Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scaring the tripe out of dairy farmers

"Dairy farm families will be slugged $4200 by the Carbon Tax, says ABARES" This is how the media reported it, but ABARES said nothing like it in its report "Possible short-run effects of a carbon pricing scheme on Australian agriculture". This is the worst case scenario. It is based on processors passing on 100% of their cost increases to farmers, which they can't and won't do, according to Fonterra, one of the biggest. Before both processors and farmers take action to reduce their electricity usage, the impact could be as low as just over $1000, says the ABARES report. "In most cases, any cost increases from a carbon pricing scheme will be shared along the supply chain between farmers, processors, wholesalers and retailers, exporters and final consumers," it says. Fonterra confirmed this in October when general manager for sustainability Francois Joubert said the company will wear its own increased power costs as best it can, without passing those on to suppliers. "It's increasingly difficult for us to pass costs on to our markets, to our customers; it's also difficult to pass costs on to our suppliers. We are in a very competitive milk supply environment and so therefore it's our job to mitigate increased costs within the business and that's our intention."
There are many opportunities for dairy enterprises to reduce energy consumption. Heating and cooling are major energy cost centres, and one farmer reports reducing these costs by 30% following the advice in a report published by Fonterra: What Does A Carbon Price Mean For You? In it the company lists many ways to save electricity costs.

We list them here to help dairy farmers have a happier Christmas.

Milk cooling
• Insulate the vat, pipes and spaces underneath the vat
• Check and repair any leaks in refrigeration system
• Pre-cool milk as much as possible before placing into milk vat
• Monitor plate cooler performance by checking actual milk temperature against set point temperature and ensure it is sized correctly for milk flow
• Check pre-cooler inlet filter and water flow to ensure volume is adequate and constant
• Check and clean the fins on condensing unit of refrigeration plant and ensure good airflow around the unit
• Service the plate cooler and refrigeration unit regularly – at least annually
• Consider the source of pre-cooler water and whether it is cold enough.

Cleaning systems
• Talk to your supplier about new cleaning technologies and chemical improvements.
• Install heat and chemical recovery systems.

• Use energy efficient globes
• Turn off lights when not in use – use natural light when possible
• Repair defective light fittings
• Install automatic light sensors if suitable
• Consider installing low watt fluorescent lights.

Water and effluent pumps
• Although water management and pumping technology is often automated, significant electricity savings can be made by checking this equipment
• Check there are no leaks or pressure loss points
• Choose appropriately sized hoses and nozzles to minimise wash down time
• Size pipes correctly to capacity of pumps
• Install the most energy efficient pump available.

Vacuum pumps
• Only run the vacuum pump when needed
• Check belts and pulleys are correctly tensioned and any replacements match
• Install a Variable Speed Drive (VSD) linked to your motor’s vacuum requirements
• Rotary vanes or lobe pumps with variable speed drives may also be suitable
replacements for a water ring pump
• Look for the most energy efficient model available.

Energy sourcing
• Shop around for the best priced electricity supplier. You could make significant savings just by asking your current supplier or changing retailers
• Use off-peak power when possible
• Consider solar, wind and other alternative energy sources if available in your area.

Water heating
• Consider solar or gas water systems to heat or pre-heat water
• Heat water only when required – not all day and night
• Check water is not boiling in the cylinder
• Check thermostat settings monthly to ensure good performance
• Compare the temperature of the outlet water with the thermostat to ensure water is not overheated
• Regularly check the element anodes for corrosion – replace if needed
• Regularly check the pipe and cylinder for leaks – repair or replace if required
• Insulate the hot water system (both cylinder and discharge lines)
• Size all systems to appropriate load size and minimise unused capacity
• Install heat recovery equipment to capture heat generated by milk refrigeration systems. Examples of such heat exchange systems have cut heating and cooling costs by 30 per cent.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Grazing Systems don’t work: Tell the Farmer of the Year

Someone should tell the judges of all the ‘farmer of the year’ awards that Science disagrees with their choices: it has proved many times that grazing management is no better than continuous or set stocking. Nearly every time a grazier has won or been runner up in annual awards since 2007 they have nominated cell or rotational grazing management as a centerpiece of their farm plan. Yet science has been unable to confirm that they are making a difference to the health of their pastures, their animals and their landscapes.

A $1 million, four-year study funded by the MLA and CSIRO and conducted by Queensland’s Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation has found that different grazing systems delivered nearly indistinguishable results. The study found no statistically significant differences between the systems with the choice of system relatively unimportant for land health and productivity.

But despite the constant stream of studies that ‘prove’ grazing systems are ineffectual, the practitioners of grazing management fill the top spots in the annual awards.

· Norm Smith, NSW Farmer of the Year for 2011 pioneered planned grazing management on Glenwood, near Wellington. Norm has encouraged greater diversity of desirable species with rotational grazing enabling short graze periods and long rest periods.

· 2011 Runners up, Liz and John Manchee, Narrabri, have increased rotational and cell grazing techniques and have concentrated on smaller paddock sizes.

· Runner up in 2009 Andrew and Megan Mosely, Cobar NSW take a holistic farm business management approach to ensure the business balances social, environmental and economic outcomes. They believe that increasing soil carbon is the key to overcoming the challenge of Climate Change and prospering in dry times.

· The 2008 winners, Nigel & Kate Kerin, Yeoval, own and manage a cell grazing operation at Yeoval in the state’s Central West with his wife Kate, holistically managing the operations enterprises including sheep, wool, cattle trading and pasture cropping.

· The 2007 Young Farmer of the Year joint winners were both devotees of grazing management: Stuart Blake manages a mixed livestock and cropping enterprise near Walcha. Sheep and cattle are rotationally grazed, promoting continual groundcover that also helps make the most of available water.

· Joint winners in 2007 Ben and Liarne Mannix manage an 18,000 hectare property Gumbooka north east of Bourke in the western division. They use the principles of Grazing for Profit and Holistic Resource Management in their farm management.

· Queensland’s Jack Banks took out the title of 2011 Wool Producer of the Year as part of the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards. Jack implemented a rotation grazing strategy which has resulted in improvements to ground cover.

Apart from awards judging panels, Catchment Management Authorities have handed out millions to farmers for ‘wire and water’ projects across Australia under Caring For Our Country funding, despite “the extensive evidence base that indicates stocking rate management, and not grazing system, is the major driver of pasture and animal productivity.” (Trevor Hall, - Investigating Intensive Grazing Systems in Northern Australia, MLA Project code: B.NBP.0353 a)

Why is it so? The gap between farmer experience and scientific experimental results has been acknowledged by scientists. Professor Ben Norton (formerly of Curtin amd Utah State Universities) told a WA Department of Food and Agriculture workshop in 2002, that the majority of published research studies of rotational grazing find that continuous grazing is better than or comparable to rotational grazing in terms of either animal or plant production. Yet “hundreds of graziers on three continents claim that their livestock production has increased by half or doubled or even tripled following the implementation of rotational grazing…” In the McClymont Lecture in 1998 he said: Science, based on 'hundreds of studies' concluded that planned grazing is not cost effective. (Norton, BE., "The application of grazing management to increase sustainable livestock production," Animal Production In Australia, Vol. 22 1998).

Professor Norton concluded that the root cause of the discrepancy between on-farm reality and the artificial ‘pots and plots’ approach which means that there is a methodology problem. The decision in one set of trials to simulate a grazing management situation by using 15ha to test 5 separate grazing systems was typical. All sheep in the trials were confined in small areas which forced them to graze evenly. In the real world, continuous stocking would lead to ‘patch’ grazing, where animals avoid the less palatable species and over graze the more palatable, leading to bare earth and colonization by weeds. Naturally the researchers concluded that there was no effect on herbiage mass from rotational grazing. Therefore, they concluded 'recipes' (exotic grazing management systems) don't work. This study’s findings were unreliable.[1]

The Queensland study of grazing systems also has a flawed methodology: The study failed to observe the basics of scientific method in several ways:

• There were too many variables operating to allow the systems studied to demonstrate their capacities. The properties selected were not representative of any one of the 3 categories of grazing system, but were required to operate at least 2 of the systems at the same time. Instead of clearly defining each category, the properties were graded on a continuum ranging from intensively grazed (cell) to extensively grazed (continuous).

• Animal production data was made meaningless as “livestock were often grazed across different systems within a year”.

• There were too few properties studied to provide enough data to make the results reliable. Only a total of 9 growers were involved across north and south Queensland.

• There was not enough variety in the management style of the growers. Even the continuous grazing practitioners used rest (spelling) and stocked according to the capacity of the landscape.

Despite the ambiguity of the study, several definitive statements were made based on the findings:

• “There was little or no impact of grazing system on pasture attributes or soil surface condition.”

• “Diet quality was generally lower in the more intensive systems, especially during the growing season.”

• “There was no consistent difference in grazing days per ha due to grazing system.”

• “The intensity of the grazing system had no consistent effect on soil surface condition, pastures or carrying capacity when compared to less intensive systems on the same property.”

The science community has a track record of finding difficulty with farmer-driven innovation. The same resistance from science was encountered by the no-till movement, according to Bill Crabtree, who was scientific officer with the West Australian No-Till Farmers Association and the leading light of the no-till movement. The adoption was farmer driven. Much of the scientific data being presented during the time of explosive change, during the early 1990s, was negative towards no-tillage.” He says that there are too few progressive researchers: While no-till has been rapidly adopted by farmers, many researchers are still negative about no-tillage. This has restricted the amount of useful research that has been done.”

The purpose of the recent MLA/CSIRO study was stated as ‘to assist beef producers make decisions about the most suitable grazing systems for their properties by providing accurate and impartial information.’ The danger is that growers will act upon the results of this flawed study."After they saw the study results, one property said they were looking at pulling up every second fence to minimise the labour needed for stock movements," Mr Hall told The Land. The more intense the system, the more invested in fencing and water.

An important part of the scientific method is the “Does it make sense?” test. If the results of trials defy expectations, it is advised that they be subject to scrutiny. In this case, the results confounded initial expectations, the lead researcher said. "We'd thought there would be massive changes, and that's what we'd be quantifying.”

It is hard to conclude just what this study proved.

What did the readers think?

'I setup our cattle to strip graze perennial pastures and or annual fodder crops year-round. Prior to this method, when using set stock rate practices the carrying capacity was up to 3.33 acres/head. While using strip grazing the carrying capacity was up to 1.11 acres/head. However, strip grazing requires more effort, with those results, I'm happy to put in the effort.'

Posted by Intensive Cattle Grazier,

[1] Lodge, G.M., Murphy, S.R., and Harden, S., “Effects of grazing and management on herbiage mass, persistence, animal production and soil water content of native pastures”, Australian Journal of Experimental Science, 2003, 43, 891-905

Thursday, December 01, 2011

“Get out of the way” - World Bank

“Farmers need policies that remove obstacles to implementing climate-smart agriculture, and create synergies with alternative technologies and prac­tices.”

Among the millions of words being uttered at COP 17 this week, these are the most potent. They come from the World Bank.

The Bank believes it is time that the 194 nations attending the Durban meeting got serious about Agriculture – the life and death issue:

‘The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) places a high priority on agriculture. Article 2 of the treaty states that the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations .......... should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient ensure that food production is not threatened......” It is thus surprising that a detailed treatment of agriculture has yet to enter any of the Agreements. The negotiat­ing text proposing an agriculture work program under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was already available for COP 15 in Copenhagen but has yet to be adopted.

‘Addressing agriculture is critical to achieving global climate change goals, both in terms of adaptation and mitigation. Agriculture will be significantly impacted by climate change, and is crucial for global food security, rural development and poverty alleviation. It can also contribute significantly to meeting mitiga­tion targets. Food security, adaptation and mitigation can and should be dealt with in an integrated manner — thus the need to incorporate agriculture in future climate change agreements.

‘Key deliverables for COP 17 include:

• An agriculture work program under SBSTA that covers both adaptation and mitigation. It should be informed by science to enhance the role of agri­culture in achieving synergies between adaptation, mitigation and food security

• Text that makes crops and pasture eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol

‘Placing agriculture in a global agreement would help provide a policy framework for fully incorporating agriculture into adaptation and mitigation strategies. Further work on numerous technical issues (e.g. moni­toring methods, identification of new technologies and approaches) and institutional issues (e.g. how to make sure benefits reach poor farmers) would be stimulated by such an agreement.’