4 lies with scientists from the global South. [4] Chinchilla is working with researchers from the University of Costa Rica in the hope that it will help his farm survive the fungus, should it hit Central America.

“We keep growing bananas,” he says. “By necessity, but also because we have given the researchers a vote of faith. They want to find a cure.”


[1] A. B. Molina and others Recent occurrence of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 in Asia in ISHS-ProMusa Symposium on Recent Advances in Banana Crop Protection for Sustainable Production and Improved Livelihoods (ISHS, 2007)
[2] N. Ordoñez and others First report of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 causing Panama disease in Cavendish bananas in Pakistan and Lebanon (Plant Disease, January 2016)
[3] Gianluca Gondolini Fighting banana diseases — the end of Cavendish? (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 5 February 2014)
[4] S. Vellema and others The threat of Panama disease to the role of banana and plantain in realising food security: linking local realities to a global problem (Wageningen University, 2013)

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Zenith Zoysia Seed - NEW STOCK AVAILABLE

Zenith zoysia sown by seed,-  Darwin
At long last - new stock of zoysia seed is available.

Yes - it is March 2016 and for those in cooler regions with winter approaching here in Australia, it may or may not be too late for now.

I am a bit ambivalent about "to sow or not to sow" - mainly due to the BOM forecast for the next 2-3 months still strongly forecasting warmer than normal conditions.  That augers well for seed sowing, but it will cool eventually.

For areas say Sydney and north, or Perth - provided sowing is before the end of March, it is likely that you could establish an area satisfactorily.  For those areas in eg Melbourne, I am more wary.  Depends on exactly where you are and if the area does not get all that cool anyway.  If not in that group - might be best to wait for spring.

For areas north of Brisbane, or north of Perth, then there is still at least 2 months [ possibly longer]in which sowing /developing a new lawn is likely to be okay.  This includes Darwin, Townsville, Port Headland etc.  BUT - lawn growth will slow as cooler weather and shorter days develop in June and July.  That is inevitable, but growth will pick up sharply from August, with the benefit of the already sown area able to quickly develop as the warmer conditions occur.

We caution about sowing after April in Australia.  Technically it is warm enough in the north, but with short days, turf development is quite slow, and a lot of water is needed over the dry periods in the middle of the year.  Sometimes it is better to wait until August.

The new turf seed stock is very high quality, with germination near 90% when tested recently.  Unfortunately the only variety available is Zenith, with stock of Compadre still unavailable in the USA, and may not be available until much later in the year.

Unfortunately prices have had to increase due to high demand for Zenith in US markets as well as in Asia, and the change in exchange rate between the US$ and A$.  Please contact us for more details.

We still have information leaflets on sowing and maintenance available for interested clients.  

Care and attention to detail at sowing is important in ensuring a good outcome from using zoysia seed.  We also now have more information and advice on weed management issues for seed sown zoysia turf. Not all weed problems can be rectified, but many can be reduced, and often cured.  Still the best cure, is a clean seed bed before sowing!

Zoysia from seed offers a great turf with low maintenance and low nutrition demands.  It is the turf of choice still in many football [ soccer] stadiums in Asia including Japan, and increasingly on golf fairways and sport fields [eg Thailand, Singapore, Laos, China] around warmer parts of the world.  And it can be a great choice for your lawn too.

For more information or seed for your new lawn contact  - office@abovecapricorn.com.au  [ not set as a link to avoid spamming]