18 May

New Technology set to Overhaul the Agriculture Industry?

Over the years, we have seen technology change numerous industries by making jobs easier and more efficient. According to a start-up named ‘FluroSat’, farmers could be in for an exciting future, as they believe to have a solution that will improve crop yields. Not only this, they believe they can save millions of revenue dollars for the whole industry.

Originally from Ukraine, Anastasia Volkova is the CEO of FluroSat and she is a qualified aeronautical engineer. Why did she start a business in agriculture? According to Volkova, she missed her mother’s tomatoes back home and this appreciation of high-quality produce started her passion for making farmers more efficient and sustainable. With her love of vegetables, she wants to improve the quality of produce making its way onto dinner tables every single night.

Essentially, FluroSat is developing a set of multi- and hyper-spectral cameras that can be mounted onto satellites and drones. Once here, this technology can be flown over fields to identify any health issues from above; for example, any crops that are deficient of nutrients or water. Furthermore, a disease might need to be extinguished before it gets a chance to take hold. Rather than relying on a farmer to walk the fields and assess the crops, this device is much faster and more reliable at finding problems.

Currently, the company is working with farmers and agronomists who make daily decisions regarding the management of crops. Using the drones, important data can be processed before then suggesting actions to remove any issues. In an advanced stage, field trials will begin shortly in Moree, Narrabri, Gunnedah, and Tamworth. According to experts, this technology could save hundreds of millions of dollars in the years ahead because yields will be higher. Additionally, water, pesticides, and fertilisers will be used more efficiently, which is something that has been a problem in recent years.

Recently, FluroSat paid a visit to Narrabri to demonstrate the technology with the Australian Cotton Research Institute; this is where the technology will be tested most extensively. Moving forward, Volkova and the rest of the team have highly ambitious plans. If all goes well in the next six months, they want to bring the product to market and then we could see one of the largest changes in the industry that we would have seen in a long time.

With news like this, it shows just what potential there is for all industries in Australia currently. If the product has a successful testing season, farms all over the country will be able to pick up on issues early and have them fixed rather than losing a percentage to disease, malnutrition, or lack of water. With the time that this will save for farmers, they will also have free time to spend elsewhere so this is huge news. As soon as we hear progress from FluroSat or any other source, we will keep you informed!

Source:  Telstra

18 May

2017 – Cattle Projections in Australia

Leading into 2017, we have high carcass weights as well as low female cattle slaughter. In the year ahead, we are expecting much of the same but what else is going to happen in 2017? Today, we will be taking a look through the cattle projections in Australia for this year.

Earlier in the year, it was expected that just over seven million cattle would be slaughtered and recent reports suggest that this was accurate (although we can’t be sure just yet). Currently, there is significant supply pressure but the heavier carcasses are said to be the first step of alleviating this pressure. As a result, we are expecting a small decrease (1%) in beef and veal production compared to the same time period last year.

In terms of the weather, this plays a huge role in the cattle market and we saw good rainfall towards the end of 2016 and into the New Year. With this, it has re-energised the cattle market and prices have increased in the first couple of months of 2017. However, the pressure will come back around as we move towards the middle of the year as national herd numbers slowly increase. In addition to this, the conditions globally are also softer than we would like which means that the seasonal decline will come around as expected.

April Update

Just recently, we saw the release of the ‘April Update’ from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and it this is where much of the information above originated. As we start to get comfortable with the second quarter, the floods in New South Wales and Queensland have severely reduced the expected slaughter. However, experts believe that this could recover towards the end of May and into June as mustering cattle become accessible.

When it comes to shipment to the other large markets, these were quite mixed in the first quarter and they actually reflected the competition and production we are currently seeing at home. On a global scale, the largest market still remains as Japan and they witnessed a 22% increase in the amount of shipments made. Thanks to replenished domestic production, the US reduced their interest by around 27%. Furthermore, the amount of shipments reaching Korea fell by almost one-fifth compared to last year. For our exports to China, a 4% growth figure was seen.

Future Years

Within the report, we can also see the projected figures right up until 2021 and this will be interesting viewing to see how close to accurate they prove to be. For slaughtering, the MLA has predicted an increase of one million by 2021 up to 8,100,000. For average carcass weight, this will increase by around three kilograms whilst beef production will rise by 200,000 tonnes.

Looking globally, imports are widely expected to remain stable over the next four years whilst exports see a boost of 18%. As mentioned, these are just predictions so far but it certainly makes for interesting reading for the next few years!

 

Source: Meat & Livestock Australia

18 May

Guide to Australian Grain Production

According to recent reports, around 22 million hectares of grain crops are planted each and every year in Australia. With the improvement in technology in recent years, grain production has become more reliable and efficient but the split environment still remains the same; the weather patterns have created a north/south divide during the two crop growing periods. Whilst some areas are going for one crop per year, some regions have the right soil and climate to produce in both summer and winter.

On the Whole

If we look at the country as a whole, we are now planting grain crops one whole month earlier than around 30 years ago and this is due to more summer rainfall, less winter rainfall, and various other environmental changes.

North

Ultimately, this is considered as southern and central Queensland passing through New South Wales and down to the Dubbo region. Since the majority of rainfall comes in the summer, this is when the grain crops are produced. However, farmers also see success in the winter because the clay-based soils hold onto moisture and they get help from small winter rains.

In the north, winter crops are actually planted at very different times as New South Wales go through to July whilst Queensland start in March. Therefore, the harvest and rewards of this are seen in September all the way through to the end of the year. For summer crops, these are planted from September through to February.

Examples – Whilst winter sees chickpeas, wheat, barley, faba beans, field peas, oats, triticale, and canola (amongst others), summer is known for sunflowers, sorghum, maize, soybeans, peanuts, and cotton.

South

Elsewhere, the southern region goes below Dubbo to meet Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and includes the wheat belt of WA. In the latter regions, winter is fairly dominant. Generally, the summer sees Mediterranean climates while the rainfall comes in winter, which leads to crop production at this time. Normally, this starts with the ‘opening rains’ in May with the harvest starting in October.

Examples – Typically, summer only really returns maize and irrigated rice but winter can be used for wheat, oats, barley, cereal rye, lupins, canola, lentils, safflower, vetch, and more.

Main Crops

In 2017, wheat remains as the biggest crop in Australia because it is important for pasta, bread, biscuits, and noodles. Although it makes up just 3% of the world supply, it contributes up to 15% of the world’s trade of wheat. After this, barley is also important with over eight million tonnes being produced each and every year. On the world stage, barley trade is huge for Australia providing just less than one-third.

Finally, canola is highly sought after since it is used as food-grade oil and sorghum can be used for consumption by humans or livestock. What we can summaries is that Australia is one of the leaders on the global market when it comes to oats.

Source: Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre 

10 May

457 Australian Work Visa Program is Axed

Over the years, the 457-visa program has not been short of its problems and now the Turnbull government is taking action by replacing it with a Temporary Skill Shortage Visa program. In the new program, there are two different offerings with short-term and medium-term lasting for two and four years respectively. Furthermore, labour market testing will include a two-year work experience requirement, a non-discriminatory test, and a market salary rate assessment.

The Numbers

According to a report back in June 2016, there were around 95,000 holders of the 457 visa and within the Australian labour market, this comes to less than 1% of workers. For those looking to gain a visa for entry, the new visa could be seen as bad news since there are now fewer occupations listed. For the two-year option, there are 268 whilst the four-year visa offers 167 occupations; around 215 fewer than previously. Additionally, a criminal check will be necessary along with English language requirements. Although the initial changes have been implemented already, the full change is expected in 2018.

Impact

Whenever a big change like this comes around, it is important to look at the impact and we should perhaps start by saying that the performance of the labour market works in tangent with the visa program; ultimately, employers actually generate visas. With the new policy, the number of temporary skilled migrants is likely to reduce. Since some occupations have been removed, employers will have a smaller pool of talented workers from which to choose.

Of course, migrants need to be sponsored by employers which drive up 457 visas but the opposite effect can also occur. In the last three years (to June 2016), the amount of visa holders has fallen by more than 10% to 95,000. In truth, this could be set to continue with fewer occupations available and the information technology industry is set to be hit hardest from the change considering they are the largest sponsors. After this, others will be hindered including food services, professional, technical, and scientific services, as well as accommodation services.

Permanent Visas

Between 2015 and 2016, over 50,000 people were granted a permanent visa from a 457 visa and we are currently unsure what this change will do for permanent visas.

Training Fund

At the same time as removing the 457 visa, the government also introduced a training fund and this is likely to help the unemployed get back into work. Despite this being a good start, we could question whether this will really be enough? In recent years, Australian businesses have chosen skilled-migrants rather than training homegrown employees and this mindset needs to be tackled head-on.

Will it Work?

Although we can’t make a judgement and be completely sure, we can say that the two new visas will rely on the same employer-conducted testing. Sadly, the red tape is being increased for good employees so resistance is likely!

Source: The Conversation

18 Apr

National Electricity Market In Need of an Overhaul?

In order to commit to long-term affordable, low emission, and reliable energy, the National Farmers’ Association (NFF) has said that a transformation is required within Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM).

According to the President of the NFF, the farming industry has required reliable, secure, and affordable energy for quite some time. However, the NEM is currently struggling to provide all three of these factors. With so many unjustified tariffs in the industry, farmers are struggling to survive due to overnight electricity bills increasing by two or even three times as much. For any business, this increase is nearly impossible to deal with but the effects are somewhat magnified for farmers.  

Impact

How is this affecting the industry? Not so long ago we heard about some farmers who were choosing to go ‘off the grid’ so to speak to avoid the extortionate costs. Furthermore, diesel generators are coming back into use after being abandoned for systems powered by energy. Even after this, many growers of fruit and vegetables, as well as dairy farmers are investing in whatever back-up facilities they can in case of a blackout which perhaps highlights the lack of consistency and sustainability. For farmers, a blackout of any kind can be detrimental since it shuts off the cooling systems and spoils large amounts of crops in a short time period.

Solution 

Not only is this costing farmers money, these are ‘wallpaper over the cracks’ solutions in that it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. With Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finked at the lead, the NFF has now submitted a review of the NEM. Ultimately, the review suggested that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) need to step in and create a sustainable framework to address the ongoing issues.

However, these changes aren’t just needed by farmers, because around 33% of Australian greenhouse gas emissions come from the generation of electricity. In the long-term, this just isn’t sustainable which is why action needs to be taken today. Additionally, the report suggests that favouring specific technologies isn’t the right decision when you could allow them to compete on their own merits and choose the most efficient and cost-effective solutions.

Although it would be difficult to meet the criteria of the NFF, they believe that the best answer is a market-based approach. Instead of using electricity as a bargaining tool, experts think that both sides need to move on from the past and work towards a long-term solution that benefits both parties. Currently, a ‘do-nothing’ approach is being employed but this isn’t sustainable because it will ruin many industries including farming.  

With this in mind, we clearly see the opinion of the NFF and it is surely only a matter of time before we see changes? At the very least, we can hope for open discussions between the two parties. If heads are put together, we have an opportunity to reduce the pressure on farmers and move forward, rather than going backwards with diesel-powered generators!

Source: National Farmers Federation

18 Apr

Livestock Shortage in Australia – Foreign Investment the Solution?

Ever since the problem of a shortage in livestock surfaced, many have proposed solutions but now one general manager believes foreign investment to be key. Greg Cross, at Fletcher’s International Exports, said that livestock was above 36 million when the company opened a processing facility in Narrikup nearly 20 years ago. Now, it stands a little above 13 million and Cross believes the industry is in ‘trouble’.

In a recent interview, he continued by saying that these were ‘challenging times’ since wool prices are so high, livestock numbers are so low, and the weather even seems to be betting against the processors. Normally, the facilities belonging to Fletcher’s never have stand-down days leading up to the summer but they have been forced to take five already this year.

Weather

Although Cross says there are other factors in play, the extended rains allowed a good amount of feed and water for all farmers. However, the many problems need a fast solution and the only way to do this is to encourage foreign investment. In the long term, he believes improved technology and innovation would bring more producers to the market but this isn’t something that can be introduced quickly. Therefore, investment from a foreign source is the only way to have an impact right now.

Population 

At this stage, we should also mention the increase in world population. Not only is this figure growing over time, more people are learning about the value of protein. In the Middle East, China, and India, this has been a huge focus in recent years but it is a tricky balance because the good people of Australia still need their protein too.

Employees 

Back to Cross and Fletcher’s, he said that the current state of the industry was having a huge impact on all processing employees. Suddenly, businesses are having to cover their costs which means that hard-working individuals are losing days of work. With each employee comes a mortgage, family, and various other costs and businesses are having to tell them that they have stand-down days which can be devastating.

Although the company did expect a drop in production due to the various factors we have discussed, Fletcher’s were surprised at just how much of an impact these factors had. For producers, the low amounts of livestock passing through abattoirs is very good news despite not being welcomed by most processors.

For Cross, he finished off by saying that he has been in the industry for 30 years so he has seen it all. With the good days come the bad; he says that things always flip around sooner or later from good to bad or bad to good and this is something that comes with the industry. With mixed luck for processors and producers, it will certainly be interesting to see whether the industry receives the foreign investment Cross suggests is the solution!

Source: ABC News

18 Apr

Farming Price Review for 2017

At the start of every year, farmers face unpredictable markets but we start to learn a general trend as we head into the second quarter. In 2017, this has been no different and today we have reports for the price of both lamb and milk. Without further ado, let’s take a look!

 Lamb – Firstly, this niche is certainly providing interesting viewing because everything seems to be pulling in the direction of the farmer. In recent years, the slaughter of lamb has reduced somewhat whilst demand has steadily risen. Thanks to simple supply and demand, we know that prices should increase in this situation and this has been the case.

 According to the MLA, a little under 22 million lambs will be sent to slaughter in 2017 which is a decrease from last year of around 2.7 million. In terms of mutton, this is actually at its second-lowest point since records began. As the prices of wool continues to increase, farmers are choosing to keep hold of older ewes to boost their herd sizes.

 Prices – Per kilogram of carcass weight, the average price in 2016 was 558 cents; in the first quarter of 2017 alone, this has already increased to 614 cents. In addition to the higher demand, grain prices are staying low which means that the larger flocks are easier to feed. With all of these factors in mind, it is mostly good news for farmers but they have been warned to be careful. As soon as supply evens out with demand, experts suggest that the prices could crash faster than ever before.

Milk – When it comes to milk, production has been dropping severely recently but 2017 is expected to change this. Why? Ultimately, grain is low as we mentioned with the lambs but milk prices are also set to increase. With the arrival of interest from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, the next three seasons will boost the prices of milk; in all three of these regions, incomes and populations are both improving.

 In truth, these increases in dairy prices aren’t just seen at home because they are increasing all over the world. With Russia re-opening their market and the reduced turn-off in the European Union as well as New Zealand, the pressure continues to grow for world dairy prices. For example, skim milk powder is forecast to increase by 16% whilst butter stands at 31%, whole milk powder at 37%, and cheese at 14%. Currently, global production cannot keep up with demand and experts suggest it will stay this way until 2019/20.

 So far, farmgate prices have gone up by 2% this year in Australia but the current prediction for the end of the year is 7%; however, this is dependant on a few factors including higher world prices and a depreciation in the value of the Australian dollar.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain; it is set to be an interesting few years and one that farmers can enjoy whilst remaining vigilant of the expected crash!

Source: Farm Online, Farm Online, ABC Rural

18 Apr

Finest Ice Cream in Australia Courtesy of the Crooke Family

If you were to ask a group of people for their favourite ice cream, you would get multiple answers and this is the beauty of the product. However, ask what ice cream gives the best value and a growing amount of people would say Gundowring Ice Cream. Why? Because, despite the company running out of a former shed, they have won multiple awards and accolades in their young 13-year history. When they enter competitions, the industry has come to expect them to win something and this speaks volumes for the brand itself.

How Did it Start? 

According to Sarah Crooke, she and her husband visited Pennsylvania State University in the United States in order to attend a highly-decorated ice cream course. Although it sounds a little like a fairytale, there is such as course to explain the various processes in making ice cream from flavour powders to temperatures, food dyes to stabilisers and emulsifiers.

At one point during the course, Sarah lifted her hand into the air and said ‘what if we were to use fresh raspberries’; the rest, as they say, is history (despite the many strange looks they got during the rest of the course). Before they left to come back home, the lecturer actually pulled Sarah and Stephen to one side and shared all the knowledge they had on using fresh fruit within ice cream recipes.

Now – At Gundowring, it is the definition of a family business with the Crookes being helped by their son and daughter-in-law. After opening up a factory in a former shed on their dairy farm, they started to produce the first products with a little help from 500 Holstein Friesan cows just outside. On the farm, the cows are free to roam 1,000 acres of beautiful land on the river flats of Kiewa Valley. Furthermore, we should also note that their location in northeast Victoria is also perfect for producing high-quality chestnuts, figs, rhubarb, green tea, hazelnuts, and wine.

High-Quality Ice Cream

Despite having all the resources just outside the shed door, the Crookes still needed a plan and they decided upon quality and value as a unique selling point. Whilst other companies were using flavourings and various additives, the Crookes actually wanted a healthy ice cream with real fruit and flavours included. At first, the project would only take place in the evenings and on spare weekends. Just as they asked in the Pennsylvania ice cream course, they started with raspberries and perfected the recipe.  

Despite humble beginnings, it didn’t take long to visit the Melbourne Royal Show where they actually won the Champion Ice Cream award. Even with their growth in recent years, they promise to stick to their roots and use natural ingredients. According to the son, James, we are never going to see a Gundowring ‘Bubblegum’ flavour because they prefer to focus on value, high-quality, and natural ingredients.

Source: Australian Country

28 Feb

How To Make Your Farming Dream A Reality

If you’re anything like thousands of people across Australia you probably have squashed farm ownership dreams.
Look at the photos we have here of Tim and Tegan Hicks and their family, it’s so beautiful it makes you sick. But right now if things stay the way they are this photo of a happy family on their own farm will never be a reality. They don’t have the cash. They have the passion, vision, drive and skills, they just don’t have $5 million.
What we’ve realised is that there are actually many ways you can resurrect your farm ownership dreams and we have listed these below.

1. Hope

The first step on the pathway is to actually realise that you could own your farm. Without this hope, you won’t do the thinking or put in the effort needed to make it a reality.
We’re telling you now that you can own your farm; it just might not be that you own 100% of the farm yourself.
You could have a retiring farmer sponsor you onto their farm and set up a vendor finance deal with you – this is what happened all the time in the old days and we need to bring it back.
You could own the farm with an investor or two. There are plenty of people buying farms, but they need your expertise and passion to make it profitable. Why not partner with them?
There are organisations out there that can help you with all of this, as well which we will reveal below.

2. Farm-Ready

Now that you are pumped to have your farm dreams back you need to ensure you are farm-ready. You’ll most likely be farming with other people so you need to impress them with a myriad of skills and passion.
Write down your farm dream. Where is it? What are you farming? What methods will you use? How will you drag yourself out of bed at 4 am? This step clarifies what you’re fighting for.
Make a note also of why you are passionate about owning your farm. What is it inside you that is burning? Describe it and talk it out whenever you meet with anyone – having a burning passion you can describe to others is powerful and you never know what opportunities might come out of it.
What skills do you have and what skills do you need? Undertake an audit and if you don’t have the skills to match your dream, start learning. Jump online and find the courses available for that topic. Reach out to local farmers and ask them to be your mentor. Take a job as a farm manager and work hard to build your skills and reputation.
At the same time, become the real-estate royalty of your district. You should know when farmers are looking to leave the land before they do. At the same time, everyone should know of your passion to be a farmer. This is so that when they are thinking of moving on you, will be front and centre in their mind as the best possible person to hand the farm over to.
Be like an entrepreneur who is constantly hustling. Find as many different angles as you can to get yourself on your farm and pitch your vision and plan to anyone who will listen.

3. Farm Ownership

Now that you are farm-ready and everyone knows it, we can get you on your farm.
This doesn’t have to happen 5-10 years down the track. If you are hustling, you could find a retiring farmer who would back you onto their farm, or an investor who wants you because of your passion and tenacity.
How do you find investors? You can try to Google them or else chat with organisations who do this for a living, such as Cultivate Farms www.cultivatefarms.com.

The ball is now clearly in your court – your dream farm will reveal itself if you are looking and everyone knows you are.

Author: Sam Marwood is the co-founder of Cultivate Farms. They are a social enterprise aiming to rejuvenate regional Australia by making it possible for young people to own and operate their own farm.

24 Feb

Two Innovative Steps Forward for the Australian Farming Industry

It has been generally positive for the Australian farming industry so far this year, and we have seen this with the new export opportunities that have arisen. This is set to continue as new varieties of rice and grapes have been researched and produced. Should their respective trials go well, this will make a huge difference to sales and exports once again for the industry.

Rice

Overall, there are two different varieties of short-season rice currently being trialled in the Riverina. Depending on the results, it could be a big step forward for productivity because there is a potential to multiply the crop by two. After harvesting the winter crop as per normal, the summer rice crop can be planted immediately after so it would work efficiently for all involved. Seeing as though they are late sowing varieties, it opens the door for things that could never be done before.

Although previous and smaller tests have been completed to this point, 2017 will see the first widespread trial for the varieties that have been developed by The Australian Rice Partnership. As well as increasing production, experts have also stated that they take significantly less water to grow. Even though they are planted later than regular rice, they still produce a yield comparable to that of the long-season varieties. Considering the season is shorter and the yield is the same, water consumption can be reduced whilst the ‘tonnes per hectare’ figure moves in the opposite direction.

Grapes 

Moving away from rice, there is also good news for the fruit sector because numerous brand new grape varieties are being grown in Carnarvon, Western Australia. As the main example, we could be set to welcome the ‘Sweet Sapphire’ to the market which is a much longer variety of the fruit; in fact, most are the size of the average thumb. In the development phase of the trials, around 1,700 boxes were filled (from 1,200 vines) which is a positive yield. As a result, around three more hectares have been planted at the location with plans to increase this further.

Included in the new varieties, consumers may also soon be eating Candy Hearts (sweet, red grapes) as well as Cotton Candy (white grapes). Up until this point, there has been an air of negativity surrounding the grape season in Carnarvon after encountering issues with the white varieties. In addition to being late, the temperature also remained low for so long which caused problems in the sugar levels in white grapes. However, there is now much more positivity with the suggestion of the new varieties.

Summary 

All in all, it looks as though it will be a good year for Australian farmers. If both of these new varieties make it to market, it will improve efficiency and it may just give the country a unique selling point when it comes to both rice and grapes on the world stage.

Source: The Weekly Times & ABC