Category Archives: Food Production

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.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/future-farming-in-australia/5444270

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: https://event.webcasts.com/starthere.jsp?ei=1034586

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!).

Underground greenhouse

Whilst this particular example by the Benson Institute is situated in a Northern Hemisphere cold climate region, the same principle should apply in Australian conditions. Obviously the aim would be to provide relief from the heat rather than cold by tapping into the thermal mass of soil.

In it’s simplest form it is a rectangular hole in the ground 1.5 – 2 meters deep and covered by plastic or ideally plexi-glass greenhouse sheeting. A rammed earth wall (or dry-stone if you want to get fancy) at the back of the construction and a lower wall at the front provide the angle for the clear. The roof seals the underground greenhouse providing an insulating airspace and allowing the sun to warm the space providing a stable environment for plant growth.

Here is a follow-up video from the original author showing a subsequent year

Resources

Benson Institute Manuals: http://www.bensoninstitute.org/Publication/Manuals/
Pure Energy Services: http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Walipini_Underground_Greenhouses

3D food printing – RN First Bite

Another interesting ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) program discussing the current state and future possibilities in printing your own food. The main part is an interview with a researcher from Cornell University in New York about the usage of their fab@home project to print food.

3D printing of food by Brett L., on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Brett L. 

The program does raise some of the issues commonly associated with the printing of food, but largely focused on the aesthetics and taste. Unfortunately it missed one of the more insidious side-effects of this technology which would most likely lead to more industrialisation and corporatisation of the food eco-system. Personally (while I am a great believer in the potential of Open Source 3D printing and manufacturing) I do think that this would not be a track I would ever want to follow…

Links

March Against Monsanto

Unfortunately (but predictably) mainstream media has pretty much ignored the over 400 events designed to raise public awareness of the practices of this company and their paid lobbyists.

Media Links