“Jimmy’s GM Food Fight”

Anyone who is interested in the GM debate or would like more information I suggest watching “Jimmy’s GM Food Fight”. It takes a non bias scientific look at the Genetic Modification of crops, their use and societies view on them.

http://www.documentarytube.com/videos/jimmys-gm-food-fight

Weed Resistance

Weed Resistance 

I recently watched the Vice report “Saviour Seeds” on GMO cropping (On HBO Season 3 Episode 9), during the program they talked to some farmers from Paraguay on their experiences with growing Roundup Ready soy beans. Their main issue with the product was the issue of weeds resistance that they stated was caused by the excessive use of  glyphosate (The herbicide commonly referred to as Roundup). Personally I thought that the story was servilely one sided and heavily bias but even so weed resistance is unfortunately a real everyday issue for many farmers around the world including Australian farmers.

But are GMO crops to blame?.

In short the answer is NO, while in some countries it could be argued that the misuse of glyphosate in Roundup Ready crops has helped to increase the prevalence of weed resistance it is unfortunately a problem that affects many areas in Australia and around world including those that have never been touched by GM cropping. So what causes herbicide resistance?

Herbicide resistance occurs when a plant a natural mutation in the plant allows it to become immune to the mode of action (the bit that kills the weed) in a herbicide. If the the same herbicide is applied in further sprays this plant may then survive allowing it to set seed, leaving viable seed in the soil for up to 10 years. Resistant plants then germinate from the seeds and if a chemical with the same mode of action is used these plants will set seed and possibly spread. The situation can then be made worst if the producer changes to chemical with another mode of action using it religiously until the weed becomes resistant to it as well. The situation is now that bad in some parts of Western Australia that weeds are resistant to several modes of action almost eliminating chemical options.

In order to combat this issue the producers have had to adopt Integrated Weed Management (IWM) strategies in order to help manage and reduce the problem. Common features in many IWM strategies include rotating modes of action, the double knock strategy and non chemical control methods.

Rotating modes of action involves using different types of chemicals that will still kill the weeds but will use a different method in order to prevent a resistance occurring to one type of mode of action. The different mode of actions can be determined by checking the label to see its group.

The double knock strategy is similar to rotating modes of action and involves making at least two passes over a field. The first pass is down with a chemical using one mode of action before a second pass is done with another chemical that uses a different mode of action in order to knock out any weeds that may of been left by the first pass. This method is becoming increasingly popular when used in conjunction with WeedSeeker technology that identifies weeds in a paddock and only sprays them instead of doing a blanket spray over the entire paddock. This has caused a massive reduction in the amount of chemical used on farm and the operating cost allowing many more expensive chemicals from different groups to be a cost effective option.

Finally the last control method is the non-chemical mechanical control which can take many forms from the simple to the more elaborate. Strategic ploughing is one of mechanical options available as it is able to physically destroy the plant in the fallowed paddock working under the simple idea that no weed can develop resistance to steel. Other methods include trying to control the seed bank though using machinery like seed crushers that a pulled behind the harvester to windrowing stubble in a way that allows it to be burned destroying any seeds.

Overall weed resistance is a problem that effects the entire cropping industry and not some accidental by-product of a RoundUp ready cropping system, it is also a problem that can be managed, prevented and avoided through care full management. I’d like to finish this discussion on Weed Resistance by asking two questions on the Vice program.

1. VICE News​ claims that farmers could use a range of herbicides before the introduction of RoundUp Ready (RR) soy beans in order to prevent and control resistance. But before RR soy beans you couldn’t spray any herbicide in crop and could therefore only spray during fallow. So why aren’t they still rotating their herbicides during fallow to control and prevent resistant weeds along with weeds in general while using glyphosate to control weeds in crop as recomended?

2. If the Paraguay’s farmers are so unhappy with the product why do they still use it and not revert back to conventional seed? The program stated that the majority of Paraguay’s farmers used RR soy beans but not all farmers do meaning there are still conventional seeds on the market, so why not switch back?

On a side note…….

The show also commented on how the how the UN has recently found glyphosate to be “probably carcinogenic” which in all fairness they have. But in this day and age everything seems to cause cancer so I thought I’d research things that are proven to cause cancer and are not just “probably carcinogenic”. According the American Cancer Institute there are many many things that can and will cause cancer however I have chosen to just list a few everyday materials that are Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans such as:

  • Alcohol (I know, I was disappointed as well)
  • Coal
  • Tar
  • Engine exhaust
  • Leather Dust
  • Mineral oils
  • Salted fish
  • The Sun (Solar/UV Radiation)
  • Soot
  • Wood Dust
  • Tobacco/Tobacco Smoke

 

Just to lighten things up here’s a song that a South Australian agronomist and farmer wrote about weed resistance and is called the Wild Radish Song.

Rise of City Farm?

I was recently at the National Youth Conference in Canberra on the agricultural work group, our role was to discuss and develop agricultural policy from the preceptive of Australia’s youth. The work group brought together individuals from a range of backgrounds who all a passion for agriculture and wanted to help feed the world into the future. Amongst the many topics that were discussed at the conference one of the ideas that came out of the conference was the concept of the city farm. This is not my idea and its not even a new idea but I believe it is a good one that hasn’t been looked at strongly enough and will have a great potential in feeding the looming world population of nine billion by 2050.

Firstly though I would like to clear up want my definition of a “city farm” is as the definition of what a city farm is was something that we had some trouble with. By my definition a city farm is commercial scale operation in an urban area that produces food hydroponics and aquaculture or a combination of the two. This differs from other definition that many other assumed, that definition being a network of community and roof top gardens. While I have no problem with these smaller community projects they are not a realistic method of feeding the world’s rapidly rising population.

The need for new and innovate ways to produce more food for the world using less land and inputs is becoming more apparent as issues like climate variability, mining and urban encroachment take their toll. We will need to produce more food with less land and less water in order feed the world, I also believe that we will need to be closer to our markets in the future as fuel prices continue to rise making cost effective transport more difficult. In order to achieve this I believe that we will need city farms that can produce large scale commercial crops.

Closed hydroponics have been shown to recycle over 95% of the water in the system (Practical Hydroponics and Greenhouses) as there is no evaporation and no leaching so the only water that is lost is the water used by the plants. It also uses 30-40% less fertiliser than regular cropping (Woolworths Article) as the nutrients are in a contained system and like the water only nutrients used by the plants are removed from the system. These systems would be much efficient in terms of water and nutrients allowing much more food to be produced from the same inputs.

I believe that aquaculture also has a role to play in the future of city farming as fish can be grown indoors in large tanks. While there is currently some concern about the sustainability of fish farming due the fish-meal comprising of mainly wild caught fish I believe that they could be fed on grubs and larvae that are cultured in waste products. The two systems may even be linked together into a system called “aquaponics”

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics where the waste water from the fish tanks is filtered though the hydroponic system allowing the plants to feed on the waste from the fish. This closed system again works to save water and nutrients through limiting loss to the outside environment so all that is lost is what the plants and fish use.

I understand that in order to build and run one of these city farms the costs will be huge and there will be a massive need for labour. But there is already commercial  aquaculture and hydroponic farms so I know its possible and while I am unaware of any in Australia there is already farms overseas using aquaponic technology.

Will it be for me?

Probably not, I much prefer the open spaces of the country to the crowded concrete jungle and view from the tractor cab to the bumper to bumper grid lock. I believe that there will still be a place for conventional farming in the future but I also believe this is something that has the potential to feed the worlds ever growing population.

 

To read an article in “The Land” on city farms click here

And to read about the worlds largest vertical farm click here

Are these the farms of tomorrow?

 

A New Year

2014 has drawn to an end and 2015 has started, I rang in the New Year the only way I know how, starting siphons to irrigate cotton a tradition I have kept up for the last six years. So what will the New Year hold for Agriculture?

First up I think we are hoping for rain, with a large portion of the country being drought declared and a rural debt crisis looming widespread, continued rain is needed desperately. While a subsidy free industry is important for an efficient and financially sustainable farming sector a drought like the one that we are currently experiencing can send many viable farms under and foreclosure isn’t a good option for anyone including the banks. As a sudden infux of farms on the market would drop land values impacting on surviving farms as well. Aside from rain the only way that I can see out of this situation is through low interest loans from the government. So my first hope for the New Year is widespread rain or failing that the continuation of low interest loans.

Secondly I would like to see the strengthening of the farm trespass and immediate reporting of video of animal abuse laws. As animal activists have not only continued to illegally break into and survey farms but some have also upped their agenda to sabotage, such as the recent example in Western Australia where anti live export activists burnt out a truck and cut the break lines on two other trucks. While I can’t imagine that tougher laws will deter these people that are acting out of ideology but it they are caught it may keep them off the streets for a while longer. The immediate reporting of genuine animal abuses would not only be a better outcome animals in distress but would stop groups holding onto emotive footage to use at times of political advantage.

My third desire for 2015 would be the increase of Australian Agriculture’s voice, we have a great story to tell and each year we are connecting with Australians but there is still more to be done. We are still being confronted with waves of misinformation that mislead the general public and fail to accurately portray the image of Australian Agriculture. It is up to us as an industry to tell the story of Australian Agriculture, who we are, what we do, why we do it and fight emotion with fact.

I hope we can achieve these things in 2015, telling the story of Australian Agriculture while getting tough on the illegal activities of activists, but most of all I hope that it rains and the drought stricken farmers get the relief that they need.

Happy New Year to all 🙂

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NZ Irrigation – Part 4

When we reached the next farm couple of kilometres down from Mike’s property we immediately noticed the centre pivot on either side of the driveway. Manager Craig Wellington met us as we got off the bus and immediately blew us away with some incredible production statistics for the 1200ha property.

Each year they finish off 30,000 lambs and 1,000 Friesian bulls while also cropping a variety of high value crops on their 360ha of irrigated cultivation including tomatoes, sweet peas, maize and sweet corn. The tour was just blown away by those statistics and I think it just goes to show how productive New Zealand and Heretaunga Plain can be, along with how well it is managed by Craig.

As the tour group recovered from the shock of those statistics we ventured out into the field to look at one of the swing arm centre pivots. This type of centre pivot works in the same way as most other centre pivots, in that it followers a buried wire to find its way around the field. The main difference is that instead of it being one rigid structure the end section has the ability to bend or turn. The swing arm on the end of the pivot allows the centre pivot to get into the corners of a field and cover more area. This means that instead of getting the classic circle shaped field when using centre pivots you’ll get a rectangle with rounded corners, this allows Craig to use more of the field’s potential and have less wasted land. The other interesting feature of Craig’s centre pivot system was that if it breaks down the pivot would automatically call his mobile phone to let him know something was wrong.

Classic Centre Pivot (Taken near Inverell NSW)

Classic Centre Pivot (Taken near Inverell NSW)

Leaving the centre pivot we walked over to Craig’s dam via the main homestead’s extensive and impressive gardens. The garden just seemed to keep stretching on as we wound our way through it, the sheer variety and volume of plants was just staggering. We left the garden simply stunned by its sheer size and by the thought that there was just one gardener who was able to maintain all of it.

The Swing Arm Centre Pivot

The Swing Arm Centre Pivot

Craig’s dam wasn’t as big as his neighbours but his was built first and was one of the first properties in the area to have a dam constructed and shares a lot of similarities with Mike’s dam. The dam was built before Craig took over as manager and like Mike’s dam it was built out of a need to increase the farms water security to ensure the survival of their high value crops. Craig’s dam is also filled by water that is gravity fed along a channel from the nearby river. Unlike Mike’s dam Craig’s was built onto to side of a hill instead of between two spurs meaning it took more time and cost more to build with about 1km of wall needing to be constructed.  While Craig’s dam may be smaller than  his neighbours it is more than capable of meeting his irrigation needs and has been able to easily see them through their longest water ban so far.

Craig's Dam

Craig’s Dam

Leaving the dam we walked back via another part of the garden and boarded the bus for Napier, this trip had been an incredible experience and it was great to see how things were done across the ditch.

Catch Up

Its been almost a month since my last post and apologise as its been a bit of a hectic month with uni exams, a Young Farming Champions (YFC) workshop, work and now I’m on holidays until Saturday, so its given me some time to catch up on a few things.

When I wrote my last Animals Australia were about to launch their Coles bags campaign and were attempting to create a few twitter  storms around Live Export without success. The bags were pulled from sale three days into the campaign by Coles after they received continued  pressure from the National Farmers Federation, suppliers and farmers. While this was a achievement for those who were opposed to the campaign, Animals Australia went onto attack the National Farmers Federation as well as Australian farmers describing them as bullies who against improving animal welfare. Rumours have also been circulating that Animals Australia made a small fortune out of the failed campaign as their regular donors tripled their donations.

I find it ironic but unsurprising that Animals Australia would label farmers and the National Farmers Federation as bullies seems as they were the ones who brought the Live Export trade that to a stop overnight, cutting off the main source of income as well as the foundation of many rural communities. I believe it just shows how disconnected some people are for them to try and shame us for supporting our industry and trying to prevent them from funding another attack on Australian agriculture. Animals Australia also went on to claim that our opposition to their campaign meant that we were supporting battery hens and sow stalls, however its the bigger picture that we are opposed to. We did not want to see a major retailer supporting a group that actively works to undermine Australian farmers. While they claim that they want to improve animal welfare standards yet their actions and website seem to contradict that claim, for start they are a lobby group and do nothing to physically help any animals. The other issue is that they don’t say there’s some things here we don’t agree with you on so lets work together to improve this, instead they just say we don’t like this lets ban it. We believe that this is not productive and will only provide people from non agricultural background with the wrong information about farming practices.

So to anyone who may be supporter of Animals Australia or those who just want to help out and contribute to welfare of livestock and the farmers who care for them, then I would suggest that you get on board with Aussie Helper “Buy A Bale” campaign. Go to www.buyabale.com.au where you can donate money towards the purchase of feed, diesel as well as gift cards to help make the lives of those doing it tough a bit more bearable.

Anyway in other news the picker went into the last of the dry land cotton this week, the crop had been starved of rain early in the season but really caught up late in the season, very late as it turned out but its still a great looking dry land crop. Hopefully I’ll have written another post by next week on the first YFC workshop.

Up’s and Down’s

Its been a up and down week for Australian agriculture in media, with #supportliveex trending on twitter for almost twenty four hours while Animals Australia #LiveExShame tag failing to get a mention being the up for the week. Unfortunately Animals Australia also announced this week that Coles will be selling their “Make It Possible” bags, leaving Australian farmers frustrated at Coles to say the least.

On Wednesday night a couple of ladies on twitter found out that the keyboard warriors at Animals Australia were planning a twitter storm with the tag #LiveExShame, they quicklydecided that two can play at that game and launched their own twitter campaign with the tag #supportliveex; within seconds my twitter feed was soon full of tweets from people showing their support for live export and the farmers that depend on it. With such a great response it came as no surprise that #supportliveex was soon trending on twitter reaching number three on the list, unfortunately we were not able to remove bieber from the top of the list but at the same time #LiveExShame hadn’t made a appearance. By this stage it was getting late so I went to bed with the assumption that it would be all over by the morning, however the next morning it was still trending and continued to trend throughout the day and into the evening. The sheer length of time that #supportliveex was trending just goes to show how many people support Australian farmers and how they will not be swayed by the campaigns of groups like Animals Australia.

Twitter Trends

Animals Australia and Coles have announced that as of the 3rd of June Coles will be stocking Animals Australia’s “Make It Possible” grocery bags, leaving farmers and supporters of Australian agriculture frustrated with grocery giant to say the least. It is widely viewed that the funds generated from the sale of these bags will only go back into campaigns against Australian farmers instead of being used to make a real difference to a worthy cause such as helping drought affected farmers and their livestock. These views are well founded as only a quick glance at their website will show you their many campaigns against Australian agriculture and their relentless push for a vegan Australia.

The biggest concern about Animals Australia is that it is a lobby group and a very effective one; it does not run any shelters, give drought assistance or provide either time or money to help improve the conditions of animals in need such as those in drought affected Queensland. Instead they aim to influence legislation and promote a vegan Australia and they are very good at what they do. Animals Australia in conjunction with Four Corners where able to shut down a entire industry overnight through the use of images that were simply designed to generate a emotional response. The industry still hasn’t fully recovered from this ban, leading to a domestic oversupply, reduced prices and a build up of cattle on Australian farms enhancing problems such as the current Queensland drought, meaning that the lack of foresight by Animals Australia has only created animal welfare and environmental problems.

Their campaign against live export is not their only flawed policy, they have many (to many for me to write about) including their support of the protection of feral animals; they believe that because humans brought them to Australia we are responsible for their welfare and attempts should only be made to remove them if it is proven that they are over populated and a non lethal control is used. Feral animals have a hugely negative effect on the environment, native animals and of course farmers, so trying to protect them would only be counter productive to other environmental works and attempts at regenerating native species.

Coles decision to work with Animals Australia will only work to worsen already frosty relations between farmers and the giant, hopefully they will soon realise the error of their way and cease the sale of these bags, I know I’ll be shopping at Woolies now. For more information on the problems that Animals Australia causes farmers read “Animals Australia – The Wolf Amongst the Sheep“. Please feel free to comment and leave your thoughts and opinions on either Coles and Animals Australia or the social media campaign on twitter.

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A sense of humour always helps