Monthly Archives: May 2014

Future Farming in Australia

For those who like to listen rather than read -a podcast in Big Ideas – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Discussing largely issues surrounding beef farming and related ‘big ag’ topics – which is a shame. The title should probably be ‘Future of Beef Farming’.

One of the things the participants kept harping on about was the fact 20% of farms producing 80% of commercial produce (the limited picture captured by current statistics). There was a fairly condescending comment by Vicky saying ‘there’s no future in poverty farming’, which I found typical of the current discussion in mainstream media. I fully agree that there is no future in poverty farming. However unlike the seeming consensus in the room I don’t think large scale industrial agriculture is the long term answer. More likely a very short-term view by vested interests with long-term disastrous consequences. The more important question would be why small farms have been driven to such ‘poverty’. The narrow viewpoint of only counting economic output, ignoring the multitude of issues that should be involved in this discussion, is certainly a major contributor. Questions such as environmental costs, social costs, food sovereignty, food quality (rather than quantity at cheapest cost) were not even mentioned.

The discussion seemed to me rather uncritical and had a very high density of ‘wank words‘ specially by the two female participants which were rather hard to distinguish from one another in the podcast. Rather unusual and disappointing for the normally high standards set by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Big Ideas Program.

Another comment that caught my ear was the ‘strong cooperative approach in danish agriculture’. Hear, hear ! Shame that again the discussion drifted into the same old boring ‘marketing’ gibberish.


The tragedy of waste

The following article is from a slightly unusual source – the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. A slightly technical view, but well worth the read, specially if you are interested in FoodTech.

Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.

Original source:
Global Food Report (PDF):

Politics of Bioregional Democracy

The following article is an excellent read by James Bernard Quilligan in Kosmos Journal on the future of water scarcity and security.

Water scarcity is the result of climate change, diminished rainfall, overpopulation, inefficient infrastructure, over-pumping of aquifers, pollution and wasteful agricultural practices. Nearly three billion people around the world are experiencing periodic water shortages. It’s affecting people in southern and northern Africa, the Middle East, the nations of central Asia, China, India, Australia, Mexico and southwestern United States.

Far from only discussing the problems the article also goes intThe Self: Human Dignity through Bioregional Identity

Every life is sacred from conception to death. Respecting the lives of sentient beings is at the core of human existence. Human dignity is the basis of freedom, justice and social solidarity. But the reality is that very few people receive the respect they deserve. When individuals abuse power and wealth, they create imbalances with others in society. This is how human potential is suppressed and why human rights often do not deal with the fundamental reason for these disparities.

All in all this is a highly recommended read for anybody interested in the the politics around water which after all is one of the most crucial elements of food production. No matter where and at which intensity.

Original Article:

Was my granny a thief ?

Growing up on a family farm I remember all sorts of seeds being dried (mainly) by my grandmother. There were beans in all shapes and sizes, flower seed as well as pumpkin seeds. It was part of our winter-jobs as kids to help with the cleaning sorting and packaging of these seed before they were stored in a dark and dry spot for the next spring.

Probae esti in segetem sunt deteriorem datae fruges, tamen ipsae suaptae enitent – A good seed, planted even in poor soil, will bear rich fruit by its own nature. (Accius)

Of course some plants do not grow from seed. They are propagated by cuttings being taken from one plant and either “rooting” them in water / soil or by grafting onto another plant-stock (most fruit trees and grape vines would be grafted), but there are obviously other ways as well.

Back in my grannies days most growers did not patent their plants. I am certainly not a lawyer, but from my knowledge the patent laws protecting the “development” of a plant were starting to be written in the 1950’s. Granny and her co-conspirators were busy with their illicit trades back in those days (as were their parents and so on before). Which from most peoples understanding of fairness and common sense would have to constitute some form of ‘prior art’.

The other issue is that, plants being plants, they tend to “propagate” even without your help, and you never know when those runners, bulbs or cuttings might escape the confines of where they have been put. They also have a tendency to be spread by mischievous animals or attach themselves to machinery. Now, without genetic analysis (normally not available to the backyard gardener), it may be impossible to tell if one particular plant is the same as another plant.

What is concerning is that the ‘average person on the street’ really does not feel threatened by our patent system and the patents on life. But there are some encouraging signs. The recent rejection of EU Legislation pushed by Agro-Industry lobbyists was in large parts due to a groundswell of concerned citizens contacting their Members of Parliament (EU). Unfortunately that is not the end of the fight. The EU Commission which is notorious for being circled by an army of lobbyists like vultures has refused to drop this issue.

Reducing this argument of patents on seed (and life) to my granny is an obvious simplification. It might help visualising for many how far removed the average person has become to the food they eat and the issue surrounding this. But when you start looking further into the world and into today’s times, you can see that this has a very real and immediate effect on traditional farmers in what is unfortunately referred to as ‘third world’ countries. Their seeds (and for that matter farming methods) which have taken hundreds of years of localised refinement are being made ‘illegal’. And if not made illegal, they are being denounced as ‘inefficient’ compared to industrial style seeds and methods (which will be the subject of other entries on this blog I am sure).

Time to wake up ! Start saving some seeds and you might save a lot more than you think.


No Patents On Seeds:
Seed Freedom:
Seed Sovereignity:
Monsanto Justifications:

Integrating plant biology and environmental engineering

“When it comes to agriculture in NH, we are like an underdeveloped country.” So says Dorn Cox who is currently making a concerted effort to push farming squarely into the 21st century by building what he refers to as a “biological system” for his farm; it is a most singular system and very much a family enterprise.
By successfully integrating the disciplines of plant biology and environmental engineering, Dorn is constructing a near complete carbon cycle making the farm largely self sufficient, reducing production costs, and limiting off farm purchases.
Dorn Cox is a two-time NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant awardee. He has completed his 2006 grant for Farm-based Biofuel: Production, Storage, Co-generation and Education. He is a 2007 New Hampshire Young Farmer Achievement Award recipient.

Dorn Cox – Tuckaway Farms – Lee, New Hampshire

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

A Living Web Films Production.

Big Ag and Agribotics

I came across an invite for a webinar (see link below) organised by the Robotics Business Review in my social media stream. Although I share an interest in electronics and robotics, I find myself thoroughly disagreeing with the sentiment of this article (event invite).

agricultural robotics by striatic, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  striatic 

‘Barely 2 percent of the U.S. population is on the farm; growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley are hard-pressed to find field workers to hire, and in places like Japan the average age of farmers is 70 years old. The future outlook for more people to fill the gap by taking up farming is slim to none.’
This comment to me seems from a perspective of a robotics person with no knowledge of small scale farming and related food trends. There is a slowly growing “back to the land” movement and I personally know of many more people toying with the idea and some already doing it.

Technology (including robotics) has a potential of being an excellent help, but I do not share the technocratic “Big-Ag” vision. Countless examples have exposed the myth of “efficiency” in Big Ag. There is undoubtedly ‘efficiency’ when viewed the most narrow vision in labor input / production cost, but in a more holistic view there are plenty of Big Ag costs (as well as Small Ag benefits) not counted.

Event Registration:

I am hoping there will be a recording of this webinar as due to timezones I am not going to attend myself. It appears previous webcasts are available (thank you RBR!).

Changing our “food image”

Similar to our media’s obsession with body image which is causing disorders in our population, there is also an obsession with ‘food image’ that has been build over the years largely by advertising.

This has contributed to a lot of waste of perfectly fine food in the traditional industrial supply chain. Some producers have no other options than compost or feed such ‘misfits’ to animals.

Ugly Vegetables

I recently came across a project in Germany called ‘Culinary Misfits’ (see link below) that has made a point of changing these perceptions and do something about this issue. These guys have created a shop for selling food that has been rejected by mainstream food distribution systems. Which helps both producers and some organisations helping to feed more disadvantaged sectors of the community. They are also running courses and there are some lovely images generated via Social Media.

Well Done !

Further reading