Wind power saves agribusiness expansion project and creates rural jobs

The largest hydroponic vegetable grower in Australia has been able to expand its operations thanks to a groundbreaking collaboration with a 196MW wind farm development.

 

Nectar Farms had planned to power its $565m expansion project with gas but almost had to abandon the project when costs proved to be prohibitive. However, after discussions with state government, local council and Neoen, the wind farm developer, they will now convert their entire operation to run on electricity from the wind farm and expand their glasshouses to 40 acres, creating 1,300 new jobs in an area which has recently suffered the closure of a goldmine.

 

Bulgana GPH Announcement from New Era Media on Vimeo.

 

Energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio highlighted the fact that renewable energy can ‘unlock opportunities for large, energy intensive businesses, to create jobs in regional communities’.

“We’re delivering affordable, secure and clean energy, which is powering new jobs right across our state,” D’Ambrosio said.

The project will also incorporate 20MW of battery storage, meaning it is 100% powered by wind energy. Nectar Farms will only use 10% of the electricity generated by the wind farm, with the rest to be purchased by the Victorian government.

This is one of several wind and solar farms planned for western Victoria, which will help the state to meet its target of 40% renewable electricity by 2025 and also count towards the federal renewable energy target.

Re-post ~ Giles Parkinson – Victoria agribusiness turns to 196MW wind farm with 20MW storage in RenewEconomy

Report highlights importance of preserving Australia’s plant biodiversity

Kew Gardens has released its second annual State of the World’s Plants report. Last year’s report named Australia as one of the top three places in the world to discover new plant species, but also estimated that it is home to 12% of the world’s threatened plants.

This year’s report deepens the research from the previous year. For example it increases our understanding of the reasons why particular plants may be more vulnerable to extinction and which plant families contain the highest percentage of medicinal plants. It also maps the major traits associated with a plant’s resilience to climate change, which include thicker leaves, efficient water-use strategies, deeper roots and higher wood density.

The report also looks at threats to various plant species, including the increased need for food production and a particular focus on wildfires, seeking to understand how patterns of burning may be affected by factors such as changing land use and climate change.

Over 100 scientists are involved in preparing the report, which also highlights the good news on newly discovered plants.

Australia has been identified as one of the top three places in the world to discover new plant species, alongside China and Brazil. Dr Martin Taylor, a conservation scientist with WWF Australia, said Australia had about 21,000 plant species, making up 10% of the world’s total.

However, there are concerns that government policies may not be giving plants the protection they are due. An increasing demand for food production and housing mean more pressure to clear land. Dr Taylor singled out land clearing in Queensland as a major issue.

 

“Land clearing has accelerated, we’ve done an estimate that over 200,000 hectares of threatened species habitat was cleared in just the first two years of the Newman Government.”

 

When clearing laws were relaxed in Queensland, so much was cleared it looks set to completely undo greenhouse gas emissions cuts made under the federal government’s Direct Action policy. Photograph: WWF

 

There are concerns that new, more relaxed, land-clearing laws in NSW may lead to a similar trend in the state.

 

Read more ~

Dingoes: a farmer’s new best friend?

Whilst dingoes have traditionally been seen as a pest by farmers, there are some innovative land managers who see dingo populations as a good thing, and the evidence increasingly backs them up.

By law, land managers in Australia are required to take ‘all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks associated with [dingoes] under their control’ as dingoes are considered a pest. However, individual case studies where dingo populations have been left alone show potential for this revolutionary farming practice to positively impact land regeneration.

The benefits of not managing dingo populations artificially include:

  • Smaller numbers of dingoes ~ when their social hierarchies are uninterrupted by poison baiting etc. dingo populations are self-managing, with only one breeding pair per group. The dominant group will scare off other dingoes who venture into the area.
  • Dingoes keep down kangaroo, feral goat, pig, cat and fox numbers, which allows pasture to rest effectively and protects native wildlife.
  • Even with some calves being taken, research shows a net financial benefit to having dingoes on a cattle property.

 

Dingoes are Australia’s apex predator and an essential part of a balanced ecosystem. They keep kangaroo populations in check, which in turn prevents overgrazing and land degradation. Photo: Angus Emmott

Dingoes are a bigger issue for sheep farmers than cattle farmers and this has created some controversy in areas where farmers are experimenting with allowing dingoes to live on their land. However, there are a number of potential ways of protecting sheep without killing dingoes, such as dingo-proof fencing and the use of guardian dogs, which have been shown to be effective dingo-deterrents in many locations across Australia. This, in combination with a longer-term move towards changing our eating habits” farming and eating native fauna, such as kangaroos, would allow massive regeneration of land that has been overgrazed and degraded for decades.

These experiments seem to back up what has been learned from other land regeneration efforts: that working with natural processes, rather than against them, is the simplest and most cost-effective way to live well on Australian soils.

 

Re-post ~ Why do some graziers want to retain, not kill, dingoes? by Euan Richie in The Conversation.

Read more ~ Predator-friendly farming—good for livestock, dingoes and the bottom line by Marea Martlew on Phys.org

Free manual on the use of guardian dogs for protecting livestock by Linda van Bommel

The virtuous circle: predator-friendly farming and ecological restoration in Australia by Johnson and Wallach in the Resotoration Ecology Journal

Bush foods set to boom, but will Aboriginal Australians benefit?

What do Kakadu Plums, Champagne and Camenbert Cheese have in common? Not much as yet. But some people would like to see Australia adopt rules and policies for bush foods which protect the interests of the place they come from and the people who hold special knowledge about them, as is the case in Europe. This would ensure traditional owners have a stake in the exploitation of these foods and are reimbursed for their intellectual property.

In Europe, “products that are deeply rooted in tradition, culture and geography” are sometimes covered by ‘protected geographical indications‘ which only allow, for example, sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France to be called Champagne. These rules support rural development by establishing a unique provenance that in turn can create jobs in processing and production of these commodities locally.

 

The Kakadu Plum, also known as the Billygoat Plum, is sought after as a great source of vitamin C and has long been used as bush medicine by Aboriginal people.

 

Wendy Morgan, chair of the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council, argues that such measures are necessary since currently corporations have no qualms about exploiting indigenous knowledge, and this is a missed opportunity to generate income for Aboriginal communities.

 

“You’ll have the big pharmaceutical companies coming out and talking to [Aboriginal communities] and taking samples of their medicines. They might acknowledge where they got it from, but there is no money going back into that community they got the information from.”

 

Under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, when products are taken from specific locations the benefits from those products should be shared with the providers of those resources, be they national governments or indigenous communities.

However, there are loopholes in Australian law which allow international companies to bypass this process. There is also the possibility that Aboriginal people could be legislated out of their own heritage, as almost happened in when a major US cosmetics company tried to patent an extract of Kakadu Plum.

These issues are all the more relevant because the bush food market, including other well-known native Australian plants such as lemon myrtle, wattle seed, finger lime, warrigal greens, quandong and bush tomatoes, appears to be on the verge of booming. It has even been suggested that Australia may have to start importing bush foods to meet demand.

According to Jocelyn Grant, the general manager of First Australians Capital, one of the major factors holding back the bush food market is lack of supply due to current protocols. These mandate that when a not-for-profit business that processes, for example, Kakadu plums, seeks government grants and financial support they have to sign over all the IP to the government. She’d like to see this change.

 

“Why wouldn’t we look at a whole-of-government strategy where not only are we protecting indigenous foods and the rights of people passing on knowledge about those foods ~ but also the value to the Australian economy is huge because it is an export opportunity,” she says.

 

Re-post ~ Protecting the Kakadu in Kakadu plums: selling bush foods to the world by Fiona Smith in The Guardian

Read more ~

Small farms are key to food security

Small and medium sized farms are key to providing quality nutrition to the global population, according to a new study measuring the contribution of agriculture, livestock and fisheries to global nutrient production, diversity and food security.

The new research, published in the first issue of The Lancet Planetary Health, was carried out by a trans-disciplinary team of more than 400 scientists from 19 different institutions, including geographers, livestock, agricultural and marine scientists, economists, public health and nutrition specialists, epidemiologists, and environmental scientists.

They found that farms smaller than 50 hectares produce nearly 51-77% of all commodities and nutrients, including cereals, livestock, fruits, pulses, roots and tubers and vegetables.

 

 

The study results highlight the fact that when it comes to nutrition, quality is as important as quantity. Whilst we might be accustomed to thinking about nutrition in terms of calorific intake, micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals play a vital role in human growth and health. Currently there is a ‘hidden hunger’ crisis of affecting two billion people worldwide who are lacking in these vital micro-nutrients.

Mario Herrero, who headed up the study also points out that crop diversity can create resilience against climate change and extreme weather. Using the example of the devastating effect Cyclone Debbie had on cane growers as well as tomato, capsicum and eggplant producers, he points out that an event such as a major wheat disease would be a huge problem for farms all across Australia.

 

“We need to be careful about putting all our eggs in one basket… Having diverse farming systems builds resilience.”

 

This new appreciation of the benefits of small farms will influence how we address the second of the UN sustainable development goals, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. A range of farm sizes will be necessary to achieve these goals. However, in order to nourish people, rather than just feed them, small farms need to be protected as they are the source of so much nutritional diversity.

 

Re-post ~ Small farms need protection to safeguard nutrients and diversity by Kate Langford in ECOS eNews

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Locavore rankings for 2017 reveal added benefits of local food

The US organisation Strolling of the Heifers has released it’s annual ‘Locavore Index’ which ranks the 50 USA states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia in order of their commitment to local food. 

 

The index, which has been calculated for six years running, scores each state according to various criteria, such as the number of farmers markets per capita and how many schools are participating in the Farms to Schools program. It aims to highlight food trends and encourage people to think about and work towards sourcing more food locally.

Strolling of the Heifers point out ten reasons to consume more local food, including boosting the local economy, attracting tourism for events such as farmers markets, less waste, fresher food and the diversification of local agriculture, which has benefits for the soil and gene pool. They also point out that buying locally increases social capital in communities as consumers get to know producers, and each other, through farmers markets and consumer supported agriculture schemes.

2017 saw many US hospitals make a commitment to sourcing more food locally through the Healthy Food in Health Care program run by the organisation Health Care Without Harm. This enabled the inclusion of ‘number of hospitals serving local food’ as a ranking on the Locavore Index.

 

 

This initiative demonstrates so many of the reasons why local food is better for communities: a relationship with a big buyer means more security for food producers and has even sparked the startup of new enterprises; patients’ appetites improve, which speeds up recovery time; overall health of the community improves and the hospital receives less visitors; and families who engage with the program learn to cook and have access to affordable healthy food, making the social benefits of cooking together and enjoying a family meal more likely.

 

Re-post ~ How Locavore is your state? Strolling of the Heifers 2017 Locavore Index ranks states on local food commitment

The Top 100 Solutions To Climate Change. (You’ll Never Guess What’s Number One)

Drawdown ~ a new project and book spearheaded by Paul Hawken, represents the first comprehensive attempt to rank solutions to climate change and measure their relative effectiveness. Researchers studied existing data on solutions which are already in use and proven to reduce global warming, in order to help normal people understand what they can do to combat climate change and how much effect it might have.

Hawken and his team were surprised by some of the results and pleased to be able to highlight such a diverse array of solutions. In addition to the oft-touted wind and solar solutions the team discovered that factors such as educating girls (#6) and reducing food waste (#3) were high up on the list.

And number one? Refrigerant management! When was the last time you heard about that on the news?

 

Together, educating girls and family planning constitute the most impactful intervention towards carbon drawdown.

 

Drawdown top ten

 

Each potential solution was modeled on three scenarios: The Plausible Scenario, where these solutions continue to be adopted at a realistic rate based on current trends; The Drawdown Scenario, where the implementation of solutions is accelerated achieve drawdown by 2050; and The Optimum Scenario, where all currently available solutions achieve their maximum potential and fully replace conventional technologies.

 

“Drawdown is that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.” ~ Paul Hawken

 

This project serves a two-fold purpose of keeping humanity hopeful with evidence that drawdown is possible and providing clear, science-based information for ordinary people about where our climate change efforts should be focused.

The even better news is that even the ‘Optimum Scenario’ only takes into account technologies and approaches which have already been developed and proven. There is a whole world of emerging technologies which will likely have huge impacts on the problem of global warming. These ‘coming attractions’ and are likely to make drawdown an even more achievable goal.

 

Read more ~

Drawdown website

A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change: the results are surprising by David Roberts in Vox Magazine

Paul Hawken’s classic book Natural Capitalism (written with Amory Lovens and L. Hunter Lovins) is available for free download here.

Ancient perennial grain experiments seek to revive culture and revolutionise agriculture

A group of Aboriginal people on the south coast of NSW are reviving some of the traditional crops and farming practices which would have characterised the pre-colonial Australian landscape.

The Gurandgi Munjie Food Company (from Yuin country) have had great success cultivating native fruits and vegetables as well as harvesting tubers from yam daisies over the last five years. They have also begun harvesting crops of Kangaroo Grass and Panicum Decompositum, both perrenial grains. They began as volunteers and have recently had success with two crowdfunding campaigns to expand their operations into a commercial enterprise.

“[We seek] to provide permanent employment and training for young Aboriginal people and to supply healthy products to Australia from plants adapted to Australian conditions”

 

Kangaroo Grass, a native Australian perennial grain.

Kangaroo Grass, one of the native Australian perennial grains which Gurandgi Munjie hopes to harvest and turn into a commercial product.

 

These plants were staple crops which fed the large populations of Aboriginal Australians who cultivated them and which are inherently well-suited to local conditions. This is in stark contrast to the food crops brought over from Europe which currently dominate our agriculture and supermarket shelves and require significant irrigation and often artificial fertilisers and pesticides to maintain on Australian soils.

Perrenial grains have very large root structures which help them survive in poor soil with little water. They also eliminate the need for the land to be ploughed so soil doesn’t become compacted and less diesel and labour is needed. They also sequester carbon year on year and prevent soil erosion and salination.

Author Bruce Pascoe, who has Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin Indigenous heritage, helped to start the project and would like to see it growing enough Kangaroo Grass and Panicum Decompositum to grind into grain and sell as bread flour. He also points out that Aboriginal Australians were probably the first people to bake bread, as evidenced by grindstones at Cuddie Springs in northern New South Wales that have been dated as being around 30,000 years old.

Pascoe’s book Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident has sparked a wave of interest in traditional Australian crops and a new understanding of the complexity of pre-colonial Australian society.

As Max Allen pointed out in his profile of the project for Gourmet Traveller Magazine, these are not novelty bush foods but, “everyday foods that were once widely grown and eaten in those parts of the country where most Australians now live.

 

Read more:

~ Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe

Gurandgi Munjie Facebook Page

~ Indigenous Agriculture: Australia’s Hidden Past by Belinda Evans in The Plant Hunter

Hemp approval could mean a win-win for productivity and soil health

The Australian and New Zealand food ministers have recently approved hemp seeds as a food source. Farmers in Eastern Victoria are hot on their heels, forming a hemp growing co-operative which aims to generate more income and improve soil quality naturally.

Darren Christie, chief executive of The Australian Hemp Manufacturing Company is pleased with the news that hemp seed has been approved for human consumption and believes that it will have many benefits for the farmers he is recruiting into the co-op.

“It’s another commodity for farmers. The milkers, they can use it as a rotation crop which will be great for them in the future,” Mr Christie said. “No pesticides, better PH levels in their soil, a bit more humus in the ground; that’s why I believe down this way it’ll be perfect for farmers to get on board.”

Hemp already has a history in Gippsland, which has a good soil quality and plenty of rainfall. Around 20 years ago a few hemp crops were successfully grown. However, over time the commercial scope for hemp has widened and now includes clothing, building materials and (in around six months as local food regulations are updated) as a food product.

 

hemp stalks

Hemp fibres are used in building products such as Hempcrete, ‘batt’ insulation and hemp oil wood finishes.

Mr Christie notes that social media has played a big part in changing public attitudes towards hemp.

“People are starting to understand the differences between the hemp and medical marijuana.”

He intends to set up more hemp growing co-ops and expand a factory in Morwell that produces hemp-based building materials. The Gippsland Hemp Co-operative has currently signed seven farmers and is on the lookout for other who are interested in growing hemp.

Repost ~ Eastern Victorian farmers plan new hemp cooperative as hemp seeds become legal to eat by Isabella Pittaway in ABC News

Read more ~ Industrial Hemp: A Win Win For the Economy and The Environment on Forbes.com and the Hemp Industries Association website.

Australia’s female farmers are the ‘invisible women’ driving innovation in sustainable agriculture

48% of real farm income in Australia is produced by women, yet their work often goes unrecognised. However, this may be changing, as a recent article in The Guardian highlights the up-and-coming female farmers who are emerging as thought-leaders and innovators in sustainable agribusiness.

 

Anika Molesworth was named Young Farmer of the Year in 2015

 

When looking for examples of empowered female farmers, you need look no further than Anika Molesworth. She completed her undergraduate degree in agribusiness by correspondence after watching a ten year drought ravage her family’s farm in western NSW. She is now studying for a PhD in agriculture climate science and is experimenting with new technology on the farm.

“The younger generation are so much more aware of what is happening around the world. We do go travelling. We are studying with colleagues from all over the world and we are bringing those ideas to the farming landscape.”

 

Many women (50% of women on farms) support farming families through their work off-farm. As well as increasing farm income, this is one way that Molesworth hopes to have a greater impact on farming practices, by combining her farm work with being a consultant and educator in sustainable farming.

There are also those seeking to change how female farmers are viewed and understood at a societal level; Invisible Farmer, a new project funded by the Australian Research Council, aims to remedy the gender inequality which has been endemic in farming for centuries, and continues to be so, partly due to the fact that sons traditionally inherit the farm. The project aims to ‘create new histories of rural Australia [and] reveal the hidden stories of women on the land’. Katrina Sasse, a 29-year-old farmer from Morawa in Western Australia brings the encouraging news that around 10% of daughters are going back to work on family farms, and the number is growing.

 

“There are a lot of stories where women feel discontented because they feel ignored or they have been pushed away and they don’t have any influence in the decision-making on the future of the family farm.”

 

Sasse’s research looks at ways to get daughters more involved in family farms by examining what their strengths are, what they can bring to the business and how they can be included in the succession plan.

 

Read More ~ Women: the silent partners of agriculture by M. Alston of Charles Sturt University

Re-post ~ ‘Invisible farmers’: the young women injecting new ideas into agriculture by Fiona Smith in The Guardian