Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Freaten Our Profits?

The campain against the Federal Government's planned Carbon Tax continues with the latest add showing "ordinary Aussies" asking "Why threaten our jobs?" and directing you to their website. If you wait till the end you'll see the ad is paid for by the Australian Trade and Industry Alliance, who, after a little digging, are made up of:

The group is composed of organisations such as the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce, the Australian Coal Association, and the Plastics and Chemical Industries Association.

In other words the fossil fuels lobby is whinging again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nathan Tinkler Slams Coal Mining Rehab.

From the "credit where credit is due" files, in the September edition of Australian Longwall Magazine coal mining magnate Nathan Tinkler slams the poor standard of rehab in NSW coal mines and also lets fly at jockeys and the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group. Looks like I've found a mining magnate I might have some time for.

pint with Nathan Tinkler

Thursday, 25 August 2011

ASTON Resources founder Nathan Tinkler talks with Australian Longwall magazine editor Lou Caruana about coal mining, Maules Creek, NRL, horses and mine managers.

Nathan Tinkler.

Published in the September 2011 Australian Longwall Magazine

Australian Longwall: Would you say owning a coal mine is a passion, like owning a thoroughbred horse or a champion NRL team?
Nathan Tinkler: It is absolutely a business. If you don’t operate these things seriously they have the potential to bite you hard.

AL: What are the similarities and differences?
NT: All need to be operated and taken seriously but thankfully there are no jockeys in the coal business. You don’t want to do all that work and preparation into producing coal and then hand it over to a 50kg man with a chip on his shoulder who is getting paid regardless of the result he delivers.

AL: How do you think NSW shapes up as a coal mining state compared to Queensland?
NT: NSW is behind. Everyone seems to think they can impose new taxes and royalties but mention any change of legislation to bring the mining act into 2011 and it just seems too big a task.

The current land use debate in the Hunter Valley between agriculture and mining will not resolve anything.

The issues with mining in the Hunter Valley directly tie to rehabilitation and the distinct lack of it by all mining companies. Some of those pits have been open for 50 years and have not been rehabilitated.

It is unacceptable and we now have 50 metre high moonscapes between Singleton and Scone 80km), and Singleton and Denman (70km).

For all the hype in the media we are not actually producing much more coal in NSW than we were 10 years ago. Our social, community and environmental issues in the Hunter Valley are driven from the cumulative impact of overburden removal over tens of decades.

So while coal production has not increased greatly there has been a hell of a lot of overburden removed and piled high over agricultural land. That land is not useable until that overburden is put back in the hole.

Plantings with grass seed is not rehabilitation. These companies are not being made to deal with their obligations and legislation needs to change to deal with it.

The US went through this a decade ago and got a stronger and more social and community minded industry for it.

All mining towns get these days is overburden stacked 50m high around them and 1000 bed camps! Is it any wonder it is becoming impossible to advance new projects?

These are largely mining communities but that does not mean they need to be reminded of it every time they get in a car. The Hunter Valley is being ruined by a lack of governance on rehabilitation and miners are showing little to no social or community awareness in this regard while the dust and health impacts continue to accumulate.

AL: Do you think the Gunnedah Basin could develop into the new Hunter Valley?
NT: I believe it can and it is important that it is not allowed to become the eyesore that the Hunter Valley has become.

AL: Have you spent much time underground in longwall coal mines?
NT: No I haven’t. YouTube is about the limit of my experience with longwall mining.

AL: What steps remain before Aston Resources’ Maules Creek gets into production?
NT: Aston is still working its way through the complex maze of permitting and infrastructure.
While I believe they are making solid progress on this it is hard to believe we are a developed country with the speed things move.

I don’t think anyone has been employed in the Department of Planning for 20 years and NSW now officially has no path for approvals for major projects.

AL: Are you encouraged by Australian Rail Track Corporation’s recent decision to commit $284 million to link the Gunnedah Basin to the port of Newcastle through the Liverpool Ranges?
NT: I am. I just wish they would get on with it. While the money is committed there is a reluctance to spend it. There is still not enough forward planning.

The infrastructure planning in NSW is such that by the time approval is given it is already insufficient and outdated.

The challenge is to not let the Gunnedah Basin become caught up in that archaic planning. Plan for the future, let’s move forward and not close off opportunity.

We really do approach these things like a third world country.

AL: Do you think the big coal players have too much port capacity at Newcastle’s Port Waratah?
NT: Before NCIG [Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group] every producer or newcomer was basically asking Coal and Allied and Xstrata shareholders to build them port access. Hence it never gets done.

How PWCS [Port Waratah Coal Services] can be called an open facility is beyond me. Coal and Allied do not have a strong record of production.

I think they were after 30Mt in 2004 and that is still a milestone. Xstrata can deliver the tonnes but I am not sure they have the asset base to deliver the tonnes forecast.

NCIG is hardly any better. It is currently a myth of a coal port producing very little coal. The silence around the production levels is deafening. On top of that it gives Newcastle a black eye with a new single lane bridge linking half a million people to their local airport!

Well done NCIG – it was a good way to piss off the community.

While all the producers exporting through NCIG are waiting to get port access perhaps they could rehabilitate some of their mines?

AL: What about Abbot Point? Does that look like a worthy investment? Or is that going to be too expensive?
NT: Obviously too expensive, someone paid more. Good luck to them

AL: What’s harder, finding a good mine manager or finding a good NRL coach?
NT: Mine manager by a long way. Too many are spoilt from working with cost profiles and overheads that breed incompetence.

Our mining industry is being consolidated and that means most are being developed in large organisations where accountability is something that exists only in head office where the orders are handed down.

The old style mine manager, who was a respected member of the community and took pride in providing his staff and employees with sustainable employment opportunities, is now most often a foreigner who lives there for 18 months.

He does not want to know anyone, spends more time at head office, focuses on his own bonus and getting into the next department or senior management.

Obviously rehabilitation is not in those bonus arrangements in the Hunter Valley. Very hard to find one that has actually built anything or made a difference to an asset. But they are out there!

AL: Who’s your tip for this year’s NRL grand final winner? OK, if you’re going to say the Newcastle Knights, who will they be playing?
NT: Would love to say Newcastle but we don’t seem to be able to put 80 minutes together at the moment. Our injuries are a concern.

St George are a well drilled outfit and just wear you down, they give you nothingand have some great senior players and promising young players to give them depth. They can take a couple of injuries and still be there.

AL: Do you like to have a bet on the track or would you prefer the local TAB?
NT: I am a Pick 6 and quaddie fan at the TAB.

AL: Will any of your horses be racing in this year’s Melbourne Cup?
NT: Fingers crossed. I don’t have any qualified at this stage so will have to win one of the lead ups. Galizani would be my best chance at this stage.

And apparently this in my 100th post on here and they said I'd never make it (well ok, they said nothing at all really). Happy centenary post to me, happy centenary post to me....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What's wrong with this pic?

Had an invite to a mining rehab conference turn up in my email today, one look at the front page was enough to tell me there's still a lot of clueless people in the industry, why else would this one get past?

Did you see what the problems are?

Ok, I'll tell you, firstly that land there has never been mined, check the trees and topography, the trees have been there for decades, secondly they've only planted Eucalypts, no understory, and finally they've planted them too close together a few years and they'll reach lock up stage and just sit there doing nothing.

Not exactly best practice there, other photos in the brochure were little better.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Phelps talks sense, but it doesn't last.

The Hon Dr Peter "McBain' Phelps is at it again, he starts off talking sense:

I am saying that speed limits are a simplistic solution. They are an arbitrary figure that provides a point above which motorists can be charged for speeding. That is despite the 105-kilometre-an-hour paradox that I explained earlier. On one stretch of road travelling at 105 kilometres an hour is safe and on another it is completely unsafe. That is a demonstration of the ridiculous arbitrariness of speed limits. If members opposite were serious about this issue, they would have increased the scope and range of offences such as driving in a manner dangerous, negligent driving, reckless driving and so on. We would not need speed limits; we could have advisory speed limits. We would then rely upon the good judgement of highway patrol officers to ascertain whether it is safe to drive at 120 kilometres an hour along a dead straight stretch of road on a Saturday morning in dry conditions. That would be the sensible thing to do.

But don't worry, the meds soon wear off and he's back to normal:

......I am told that red light cameras are now also speed cameras.

Dr John Kaye: Are they a socialist plot as well?

The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: They are a Bolshevist menace. They are designed to control traffic and individuals on our roads. They are normally programmed by some central planner who will tell motorists when they can come and when they can go.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: Please tell the House that I have no plans to remove traffic lights.

The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: The Minister informs me that he has no plans to remove traffic lights. Traffic light signalling is often irrelevant to road conditions, but what they say goes. Their operation is based on hypothetical models that determine that at a certain time and place there should be a certain amount of traffic and the red light should be activated. That is a Bolshevist mindset writ large. How many times have members been driving on a straight, open stretch of road with clear lines of sight for miles only to be confronted by a red light when wanting to make a right-hand turn? That happens much too often. The answer is roundabouts. Roundabouts represent freedom; roundabouts represent liberty; roundabouts represent democracy at its finest. They involve the great cost-benefit analysis and the fabulous Marshallian demand and supply analysis. One asks oneself, "Do I stay or do I go? There is an oncoming truck. Can I squeeze through in time? Must I slow down and stop or can I whiz through in time?" Such a system is entirely dependent upon traffic conditions and individual judgement. Of course, the Bolshevists hate individual judgement.

And this is why Canberra is such a paradise.

The rise of the Billy Tea Party?

Anyone who's been to one of those Australiana theme parks knows that the "proper" way to make billy tea (for those who don't know a "billy" is a pot for boiling water on over a campfire, most properly an empty tin with a loop of wire over the top for a handle) is to boil up the water, throw in a handfull of tea leaves and swing the thing up and over your head (without the water falling out and scalding yourself) to settle the tea leaves. That's apparently the proper way.

Despite quite a bit of time spent in the bush and yarning with plenty of old timers I've never met anyone (apart from soon to be burnt city slickers and over enthusiastic schoolkids) who actually used that method, stirring with a stick or tapping the billy a couple of times with a stick or knife being the preferred method (though mostly it's done with teabags these days).

And hot on the heels of the frightening US Tea Party movement, stirred up by that vacillating idiot Tony Abbot and the crybabies of the mining industry, scared and angry people are loading up their trucks and busses and cars all over the country to converge on Canberra to winge about, well, here's a couple of examples:

Calls last month by Federal Green’s leader, Senator Bob Brown, for an independent inquiry into Australian media ownership and regulations, sparked Mr Pattel’s protest plans amid concerns the inquiry could restrict freedom of speech and other democratic principles.

“I was under some pressure to organise a protest and was holding back but when the Green’s overstepped the mark I was compelled to act,” Mr Pattel said.

“Freedom of speech is sacrosanct to the democratic principles of our country.

“Once we’ve lost that; what have we got?”

A politician calls for an enquiry and you decide to protest? Given that one of the owners of much of our media is a foreigner and his company has been implicated in some fairly dodgy behaviour (phone tapping, corruption etc) overseas then wouldn't it be a good idea to look at who owns what and encourage a diversity of views? Rather than restricting freedom of speech Brown's call seeks to preserve it (and the Greens do have a good record on this kind of thing).

Ok, let's look at another one:

''The first was reading the 340-page Clean Energy Bill 2011 [the federal carbon tax bill], and the other 12 bills to which it is attached.

''The words 'global warming' are not mentioned........

Let's look at the proposed Act, being lazy and just using the word search function, they're right that "global warming" isn't mentioned however by my count "Climate Change" is mentioned sixty six times. Obviously they put the wrong words into the search function.

So, one's protesting to protect Rupert Murdoch's fortune and another is protesting because they didn't plug the right words into the search function.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First victim of the Carbon Tax? Umm, no.

Read this:

Holding Statement
Cement Australia to close Kandos manufacturing facility
Cement Australia has announced it will close its manufacturing facility at Kandos in New South Wales. The plant will be closed in an orderly and safe manner over the next four months.
Chris Leon, Cement Australia CEO and Managing Director said “it has been a challenge for some years for the Kandos operation to remain viable due to a combination of dated, inefficient technology and high fixed costs”.

“Despite almost $10 million invested in 2007 to improve the plant, attracting and retaining high quality, experienced professionals to Kandos also continues to be a challenge as the next wave of skills shortage looms,” he said.

“In addition, for trade exposed industries such as ours there are the additional pressures of the high Australian dollar. Current regulation and government imposts are also an increasing burden on manufacturing and the carbon tax will only exacerbate this.”

“Finally, the Kandos plant is also considerable distance from the market it serves and this unfortunately further undermines its competitiveness,” said Mr Leon.

Cement Australia’s 98 employees at the Kandos site will be supported through the transition and will receive their full entitlements. 34 people will be offered another role within the company.”
So how does this get reported?

Cement plant closure devastating for Kandos
07 Jul, 2011 03:02 PM
The first casualty of Labor’s carbon tax has been announced with Cement Australia
declaring the closure of the Kandos cement plant within the next four months.
Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said this is a devastating day for the community of Kandos and for the 100 families that rely on this plant for a living.
“For nearly 100 years the Kandos cement plant has been the lifeblood of the local community – it has employed generations of locals and sustained a viable and vibrant economy,” he said.
“The fear is now that Julia Gillard’s carbon tax has not just proven to be the nail in the coffin of the plant, but the town of Kandos itself.
Mr Coulton said that while there were a number of factors that have contributed to the closure, none were more significant than the economic threat provided by the looming carbon tax.
“The 98 employees of the cement plant are the first victims of Julia Gillard’s carbon tax. These people are third and fourth generation workers in this plant. There is no
comfort for these people as they will now lose their jobs and the entire community of Kandos loses the reason for why it exists,” he said.
“Not only has Julia Gillard forced the closure of this plant, she has also threatened the closure of an entire town.
“There is no denying that cement manufacture is a high energy use and a high emitting industry. However, the irony here is that we have a situation where as a result of the carbon tax Australian industry will be forced to import cement from countries with far less stringent environmental controls that create far higher levels of carbon emissions during production.
"The people of Kandos have every right to feel betrayed by the Prime Minister. She must now explain to them why she has helped shut the plant that has sustained their community for generations."
The Kandos cement plant was established in 1914 and has been the backbone of the Kandos community and a major employer. The plant produces 450,000 tonnes of cement each year.
“This is a prime example of the carbon tax moving our jobs offshore and making our
industry uncompetitive,” Mr Coulton said.
“It is not like Australia is going to be using any less cement; it is not like we are not going to stop building roads, buildings or the thousands of other things that we use cement for.
“What it means is that we have exported the jobs from Kandos to a country
somewhere else that does not have restrictive legislation and higher charges.”

Of course sniffing various rats in all this I dug a little deeper, The Land has done a straight copy and paste from Mark Coultons press release. While the closure of the plant is bad news for Kandos and surrounding towns the Cement Australia press release indicates the plant was not viable even without the addition of a carbon tax.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I can't see a problem with this at all.....

Do people actually think? Do they actually consider what might result from their actions and decisions? Check this out:

New grass acts as bird repellent
05 Jul, 2011 04:00 AM
A GRASS that deters birdlife is poised to find major success throughout the world, particularly with airports.
The avian deterrent grass, created by New Zealand company Grasslanz Technology Limited, is being commercialised by PGG Wrightson Turf.

It recently won the Australasian DuPont Innovation Award for Performance Materials, which recognises the commercialisation of outstanding science and technology in Australasia.

The grass will be marketed under the brand name Avanex and developed by AgResearch.

The secret behind the grass’ bird deterrent ability is a natural fungus (endophyte) that lives in the grass and produces chemicals that make birds feel sick when ingested, but does not harm them.

The endophytic grass also reduces insect numbers, thus making the area less attractive to insect-feeding birds. The birds are deterred from flocking in grassed areas.

It has been effective in reducing bird numbers at several New Zealand airports thus minimising the risk of bird collisions with aircraft.

It has a potential for use in airports around the world, as well as orchards, sports fields and golf courses, in temperate environments.

In accepting the award on behalf of Grasslanz Technology, business development manager for the Southern Hemisphere Bruce Belgrave, said it was important to acknowledge that this innovation has been the result of a team effort involving Dr Chris Pennell, inventor and scientist with AgResearch Limited, as the inspiration behind the innovation; Christchurch International Airport, which invested in the development and allowed the first trials of the innovation on an airport; PGG Wrightson Seeds; and foundation for Arable Research, which also invested in its development.

Cameron Henley, business manager for PGG Wrightson Turf said the product held significant safety benefits for airports and sports facilities worldwide.

“We are proud to be a part of the development of this exciting technology and to bring Avanex to the market,” he said.

PGG Wrightson Turf is an industry leader in the Australasian turf seed market.

“These products have a natural fit in habitat modification surrounding airfields where they discourage both plant feeding birds and insect feeding birds, however they also work extremely well in sporting fields and golf courses, deterring a wide range of potentially damaging grass eating insects,” Mr Henley said.

The grasses that carry these endophytic properties are ideally suited to large areas of Australia, particularly the cooler temperate regions where perennial ryegrass and tall fescue is found.

I agree that birds around airports is an issue but given that this grass is "suited to large areas of Australia, particularly the cooler temperate regions" has anyone considered what would happen if this grass were to get loose in our grassland areas? Dunno 'bout you but it scares the shit out of me.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Under attack by Commie Nazis

With the news that the world's number two hunter of Commie Nazis is soon to be visiting Australia, I thought it was time to have a look at one of our homegrown McBain fans, New South Wales, Member of the Legislative Council (upper house of state parliament) and Liberal Party whip The Hon. Dr. Peter Phelps. Phelps was elected to the Upper House in May 2011 and didn't take long to start warning us of the dangers of Commie Nazis (and more recently here and here) as well as hunting Commie Nazis Phelps is also letting people know of the dangers posed by dragons:

I think government could well fund in the future a $10 million draconian research institute, whereby peer-approved papers could be produced which would demonstrate that dragons are responsible for global warming. That could then lead to a United Nations independent committee on dragon activities, where no doubt levies would be expected—

I note the dragon denialist sitting in the corner. I think we can say goodbye to every vote from every dungeons and dragons player. Dragon denialism is a blight on this Parliament. Dr John Kaye should listen to the scientific evidence. I refer him specifically to the Dungeons and Dragons Adventurer's handbook, third edition, which states unequivocally that dragons do exist, in a wide range of colours. Perhaps dragons should be investigated even more deeply with regard to their role in climate change, because it has the same sort of scientific relevance as carbon dioxide.

And while there is controversy over the role of dragons in climate change, we can rest assured:

"there are no dragons involved in the industrial relations situation of NSW".

Which leads me to wonder just what award dragons are covered by? Dragons may be in trouble but other fire breathers can breathe easy:

If you want to be a pot smoking Mullumbimby hippie, fine—

And if you were interested in just what qualifies Phelps as the Commie Nazi Dragon Dunter he is, well here some highlights of his biography:

Publications - Americans are from Pluto, I.P.A Review, 2006; Of Bridges and Blue-eyed Babies, Quadrant, 2000; Anxious Nation - Review, International History Review, 2000; Amnesty Infomercial, I.P.A. Review, 1999; Keen as Mustard - Review, International History Review, 1999.

Qualifications, Occupations and Interests - Bachelor of Arts (Hons), Sydney University, 1990. Doctor of Philosophy, Sydney University, 1997.
Advisor, Hon. Bronwyn Bishop MP, October 2010-January 2011. Advisor, Sen. Michael Ronaldson, February 2009-October 2010. Chief of staff, Hon. Gary Nairn MP, January 2006-November 2007. Chief of staff, Sen. the Hon. Eric Abetz, January 2001-January 2006. Chief of staff, Sen. the Hon. Chris Ellison, May 2000-January 2001. Advisor, Sen. the Hon. Chris Ellison, August 1999-May 2000. Assistant Advisor, Hon. John Moore MP, October 1998-August 1999. Assistant Advisor, Hon. Ian McLachlan, February 1998-October 1998.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Introducing The Mad Katters Tea Party.

I couldn't resist it, North Queensland independent MP Bob Katter has today announced the formation of a new political party, and after what obviously must have been a long and arduous process has decided to call it "Katter's Australian Party" (coz naming a political party after yourself worked really well for "Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party") and has decided to follow a populist agenda:

MAKING A STAND: Katter's key policies

Stop the stranglehold of Coles and Woolworths on groceries

Cut individual chains' market share to 22.5 per cent each instead of current 80 per cent total share.

This would ensure greater competition and push down prices.

Supermarket fairness tribunal to prevent misuse of market share.

No privatisation

Prevent any further sell-offs of assets but also implement strategies to reverse some past and current assets.

No carbon tax

Stop the measure and focus on renewable energies such as ethanol.

Stop free trade

Protect Australian industries and jobs to revitalise industries such as agriculture and manufacturing.

New laws to make Parliament approve treaties, not just the Government.

All Government spending should be on Australian goods where practicable. eg cars

Rural Australia does need better representation, unfortunately this isn't it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

NSW Shooters and Fishers Party, a few squirrels short in the top paddock.

Recently heard in parliament from Robert Brown, MLC for the Shooters and Fishers Party:

For The Greens to rabbit on about the protection of native species but not allow conservation hunters into national parks to kill foxes and, more particularly, cats that climb old-growth trees and eat all the birds and squirrels is plain hypocrisy.

He's wanting to protect squirrels from predation by cats?

But wait there's more, when challenged on it he then continued:

Yes, grey squirrels. There are feral squirrels everywhere. We will add them to the game and feral animal bill list.

Feral squirrels everywhere? Not in this country there's not, and given that the proposed Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill would allow the setting up of private game parks, does this mean he wants to add them to the list of animals these parks can release?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Coal Industry Promises to Con Communities

Let's face it, the coal industry rarely gets past the first syllable in their consultation process so let's call it for what it is. Following the recently released survey which pretty much said the community thinks coal mining sucks the industry is now promising to go out and consult more.

From the ABC

Coal industry promises to consult with mining communities
Posted Tue May 24, 2011 6:40am AEST

The Minerals Council says the mining industry wants to engage more with the community over concerns about dust and air quality. (ABC Local : Jill Emberson )

The New South Wales Minerals Council says a scathing community survey was a 'wake-up call' and it has begun talks with Upper Hunter residents in a bid to improve its relationship with locals.

The Mineral Council's Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue hosted an information meeting at Singleton overnight in order to better develop solutions to the community's concerns.

The independent survey rates the region's coal industry poorly, citing dust, air quality and the need for mine site rehabilitation as community concerns.

The Council's Deputy CEO, Sue-Ern Tan says the industry wants to address the issues.

"I think they were concerns that we knew we in the community but it was really getting them in black and white I guess was a bit of the wake-up call for us," she said.

"I think what it showed though was there was an interest in the community to keep talking and try to all work together to find a path forward for the broader Hunter community.

"That's not going to be easy but I think the best way to do it is by continuing that conversation."

Ms Tan says the Minerals Council is committed to significantly boosting its consultation with Upper Hunter mining communities.

She says the scathing survey also highlighted concern over pressure on community services and infrastructure.

Ms Tan says the whole industry wants to engage more with the community.

"Each individual company does it about their individual projects and does it actually quite well, but this is a broader problem," she said.

"This is the cumulative impacts of the whole industry in the Upper Hunter and while people might say, talk is cheap, it's not.

"You've got to start talking.

"There was a feeling of, where do we go to now?

"How do we try and find a way forward to ensure the Hunter has a strong and viable future?"

Here's the thing, we've heard it all before, we've heard the assurances, we've heard the corporate spin and we just don't believe you any more and no ammount of additional community con is going to change that.

Want to gain a little more respect? Well here's a couple of suggestions to start, audit your operations against the claims made in your EIS, don't leave overburden heaps bare for 10 years, do proper rehab job and not just throw out fucking Rhodes Grass seed everywhere, if you've put an area aside for an "offset" don't go and mine the thing five years later, oh and stop playing us for fools.

Cabin Fever.

The world gets increasingly smaller when you’re sick, empty tissue boxes stack up like an impenetrable cliff, mucus impregnated tissues build up against them like blizzard blown snow.

The tissues wait, menacing, threatening, to collapse and wash me away in a slime filled snotalanche.

And so begins day six of my self imposed exile, boredom and tedium has well set in, drizzling rain stopping even the minor pleasure of walking into the sunlight, blinking tentatively like a new born bunny on it’s first venture from the burrow, warming in the rays of the sun ready to scurry back inside to the comfort and safety of a full tissue box.

I could clean the house, but then what would I do tomorrow when I get really bored?

And I’m out of tissues, so it’s the rough touch of toilet paper to soak the snot, and when my head gets really bad it’s under the hot shower for a steam and desnotification, echoing the words of Lady MacBeth, “Out damned snot”.

So the day drags on, 10:16 and apart from some washing up nothing done, nothing accomplished, the 8th deadly sin of wasting time has been committed.

Tomorrow, I hope I’ll be somewhat better tomorrow, I know I’ve been saying that for days but if I’m no longer a belching spluttering oil well of phlegm I might be able to do something, like buy some fresh food or even pick up some steel for a project (I made the mistake of doing the design for it on Monday so now there’s nothing left to do but build it with materials I don’t have).

I hate being sick.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dedicted to Tony Abbott and the mining industry

No explanation needed really, a classic of Australian poetry.


"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
"Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad."

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
"It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

"The crops are done; ye'll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
They're singin' out for rain.

"They're singin' out for rain," he said,
"And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

"There won't be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place
As I came down to Mass."

"If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If rain don't come this week."

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

"We want an inch of rain, we do,"
O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
To put the danger past.

"If we don't get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

In God's good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If this rain doesn't stop."

And stop it did, in God's good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter carnage? What Easter carnage?

Every holiday period and long weekend we hear the screaching of our political masters and police force amplified through a largely unquestioning and subservient media about holiday road "carnage". Police patrols are increased, double demerit points are enforced and despite having had years worth of notice all police leave is routinely cancelled and motorists spend far more time looking at their speedos rather than where they are going.

So what is this carnage? How much more likely are you to die during one of these periods of carnage?

I did a little searching and did a little number crunching from this report found at Infrastructure Australia looking at the monthly road death tolls from 1993 to 2008. I haven't gotten into the full statistical analysis as it'd take me too long and secondly I haven't done much with stats for almost 20 years.

The monthly averages are:
January 140.125
February 130.6875
March 152.0625
April 141.5625
May 148.0625
June 140.5
July 141.1875
August 148.5625
September 141.5625
October 153.0625
November 140.0625
December 157.0625

Once you start looking at the daily averages thing even out a lot more, with December (5/day), October (4.9), March (4.9), August (4.8), May (4.8) having the higher daily averages. January (4.5/day), July (4.5), Februry (4.6), and November (4.6) are the safest months to travel on Australian roads. April in which Easter occurs has 4.7 deaths/day.

Now the road toll has come down quite a bit since then (1953 deaths in 1993 to 1464 in 2008) but from the figures we can see that our "deadliest" month, December, is only around ten percent more dangerous than our safest, January and July.

Taking the 2008 figure of 1464 road deaths we come to an average of just over 4 deaths a day, given that we're four days into to Easter holiday period simple maths will tell us to expect about 16 deaths, and that's close enough to what we've got.

Now none of this is meant to make light of the tragedy that deaths and injuries undoubtedly are but I'm just adding some perspective to the hype. People die at all times during the year on our roads and at roughly the same rate, high profile campaigns for a few weeks a year will do little to reduce the overall numbers, better roads, better training and more appropriate enforcement (when was the last time you heard of someone being booked for tailgating?) are the things which will make a difference.

Given the recent change of government in New South Wales and their attitude to speed cameras I will look on with interest for the next few months.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coal Industry Surprised (but no one else is)

Proving the old adage that money can't buy love, a recent survey has found that Upper Hunter residents don't like the coal industry. Coal mining executives are surprised at this, but then, they don't live here.

Upper Hunter coal industry receives harsh report
Posted April 15, 2011 09:22:00
Map: Singleton 2330 The NSW Minerals Council says it is surprised the Hunter Valley's coal industry has rated poorly in an independent community survey.

Participants in the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue have received a research report examining opinions about the cumultative impacts of local mines.

The Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility concluded a long-term commitment will be needed to improve the industry's relationship with the community.

"Overall the results do show that there is a lack of trust toward the mining industry as a whole and giving us below average scores on a range of questions about things like reputation, relationship quality and social capital," Minerals Council Deputy Chief Executive, Sue-Ern Tan said.

"I am personally very concerned about the findings, they will be and are very challenging for the industry,"

"I think the depth of concern is worrying and the low level of trust the community has really surprised me."

In response three industry working groups have been established to address the cumulative impacts of the region's open cut coal mines.

The research identified dust, air quality and the need for mine site rehabilitation as the community's main concerns.

"We have already established within the industry the three working groups as a first step and what we have done is look at the priority issues raised by the survey," Ms Tan said.

"They were clearly around dust, air quality, water, issues around rehabilitation and then what is happening with social infrastructure and the social issues in the towns thenselves,"

"So those are the three areas we are going to focus on."

The survey and the industry's response can viewed at the NSW Minerals Council website.

The report is available here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Well here's a dumb idea!

Considering Australia's longest running coal fire has been going for 6 000 years just how are they going to keep this one under control?
Australia urged to develop 'fuel of the future' By Pip Courtney for Landline Updated 1 hour 47 minutes ago Linc Energy's UCG pilot plant, located at Chinchilla on the Darling Downs. (Pip Courtney, ABC TV Landline) Video: Landline: Fuel of the Future? (Landline) Map: Chinchilla 4413 One of Australia's richest men claims the technology exists to dramatically reduce the country's vulnerability to international oil price shocks and even become an exporter of transport fuel. Mining magnate Peter Bond says Australia could be self-sufficient in diesel and jet fuel if state and federal governments permit the commercialisation of underground coal gasification (UCG). "We can be the Wal-Mart of energy. This could actually put peak oil for this country off for two generations," he said. "It's definitely one of the fuels of the future." But there are fears from farmers that the process could have harmful environmental and health impacts. UCG, a Soviet-developed process, involves burning deep unmineable coals on site at a temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius. Gas produced by the burn can then be converted into synthetic fuels. There are billions of tonnes of stranded coals in Queensland. "The fact that you're coal rich and oil poor means that you can isolate and insulate your economy from having to pay out a fortune for Middle East oil," Mr Bond said. For nearly seven years Mr Bond's company Linc has been piloting the UCG process at its $70 million demonstration plant at Chinchilla, west of Brisbane. "We gasify coal really cost effectively from stranded coal 100 to 150 metres under the ground," Mr Bond said. "We can produce a barrel for $30." Linc says it is the only company in the world to combine UCG and gas-to-liquids (GTL) processes in one site. "I get a buzz from standing here knowing that the coal is being gasified under our feet and going across to the GTL plant, and several minutes later is turned into diesel," Mr Bond said. "I love the concept of being able to unlock billions of tonnes of energy of stranded coal. I used to be a coal miner and it just makes sense." Contamination scares The Queensland Government has approved three pilot UCG projects but last year two of them, Cougar Energy based at Kingaroy and Carbon Energy near Dalby, had contamination scares. Cougar was shut down and Carbon Energy has just been allowed to reopen with stricter controls. The highly publicised contamination events seriously damaged the fledgling industry. "There is no doubt in the case of Kingaroy that they made a mess of it," said Ian MacFarlane, the Federal Opposition's energy and resources spokesman. "It was either a mistake or a complete PR disaster, one of the two. People have lost confidence in it." Mr Bond says the scare "certainly doesn't help" the industry. "Any black mark is a black mark but at the end of the day we are a growing industry, an emerging industry, and as such you have to take all comers," he said. A government report into the three pilots has found no problems with Linc Energy however. "This project was identified as being the world leader in the UCG process," said Stirling Hinchliffe, Queensland's Mines Minister. 'Exciting opportunity' To put a positive face on the technology, Mr Bond last month put coal derived diesel from Linc's plant into a car and drove it 6,000 kilometres from Chinchilla to Perth in Western Australia. "It's a huge moment. This is the first time in Australia we've ever filled up a car with synthetic fuel," he said. Mr Hinchliffe has shown enthusiasm for the project, saying "everyone is interested in alternative fuel supplies in Australia". "This is a genuinely exciting opportunity to see the UCG process proven up, if that is possible," he said. Mr Bond met federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson in Canberra, who is also optimistic. "I first started talking to Peter when I was back in opposition and I thought geez, this looks promising in terms of an alternative fuel strategy," he said. Australia spent $16 billion last year importing petroleum. "By 2015 that [deficit] could blow out to $30 billion a year. For that reason these UCG ventures are very important in the overall debate about Australia's energy security," Mr Ferguson said. "Peter Bond has taken substantial risks to get Linc to this point, to have this road trip to prove the value of synthetic fuel in Australia. "The trip has proved the capacity of us to create a new industry in Australia and in doing so to resolve our supply-side problems in terms of energy security from a transport point of view." With a personal fortune estimated at nearly $600 million, Peter Bond is Australia's 10th-richest man. A former coal miner who went from working in mines to owning them, he believes UCG can transform Australia's energy landscape, and even rival the booming billion-dollar coal-seam gas industry. He says if UCG gets the go-ahead in Queensland, Linc could have a commercial plant in Chinchilla within five years. "A commercial plant is over 22,000 barrels a day - that is, 7 to 8 million barrels a year - and that's a good start to Australia regaining some of its own fuel independence," Mr Bond said. He says there is enough coal at Linc's 4,000 hectare property to feed one plant for 80 years. 'Pretty scary' While the Queensland Government is yet to allow UCG to move beyond the pilot phase, Queensland's farmers are calling for caution. Unnerved by the Kingaroy scare, rural lobby group AgForce say it is worried about UCG's impact on underground water aquifers as well as the possibility of land subsidence. "It is all happening underground. Everything that goes on, from the lighting of the fire to the extraction of the gas and the inter-aquifer relationships, is all well hidden away out of sight," spokesman Drew Wagner said. "We don't know what the impacts will be. What we are reacting to is pretty scary. "These are not simple chemical compounds. These are highly carcinogenic. They are highly dangerous contaminants that once released in the groundwater could end up anywhere." But Mr Bond says UCG is safe and caution is being taken. "We don't do anything that could possibly hurt the water table or contaminate the aquifer in any way whatsoever," he said. "We manage everything in such a way that there is no environmental damage." A final report into the UCG pilots is due to be handed to the Queensland Government in November. "We look forward to getting an answer. I think in time we will get the positive answer but it will take work," Mr Bond said. Mr Bond is risking millions on the UCG industry, but he did not get rich without taking a few chances. "The combination of taking something that is possible and turning it into a reality is very exciting for an entrepreneur and to do it on a global scale for what UCG can do for you is a rare opportunity," he said. "It is a small Australian company that has turned into something bigger. It is one man's dream that has turned into something bigger. "It's all been done here at the back of Chinchilla and I think that's a great story."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

You don't win friends with salad!

Nor do you get all that fat on it, so why is it when we talk about grazing we concentrate on the grass leaves rather than the stems and seed heads where the starch and sugars are stored? Considering feedlots rely heavily on grains to fatten cattle why don't we let our grasses get just that bit bigger and in a lot of cases let some of them go to seed before we let stock graze them? I have spoken to some farmers who report horses getting fat on Blue Grass (Dichanthum sericium) as it's gone to head and have seen some paddocks where stock have deliberately targetted paspalum heads. Just my thought for the day.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Load of Hot Air.

Prior to the introduction of catylic converters one of the favourite was of topping yourself was to run a hose from your car exhaust, in through your car window, sit inside, start her up and wait for the carbon monoxide to do it's thing. The carbon monoxide would bind to blood haemoglobin forming carboxyhaemoglobin and prevent the exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen. After the introduction of catylic converters suicide rates by car exhaust didn't fall (as I had presumed) it just swapped death from the effects of carboxyhaemoglobin to death by hypoxia (lack of oxygen), so obviously high levels of carbon dioxide are fatal to humans. High CO2 levels are also fatal to invertebrates, (which is a technique we used to use for fumigating seeds for storage). Given all that, why would someone interested in improving soil health want to pump something used as a fumigant underground? Sounds silly but this is what a number of farmers are starting to do, called Exhaust Emission Fertilisation the aim is to capture the exhaust gasses, cool them then inject them underground where the carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other gasses:

"stimulates the biological life within the soil so the new seeding and photosynthesizing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is done at a greater rate,”

Sounds great, it's just a pity that photosynthesis occurs above the ground. Despite all the claims there is a serious lack of scientific studies and actual evidence, the only study I've been able to find concludes:

The ANCOVA showed that the injection of exhaust did not improve or compromise crop production relative to the control. However, injecting exhaust while simultaneously applying fertiliser did initially reduce crop growth. In this season and on this soil, the crop was unresponsive to the application of fertiliser except for a small, significant increase in grain protein.

There may be some short term benefits as the acids present in the exhaust gasses react with nutrients bound up in the soil but in the long term these reserves will become depleted. Some proponents are reporting drops in soil pH. While the website promoting this system looks quite flashy it apears very short on providing actual information on how it works or any data to support their claims. I don't think I'll be buying it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sawfly, don't bother me.

Latest willow sawfly news some quite good populations of sawfly appear to be well established at Murrurundi, Bathurst, Molong, Bylong and even in Widden Valley (home of Barramul Stud). That'll upset the NSF crowd

NSW Libs know their native animals!

Copied and pasted from the NSW Liberals environment policy:

•Threatened species - We will protect threatened species across NSW, including better protection for Koalas, Tasmanian Devils and Flying Foxes.

How can they provide better protection for an animal which doesn't occur in the wild in NSW? Better cages, armed guards?

While we're speaking of my Tassie cousins, check this out: A damn worthy undertaking if you ask me.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What's so special about NSF?

I found an interesting blog entry by Willem Vervoort, Associate Professor Hydrology and Catchment Management at the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Sydney, he concludes:

So the core of Peter's ideas are embedded in existing and well established ideas about biological farming and about water harvesting. They are not controversial to me. It will work as long as you have low salinity soils, low salinity input water and a relatively flat landscape and you are close to a water source. It also will work better in grazing systems as the nutrient loss can be managed better. Wheat and other cropping systems would really have to think hard about rotations and carbon balances.

All the rest of the ideas from Peter are only layering around this core and some of it I really cannot see any use for, or I find a bit silly.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fun with numbers!

I was having some fun over at The Land the other week with one of the denizens claiming undersea volcanoes are responsible for the melting of the Arctic ice cap. While he wanted to rant about conspiracies and all that he does raise an interesting point which has made me think, just how much heat (and of course energy) do volcanoes need to add to the oceans to actually make any difference? So I figured I might do some calculations, there are a number of assumptions I will make and I’ll be quite open about them, I will however be generally erring on the conservative side.

It’s going to get a little complex but none of the calculations are all that difficult, grab a bit of paper and a pen.

We’ll assume a rise in average ocean temperature of 1 degree over 100years, assuming that this is constant throughout the water column (if it were due to volcanic activity the difference would be higher the lower you go as that’s where the heat source is but to make it easy I’ll stick with a one degree warming throughout the column), so how much energy does this take?

From basic physics we know that it takes 4.2 Joules of energy to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius (I’m assuming fresh water, I do know it’s salt water but the difference in the end will only be minor), from a quick Google search ( we find that the worlds ocean volume is around 1.3-1.4 billion cubic kilometres.

Assuming one gram of water equals one millilitre (yes, I do know the density will be a little different with salt water but in the end it really won’t make much difference), one cubic metre will equal one million millilitres (1 x 106 ml) , one cubic kilometre will equal one million billion millilitres (1x 1015 ml) and will require 4.2 x 1015 Joules to warm it by one degree, so the whole ocean will require 4.2 x 1015 x 1.3 x 109 or 5.46 x 1024 Joules of energy to raise it by one degree (this does make a very, very big assumption that there’s no energy lost from the system, counting in energy loss this figure would be much higher).

That’s a lot of joules, so what does this equate to? Another Google search on “world energy consumption” tells us the average annual energy consumption is roughly 5 x 1020 Joules (my search said 4.74 x 1020 but I rounded it up just for ease of calculation) so dividing or 5.46 x 1024 by 5 x 1020 gives us 10920 years of the worlds energy use would raise our oceans by 1 degree Celsius.
So what? I hear you quite rightly say, “the energy comes from cooling magma not from burning coal” so what we need to know are the melting point of magma and the specific heat capacity (specific heat capacity is how much energy it takes to raise one gram of a substance by one degree Celsius).

Another Google search on “magma melting temperature” gives an answer of between 700 and 1300 degrees to melt it depending on the makeup of the magma, in this case for ease of calculation we’ll pick a mid point of 1000 degrees. As for specific heat capacity, granite has a specific heat capacity of 790J/kg/degree or 0.79J/g/degree (we’ll round it up to 0.8J/g/degree for easier calculations, don’t worry this works out as more heat released for less weight which helps out the conservative nature of the calculations).

Time for a breather? Just to reiterate, we’ve figured out how much energy it would take to warm the world’s oceans by one degree Celsius, what we’re doing now is figuring out how much volcanic magma we would need to heat it by that much, as I’ve said, I’ve made a number of assumptions but they should result in a fairly conservative answer.

Ok, the amount of energy going into melting something should be the same as that released when it solidifies and cools so to raise 1 gram of granite to melting point of around 1000 degrees from a starting temperature of 50 degrees (it’s a lot hotter at the bottom of the oceanic crust than it is at the top so I figured 50 degrees would be a reasonable average), would require 950 (the temperature difference) multiplied by 0.8 (the specific heat capacity) or 760 Joules, that would also be released as it cools and solidifies.

So, what does that mean? Fair question, how many tonnes of magma would need to cool from 1000 degrees to 50 degrees to release that sort of energy?

Taking our 5.46 x 1024 Joules of energy needed divided by 760 gives us 7.2 x 1021 grams or 7.2 x 1015 Tonnes. Granite has a density of around 2.7T/m3 and basalt around 3T/m3, for ease of calculations I’ll go with the basalt density which gives 2.4 x 1015 cubic metres or 2.4 million cubic kilometres of magma needing to be produced by the worlds mid ocean ridges, volcanoes etc over 100 years to raise the oceans temperatures by 1 degree celcius (remember I’m assuming no loss, the actual number would be much higher).

As this mostly happens in the oceans and the oceanic crust is between 7 and 10km thick, we’ll assume a thickness of 10km giving 240 000 square kilometres of oceanic crust formed in 100 years.
Actually, it isn’t, that assumes all the action happens at the mid ocean ridges where the crust is formed and nothing at the subduction zones so I’ll halve it assuming (quite reasonably I think) that there’s as much energy released at the subduction zone as at the mid ocean ridges, so we’re looking for 120 000 square kilometres of new ocean crust formed in 100 years (remember, this is a conservative estimate, the actual number would be much more). Again using Google there’s around 80 000km of mid ocean ridge which means they’d have to widen by 1.5km in a century, or again being nice 750 metres either side meaning the continents would have to move at least 7.5 metres a year this is around 150 times faster than they are currently moving and to move 150 times faster you’d need 22 500 times the energy (remembering basic physics F=MV2).

These figures are very much in the lower end of the ballpark so if there is an influence from oceanic volcanoes on sea temperature and climate change we can see that it is very, very little.

Mr Toad will not be happy.

Willow species (Salix spp) with the exception of Weeping Willow, Pussy Willow and Sterile Pussy Willow (Salix babylonica, S.calodendron and S.x. reichardtiji) have been listed as one of twenty one Weeds of National Significance, these weeds have been listed due to:

the invasiveness of a weed species
a weed's impacts
the potential for spread of a weed
socio-economic and environmental values.

and are regarded as being a major threat to the Australian environment. In the cae of the Willow it has been listed because
Most species of Willow are Weeds of National Significance. They are among the worst weeds in Australia because of their invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts. They have invaded riverbanks and wetlands in temperate Australia, occupying thousands of kilometres of streams and numerous wetland areas (CRC 2003).

Willows spread their roots into the bed of a watercourse, slowing the flow of water and reducing aeration. They form thickets which divert water outside the main watercourse or channel, causing flooding and erosion where the creek banks are vulnerable. Willow leaves create a flush of organic matter when they drop in autumn, reducing water quality and available oxygen, and directly threatening aquatic plants and animals. This, together with the amount of water willows use, damages stream health (CRC 2003).

The replacement of native vegetation (e.g. river red gums) by willows reduces habitat (e.g. nesting hollows, snags) for both land and aquatic animals (CRC 2003).

Willows have only invaded about 5% of their potential geographic range in temperate Australia (CRC 2003).

Tasfish has quite a good article on it. So you'd think that given the threat to the ecosystem that people wouldn't be promoting it's use? You'd think so but Natural Sequence Farming has been and is continuing to promote the planting of willows, even claiming they are the worlds number one riparian plant (whatever that means)!

Given that the results of the ARC Barramul Project were released last year and accoding to their website

proved Peter's NSF processes are what he has been saying all these years
you'd think the report would back them up. Well what does the report have to say?

* Casuarina cunninghamiana accelerates bench development and plays a synergistic role in channel contraction (P7)

* Clonal grasses, reeds and tree C. cunninghamiana assisted geomorpic processes.
* River training works were effective after 1981 because they coincided with the main period of natural channel contraction.
* Baramul NSF stream works assisted vegetation recovery but occurred after the main period of channel contraction. (P21)

* Significant positive feedback between C. cunninghamiana recruitment and the rate of channel contraction after extensive channel widening. (P23)

* The recolonisation of native vegetation such as Casuarina cunninghamiana (given appropriate seed source) plays an important and synergistic role in channel contraction, negating the use of such weeds as Salix spp in NSF (P44)

Native plants such as river oak (Casuarina spp) have proven extremely effective at stabilising stream beds and banks. Stock exclusion and limited grazing enhanced the establishment of native seedlings. The use of natives for this purpose is preferred over exotic weeds. (P48)

Well, nothing at all really, it gives a great wrap to Casuarinas and very little on willows. Mind you this all could be quite academic in a couple of years anyway as this year has been a fantastic year for the spread of the Willow Saw Fly, which now appears to be in a significant number of rivers and creeks in the Hunter Valley and in some areas causing significant damage (sorry, my camera batteries were flat but I'll get back out and get a few shots).

And see my previous post on weeds.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Natural"? Probably not.

I first heard of Natural Sequence Farming over a decade ago even being shown around Tarwin Park in around 2000 or 2001, it didn't really impress me that much at the time but I figured I'd keep an eye on it and wait for some actual scientific results.

So far there's been two studies on it and neither give the ringing endorsement that NSF proponents claim, firstly there was the CSIRO expert panel report, which, while it does have some good things to say about the concept:

(note: at the time the report was written the practice was know as "The Natural Farming Sequence" it was later changed to Natural Sequence Farming")

The panel believes that NFS is a successful and sustainable farming system for the current enterprise at Tarwyn Park, where it has led to substantial agronomic and environmental improvements on the property.
Central to the implementation of NFS at Tarwyn Park is the manipulation of the hydrologic regime, that has increased aquifer water storage providing effective sub-surface pasture irrigation. This has substantially increased pasture productivity, and avoids the evaporative water losses that occur with surface irrigation.(page 1)

isn't exactly unequivocal in it's support. Let's see what else they have to say:

The panel made its assessment on the basis of professional interpretations of verbal and written descriptions of NFS, and an inspection of Tarwyn Park on 23 May 2002. The lack of quantitative data and the limited resources for the study precluded quantitative assessment.

The panel only assessed NFS as implemented as Tarwyn Park, and comments on the applicability of the particular practices used at Tarwyn Park in other landscape settings. The practices required for the application of NFS in other settings have not been demonstrated or documented, and so cannot be assessed.

NFS has done little to address issues of native biodiversity and landscape ecology at Tarwyn Park. There is low species diversity in the riparian and stream plant communities, and a near absence of remnant native trees on the farmed hillslopes. These plant communities are therefore expected to provide little habitat for birds and other terrestrial fauna.

The suite of practices implemented for NFS at Tarwyn Park are only appropriate for local groundwater systems (recharge and discharge areas within a few kilometres of each other) dominated by fresh groundwater in porous floodplain sediments.

As the panel only visited Tarwyn Park, the assessment of NFS is limited to its implementation at Tarwyn Park. In the panel’s opinion, most of the reports of prior scientific studies are of poor quality. Because of this, and the resource restraints placed on the panel, the assessments are qualitative, based on professional interpretation of observations made at Tarwyn Park. Furthermore, it should be noted that very little data to describe conditions at Tarwyn Park before the implementation of NFS exist, and the panel did not have the opportunity to view comparable properties in the region–with or without NFS.

There is little data to describe the current water, salt, and nutrient balances of Tarwyn Park, and no data to describe levels of productivity. Furthermore, there are no data to describe conditions at Tarwyn Park before the implementation of NFS. Our assessments of the changes that have occurred at Tarwyn Park are therefore qualitative, based on observation and our interpretation of the verbal and written descriptions of changes due to NFS with which we were provided. These changes are summarised below in terms of material balances (water, salt, sediment, and nutrients), productivity, landscape biodiversity, and farm economics.

While the implementation of NFS at Tarwyn Park has increased the functional diversity of plant species within the pasture, biodiversity has not been increased on the property. The number of native plant species on the property is low, with all plant communities – floodplains, hillslopes, stream channel, and riparian zone– characterised by moderate to low species diversity. The pasture communities are the most diverse, although native species diversity and abundance in the pasture is very low. Because of the dominance of broad-leaf annuals in the pasture mix at certain times, it is likely that there is a significant export of the seeds of these species (for example, Paterson’s curse (Echium plantagineum) and thistles (Centaurea spp.)) to downstream properties. To downstream landholders pursuing more conventional agriculture, this is undesirable.

The riparian vegetation is dominated by a canopy of exotic willows (Salix spp.) and native river oak (Casuarina cunninghamania), very little understorey, and a mix of native and exotic grasses as ground cover. There is an absence of trees on the hillslopes adjacent to the floodplain, although native eucalypts dominate the forest up the steeper slopes towards the escarpments. The lack of trees implies poor habitat on the property for birds and other terrestrial fauna.

It is the opinion of the panel that suite of Tarwyn Park practices can only work for local groundwater flow systems where the water balance is dominated by fresh groundwater held in highly transmissive floodplain sediments. Local groundwater systems are those which have recharge and discharge areas within a few kilometres of each other……..The sediments must also be sufficiently deep to allow substantial subsurface water storage. The valley and floodplain topography must be such that it is possible to move the majority of the stream flow out onto the floodplain. The salinity of the groundwater in the floodplain sediments must also be low. Furthermore, the salt sources must be discrete such that those areas of highest salt mass can be effectively quarantined from the water cycle that is operating on the floodplains.

In addition to the hydrogeologic setting, the suite of Tarwyn Park management measures are only suitable in fluvially confined floodplain systems that prior to disturbance were characterised by a “chain of ponds” stream system. In systems that previously had incised channels, stream energies would be sufficiently high to preclude the stability and effectiveness of low-cost grade control structures.

Tarwyn Park benefits from the increased volumes of water and loads of sediment and nutrients, and provides an environmental service by acting as at least a medium-term store for a proportion of the salt load it receives from upstream. It is the panel’s view that implementation of NFS higher up the Bylong River catchment would reduce these inputs to Tarwyn Park. With reduced flow and nutrient inputs from upstream, sustainable productivity on Tarwyn Park would be lower. In addition, with less incoming water, the ability to store salt would most probably be reduced. Thus if the properties upstream implemented NFS, there would be a negative impact on Tarwyn Park. Similarly, implementing NFS on Tarwyn Park has reduced sediment and nutrient loads downstream of the property. These changes are believed to be towards the pre-European condition, nonetheless from a downstream agricultural perspective they could be viewed as detrimental.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement is it? In short it does work on Tarwin Park however applicability to other landscapes is limited and the property shows low biodiversity.

Since this report there has been research undertaken on Barramul Stud by a range of researchers which makes for interesting reading, but that's for next time.