Category Archives: Australia

Cape Barren Geese

This is an interesting heritage goose breed.

Photo Flickr CC by Charles Strebor. Cape Barren Geese at Churchill Island Heritage Farm in Australia.

Cape Barren goose is a greyish Australian goose, Cereopsis novaehollandiae, having a black bill with a greenish cere

[Named after Cape Barren Island in the Bass Strait]

Pie Graphs of Australia’s Groundwater Use Vs. Economic Return

A very interesting report has been released regarding the increasingly important role that groundwater is playing in Australia. The National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) of Australia commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to do the study.

Because Australia is beginning to outgrow its surface water resources, and because climate change may cause more erratic rainfall, it is expected that Australia’s groundwater will be increasingly relied upon for agriculture, mineral, and energy production in the future.

Since the competition for resources usually comes down to a combination of policy and economics, the following pie graphs help to demonstrate why agriculture will be the sector that gets squeezed out as the demand for groundwater becomes more competitive.

The first graph, below, shows that agriculture (irrigation and livestock) now uses sixty percent (or more) of Australia’s groundwater.

This second graph shows that agriculture’s use of groundwater yields only fourteen percent (4.7 billion dollars) of the revenue generated by groundwater usage in Australia, whereas mining and energy yields over seventy percent of the revenue.

Though Australia is unique in its conditions, resources, and geographic location, this example might apply to other nations, as well. As long as agricultural income provides less return per unit of groundwater as compared to competing industries and uses, it is the sector which will always lose out, unless government policies prevent that from happening.

This process is unfolding here in Northern Colorado, near where I live, as a newly created demand for water has emerged from fracking. This new industry is now using water that was previously used for agricultural purposes in an already water scarce region. At the same time, snow-melt runoff dates related to a changing climate are challenging Colorado’s agricultural producers.

Even those in the energy industry here in Northern Colorado are suggesting that agricultural water needs to be protected through policy. The groundwater itself, needs to be protected by policy, too, so it isn’t depleted for unjustifiable short term gains, as has already happened in some places.

On the other hand, as long as we have overproduction of commodity crops, in the end, water might be the deciding factor in determining what is essential production and what is not. While that is quite a few years into the future, in water scarce regions it is already playing out.


3 Picks: Production Costs, Syrian Crisis, Australian Conundrum

Sydney Fish Market. Photo by Nathan Cooprider @Flickr CC.

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Net U.S. farm income in 2013 will be $120.6 billion, up 6 percent from 2012: “Total farm production expenses will increase 0.3 percent from the USDA’s February estimate to $354.2 billion, the highest level on record, in nominal and inflation-adjusted dollars. The agency said it expects rent, labor and feed prices to increase the most among farm expenses this year. Among farmer costs, feed, the biggest spending component, is projected to increase 3.7 percent from last year to $61.3 billion. Fertilizers will cost $28.2 billion this year, down 1 percent from last year, while seeds are up 4.9 percent, to $21.3 billion. ‘It’s important to note that while income numbers are staying up at nice levels, production costs are continuing to climb and climb,’ Bob Young, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, said in a phone interview.”

2) Food Sellers are unwilling to sell to Syria: “Syria’s efforts to step up food purchases are being thwarted by sellers unwilling to risk delays in payments from frozen foreign bank accounts. Civil war and a deepening humanitarian crisis have prompted the government of President Bashar Assad to issue a series of tenders for sugar, wheat, flour and rice in recent weeks. The country needs to import around 2 million tons of wheat this year as civil war has sliced its crop to a near-30 year low at 1.5 million tons, less than half the pre-conflict average. State buyers said payment for purchases via tenders would be made from the government’s frozen accounts abroad with waivers obtained from countries that have imposed financial sanctions. But international traders are showing little enthusiasm for the proposed payment system. ‘This is too much of a big risk. The process of getting funds from the frozen accounts is too slow and complex to enable a rapid offer in a grain tender,’ one European trader told Reuters.”

3) Julian Cribb Gives Australians a Verbal Lashing About their food situation: “‘When I started reporting in agricultural journalism there were 19,000 dairy farmers in Australia, today there are less than 3000 and they’re still leaving, so how many are we going to have left in 20 years time?’ He says this decline, combined with the supermarkets increasing reliance on imported foods, is making Australia’s food supply increasingly insecure. ‘Between 1/4 and a 1/3 of our fresh fruits and vegetables are coming from overseas now and a lot of them are coming from China. It’s a crazy situation, the Chinese have got a food problem of their own but they’re exporting their food to Australia.’”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Interesting Note: A very curious thing happened that I’d like to share. My Aug. 21st post, The Editors of Scientific American Take a Stance Against GMO Food Labeling, was one of the most popular ever, here on little b.p.a. Only recently have I added the social media buttons below posts, and that one quickly shot up to 257 facebooks, 13 Google 1+, 47 tweets, and 14 LinkedIns. I’m not sure when it happened, but Google News has removed it from their news index. This reduces its status and searchability, and I’d like to know why. One could speculate, but I’d rather have someone who knows way more than I do about this subject to weigh in. (Note that there is a difference between a Web search and a Google News search. The post obviously is still available by web search.)

Australia’s "Grain and Graze" Farming Method Provides Peak Oil and Climate Change Resiliency


Pasture in Australia ~ photo: flickr

There is a 2008 report out of Australia worth featuring on this blog due to its big picture view of optimal farming methods in a program named “Grain and Graze” which plans for resiliency as both peak oil and climate change advance. Nature’s way includes animals in good land management, and advocates of vegetarianism often miss this point. The more natural farming methods do incorporate animals to help enrich the soils and provide protein for food, too.

I have chosen this excerpt from the study:

In any farming system it pays to take a longterm view. Performance can vary significantly from year to year. Systems that can survive poor years (in terms of production, market prices or increased input costs) as well as returning sound profits in better years may be good options even if they don’t deliver the spectacular returns offered by other systems in a big year. There is value in the adage that slow and steady wins the race.


Mixed farming enterprises are, by nature, more resilient than monocultures, offering farmers a greater array of choices in dealing with market and climate variation. There are also important synergies between different enterprises. For example, using stock to break down heavy stubbles or graze out weeds saves on pasture and costs less than tillage or spraying. Weeds that are resistant to herbicides are still highly susceptible to sheep and, with the rise in resistance, grazing is becoming an increasingly important part of the strategy for controlling weeds in following crops.

With the world facing ‘peak oil’ * and rising energy prices likely to affect the cost of fuel, fertilisers and chemicals used in cropping, the livestock enterprise offers a means to balance income, limit costs and still lift overall farm productivity.

In many areas, farms include different types of country and soil types, so mixed farming is a way to optimise total production. Using land to its capability (e.g. cropping on flats while grazing hilly country) enables the whole property to be productive while also getting the best financial return for all inputs (e.g. not wasting fertiliser on less responsive land). Having livestock in the system is also a potent way of managing, or bringing back, less productive or degraded lands, like salt-affected areas. Once the capital costs of establishing pastures in these areas are covered, they can again be profitable components of the farming system.

On farms with high physical variation it may make more sense to use the quality land exclusively for high-input farming, and adopt a very different management approach in the rougher country, using few inputs and grazing stock strategically.

On farms where the country and soils are relatively uniform, stock and crops can be closely intertwined, taking full advantage of the way they support one another and using the benefits of rotating between pasture and cropping phases, such as: nitrogen build up from pasture legumes; increased soil organic matter from grass legume pastures; benefits to disease and weed control from rotations; and using cropping as a step in renovating pastures.

Some producers have reduced their grazing activity to focus on cropping, because it can deliver the highest return in a good year. On some soils, there may be issues about soil compaction from stock and, if poorly managed during drought, stock can cause erosion and loss of fertility. However, there are equivalent concerns about soil compaction from heavy machinery and erosion from tilling sloping soils, which can, in turn, be addressed by precision agriculture and controlled traffic cropping, etc. These illustrate the complexity of issues and options that surround even basic questions in mixed farming.

*PEAK OIL: The time when the rate of production of oil will peak before declining as global reserves are drawn down. Predictions are that humanity is now at, or nearing, ‘peak oil’ and that scarcity and irregularity of supply will force prices up as availability declines and demand rises. This is likely to cause increases in the price of many farm inputs, including fuel, fertiliser and pesticides and in the cost of transporting farm produce.

The “Grain and Graze” method decreases input costs, decreases reliance upon fossil fuels, increases productivity, preserves the land, decreases the need for chemicals, helps to reduce greenhouse emissions, and is more resilient in challenging weather years. Adopting a plan such as this might serve as a smart insurance policy in preparing for the future. Now, if we can turn out more large animal vets, I envision a bucolic Midwest return to smaller farms, more young people, cow-calf operations using rotational grazing methods, and dancing in the small town streets on Saturday nights.

K. McDonald

h/t Jason Bradford