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Analysis and Comment (183)

Honeybees pollinate a third of Australia’s food crops. Losing them due varroa might would cost the economy billions of dollars. David McClenaghan

Australian farmers face increasing threat of new diseases: report

A nationwide outbreak of foot and mouth disease; an invasion of a devastating wheat disease; our honeybees completely wiped out. These are just three possible disastrous scenarios facing Australia; they’re…
Tractors may have revolutionised farming but to protect biosecurity, farmers could do with some extra help. Ben McLeod/Flickr

Go with the grain: technology to help farmers protect crops

New technology to tackle biosecurity challenges down the track is one of the five megatrends identified in today’s CSIRO report Australia’s Biosecurity Future: preparing for future biological challenges…
Canary grass is an invasive plant, but new varieties are still being developed for pasture. Stuart Hay

Feed or weed? New pastures are sowing problems for the future

Weeds cost Australian farmers around A$4 billion every year — and they are likely to do a similar amount of damage to the environment. In a new global survey published this week in Proceedings of the National…
Air pollution is harming India’s wheat farmers. EPA

Want to feed the world? Tackle pollution from ozone and soot

Researchers have long known that man-made climate change will harm yields of important crops, possibly causing problems for the world’s food security. But new research shows air pollution doesn’t just…
The Ord River dam, completed in 1971, formed Australia’s largest artificial lake in the far north west. Graeme Churchard/Flickr

Dams are not the smart way to secure water for agriculture

Some 27 irrigation and dam projects are highlighted in the green paper for agricultural competitiveness released this week by agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce. Six of the projects – five in Tasmania…
In 2012 and 2013 parts of New Zealand suffered the worst drought in 70 years. Dave Young/Flickr

New Zealand is drying out, and here’s why

Over 2012 and 2013, parts of New Zealand experienced their worst drought in nearly 70 years. Drought is the costliest climate extreme in New Zealand; the 2012-2013 event depressed the country’s GDP by…
A male Onthophagus vacca, the species of dung beetle being released this week in Western Australia. CSIRO

French beetles flown in to clean up Australia’s cattle dung

The average cow drops between 10 and 12 dung pads (also known as “pats”) every day and just one of those cow pads can produce up to 3,000 flies in a fortnight. With more than 28 million cattle in Australia…
Australia’s dairy sector will lose out due to Russian sanctions, but there are bigger issues in play. Anatoly Maltsev/AAP

Russian sanctions are the least of our agriculture sector’s problems

Russia’s targeting of $A400 million of Australian food exports and the government’s muddled response are just the latest setback for a sector struggling under failed policy approaches. Agriculture is Australia’s…
Right idea, wrong execution: the Ord River irrigation scheme needed better surrounding infrastructure. isthatdave/Wikimedia Commons

To grow agriculture in Australia, farmers need to think like miners

It’s perhaps fitting that mining magnate Andrew Forrest is in the vanguard of a move to position Australia as a major food supplier to China. Fitting, because if the plan is to work, Australian agriculture…
The polar vortex played havoc with Niagara Falls (and much of the rest of North America too). EPA/Rick Warne

The ‘pre-Holocene’ climate is returning – and it won’t be fun

A string of events earlier this year provided a sobering snapshot of a global climate system out of whack. Europe suffered devastating floods, Britain’s coastline was mauled, and the polar vortex cast…
With growing pressures on our land, the aim will be to ‘farm smarter, not harder’. choctruffle/Flickr

Agriculture in Australia: growing more than our farming future

AUSTRALIA 2025: How will science address the challenges of the future? In collaboration with Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb, we’re asking how each science discipline will contribute to Australia…
Spending on water-saving infrastructure could expose Murray-Darling farmers to debt and drought. Michelle Bartsch/Flickr

The latest Murray-Darling plan could leave farmers high and dry

The federal government’s approach for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has shifted again, and now favours water-saving infrastructure over purchasing water rights. But is it the right move? The new scheme…
A busy bee, giving free horticultural help by collecting pollen. But a tiny mite has devastated bee populations around the world – and it’s now on Australia’s doorstep. David McClenaghan/CSIRO

Explainer: Varroa mite, the tiny killer threatening Australia’s bees

A tiny mite has been killing honey bees all around the world, and will inevitably reach Australian shores. So what is this destructive mite, and what we can do to protect Australian honey bees? The Varroa…
Tasmania’s alkaloid poppy industry was an Australian innovation success story - until it moved overseas. Glenn Schultes/Flickr

In Conversation: Australia needs tax breaks for innovation

Australian innovation has stagnated in the past 50 years, and could be reinvigorated by focusing on key areas, according to Donald Hector, President of the Royal Society of New South Wales in an interview…
GM crops are grown without fuss around the world, just not the UK and Europe. EPA/Shepherd Zhou

GM crops: time to counter the scare stories and relax barriers

Many people, including me, are pretty fed up with the continuing fuss about GM food and crops. Are they too dangerous to eat? Are they a hazard to the environment? Despite a “debate” stretching back to…
If we tend to the local food industry, we could reap the harvest. donkeycart/Flickr

Let’s reap the economic benefits of local food over big farming

While Australia’s national food and agriculture debate centres on boosting production and increasing exports, our local food industry is being neglected. That’s a shame because countries such as the United…
Abbott: One rule for farmers, another for manufacturers. Andrew Meares/AAP

Moving beyond the agriculture of entitlement

The announcement of drought relief funding for farmers by an Australian prime minister would not normally be a cause for surprise. But last week’s A$324 million drought package comes amid a concerted push…
For millennia, humans have had the tools to change the atmosphere: when will we develop a sense of caution? AK Rockefeller/Flickr

Human global domination began with fire, not factories or farms

The era in which humans have had the power to alter the conditions for all life on Earth is widely thought to have begun with the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. This era has been dubbed the “Anthropocene…
A dingo in the wild. Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre

Want dingoes to leave people alone? Cut the junk food

Dingoes are back in the news, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott raising concerns on ABC radio last week about dingoes in drought-hit areas of Queensland and New South Wales: I’d learnt some years ago on…
As prime minister Tony Abbott and his ministers tour drought-affected areas, the pressure is on Cabinet to cobble together a policy package in a hurry. AAP/Paul Osborne

Death of National Drought Policy takes us back to policy on the run

Australia’s National Drought Policy, introduced in 1992 and recognised internationally as world’s best practice, now appears to be dead. In its place we are seeing back-to-the-future policymaking. This…
In 2008, Chinese baby formula and milk products were tainted with melamine, killing six babies and hospitalising many more. EPA/Wu Hong

SPC Ardmona’s bailout is crucial given China’s food safety record

SPC Ardmona’s $22 million lifeline from the Victorian government seems to have saved Australia’s largest food packaging company. Yet the firm’s recent tribulations are a reminder of why I regularly choose…
Often called “Australia’s most valuable farm”, Cubbie Station in southwest Queensland is now majority foreign-owned. AAP/Cubbie Group

Old MacDonald sold the farm: so what’s the future for agriculture?

When most Australians think about farmers, one image still springs to mind: a family in Akubras and Blundstones, battling the elements with a Blue Heeler by their side. That’s still the image invoked by…
Farm debt is increasing in Australia, but will writing it off make more farms viable? Grenville Turner/AAP

Farmers are in debt, and more debt won’t help

Farm debt in Australia has increased by almost 75% over the past decade, from A$40.3 billion in 2004 to an estimated A$70 billion in 2014. Barnaby Joyce, the Federal Minister for Agriculture, has argued…
Wheat fields in central New South Wales. Sam Ilić/Flickr

Australian trade beats aid in boosting global food security

Should Australia aim to become Asia’s “food bowl”? How can we help farmers earn more for what they produce? And how can Australia best contribute to global food security? Those are some of the crucial…
The Ruby Jo coal seam gas central processing plant, near Chinchilla in Queensland’s Surat Basin, October 2013. AAP/Dave Hunt

How coal seam gas is changing the face of rural Queensland

Why would young Australians buck international trends and move to the country? According to our research, a growing youth population has been observed in coal seam gas (CSG) development areas within the…
Moving from cooperative to corporation could lure foreign investment for grain marketing group CBH, funding its aggressive expansion plans. AAP/Dan Peled

Lost in the maize? The future for Aussie grain cooperatives is bleak

Long a favoured model for Australian farmers operating in a risky and precarious industry, cooperatives seem increasingly anachronistic as greater numbers move toward demutualisation. This is a mistake…
More appealing and often more effective than concrete flood barriers. John Haynes

Restore our meadows, a most cost-effective flood defence

For the second winter running the UK has been hit by widespread flooding, accompanied by agonised debates over whether government is really committed to adequate spending on flood defence. Largely overlooked…
Saving seeds can protect us from future calamities. Simone Cottrell/AAP

Seed banks: saving for the future

In 1926, just outside of St Petersburg in Russia, botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov set up the Pavlovsk Experimental Station. It was one of the world’s first “seed banks”. The term “seed bank” or…
“No” doesn’t really cover the nuances of the GM debate. Darko Vojinovic/AP

Terminator seeds will not usher in an agricultural judgement day

In the polarised and fractious debate over the use of genetic modification in agriculture, few issues have raised hackles as much as the proposed use of genetic use restriction techniques (GURT), more…
People should not be hungry with the food, resources, and technology at our disposal. PA

Staying alive shouldn’t depend on your purchasing power

How much would you pay for staying alive? How much would you pay for breathing pure air? That may seem a silly question since air is everywhere, accessible to all. Air is a global public good, part of…
Instead of developing a northern foodbowl to feed our neighbours, Australia could help them feed themselves. Neils Photography/Flickr

Australia should help East Timor feed itself

A nation that destroys its soils, destroys itself — Franklin Roosevelt It is a worthy objective to sell more food to Asia, but we should not conflate pursuing export income with improving regional food…
Profits drive the industry, not sustainability. naturalengland

Pitting profits and food supply against the natural world

The arguments for increasing food demand are well publicised and well understood. By the middle of this century, the planet’s population will top nine billion, presenting a third more mouths to feed. Much…
Once animals leave Australia, we have limited control over what happens to them. AAP Image/Animals Australia)

Can live animal export ever be humane?

Last week, video footage of animal cruelty kicked off yet another live export controversy. The footage appeared to show not just confronting and inappropriate animal treatment, but the likely movement…
Close to 90% of Australia’s farmland remains locally owned. Flickr: Cha222

Why not let agriculture benefit from foreign investment?

Why do we clamour to keep foreign-owned car makers here, paying them billions of dollars to stay, while being wary of foreign investment in farms? Around 0.1% of foreign investment last year was in agriculture…
Golden rice, texture like sun. International Rice Research Institute

Golden rice naysayers ignore the world’s need for nutrition

Recently Zac Goldsmith MP – a former editor of The Ecologist, no less – branded the views of Environment Secretary Owen Patterson as “grotesque” after the minister called anti-GM campaigners “wicked…
Food eco-labelling should be standardised or farmers will suffer. John Keogh

Food eco-labelling – green credentials or green-mail?

Australia has seen a boom in eco-labelling: more than 50 different organisations were eco-certifying products in 2010. Queensland National Senator Boswell calls it green-mail, forcing food producers to…
After centuries of war, Japan’s well-attuned environmental practices spurred rapid growth. mharrsch/Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art

Lessons from Edo Japan can help Fukushima recover

After two and a half years, the embattled Japanese government and Tepco, the company responsible for the Fukushima nuclear power plant, have sought the world’s assistance in tackling the three damaged…
The Australian Coalition arrangement is set apart from coalitions elsewhere by its ongoing nature, even in opposition, and the fact that the parties go into elections with a common election platform. AAP

Minority government likely to continue after Saturday

Much has been made of the ‘unusual’ nature of the minority Labor government over the past three years and there has been a sense that Australia is better off without it; that we need a return to the stability…
Perhaps talking about investment could lead Australia to a brighter farming future. Michael Lloyd

Foreign investment in agriculture? How about a plan for profitability

Large parts of Australian agriculture are economically and financially unsustainable. Returns are inadequate and unbalanced; assets are depleted; risks are needlessly high. To date, governments have largely…
Denial of problems runs deep in Canberra, where it seems even the most active and insightful of people struggle against inertia, mis-focus and Myna chatter. Image from www.shutterstock.com

Economic Myna sing songlines of our debt dreamtime

We start with the bush, where incomes are stalled, or plunging, as farmers battle. Here, the common economic Myna flocks, displacing sound native ideas with dizzy chatter - and prosperity with penury…
You’re expecting us to solve climate change for you? Kaibab National Forest

Saving the world with cows: why simple ideas don’t work

Zimbabwean biologist Allan Savory proposed in a TED talk in March that getting more cows grazing on rangelands worldwide would soak up carbon dioxide. His suggestion has been a huge hit with online viewers…
Trees may be a better bet than soil for carbon reduction on the land. NFGMan/Flickr

Are farmers the future of carbon management?

Both the current Government and Opposition are relying on agriculture and forestry to bear much of the burden of Australia’s emission reduction. But are they building their hopes on sand? The way we manage…
Durum wheat has Middle Eastern parents and Italian progeny, but grows best on Australian soil. Mikko Kuhna

The good earth: Clare Hypercalcic Calcarosol and durum wheat

Australia has some of the world’s most ancient soils, many of which grow delicious produce. In this series, “The good earth”, soil scientist Robert Edis has profiled some of those soils and the flavours…
Nutty, comforting, wintery parsnips: good luck growing them without a Tenosol. di.wineanddine/Flickr

The good earth: Boneo Leptic Tenosol and parsnips

Australia has some of the world’s most ancient soils, many of which grow delicious produce. In this series, “The good earth”, soil scientist Robert Edis profiles some of those soils and the flavours they…
Big farmers win big under agricultural policy, but change is in the air. Chris Ison/PA

After 50 years, Eurocrats still aren’t sure what the CAP is for

Reforming the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy has never been easy, and that’s hardly surprising. It’s well established that when interests are concentrated together, such as those of farmers…
Soil makes pasture, pasture makes milk, milk makes cheese. lu_lu/Flickr

The good earth – King Island cheese and Currie Yellow Kurosol

Australia has some of the world’s most ancient soils, many of which grow delicious produce. In this series, “The good earth”, soil scientist Robert Edis profiles some of those soils and the flavours they…
We’re talking, yet again, about how lovely it is up north. Flickr/skittledog

Romancing the north: the food bowl furphy

The romantic idea of developing northern Australia has once more been thrust into the light, this time by the Coalition’s 2030 Plan for Developing Northern Australia. As I look at coverage of the plan…
Fertiliser: essential for feeding the country, but you can have too much of a good thing. ILO in Asia and the Pacific

Easing China’s fertiliser habit will have global significance

A joint project between scientists in the UK and China has shown how improved methods of manufacturing nitrogen fertiliser and better use of it by farmers could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds…
To meet global demand, grain production needs to double by 2050. It’s not going to make it. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

Crop crisis: Why global grain demand will outstrip supply

Since the time of Malthus, humanity has worried whether there would be enough food to feed the growing population. Such fears were always overcome and doomsayers all proven wrong: there was always more…
The finer points of Abenomics are not lost on this guy. ippei-janine

Japan’s PM has frog in throat as ecological crisis looms

Japanese PM Shinzō Abe has a problem, and he might end up killing an awful lot of frogs to solve it. Shares are up in Japan, but everything else has flatlined: kick-starting the stubbornly moribund economy…
Grown on water saving soils… TXMagpie/Flickr

The good earth: Jasmine rice and Leeton Red Sodosol

Australia has some of the world’s most ancient soils, many of which grow delicious produce. In this series, “The good earth”, soil scientist Robert Edis profiles some of those soils and the flavours they…
The world’s best asparagus, thanks to a peaty drained swamp. avlxyz/flickr

The good earth: peaty Black Vertosol and asparagus

Australia has some of the world’s most ancient soils, many of which grow delicious produce. In this series, “The good earth”, soil scientist Robert Edis profiles some of those soils and the flavours they…
Before the 1980s, farmers thought lack of water limited their yield. New crops and sowing methods are breaking yield barriers. Michael Middleton

Australia’s farming future: doing more with less water

Changing climate, drought and urban expansion threaten the yield of Australia’s wheat. But changes in cropping methods could address reduced water and lead to a jump in yield not seen since the late 1980s…
Rising temperatures may have drastic impacts on the world’s wine regions but Tasmania is using climate variability as a driver for innovation. Flickr/santheo

Australia’s farming future: Tasmania

Wine grapes are a sensitive bunch. As Australia’s climate changes, the future of Australia’s viticulture will depend on the adaptability of its wine-growers. Tasmania produces wine with unique, cool-climate…
Climate change is just another variable for Queensland farmers. Lock the Gate Alliance

Australia’s farming future: Queensland

Queensland farmers are used to dealing with variable seasons, but the long-term shifts of climate change are expected to create new challenges. Queensland farmers already do a good job of managing a variable…
New drought policy is designed to manage the risks climate change conditions pose to successful crop production in Western Australia. Flickr/Grevillea

Australia’s farming future: Western Australia

Climate change, and its associated variability, is posing a challenge for farm businesses in Western Australia. The grainbelt has experienced a 20% decline in rainfall over the last several decades, more…
You can’t grow chips like that on a Vertosol. Lenka Reznicek

The good earth: Thorpdale Red Ferrosol and chip potatoes

Australia has some of the world’s most ancient soils, many of which grow delicious produce. In this series, “The good earth”, soil scientist Robert Edis profiles some of those soils and the flavours they…
Cruel slaughter of Australian animals in countries where abattoir workers face poor economic conditions can only be stopped with the long-term ban of live exports. Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik

Cattle slaughter in topsy turvy land

In Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, Jo, one of the child adventurers, has a spell cast upon him that forces him to walk upside down on his hands in Topsy Turvy land. Jo survives the ordeal as most humans…
It makes sense to exercise caution when we’re fiddling with genes in food. Food Ethics Council

Securing the safety of genetic modification

Most genetically modified (GM) crops are based on moving DNA from one organism to another to introduce a new protein. Now a growing number of genetically modified crops are based on intentionally changing…
Around the world, there are more than 20,000 bee species: this is Australia’s blue banded bee. Louise Docker

Modern agriculture is stressing honeybees: let’s go native

Honeybees are in trouble - a stressful lifestyle and an unhealthy diet are being compounded by mite attacks - but we needn’t panic about pollination. Australia has many native bee (and other pollinator…
Vaccination has a lot more uses than you may know. Stephen Mitchell

Explainer: how are vaccines used in Australian agriculture?

Approximately 140 vaccines are registered for use in livestock and companion animals in Australia. Many more animals are vaccinated each year than humans. Vaccines are used in farm animals: to protect…
Incidents of major agricultural run-off, like the recent Queensland floods, certainly affect Great Barrier Reef water quality, but systems are in place to reduce their effect. AAP Image/Twitter, ISS, Chris Hadfield

Worried about Great Barrier Reef water pollution? Look at mining, not agriculture

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is both a national marine park and a World Heritage Area. But next to the reef, a catchment of 400,000km2 is almost completely developed for agriculture, predominantly beef…
More and longer heat waves are coming, so researchers are making sure our crops are ready. Amy Mergard

Can crops withstand more heat waves?

Australia broke its “hottest day” record this week, and heat waves are becoming more common in Australia. Heat waves are projected to increase in duration and intensity with global warming and climate…
Christmas is a time of plenty - but to ensure we keep eating well in the future, it’s time to rethink the way we buy and produce food. Barbeque image from www.shutterstock.com

Eat, think, and be merry

As we gather to share a meal with friends and family this festive season, it is the ideal time to reflect on our relationship with food, including our dependence on those who grow it for us. Australians…
Foresters and farmers have an 8000-year history of dealing with climate variation and providing food and provisions - they may have climate change solutions. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

Climate change action needs forests and farms working together

The UNFCCC COP-18 in Doha worked overtime to finally agree not to disagree. The Secretariat was quick to make a release that declares success and highlights four results: Amendment of the Kyoto Protocol…
As any barramundi fisher will tell you, northern Australia’s water isn’t going to waste. Justin Friend

Someone is already using northern Australia’s water: wildlife

With increasing pressure on Australia’s water resources, many have looked to northern Australia to provide water for agriculture, urban development and other human needs. Much of northern Australia is…
Australia’s food chain has among the lowest rates of antibiotic resistance, but new threats call for stronger monitoring. Eli Duke

The hunt is on for superbugs in Australian animals

Australia has some of the world’s most conservative restrictions on using antimicrobial drugs in livestock. Possibly as a consequence, we have some of the lowest rates in the world of antibiotic resistance…
Everyone seems nervous to talk about changing our diets. Sumlin/Flickr

Why aren’t we talking about meat and climate change?

Reducing your carbon footprint by eating less red meat rarely gets attention. This strategy has been recommended by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, epidemiologists writing in The Lancet and…
It may not be a silver bullet, but biochar has a lot to offer farmers (and the atmosphere). sillypucci/Flickr

Backing biochar: the Australian Government’s role

Evelyn Krull, a research scientist at the CSIRO, asked in these pages whether biochar could save the planet. Eighteen months have passed and although research efforts continue, still no meaningful quantities…
Flooding risk is often used as an argument against greater environmental flows for the Murray-Darling, but graziers would benefit greatly from floods. Richard Kingsford

More flooding in the Murray-Darling basin could be good news for farmers

The history of our development of the Murray-Darling Basin is one of constraining and constricting its rivers’ flows. Many of the basin’s floods are now captured in dams for later constrained release to…
Phasing out live exports may be the only way to save Australia’s northern cattle industry. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

A ten-year plan to phase out live animal exports

Temporary bans on live cattle and sheep export have undermined confidence in the industry, driving property prices down and diminishing banks' willingness to lend for long-term improvement. If the industry…
Brigalow trees are vital for soil health and erosion control. They’re only just recovering from 19th century clearing. Why does the Queensland Government have it in for them? Arthur Chapman

Queensland land-clearing changes threaten trees farmers need

The Queensland State Government has recently proposed changes to the Vegetation Management Act 1999. Under the planned reforms, landowners will be able to clear and thin out vegetation using self-assessable…
Sensible Australian farmers don’t object when foreign investors want to buy their problematic assets. AAP Image/Cubbie Group

Cubbie Station sale no threat to food security

Controversy surrounding the recent sale of Cubbie Station in Queensland near the New South Wales border to (mainly) Chinese interests is not unexpected. Fears about foreign ownership in Australia are long-standing…
Some of the biggest water-energy-food integration challenges are on better soils close to major population centres; in this case, Adelaide. Andrew Campbell

Rethinking rural research in Australia

Rural research is vital. It is about 10% of our national innovation system. Annual investment exceeds $1 billion, according to the Rural Research and Development Council. The rural sector and farm-dependent…
Methane-capture technology in Grantham, Queensland, could earn carbon credits through Australia’s Carbon Farming Initiative. AAP/Alan Skerman

Carbon farming: a solution to global land degradation and poverty?

Today, nearly 1.3 billion people – almost a fifth of the world’s population - live on “fragile” agricultural land. Just one-third of the rural poor in developing countries live on productive agricultural…
With so many vested interests, opposition to the plan will likely last a long time yet. SA Eco Images Pty Ltd

Resisting the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – in whose interest?

As the final version of the Murray-Darling Plan heads to Parliament there seems little doubt that the debate will continue. The sticking point remains the volume of water to be returned to the environment…
The rains came too late for these Texas wheat crops, which are stunted and thin. But there’s more to rising food prices than bad weather. Flickr/agrilifetoday

Crops hit by drought and biofuel policy: another food price crisis?

Not so long ago, things were looking good. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had announced on the 5th of July that the FAO food price index had been falling for the third consecutive month…
It would be smarter to use perennial native grasses for cereal grains instead of relying on a handful of farming-intensive annual crops. Shown here is Curly Mitchell grass (Astrebla lappacea), common in northern Australia. Ian Chivers

Splendour in the grass: new approaches to cereal production

Any investment manager will tell an investor to spread risks, to have a diverse portfolio, to engage with many sectors of the local economy, to invest in other parts of the globe, to hedge your bets, a…
Harvest time: Asia’s rising incomes and demand for food are no guarantee of a mining-style payday for Australian farmers. AAP/EPA/Raminder Pal Singh

Australia’s place in the global food chain: time to wise up

In recent weeks Australia’s PM, a shadow minister, and a state premier have heralded the opportunities for Australian farmers to capitalise on a global food-shortage and, in particular, rising demand for…
Community gardens in Melbourne: urban food production is increasingly important but obstacles are heaped in its way. AAP/Julian Smith

Grow your own: making Australian cities more food-secure

Food security has typically been framed as an issue of global concern, concentrated within developing countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation defines food security in terms of the availability…
Climate change is only one of many pressures farmers will have to adapt to. Pete Hill

The three Ps of climate change and agriculture

Opinions on anthropogenic climate change vary greatly across society, and it appears that Australia’s farmers remain largely sceptical about the causes of climate change. Recent surveys show that only…
For most farmers, it will take more than money to get them involved in carbon farming. Drew Bandy

Making the Carbon Farming Initiative more appealing to farmers

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) and Biodiversity Fund, two new Australian government initiatives, could help private landholders generate income while benefiting both climate change abatement and biodiversity…
Genetically modified crops have allowed pesticide spraying to be reduced by almost half a million kilograms in the last 15 years. Eric Constantineau

Genetically modified crops shrink farming’s pesticide footprint

Recent news reports claim one in ten Australians believe the world will end on December 21, 2012, based largely on internet gossip about the meaning of ancient stone carvings from the Mayans of Central…
Farmers are adept at using science to deal with all kinds of challenges, but they have their doubts about climate change. Jeff Pang

Can Australian farmers take on the challenge of climate change?

Farmers are some of the most innovative Australians - since 1970 they have lost 7.5% of arable land, but they’ve found ways to increase production by 220%. They’re also some of the most conservative, expressed…
Irrigation infrastructure, buy-backs, environmental flows, agricultural communities: lobbyists will say anything to win the Murray-Darling war of lies. Eco Images Pty Ltd

Lies, dam lies and water plans: the MDB Plan and the states

When the water planning process for the Murray-Darling Basin first commenced, an experienced colleague of mine noted that this was shaping up to be a lying contest between farmers and environmentalists…
Decades of work to reduce rhino poaching has achieved little. Farming rhino is one alternative, but what happens to a species when it’s domesticated? Jim Epler

Farming endangered species to save them - extinction by another means?

When we talk of conserving an animal species what do we actually mean? We are likely to have in mind a vision of a rhinoceros (or any other species, for that matter) being given the opportunity to pursue…
Consumers have an image of animal agriculture which is getting further and further from the truth. State Records NSW

Latest animal export exposé reminds us to steer clear of factory farming

It has once again been left to an advocacy group, Animals Australia, to highlight the cruel practices involved in cattle slaughter in Indonesia. Under new rules put in place by the Federal Department of…
Guardian animals, a environmentally friendly and adorable way to protect our livestock. Karen Rodgers

Watching over livestock: our guardian animals

True innovation is rare in agriculture. Most farmers are willing to improve the way they work, but these improvements are typically small adjustments to established practice, rather than fundamental changes…
Biodiversity and farming are uneasy bedfellows: a lonely tree in a canola field in Western Australia. Flickr/augustusoz

Biodiversity and farming: finding ways to co-exist

Biodiversity and farming go head to head in two R&D projects that I have a hand in. The struggles to both feed the swelling ranks of humanity and save our continent’s natural splendour are so often…
Our thinly spread efforts to prop up the environment are failing and it is time for tough decisions about what we can realistically preserve. Flickr/rexboggs5

Farms versus nature: how do we decide what to protect?

Australian farmers take pride in their efficient and productive farming systems, competing in the global economy and without many of the large subsidies given to their counterparts in Europe and North…
Chocolate supply can’t keep up with demand and smallholder farmers and the environment are losing out. Nestle

Bitter-sweet Easter: how our demand is melting sustainable cocoa farming

Chocolate – from the humble confectionery bar to single-origin gourmet dark chocolate - is enjoyed by most Australians as a readily available treat. However, chocolate manufacturers are worried that cocoa…
The carpet of sludge and debris left by 2011’s tsunami wreaked havoc on paddyfields. AAP

Swamped with saltwater: what a tsunami does to rice farmers

Japan’s tsunami of March 11 2011 brought a wall of water laden with debris up to 5 kilometres inland from the sea. After the surge receded, the surrounding farming area was left covered in debris and a…
Manure is a great source of phosphorus, but we’ve largely removed it from agriculture. Flickr/Amy Alana Star

Time for policy action on global phosphorus security

Without phosphorus we cannot produce food. Yet even as pressure mounts on this critical non-renewable resource, there is a startling lack of global governance of its use and supply. If no one takes responsibility…
We take for granted cheap and plentiful fruit and vegetables and “forget” about shortages. AAP

The hidden price of discounting fresh fruit and vegetables

How should we consider the potential broader ramifications of Coles’ recent promise to reduce by 50% the price of fresh fruit and vegetables? In the face of cheap fruit and vegetables, it is hard to take…
We need to think about the benefits of locally grown food before signing off on suburban sprawl. avlxyz/Flickr

Paving our market gardens: choosing suburbs over food

In 1947 the Sydney Basin produced “three quarters of the State’s lettuces, half of the spinach, a third of the cabbages and a quarter of the beans; seventy percent of the State’s poultry farms were in…
The “prices are down and staying down” mentality doesn’t support sustainable agriculture. Kolya

Is Australian agriculture up against it?

There is no doubt that the greatest challenge currently facing agriculture is our capacity to feed an anticipated population of 9 billion by 2050. Not only is there an increasing demand for food, but the…
A Green Climate Fund could help African livestock farmers. International Livestock Research Institute

Planning the Green Climate Fund so it works for African farmers

DURBAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: With a backdrop of global financial woes and the European Union’s debt crisis, the Conference of the Parties at Durban convened with lower expectations but high stakes…
When discussing animal welfare, it’s hard to look at it from the animal’s perspective. phik

What is the value of an animal’s life?

Which is the greater deprivation for an animal: to live a good-quality life abbreviated at less than its natural term by painless slaughter for meat, or to never live at all? How much of an animal’s life…
First step: address under-investment in agricultural research and development. AAP

How can CHOGM start a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa?

CHOGM: As the leaders of Commonwealth nations meet in Perth, The Conversation is examining the role of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) Meeting. Daniel Rodriguez from the University…
Beef processing contributed to Cargill’s $US2.7 billion in earnings this year. AAP

The most powerful companies you’ve never heard of: Cargill

Welcome to “The most powerful companies you’ve never heard of” – an ongoing series from The Conversation that sheds light on big companies with low profiles. Today, The University of Queensland’s Clive…
Canola is one of two GM crops approved in Australia. Ngarkat

Busting the GM myths: a view from Greenpeace

The Conversation recently published an article looking at the myths about genetic modification. This article is a rejoinder to that piece, and a contribution to the ongoing debate about whether there is…
Iron-rich rice helps feed the poor: could we do it without patenting? Jane Rawson

Will patenting crops help feed the hungry?

Rice is the primary source of food for roughly half the world’s population. But it falls well short of providing enough iron, zinc and pro-vitamin A to meet daily nutritional requirements. Iron deficiency…
Grape growers are already suffering emotional stress because of climate change. ryanovineyards/Flickr

Positive mental health key to tackling rural climate change

Mental health has been an issue in rural areas for the past few decades. Climate change will only add more stress to the lives of rural people. While a report by the Climate Institute shows broad scale…
In India, species decline when they have to share land with agriculture. flickrPrince

Food vs. fauna: can we have our biodiversity and eat, too?

So, we have to feed an extra 2.5 billion people by 2050. For those of us interested in the future of biodiversity on this planet, this poses an uncomfortable challenge. It is also the topic of a recent…
GM is not being used to make fishbread Frankenfoods. Dave Lifson/Flickr

Top five myths about genetic modification

The Conversation asked CSIRO scientist, Richard Richards, to look at the top five myths about genetic modification (GM), and correct the public record. Myth one: GM is just haphazard, imprecise cross-breeding…
Your cafe breakfast was brought to you by phosphorus, but we’re running out. caccamo/Flickr

Securing phosphorus: food for thought, and food for the future

Take a moment to think about your next meal. It will contain phosphorus. You contain phosphorus. In fact, you can’t survive without phosphorus: it’s in our DNA and our cell membranes. Nothing can survive…
Environmental activists have targeted palm oil – an industry crucial to Indonesia’s development. AAP

Big NGOs should stop monkeying around and get tougher on the West

In 1990 there were about 400 international environmental groups. Today, this number is more like 1.4 million. So why is the world apparently in a worse state now? Have environmental groups paid too much…
The benefits of lifting the import ban on bananas outweigh the risks. Maxey

As the apple import ban crumbles, is it time to go bananas?

The ban on importing apples from New Zealand was lifted earlier this month, bringing to an end a restriction established in 1921. With this long history of protection from imports, it is not unexpected…
Despite attacks, CSIRO isn’t giving up on genetic research. AAP

CSIRO: GM essential for health and food security

Just as medical researchers work to unlock the role our human genes play in disease, CSIRO investigates how plant genes can be used to boost the health benefits of food, increase crop yields and prevent…
Farmers are worried about their land and water, but governments want their gas. AAP

Food or fuel: how will governments solve the coal seam gas dilemma?

Food security and energy security are paramount to the survival and growth of Australia. Food security so that we may feed ourselves (and a hungry world), and energy security for transport, heating, lighting…
More than just a patch of dirt: the clean energy plan should help us get the most out of our land. bfick/flickr

A Clean Energy Future: what’s in it for the land?

The Australian government’s plan for a Clean Energy Future contains a number of measures aimed at supporting farmers and land managers to provide emissions offsets. The plan consists of a mix of market-based…
Funding for agricultural research and development has to come from somewhere. AAP

A GST on food could save us from shortages

Food security is on the agenda for Australia. I wrote on this recently, pointing out that while we currently grow enough to feed 60m people, we are not immune to food security pressures. Wealthier nations…
Smaller farmers face increasing competition and struggle to break into institutional markets. AAP

These are dark days for smallholder farmers

Agriculture in Australia is at the crossroads. Not only must smallholder farmers contend with the adverse impacts of global climate change, a strong Australian dollar and greater deregulation in the market…
If farmers aren’t exempt, times could get even tougher. Big Grey Mare/Flickr

No carbon tax on petrol, but who’ll bear the brunt?

The recent announcement that a carbon tax would not be levied on petrol for cars or light vehicles used by motorists, tradespeople and small businesses is an interesting political statement. But this statement…
Planting trees on farmland can offset emissions, but does it add up? Fabio Strozzi/flickr

Trees or crops: will carbon farming be the end of agriculture?

Planting trees in cleared agricultural landscapes is one way for the land use sector to help offset emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide. But will it displace agriculture? Establishing trees is a robust…
Livestock may also face mistreatment without leaving Australian shores. AAP

Live animal export problems begin in our own paddock

Throughout the heated debate around live animal exports over the past week, there has been an implicit assumption that the mistreatment of Australian cattle only ever begins after the animals have left…
Irrigators say they like the Windsor Inquiry, but are they looking after their own interests? AAP

Inquiry slams ‘Swiss cheese effect’ in the Murray-Darling Basin

The Windsor Inquiry has handed down its report on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It recommends a halt to water buybacks, more investment in irrigation efficiency and a new governance model for the Basin…
Indonesian abattoirs should agree to stun cows before they’re slaughtered. AAP

Live animal export ban doesn’t go far enough

The Federal Government’s move to ban live cattle exports to a handful of Indonesian abattoirs will not, in the long term, end the inhumane slaughtering practices revealed in Monday’s Four Corners report…
Peak coffee or no peak coffee, it’s the farmers that end up empty handed. AAP

Not just a few beans: the true cost of coffee

Coffee prices are rising again, and you might be wondering how much more you’ll soon pay for your morning coffee. Although coffee prices are fickle the fluctuations affect most of us very little compared…
It doesn’t look like much, but a lot of hopes rest on biochar. Flickr/visionshare

Can biochar save the planet?

In our efforts to address climate change by avoiding or sequestering CO₂, we have shown a lot of interest in “engineering” solutions (such as carbon storage through pumping and storing CO2 underground…
Publicly funded scientists have a responsibility to the public. AAP

Science and alpine grazing: politics and responsibility

Australian science institutions and scientists must retain the confidence of the public and Australian governments. By blurring facts, disrespecting other institutions' research processes and turning their…
It’s blue skies for some parts of the Basin, but others are left wanting. AAP

Government myopic on Murray Darling’s complex needs

The controversy over the Murray Darling Basin Guide centres on the need to strike a balance between the social, economic and environmental uses of water. The difficulties in undertaking this task are most…
Buying up farmland in developing countries may be the only answer. ILRI/flickr

When the world starves, where will Australia get its food?

FOOD SECURITY - You don’t hear about it as much, but global food security is a major issue, probably of more concern than climate change. It is driven by increasing population, changes in diet, increasing…
We need to preserve and conserve our soils to protect our food supply. NateLove on Flickr

Soil: it’s what keeps us clothed and fed

FOOD SECURITY - Soils can help us solve two of the most pressing problems of the coming decades: climate change and food shortage. There is more fresh water in the world’s soils than in all its lakes and…
We must innovate to avoid a food crisis. AAP

To feed the world, farming emissions must rise

FOOD SECURITY - Agriculture is one of the few industries in the world in which emissions must rise. The carbon footprint of farming will become larger over the next 40 years as we feed a rapidly growing…
The world’s population will be 9 billion by 2100. How will we feed ourselves? Herry Lawford/Wikimedia Commons

Time to modify the GM debate

FOOD SECURITY - Here’s how things stand. More than 500 million farmers produce crops and livestock that can feed nearly 7 billion people, and yet 1 billion still go hungry. It’s estimated that the world’s…
Cattle grazing in Alpine National Park is not supported by science. foxypar4 on flickr

Science the loser in Victoria’s alpine grazing trial

In January, 400 cattle were released into Victoria’s Alpine National Park as part of a research trial to investigate the influence of strategic grazing as a tool to reduce fuel loads and bush fire risk…

Research and News (9)

Research Briefs (69)

Wild dogs threaten sheep stocks

Wild dogs may eliminate rangeland sheep production within 40 years unless there is boosted coordinated effort between landholders…

Pollination a fine-balancing act

Honey bees are thought to be the primary pollinators, but wild insects may be better. Two new studies, one published in Science…

Corn crops defeat acidic soil

Certain types of corn can grow in soil that would kill most plants. A genetic variation in certain strands of corn has meant…

Moth detox trick is costing crops

Scientists have revealed the ‘evolutionary trick’ that makes the Diamondback moth such an expensive agricultural pest. The…

Asiatic pear genome mapped

The genome of the Asiatic pear has been accurately sequenced to within 3% of its complete assembly. Sometimes referred to…

Warming threatens wheat crops

Climate change could reduce wheat yields, as the grain stops growing prematurely in hotter weather. Scientists analysed the…

Threatened species rely on agriculture

Farming sustains threatened species, according to new research from the University of East Anglia. Rather than using farmland…

Walnuts are super-sensitive to climate

Warmer, drier summers and extreme weather events considered possible as the climate changes would be especially troublesome—possibly…

Even plants get stressed

Plant and computer scientists have discovered the genes plants use to manage environmental stresses. Called “cis-regulatory…

Soil nitrite cleanses the air

Researchers have discovered that soil nitrite is released into the air in the form of nitrous acid (HONO). The atmosphere…

Diet affects sheep sex

Research shows that feeding pea silage to ewes increased the likelihood of male lambs being born by 15%. The study took 300…