Intercollegiate Meat Judging Part 2

On Wednesday we had the official opening in the morning before the days lectures started, first up was a overview of the Australian Meat Industry by Ben Thomas from MLA before a introduction into meat science by Dr Peter McGilchrist from the MLA and a talk on southern lamb production by Tom Bull from Lambpro. Following the mid-morning break we received a talk on research opportunities in the meat industry from Dr Alex Ball and a talk on the pork processing sector from Professor Robert van Barneveld from the Pork CRC where he asked a question that really got us thinking ” Can you name another industry where the consumer is trying to push it back two hundred years?” This question got us thinking about future challenges and how we are meant to balance consumer demands with the practicalities of feeding the world.

After lunch we spilt into groups and attended a range of workshops including  one on livestock marketing and the importance of market specs given by Delta Ag, The workshops also covered flavour and MSA testing of primals as well as one on lamb carcase yield where the difference in profit of two carcasses was worked out. But what I thought was the most interesting demonstration was the workshop on value adding through muscle seaming, this work shop showed us how to extract tender muscles from otherwise not so tender primals. This workshop was quite a display and I only wish that I could remember the techniques used better than I can as it all looked quite good. That night we had dinner a great dinner at the Wagga RSL thanks to Murray Valley Pork.

Our first lecture on Thursday was by Andrina and Lachlan Graham from Argyle Prestige meats and was about the vertical integration of their business, as they not only grow the livestock but slaughter, process and market as well. Tess Herbert from ALFA then spoke about beef feedlotting industry and Grant Garey from Teys Australia spoke about the beef processing sector. After the morning break we were told about the lamb processing sector by Paul Leonard from Thomas Foods International before gaining a insight into what it is like to supply the world largest food service operator, McDonald’s. This interesting and informative talk was given by Andrew Brazier from MAC, McDonald’s meat supplier.

The workshops after lunch were training sessions for the different types of judging we would have to complete over the next few days, this included pork carcases and primals where the visitors from Texas show’d haw to judge pork primals. Other categories that we went over included judging lamb carcases, identification of primals and retail cuts, MSA eating quality class and how to effectively write out our reasoning in the written reasons class. Dinner that night was again at the RSL and sponsored by AAco.

On Friday morning we received a lecture on live export and the animal welfare improvements that are occurring in the industry while we were having having breakfast. After breakfast we rotated through the careers expo, a workshop on interview and resume skills as well a workshop on ways agriculture could meet environmental challenges and reduce our carbon footprint.

After lunch the competition began with the small stock competition beginning, the small stock competition involved judging lamb and pork carcasses, a retail cuts class and a written reasons class. This seemed to go alright but only time would tell, after this we again had dinner at the RSL eating a wonderfully delicious lamb rack supplied by sponsors.

Then at 6am on Saturday morning the main competition began as we arrived at the abattoirs for our beef judging competition.  We were in the chillers from 7:30 through to 11:00 completing primal judging, pricing classes, eating quality for both domestic and export beef. By the end of the day we had three members of team UNE in the top ten and moving on to the next round that is still to come in Brisbane.

The 2013 ICMJ competition was a great experience and I look forward to competing next year, I would like to thank our coaches from UNE for taking us there and Teys Cargill for the warm jackets that we wore into the chillers.

 

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Intercollegiate Meat Judging Part 1

The morning frost numbed my fingers as I try’d to open the torno cover on the back my of my ute to get the gumboots out that I would need to be able to enter the Cargill Teys Wagga abattoir later in week. By 6am on this frosty Armidale Monday morning everyone had gathered in the car park between the colleges, the bags were packed into the trailer, the  bus was loaded and we were off for the 2013 Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) competition in Wagga Wagga.

The ICMJ is held each year and draws people from all over Australian and the world and while its primary purpose is a competition to see how well students are judging carcasses on there eating quality, profitability and pricing. There are also a series of talks during the week covering the different area’s of the Australian meat industry such as Pork, Lamb, Beef and the retailers perspective.

We arrived Monday night had a good dinner at the pub then went back to Charles Sturt University (CSU) where we were staying. The next morning we had a quick breakfast at Maccas before heading out to the abattoir for a tour of the boning room and to practice judging on the carcasses in the chillers. We were lucky enough to have the “Young Farming Champion” Jasmine Nixon give us the tour of the plant and the sheer size of boning room just blew us all away.

After touring the boning room and the chillers we went to have a look at the a their water treatment plant behind the abattoir where we were able to see the various stages of how the water was processed. The first stage of the process was the anaerobic ponds where bacteria helped to break down minerals and waste in the water while tarps covering the top  of the ponds collected the methane that was emitted, this was then burnt of to cut emissions. However they do have a plan to either turn it into put in place a electrical generator or use it to heat their boiler. The next stage of the process was the aerobic pond where the water was aerated to help to further break down wastes and purify the water, after this the water is either used to wash down holding yards, used in irrigation or discharged to the council facility for further treatment. This process also creates a lot of sludge that needs to be dealt with so it is extracted from the ponds and is dried by having the water forced out of it by a press before being collected by a person who turns it into compost for there own private use.

After visiting the abattoir we went to Knight’s Butchery in Wagga where we were shown around their shop and were able to learn how they operated as well as the importance of value adding. Knights meats has a range of product lines including their “wholesale” meats which were like the packaged meat that you buy off the shelf at Woolworths, there was also their value added section and their deli. This was a great part of trip and we all learned a great deal from it.

Later that night we had the meet and greet dinner at CSU and were able to meet the wide range people of people that were at the ICMJ. People had come from all over Australia, their were two teams from the USA and teams from South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Pakistan as well as person from Zambia who was with the Adelaide University team. These were a great bunch people and it was great to get to know them better as the week went on. We were soon in bed eager for the following days lectures.

As it was a long week and much was done this is just part one of a two part post, I’ll hopefully have the second part up by Sunday.

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Defoliation

By now most most cotton producers have finished defoliating their crops, so what is defoliation in cotton and how is it done.

Defoliation is the process where leaves are removed from the cotton plant in order to allow for effective picking, as well as lowering the risk of boll rot, it also promotes even plant development and allows for earlier picking. This achieved through the aerial application of a chemical onto crop, the chemical works upsetting the hormone balance in the leaves of the plant causing the abscission process to begin. The abscission process involves creating an imbalance in hormones and enzymes that cause the cell walls to dissolve causing the leaf to fall off, however if too much chemical is applied to the crop the leaf may die before it falls off leaving it stuck to the plant. To minimize this problem defoliants are often applied in two lots with the first application is to remove the upper canopy and the second application to remove the lower canopy.  There are other factors that can affect the how well defoliation works.

Defoliated cotton on the right next to non-defoliated cotton on the left

For defoliation to work effectively a least seventy percent of the cotton bolls should be cracked, there should be no new leaf growth, most of the nitrogen in the plant and soil has been used up and the application needs to be applied on a warm sunny day. If these these conditions are not met it the poor level of defoliation can cause stuck leaves leading to staining of the cotton and high level of trash.

The plane that that is most often used in Australia to apply the defoliants to the crop is the Air Tractor, while this remarkable plane is mainly used in agriculture different versions of them are also used for fighting fires, aerial surveillance and even aerial attack. They use GPS technology to accurately and evenly apply chemicals to the crop, this helps to avoid the overlapping of sprays and excessive chemical usage.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below, hopefully if the weather holds out I will be able to write about cotton picking next week and will have some new pictures and video’s to put up as well but until then please enjoy this video I found on YouTube today, it doesn’t involve the spraying of cotton but is still an excellent video. Also if you’ve never visited them please feel free to check out my other sites Farming Photo’s and Cotton Careers’s.

They’re A Bit Feral

Its been a while since my last post and I’m sorry about that but I’ve been fairly busy with uni work. With no farm work to write about I’m going to try and write at least one post a week focusing on farming practices and issues around farming, so this week I’m writing about feral animals.

Feral Animals have been building up in the wild since the colonisation of Australia in 1788 when the first fleet introduced 7 horses, 29 sheep, 74 pigs, 6 rabbits and 7 cattle to Australian environment. Since then goats, foxes, buffalo, donkey’s, cats and wild dogs have taken hold in the Australian environment decimating stock numbers and causing huge amounts of environmental damage, the cost is so great that the Invasive Animals CRC estimates that feral animals cost Australian’s $720 million each year. But there are some that I think do more damage than others.

Feral Animals Come In All Different Shapes And Sizes

Last weekend I went back to our family farm at North Star in Northern NSW, recent rain has left it green and full feed but it has also given the local population of pigs a place to play. Everywhere I drove there where signs of pig activity with tracks, wallows and rutted up ground littering the property. Feral pigs destroy infrastructure (fences), damage crops, spread disease, contribute to soil erosion, water purification while competing with live stock for resources. Feral pigs have even been known to prey on lambs as well as other native animals, their impact on Australia and its environment is so great that they are estimated to cost Australian’s $100 million a year.

Fortunately there is a market for feral pigs which provides an incentive for people to trap them, helping to lower their numbers and potential damage. But this isn’t always enough and other measures often need to be used such as baiting and aerial culling, baiting can be a effective and cost efficient method if carried out properly over large area with the cooperation of multiple landholders. Aerial culling has also proved to be an expensive but an effective method of controlling feral pig numbers if used in conjunction with other land holders, we have used it a couple of times on our own property and it has always yielded great results with over 200 pigs taken in a hour on our small 2000 acre farm.

The rabbit has been the blight of farmers since 1859 when Thomas Austin first released 24 rabbits into the Australian bush for sport on his Victorian property “Barwon Park”. While in hindsight his efforts to make Australia more like England is one of the worst decisions in Australia’s environmental history but at the time it seemed to be a reasonable idea as rabbits had been released into England from France with no major effects on the environment and were a popular form of sport hunting. Unfortunately Australia has a completely different environment to England causing the rabbit to have a huge destructive impact on the Australian environment.

One of The Most Famous Photos of Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits cause of wide range of damage to the environment and farms across Australia, they reduce carrying capacity on farms by competing for feed, damage crops, eat shrubs and plants reducing ground cover adding to erosion. This all cost Australian farmers over $110 million in damages and control.  Biological controls have proved to be the most effective control option for the rabbit population with Myxomatosis (1950) and the Calicivirus (1991) both having a devastating impact on rabbit populations when they were released into Australia, however after the release of Calicivirus scientists said there was a ten year window to find another biological control and finish them off once and for all, but now that window is closed and rabbit numbers are back on the rise. So other control methods  such as fumigation, baiting, shooting, trapping and warren ripping are used with varying effectiveness.

The Old Days

Wild dogs and foxes are estimated to cost Australian farmers $65 and $35 million each year in losses and control, they are a major contributor to stock losses in both sheep and cattle, they increase stress amongst the heard and have the potential to host disease. The fox was originally introduced to Australia for sport hunting and since spread right across the Australian mainland, while the feral dog is the result of interbreeding between domestic dogs and the dingo which was brought to Australia from Asia by the Aboriginal people. The impact of feral dogs can clearly be seen when cattle are brought into the yards, many are missing ears or tails and are covered in scars. The impact of foxes on lambs is just as significant, as young lambs are no match for the quick agile foxes that easily take them down. The main control methods for foxes and dogs are shooting, trapping and baiting; they each work to varying degrees of success depending on how well they are carried out. In 2011 the Victorian government committed $4 million to the establishment of a bounty on wild dogs and foxes with $100 dollars being paid for a wild dog and $10 for a fox, while it met opposition from various groups bounty’s have proved to be successful with the 2002-03 bounty turning in 198,000 foxes.

Feral Dogs on a cow carcass, taken with a remote camera

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to write about all the feral pests threatening Australian farms and the environment but I feel these are some of the main ones. Please feel free to comment, ask questions or share your own stories below. I’ll try and keep writing at least one post a week.

One of My Own Feral Encounters

One of My Own Feral Encounters

A Bit Outta Of Touch

Yesterday I received a e-mail from a animals rights group asking for signatures on a petition to ban the baiting of dingoes, while the 1080 baiting of dingoes is one of the most effective ways to control pest numbers this is not what this post is about. One of the closing lines in the e-mail stated that “There are plenty of other methods for farmers to protect their crops humanely”, which makes you wonder how in touch they are? As last time I checked dingoes were carnivores and predators (mentioned in the e-mail) which would makes them the very real threat livestock that they are and not a threat to cropping.

Their website didn’t go on to mention anything about the protection of crops or livestock from dingoes but instead just focused on why dingoes should be protected, in particular on Fraser Island and the dangers of 1080 poison, which where misleading and inaccurate. As the website handles a varying range of petitions I can not be sure of who wrote the e-mail or if it was even written by some one in Australia but I still think that if you are going to campaign a issue you should know and understand it so you avoid doing something as silly as saying that dingoes are a threat to crops.

This isn’t the first time a campaigner has shown they were greatly out of touch, late last year animal rights group and general annoyance PETA was trying to have burnt out stations in Queensland’s Gulf Country face legal action on animals welfare grounds. Not only did they not understand the sheer logistics and costs of they believed should have been in place but they killed their campaign in a heart beat when they called the station owners “Ranchers” on radio. How these organisations can hold any credibility or support is a sheer wonder to me and I’m assuming many others feel the same.

The email can be found below and as always please feel free to leave any comments or opinions below.

Dingoes are one of Australia’s top predators. But intense lobbying from farming interests has landed this ecologically critical animal on the pests and vermin list. That means, despite the rapid disappearance of pure dingoes, the species can be killed, including with 1080 poisoned bait.

1080 poison is an indiscriminate killer. While it’s been approved to kill foxes, rabbits and wild dogs, it gets into the ecosystem, killing pets, untargeted native animals and “pests” in a slow, horrific way. Worse, the suffering isn’t even necessary. There are plenty of other methods for farmers to protect their crops humanely.

Scientists have warned for years that we’re close to losing pure dingoes in the wild. Allowing them to be poisoned is only making things worse.

CSG What Its All About

The other day I watched a documentary called “Gasland” and it was frightening, it was about the extraction of shale gas in US and effects it has caused on the people and the environment.  The main concern highlighted in the the documentary was air and water contamination caused by the fracking process, because in the US at the time of filming the companies were exempt from the clean air act and clean water act, while most of the contaminated shown was dirty water some contained chemicals and some could even be set fire to as it came out of tap. While we don’t have shale gas production in Australia we do have CSG which sometimes uses the fracking process, there were also some important points that the documentary failed to mention but I’ll get to that later so lets start with what CSG is and the fracking process.

CSG Well Head

CSG Well Head

Coal Seam Gas or CSG is methane gas that is extracted from coal seams instead of sandstone where it is normally found, it makes up 27% of Australia’s gas resources, 78% of the eastern states gas resources and is set to supply 50% of the eastern states gas demand by 2030. Coal Seam Gas is pressurised by water which traps the gas in the seam so in order to extract the gas they have to remove the water first, this requires drilling of a well often between 400 and 1000 metres deep and possibly fracking it if gas flow isn’t sufficient.

CSG Map

If drilling and pumping out the water in the coal seam is not enough to get a suitable flow of gas then fracking is required to get enough flow, fracking is a process that involves forcing a mixture of water, sand and a combination chemicals down the hole so that fractures the rock around the well allowing more gas to flow into the gas well. There has been a lot of concern in regards to the chemicals used in the fracking process in particular benzene (which can cause cancer), toulene (a toxic chemical), ethyl-benzene (cancer causing) and xylene (toxic and highly flammable), fortunately these chemicals have been banned in New South Wales and Queensland but there are still many other chemicals used in the fracking process. Although fracking has only been used on eight percent of Queensland’s gas wells the use of these chemicals and the possible contamination they can cause to ground water and waterways is what has got farmers and the producer of the documentary “Gasland” concerned.

Extraction

In the documentary “Gasland” they were drilling for shale gas which always requires fracking and may need to be fracked up to eighteen times in its life unlike CSG, so its a bit different but the fracking process is similar as are the depths. As I mentioned earlier the documentary highlighted cases where ground water contaminated by sediments, chemicals and even gas to the extent where it could be ignited as it came out of the tap. But what the documentary failed to mention was that this shouldn’t happen because of the distance between the aquifers that the bore water is found in and the coal seams where the gas is found. Bores for water in CSG areas only tend to around 200 metres but in some parts of Australia they can go down to 2000 metres with the water that comes out being too hot to touch, the coal seam layers are typically found between 400 and 1000 metres, so there’s a large gap between the two meaning the any chemicals that could have entered the coal seam during fracking would take hundreds if not thousands of years to seep through to the aquifers. But in order to get to the coal seam you have to go through the aquifers, so how do they do it without damaging the aquifer?

CSG hole

In order to get to the coal seam you need to drill through the aquifers, so its important to protect the aquifer during the drilling process and during the gas extraction process. To do this they case the gas well with layers of concrete and metal piping as they drill, however it is possible that the concrete could crack and allow gas and chemicals to escape into the aquifer, this is the main theory behind the water contamination and the flammable water seen in “Gasland”. Hopefully a higher level of regulation and tougher casings will prevent these sort of incidents occurring in Australia, although gas wells have been know to leak around the head in Australia. There are also other water issues involving CSG that farmers are more concerned with.

The Casing

The Casing

Earlier I mentioned that in order to get the gas from the coal seam it needs be de-pressurised by removing the water from it, this is one of the main concerns for farmers as they need to know what will happen to the ground water level and what will happen to the removed water. The CSG industry expects that will it remove over 75 gigalitres of water a year from the Great Artesian Basin even though the basin has a annual recharge of 880 gigalitres it is spread over a large area and with a large amount of localised pumping it could take many years for the water to come across and refill it. This lack of water flowing back into the pumping area could cause the water in the aquifers above to seep down into the coal seam dropping the water table, this may not happen imminently but over a extended period of time possibly spanning generations and this is what farmers are concerned about. They want to know if the water level will still be there for their children and their children’s children.  One of the methods of achieving this is by treating and cleaning the extracted water before it is put back into the ground, this process is called re-injection. Other options for dealing with the extracted water include treating it and using it in cropping operations or town water supply.

The Great Artesian Basin

The Great Artesian Basin

Company access to farm land is another major concern facing growers, as under Australian Law the land owner owns the land all the way to the core but they don’t own the mineral and fuel resources found in that area. Those resources are owned by the state or the people, the government which is the representation of the people can then issue a mining lease to companies that mine the gas or minerals as long as royalties are paid to the government and the land holder gets compensation. If the landholder refuses the company access and refuses to negotiate with them the matter is taken to the courts and the land holder will be awarded minimal compensation for the mining activity.

CSG is a major issue facing farmers in Australia, it has the potential to do massive amounts of damage to the farming sector but it also has the potential to help out the farming sector. I believe that for the best results farmers need to work with the mining companies and the mining companies need to be proactive in working with the farmers as well as protecting the environment to ensure minimal impact to the land and water. But I also believe that legislation needs to change so land holders can refuse access to their properties.

Please comment and leave your thoughts on the issue.

GM Lets Get The Facts Right

Recently Mark Lynas, a leading environmentalist and leader in the campaign against Genetically Modified crops announced he had changed his position, he stated that he was wrong, mislead and was misguiding the public through the anti GM campaign. What made him change his mind? Science, he stated that science, peer reviewed papers and looking at the facts are what has changed his mind. So what is GM? What are the myths? What are the facts? And where does its negative image stem from?

In my opinion GM’s negative image stems from a lack of understanding, lack of reasoning and a bit of fear mongering. I remember GM being discussed at school as an ethical issue, the discussions always started with the notion of yes it can help feed the world and it can reduce chemical use but…. what if this or what if that, so the discussion always ended with GM was just us playing God, it was unsafe and we were probably going to create some mutate animal by mistake. The discussions had no fact behind them, just the reasoning of a child’s mind into which were sowed the seeds of doubt, about the safety, the ethics and the potential benefits  When really it couldn’t of being further from the truth, GM is the way forward, it has reduced insecticide use and has helped to produce better crops. So in detail lets look at what GM is.

A genetically modified organism is a organism that has had its genetic material modified, so what does modified mean and how long has this been going on. The modification of genetic material can be anything  from natural breeding and evolution to scientists splicing genes between plants, so its been going on forever. But how long have humans being involved in the process? Humans have been involved for for as long as we have been domesticating animals, we’ve been selecting and breeding the best varieties of crops for our use, so effectively all crops whether they are GM, conventional or organic have been genetically modified by humans. Now some people argue that when scientist start splicing genes it becomes unnatural, unsafe and we are playing God, but what we are actually doing is speeding up the process  and reducing variability. How this works is a few hundred years ago humans realised that if they kept seeds near radium the radium would cause mutations in the seeds and therefore the plant (although they didn’t know it at the time they were altering the plants DNA) creating a wide variety of plants, some where better others weren’t and in many there was no change. So this process was a real hit and miss affair, it was also very time consuming with many generations of plants often needed for the desired effect and it was also unsafe for the researchers. So that’s what GM is and where it started from, so lets look at some of the myths.

I’ll start by using cotton as an example, cotton has been a shinning example of what GM has to offer but a quick Google search will show you that there is still a lot of misconceptions about it. Number one being that nobody wants it and that growers are forced to have it, THIS IS WRONG conventional cotton seed is still readily available to growers but the reason why nearly 100% of the Australian cotton crop is GM is because of the benefits it offers to the growers, in fact GM cotton was even pirated and smuggled into India where it was banned because a farmers were that keen to use it. Myth number two is that it has caused an increase in pesticide use, THIS IS WRONG the use of Bollgard (Bt) GM  cotton has actually seen a reduction in pesticide use of over 80% in the last decade. Myth number three is that GM cotton has lead to an increase in weeds and weed resistance, although it is possible IT IS STILL WRONG. Let me explain, any weed or pest  can quite easily build up resistance to a control method if only one method of control is used, farmers have know this for many years before GM was about and have always used a variety of controls including physical, chemical and biological. Since the introduction of Roundup Ready cotton we are no different we still use other control methods along with herbicides (Roundup) to control weeds and avoid resistance. Roundup Ready cotton also has the added benefit of protecting farmers against spray drift (always read the label and never spray when conditions aren’t right) as you’ll see in the photo below with the Roundup Ready cotton on the left and conventional on the right. Myth number four is that GM is dangerous, THIS IS WRONG even after three billion GM meals have been eaten world wide there are still no links between it and any sort of disease or illness and on a side note while researching for this post I can across a article on a anti-GM website that stated that the use of GM cotton has caused mysterious rashes on growers and people who wear GM cotton (nearly everyone) THIS IS WRONG there is no evidence to suggest this has even occurred let alone a link to GM cotton and as I sit here typing I’m wearing underpants, shorts and shirt all made from GM cotton, combined with working all day around the GM cotton the only redness I have is sunburn (so remember slip, slop, slap  and stay safe in the sun).

Other myths surrounding GM crops include that terminator seeds prevent farmers from keeping seeds for next the season, while this is true naturally bred hybrid crops eliminated that option years before GM. Another myth is that mixing the genes of two totally different species such as a fish and a tomato is totally unnatural, but while the concept may raise a few eyebrows its totally natural and viruses do it all the time, the process is called gene flow. But I believe the most important misconception is that GM crops only benefits big corporations when really it doesn’t, in the end it benefits the farmers and the environment through lower inputs and reduced chemical use among other things.

GM is the future of cropping and is essential to meet the worlds rising food demands, so please go out there and spread the good word clear up the myths and misconceptions, tell the world why we need GM, why we want GM and why GM is the future but most importantly tell them that GM IS SAFE.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

To view Mark Lynas speech and apology click here

Spray damaged cotton GM is on the left conventional on the right

Spray damaged cotton GM is on the left conventional on the right