Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘australia’

190129-superweeds-herbicide-resistance-pesticides-palmer-amaranth-mark-van-gessel2

Photo: Delaware Agriculture
Mark VanGessel, Professor of Weed/Crop Management at the University of Delaware, with an invasive palmer amaranth plant.

Agribusiness presents all sorts of challenges these days. For one, weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup, the herbicide that has received so much attention for causing cancer. And having a huge number of acres makes it hard to find a paying crop to plant on alternative years, which can help improve the soil.

A report at Civil Eats, rebroadcast by Public Radio International, got me interested in Australia’s superweed problem. In it, Virginia Gewin explained how near-desperation was causing to farmers to get creative.

“In December, C. Douglas ‘Bubba’ Simmons III left his corn and soybean farm in northwest Mississippi to visit the dryland wheat fields in Western Australia, a region considered to be the herbicide resistance capital of the world. Plagued with unwelcome intruders such as annual ryegrass and wild radish that have evolved resistance to several herbicides, Australian farmers have been forced to develop new approaches to manage weeds — and their seeds. It hasn’t been easy. Farmers there are paying roughly 27 percent more per acre due to increased management and yield loss, according to Bayer.

“Simmons visited several farms in the southern half of the state of Western Australia with three other U.S. farmers and a weed scientist. … Simmons, eager to learn from growers who have faced similar weed concerns, was inspired by Aussie ingenuity. It remains to be seen whether their mechanical and cultural solutions will work in the U.S., given Australia’s much drier landscape. …

” ‘I think Mississippi might even be considered ground zero for the number of herbicide-resistant weeds we have,’ he says. ‘It’s a constant battle from mid-March to mid-November.’

“The long growing season and warmer climates in some parts of the South allow noxious weeds to thrive. But ‘superweeds’ that refuse to die when sprayed with herbicides have been taking over crop land across the U.S. farm belt and beyond. Globally, 255 different weeds have developed resistance to 163 different herbicides, but the most concerning are the 43 that have developed resistance to glyphosate (the main chemical in the widely used weed killer Roundup). These weeds compete with crops for space, water, and nutrients in the soil — and they’re beginning to impact many farmers’ yields. …

“Palmer amaranth, an aggressive pigweed that has devastated crops in the South and Midwest, is one of the worst. Each plant can produce at least 100,000 seeds, and, when left unchecked, they can grow to be taller than some people. …

“ ‘We really need to think about other methods,’ says [Christy Sprague, a Michigan State University professor and weed extension specialist who also traveled to Australia]. It won’t be easy. Farms have gotten larger and larger, so it’s unclear what physical approaches can be incorporated into current farming systems. Cover crops also show promise in suppressing weeds, for example, University of Arkansas weed scientist Jason Norsworthy found that a cereal rye cover crop suppressed roughly 83 percent of palmer amaranth. But their use among farmers is only growing slowly. …

“ ‘Our mantra—keep the weed seed bank as low as possible,’ says Lisa Mayer, manager of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative and WeedSmart at the University of Western Australia. In other words, control these seeds, and keep them from turning into new weeds. To that end, farmers have developed a number of approaches to catch and destroy the seeds. Some pile the wheat chaff into lines behind the combine, which can be collected or burned. They also use the Harrington Weed Seed Destructor, a device that pulverizes weed seeds as the grain is harvested.

“These methods have proven to kill 95-99 percent of the annual weed seed produced. In combination with some herbicides, weed populations have been reduced to around 1 plant per square meter, which lowers the potential for resistance. …

“Simmons says the big takeaway he learned from his Australian counterparts was the need for farmers to help develop new tools for the fight against weeds. Despite the often-intense pressure to continue buying herbicides, Simmons says growers can’t continue as if there’s only a single tool in the toolbox.” More here.

I can’t help thinking smaller farms are the answer, but can they feed a planet that already has too much hunger?

Photo: University of Delaware Carvel REC
The root structure of the invasive palmer amaranth weed makes it almost impossible to eradicate. And it produces a huge number of seeds.

190129-superweeds-herbicide-resistance-pesticides-palmer-amaranth-700x468

Read Full Post »

10031060-3x2-large

Photo: ABC Rural/ Jess Davis
To avoid using plastic, Allen Short has made more than 3,000 small berry baskets from recycled timber donated by makers of wood veneer.

Many of us have been trying to phase out our use of plastic, starting with single-use plastic, and smart companies are focused on meeting the demand.

Biofase in Mexico, for example, takes unwanted avocado pits and makes things like picnic cutlery and straws that biodegrade sustainably. I was especially glad to hear about Biofase after people complained they hated the paper straws our eco-conscious ice cream place started using — and caused the ice cream parlor to switch back to plastic. As visions of plastic-straw-choked sea turtles danced in my head, I thought I’d better let that shop know there was a better alternative than paper for getting rid of plastic straws.

Farmers, too, are working on ways to reduce their plastic footprint — and save money.

As Jess Davis reported at ABC Rural in Australia last summer, “Gippsland beef producer Paul Crock believes he can go plastic-free, despite being in an industry reliant on single-use plastics.

” ‘Without putting too fine a point on it, meat uses a lot of plastic,’ he said. … Mr Crock said it was needed for health and hygiene. Plus, vacuum packing increases shelf life by up to eight weeks.

“Mr Crock is in discussions with European companies that are looking at plastic alternatives, and he has even floated the idea of casings for meat, similar to what you would find on the outside of a sausage. …

” ‘We want to be remaining ahead of the curve and looking at ways we can minimise plastic.’

“But Melbourne butcher Tony Montesano said there was no easy solution.

” ‘Unfortunately you’ve got to use some [plastic]. You can’t exactly have just a flesh of meat. Where do you put it? You can’t exactly put it in your pockets.’

“Mr Montesano allows his customers to bring their own containers to the deli, but that is not something the two major supermarkets allow. …

“Fruit and vegetables also rely heavily on plastic packaging. Allen Short is doing his part to reduce plastic in the berry industry by making punnets [small berry baskets] out of offcuts from the timber industry.

“He started making the punnets for his neighbour, who grows strawberries near Daylesford in central Victoria, and had so far made more than 3,000. …

“Mr Short approached the Timber Veneer Association, which helped him out with scraps. Now, it deliberately sets aside the offcuts at no cost.

 ‘All these [veneer pieces] were just going into landfill, so now they’re being stacked up and given to us and we’re making full use of them,’ he said. …

“While he hoped more people would get on board with sustainable packaging, scaling up an operation like his for the industry at large would be more difficult.

” ‘We’re not going to change the industry but we’re going to do our little bit. And I can’t help but think that taking someone else’s waste product and turning it into a useful thing is a good thing.’ ” I will add that everyone doing their bit is also a good thing.

Read more at ABC, here.

Read Full Post »

sans-forgetica-1120-newshub

Photo: Newshub
Sans Forgetica is a typeface meant to aid memory. It was invented by researchers at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.

There’s a new memory-boosting font that you can download for free and use for short texts. The inventors say you wouldn’t want to use it for long texts like a novel because it would give you a headache. But I say, what good is a typeface if you can’t read novels with it?

Lisa Martin writes at the Guardian, “Australian researchers say they have developed a new tool that could help students cramming for exams – a font that helps the reader remember information.

“Melbourne-based RMIT University’s behavioural business lab and design school teamed up to create ‘Sans Forgetica,’ which they say uses psychological and design theories to aid memory retention.

“About 400 university students have been involved in a study that found a small increase in the amount participants remembered – 57% of text written in Sans Forgetica compared with 50% in a plain Arial.

“Typography lecturer Stephen Banham said the font had an unusual seven-degree back slant to the left and gaps in each letter.

“ ‘The mind will naturally seek to complete those shapes and so by doing that it slows the reading and triggers memory,’ Banham told the Guardian.

“Senior marketing lecturer Janneke Blijlevens said the concept of ‘desirable difficulty’ underpinned the font’s design. …

“The font was designed with year 12 students cramming for exams in mind but could also be used to help people studying foreign languages and elderly people grappling with memory loss.” More at the Guardian, here.

I can see that having to work harder to read something may cause memory to fire on more burners, but when I was a kid, a friend who purported to analyze handwriting told me that broken letters like this indicated a criminal mind!

Read Full Post »

Photo: Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Australian wetlands researchers behind the Feather Map invite citizen scientists to send feathers and include an explanation of where the feathers were found.

I recently saw a great quote on twitter from a Rhode Islander about what he learned years ago when he visited post-apartheid South Africa: “I learned that the power that you have to change big things is entirely about how strong of a community you can form.”

That quote came to mind as I was reading about how researchers in Australia are enlisting the enthusiasm of citizen scientists to address the challenges of wetlands protection. That may not sound as important as ending apartheid, but wetlands are expected to play a big role in the fight against global warming.

Livia Albeck-Ripka had a report at the New York Times.

“One day in April 2016, Kate Brandis opened a weathered envelope, mailed to her from suburban Sydney. Instead of a letter inside, she found the feathers of an Australian white ibis. A day or so later, another envelope arrived, stuffed with more feathers. In the days following, more began to come.

“Soon, Dr. Brandis, who is a research fellow at the University of New South Wales’s Center for Ecosystem Science, was receiving three to four envelopes a day containing the feathers of birds from across Australia, including those of pelicans, wood ducks, cormorants, herons and spoonbills. …

“Two years before, she had put out a call to the public to send her fallen feathers of wetland birds so she could analyze where they came from, in an effort to map how the birds are moving between the country’s disappearing wetlands. …

“Wetlands — which include swamps, marshes, lakes, mud flats and bogs — are biodiverse ecosystems that can improve the quality of water and mitigate damage from flooding and pollution. But since the beginning of the 20th century, some estimates say, more than half the world’s wetlands have been lost, largely because of human activities. …

“Now, the impacts of climate change — which can include less rainfall in some areas, changing river flows and flood patterns, and potential saltwater intrusion into inland bodies of water — are further threatening some of Australia’s wetlands, and the birds that rely on them for breeding. …

“ ‘When our floodplains flood, which is only every couple of years, these birds come together in the hundreds of thousands to breed,’ Dr. Brandis said. But when the water recedes, the birds disband. …

“Where do the birds come from, and where do they go afterward? ‘Because we don’t track our birds, we have no idea,’ she said.

“Traditional tracking methods, like banding birds, have not fared well in Australia. … Many birds, like the ibis, have a high mortality rate. Another factor is simply Australia’s size: Inland birds often go to places where people do not.

“For that reason, Corrie Kemp, a 73-year-old retiree from Queanbeyan, New South Wales, made a special effort to collect feathers for Dr. Brandis’s project from among the most remote corners of Australia, in western Queensland. ‘We made a point of going places where no other people where going,’ Mrs. Kemp said, adding that she and her husband, Peter, had devoted an entire three-month trip to collecting feathers, during which she kept a diary of her discoveries and often corresponded with Dr. Brandis. …

“Bird feathers, like human hair and nails, are made of a protein called keratin. As the feathers grow, the keratin keeps a record of the bird’s diet, much like the rings of a tree. By analyzing a section of a feather, Dr. Brandis and her team can get a snapshot of the bird’s diet while the feather was developing.

“Feathers from chicks — which have spent their entire lives at one wetland — are particularly useful to researchers, providing what Dr. Brandis and her team call a ‘fingerprint’ of each place. By comparing the diet record of adult feathers against this information, researchers hope to map which wetlands the birds have been using, and how healthy those wetlands are. …

“Dr. Brandis said the possibilities were endless when studying animals’ tissue for clues about their environments, their habits and their origins. ‘It’s like the tip of the iceberg.’ ”

Read more about the Feather Map of Australia here and here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: AP
Before the Australian men’s soccer team’s first World Cup appearance in 1974 (pictured above), the team competed in war-torn Saigon.

Young, ambitious Australians, playing for their country for free in 1967, didn’t know any better when they accepted an invitation to a soccer tournament — in Saigon. I heard this story on WBUR radio’s Only a Game. It is beyond amazing.

James Parkinson reported, ” ‘It was one of these stories that you heard at a bar with colleagues and ex-players, and you thought, “Is this really true? Could this really be a thing? Surely this didn’t actually happen,” ‘ sports journalist Davidde Corran says. ‘Except that it really did actually happen. It really was the way that they told it.’

“It was November 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, when an international football tournament was held in Saigon. Eight nations would compete: New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, then South Vietnam and Australia. …

” ‘We were the pawns in the game to win over the South Vietnamese people, so it was a PR exercise,’ says Ray Baartz, a former Australian national team player, from 1967 to 1974. …

“There was little time for the players to think about the potential dangers of sending civilians into a war zone.

” ‘I think it was about a matter of weeks. We’re on the plane off to Vietnam. We didn’t have too many discussions about it,’ says Stan Ackerley, who represented Australia from 1965 to 1969. ‘These days, you would think twice about going.’ …

” ‘Well, the first, biggest shock we got was the amount of armed people we saw — soldiers, sentry points all over the place,”‘ Stan says.

“Bombers here, and fighter planes here, there and everywhere,” Ray says. “You thought, ‘Hello, we are in the middle of a war zone,’ you know? And we got through the airport, and then into the bus to take us to the hotel and had a police escort all the way.” …

” ‘They went to this briefing at the embassy, and one of the things they were told was, “Be careful of people riding on bikes because it might be someone who’s a threat, and they could mistake you for an American or a soldier and attack you and shoot you,” ‘ Davidde says. ‘[These] players, in this completely new surrounding, walk out of the Australian Embassy, and what do they see? Just a city filled with people riding around on bikes.’ …

“The players discovered the proprietor of their hotel had stolen their food vouchers, leaving them with nothing but substitute ham. And Stan received an electric shock, thanks to exposed wires in his room. Even the training pitch was questionable.

” ‘The training field was a real quagmire at the best of times, so you couldn’t train there all the time because of the conditions and that,’ Ray says. ‘It was really a cow paddock. You know, quite often we’d train on the roof of the hotel, just to keep the body moving a little bit. We weren’t allowed to train on the main stadium.’

” ‘There would have been this surreal sight during this short period of the Vietnam War, where footballs were just falling off the top of this building, this hotel, every day during training,’ Davidde says. …

“The tournament began with a group stage. Australia was drawn into Group A alongside New Zealand, Singapore and hosts South Vietnam.

” ‘The army was going around the stadium with mine detectors and so forth, and then you think, “Oh, hello,” ‘ Ray says. …

” ‘You gotta bear in mind that these players — a lot of these players were playing for the national team unpaid,’ Davidde says. ‘You’re taking annual leave to go and play for the national team — you’re sacrificing to play for the national team.’ …

“The Australian team’s PR mission had, in some ways, managed to work. The Vietnamese people had just seen their own team eliminated in the other semifinal. They also loathed the South Korean soldiers. So they began cheering for the Australians. …

” ‘To be part of the first tournament that we ever won was fantastic,’ Ray says. ‘You know, we were all so thrilled and so proud to be a part of it.’

“The magnitude of Australia’s performance in the Friendship Tournament cannot be overstated. Not only did they perform on the pitch, but they did it in remarkable circumstances, and all for the honor of representing their country.

” ‘To play for your country, you have to sacrifice a lot,’ Stan says. ‘So we sacrificed a lot, you know?’ ”

Wow. More at Only a Game, here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Jon Cattapan/Dominik Mersch Gallery
The Decade Positions, by Jon Cattapan (2017).

I’ve been reading arguments lately about “cultural appropriation” — both from those who think artists should stick to their own culture and from those who think that artists who imagine how people from a different culture feel are building understanding.

I thought about the controversy as I read this article on Australia’s indigenous dot art by Brigid Delaney at the Guardian.

“For a long time,” she writes, “the dot painting has been synonymous with Aboriginal art. Emerging out of the remote Northern Territory community of Papunya in the early 1970s, the first dot paintings were produced when art teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged his Indigenous students to paint their stories in murals on the school wall.

“But long before that, circles and dots were used in ceremonies in the form of body paint or marks on the ground. The Papunya people drew on this knowledge in their art, painting stories, ceremonies and rituals, first on walls and then on canvas and board.

“dot, dot, dot […], a new exhibition at Sydney College of the Arts, tackles some of the issues around the use of Papunya dots in paintings, but also looks at why so many artists – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – are attracted to using dots in their work.

“Curator Janelle Evans, a lecturer at Sydney University, a Wingara Mura fellow and Dharug artist, told Guardian Australia that the exhibition had its genesis in 2006, when she conducted an interview with Australian artist and political activist, Richard Bell. ‘He was talking about Aboriginal art as something constructed by the art market.’ …

“The ubiquity of the dot painting was so powerful that Indigenous artists working in different mediums had trouble attracting the interest of the international art market. At the same time, the market became flooded with cheap fakes and rip offs, alongside mass-produced tack such as tea towels made overseas and sold to tourists. …

“In situations like this, Indigenous people rarely see the profits of their artefacts being used, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and appropriation.

“Queensland MP Bob Katter has taken up the cause, putting a private member’s bill before parliament that seeks to amend consumer law to ensure that profits from Indigenous art and artefacts go back to Indigenous communities. …

“What about artists using the dot who are non-Indigenous? It could be seen as cultural appropriation, although Evans says it’s not that clear cut.

“ ‘Non-Indigenous artists who work with dots can work without appropriation. Within the dot, there’s a whole world that can be created. Artists have always referred to other artists in their work but appropriation becomes an issue when you are copying someone’s style. You need to bring your own inquiry to into what you are doing.’ …

“dot, dot, dot […] … focuses on showing work from artists who interpret the dot beyond the style of central and western desert artists and ‘in ways that are non-derivative,’ says Evans.”

More here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Simon Peter Fox 
Deakin University researchers bury the first of 50,000 teabags to be placed in wetlands around the globe as part of a project to monitor which wetlands do best at soaking up the carbon that causes global warming.

It’s reassuring to know that people will keep doing whatever they can for the environment no matter what. The increased carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming will not go away by itself. One approach to breaking it down could come from preserving wetlands.

Melissa Davey writes at the Guardian about Australian scientists who are using Lipton green tea bags and red tea “rooibos” bags to study how wetlands capture carbon and make it harmless.

“Australian scientists have launched a project to bury tens of thousands of teabags in wetlands around the world. …

“Lipton green tea and red tea ‘rooibos’ varieties will be used in the project, which already involves more than 500 scientists in every continent except Antarctica.

“Leader of the project, Peter Macreadie from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab, said wetlands were important for carbon capture and storage, a process known as carbon sequestration, holding up to 50 times as much carbon by area as rainforests.

” ‘But some wetlands are much better at carbon storage than others, and some are in fact carbon emitters, so they’re not all fantastic,’ Macreadie said.

“ ‘We need to find out the best wetland environments for carbon sequestration so we know where we should invest our energy.’

“That’s where scientists have come up against barriers in the past. There are hundreds of thousands of wetlands around the world. A standardised technique for monitoring the carbon is needed for accurate comparison, and monitoring devices can cost thousands of dollars to install.

“But Macreadie had been reading scientific research about teabags being buried and used to measure the rate at which carbon was being released from soil into the atmosphere.

“Fast decay of the tea inside the bag meant more carbon was being released into the atmosphere, while slower decay meant the soil was holding the carbon.

“ ‘I thought, “Jeez this is a bloody good idea. Why aren’t we using it in wetlands?” ‘ Macreadie said.

“ ‘People think of innovation as involving fancy new technology, but sometimes the best ideas are the most simple ones.’ ” More here.

I wonder if this property of tea relates to another thing I’ve noticed. Loose tea seems to absorb the aroma of whatever is around it. I’ve often thought that if you wanted to remove, say, a burned smell from upholstery or clothing, tea (not brewed) could do the trick.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: