31 Oct

Breaking: Chinese ban on Aussie beef lifted

Image: The export of beef products to China will soon resume after a three-month ban was lifted. Photo by Pete Johnson from Pexels, licensed under a CCO agreement.

The Chinese Government has ended a three-month ban on the import of Australian beef products, following negotiations led by Trade Minister Steven Ciobo.

In July this year, the Chinese government delisted six abattoirs after it was discovered that there was a disparity between the box labels and the products within them.

The six abattoirs – JBS Australia’s Beef City, JBS Primo, Kilcoy Pastoral Co, Northern Cooperative Meat Co, Australian Country Choice and Thomas Food International – were suspended from sending beef products to China on July 25th this year.

Products from these six facilities account for around 30% of Australia’s beef exports to China each year, and some have estimated total potential losses of up to $1million per day.

Minister for Trade, Steven Ciobo announced the lifting of the ban today, noting the significance of the trading partnership between the two countries.

‘Australia has an excellent relationship with China, our largest trading partner. The goodwill generated by the success of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) assisted in resolving this matter quickly’.

‘I am grateful for Chinese authorities who worked alongside us to get us back on track,’ said Mr Ciobo on the Nine Network this morning.

Similar bans imposed by China on other countries have taken significantly longer to resolve. It took the German government five months to resolve a ban stemming from the mislabelling of pork products.

Canadian pork was banned for 18 months of a concern regarding additives.

Sources: Weekly Times, Trade Minister, Beef Central.

31 Oct

Meat and Three Veg: Fresh produce industry needs to get with the program to retain profitability

Image: Lettuce Feed You – Horticulture enterprises need to innovate in order to stay ahead of the curve. Photo by Michael, available at Pexel by a CCO agreement.

Australian vegetable growers need to up their game in order to remain profitable and competitive, according to a report recently released by Hort Innovation.

The Vegetable Strategic Investment Plan 2017-2021 highlights the vegetable sector as being the fourth biggest of all Australian agricultural industries behind cattle, wheat and milk. In 2015-2016, the Australian vegetable sector contributed 7.6% towards Australia’s gross agricultural production estimated at $3.5 billion.

But the current position of the Australian vegetable sector could come under threat unless large-scale change is implemented.

Rising input costs and stagnant vegetable prices are already putting profitability under pressure, with growers citing the increasing cost of electricity, fuel, chemicals and fertilisers as being of concern. In many areas, the cost and availability of irrigation water is also an ongoing battle, and the high price of employing staff is often unavoidable.

Supply woes

One of the major issues for the industry is the low number of buyers and the unfavourable ratio of growers to buyers. With few selling options, growers are often at the mercy of buyers aware of the lack of options and are forced to take the price and conditions offered to them. This has also forced growers to leap-frog agents and wholesalers in order to deal directly with retailers.

While innovation is key to staying ahead of the curve, there is some doubt that vegetable growers have the capacity to implement large-scale change. The average age of a vegetable grower is 57, with most having no TAFE or university qualifications. Most farms rely on family members as their workforce given the high cost of wages and are restricted by poor economies of scale. Combined, these conditions restrict profitability and in turn, the ability to invest in the innovation and farm technology.

Demand potential

While there has been a slight decline in domestic purchases of fruit and vegetables, some products are experiencing a rise in popularity. Sales of fresh salads, Asian vegetables, pumpkin and cauliflower all increased last financial year, while beans, cabbage, sweet corn and zucchini dropped in favour with consumers.

The good news is that there is strong potential for the vegetable industry, based on future consumer demand. Concerns regarding health, animal welfare and the environment are pushing shoppers to eat more vegetables. An estimate by Deloitte Access Economics predicts that a 10% increase in vegetable consumption would lead to an additional $23 million in profits for the industry.

Growers’ perspective

In the South Australian Riverland, growers Mark and Megan Whateley are familiar with the impact of increasing input costs.

‘Wages and electricity are certainly putting pressure on us. We have around 3-4 employees at the moment, but that will increase to around 15 in a month or so. The most frustrating side of it is that many growers pay workers illegally low rates, whereas we always pay our employees based on the SA Horticultural Agreement’, said Mr Whateley.

For the Whateleys, growing several vegetable varieties (corn, carrots and cauliflower) is a strategy specifically implemented to balance the risk associated with price fluctuations.

‘The prices paid to go up and down in a year, but overall there’s no real movement. By growing different types of veggies we’re able to avoid the downfalls of a price slump for a particular vegetable’, he said.

The more traditional mode of selling through a wholesaler is still the best option for their enterprise.

‘Agents or wholesalers give you access to multiple retailers so you can be sure that you’re selling the volume of produce required. We might get a slightly better price for dealing direct with retailers, but it would involve significant work building the relationships.

‘Retailers want guaranteed supply of a product over a 12 month period, and we can’t necessarily provide that. For our business, the wholesaler or agent model is the best’.

Source: Hort Innovation.

31 Oct

Beefy Betty Sells for a Song

Image: Millah Murrah Prue M4, pictured with (L-R) vendor Ross Thompson (Millah Murrah), purchaser Rodger Pryce (Brooklana Angus), Andrew Bickford (Elders Bathurst) and auctioneer Paul Dooley. Image supplied.

Social media feeds have been buzzing over the last week with the news that a heifer named Millah Murrah Prue M4 sold for a record $190,000 at an all-female sale in Bathurst, New South Wales.

The 21-month old Angus heifer is in calf to Millah Murrah Proceed L237 and was purchased by Brookland Angus Stud. 234 cows were sold on the day averaging $13,709 each with two lots breaking the record for the most expensive Angus females sold – Prue M4, and Prue H112 – who sold for $54,000. The sale average also broke the previous industry record by a staggering 61%.

Cash Cow

However, Prue M4 isn’t the most expensive Australian cow ever sold. Earlier this year a Holstein heifer was sold for a world record $251,000 at an International sale in Tatura. The future dairy cow Lightning Ridge CMD Jedi Gigi was sold by a Warragul breeder to a Texan buyer. The calf was ranked number 4 in the world based on genomic results – a genetic indication of highly desirable traits.

In 2009, Holstein cow Missy sold for $1.2million at a sale in Ontario, Canada. Able to produce 50kgs of milk a day – 50% more than the average cow – Missy’s desirable traits resulted in pre-signed contracts worth $3.23million from buyers keen to secure her embryos to improve lower-quality stock.

Riding on the Sheep’s Back

While the Guinness Book of Records cites the 2009 sale of Texan ram Deveronvale Perfection as the most expensive in the world ($231,000), an Australian Stud Ram famously sold for $450,000 in the 1980’s.

The ram was bred by the Collinsville Stud, northeast of Burra in South Australia and sold at the Royal Adelaide Show ram sales. Stud owner Richard Nitschke bought a three-quarter stake in the ram, effectively valuing it at $600,000.

A Chinese shepherd may own a multi-million dollar sheep, after turning down an offer of 12 million Yuan (AUD$2.3 million). Mr Paerhati bought the rare-breed Wagir lamb from Afghanistan and is retaining the animal as a breeder.

Wagir – also known as Swordsman Sheep – are one of the rarest breeds of in the world with the population thought to be as small as 1,000. Their long ears and white fleece make the animals attractive to a growing band of wealthy Chinese business owners looking to invest in something different.

Also in fashion is the Dolan sheep – a rare-breed descending from the fat-tailed Kashgar bred on the border of China and Afghanistan. Dolan were originally selected for rapid weight gain and high meat yield, but have now become an ornamental breed thanks to their curved face, long ears and twin tails. In 2010, a Chinese dealer valued two Dolans at AUD$50,000 each.

Pricey Pets

According to Business Insider Australia, the most world’s most expensive cat cost $41,435, a three-inch long stag beetle sold for $89,000, and a team of Hong Kong sushi vendors bought a 754-pound blue fin tuna for $396,000.

In 2011, a Chinese coal baron paid more than $1.5 million for a dog.

Sources: Rural Weekly, Business Insider Australia, The Globe and Mail, ABC, Property Observer, Daily Mail,

31 Oct

The perils of crop insurance: NSW government considers strategies to improve the uptake of multi-peril policies.

Image: While traditional hail and fire policies have been well adopted, multi-peril crop insurance policies are still overwhelmingly unsubscribed by Australian growers.  Photo by Cecile Despierres, available from Pexel under a CCO license.

A recent review by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in New South Wales has called for temporary policy subsidisation policy, better financial literacy training and the installation of weather monitoring equipment as strategies to increase the uptake of multi peril crop insurance policies.

IPART reported that less than 1% of New South Wales growers bought a MPCI policy in 2014, despite the risk management assurances they offer. With most growers viewing MPCI policies as being too expensive, the New South Wales government is now considering IPART’s recommendation to subsidise premiums by 50% for the first two years (capped at $30,000), and 25% for the following three years.

Although IPART’s review suggested that a waiver of the 2.5% stamp duty would be ‘unlikely to reduce the costs of insurance enough to materially increase the uptake of insurance’, the NSW government has announced that it will scrap the tax, effective from the 1st January 2018.

Victorian grain growers are also exempt from stamp duty on MPCI policies. The rate of stamp duty is significant in the other states and territories – 9% in Queensland, 10% in Western Australia and Tasmania and 11% in South Australia.

Keen to encourage farmers to buy multi peril crop insurance policies, the Federal Government has also rolled out a number of measures to increase the uptake. Growers currently have access to a rebate of up to $2,500 towards the cost of engaging a consultant to assess farm risk.

Managing risk at Bulla Burra

Collaborative farmer John Gladigau started looking at insurance options for Bulla Burra – a dry land broad acre operation in the South Australian Mallee. While an existing insurance policy covered crops lost through fire or hail, he couldn’t source cover for issues like frost, pest and disease burdens and unseasonal growing conditions.

One initial consideration was the use of derivatives to insure against specific circumstances. Unlike standard policy types that pay based on lost revenue, insurance derivatives payout in the case of specific predetermined conditions – i.e. four consecutive nights of less than 0 degrees in August.

‘The problem with derivatives is that insurers might not have access to the most relevant data to make payout decisions. The nearest Bureau of Meteorology weather station is 40kms away from our farm, so we could have a frost here that doesn’t register on their system’.

‘We looked at multi-peril insurance policies but they were too expensive. Even when we considered the likely cost of policies and potential payouts over a medium-term scenario, it just wasn’t a viable risk management option for us’.

Mr Gladigau says that current insurance products don’t necessarily appeal to growers in all growing regions.

‘I think a large part of the issues is that multi peril crop insurance works really well in regions where you have nine good years and one total wipeout, but no allowances have been made for the cumulative effect of more frequent losses that we experience in a marginal area’.

‘Farmers want to be able to manage risk through insurance, and insurers want to be able to do business with them, so it’s a matter of developing products that suit both parties’.

Sources: IPART, ABC, Insurance and Risk, Grain Growers.

25 Sep

Bums on (Rural) Seats: Declining populations in Australian country towns

Image: Where have all the young women gone? Yap Yap (dog) pulled in a cart by Achong – Trundle, NSW, by an unknown photographer, from the State Library of New South Wales with no known copyright restrictions.

While Australia’s population is estimated to increase from 23 million to 38 million by 2050, the population of many rural areas is in a steady decline.

Subsidised housing and education, and improved services offer the key to regional growth, according to a report unveiled at The Nationals conference earlier this month.

The report, presented by Senator Bridget McKenzie – suggests that making regional life more affordable would attract locals to return to country areas, and encourage migrants to settle outside cities.

Despite the fact that recent growth in coastal areas, mining regions and areas surrounding cities has been strong, inland and outback regions suffer more commonly from a declining population.

According to the Regional Australia Institute, the key to driving migration to regional areas is to focus on three key groups – super boomers, International migrants and regional returners. While this may provide growth to regional centres, many smaller rural communities struggle to attract new residents.

Lots of Bachelors, but no Bachelorettes

In Lucindale, South Australia – a highly productive and profitable grazing and cropping region – there is a shortage of potential spouses for local growers. While there are 15 eligible bachelors between 25-34 in the town, there are no single women in the same age group.

Local Luke Graetz – a 30-year-old farmer who also manages the family stock and station agency – is one of the 15 single men lamenting the lack of potential partners. Despite the region offering an attractive lifestyle, the increasing size of farms in the district has reduced the local population – and with it – eligible bachelorettes.

‘It’s a good little spot but as you say, there aren’t too many young females around. I’ve got a lot of connections in Adelaide but footy and business keep you home in winter. The footy and netball club, that’s cranking,’ he said.

‘The big farms are getting bigger. Once there would be five 2,000 acre properties, now there is one 10,000 acre property that has taken its place’.

Trundle On

Residents in a tiny outback town in New South Wales tackled population decline head-on through the Trundle Tree Change program, which offered new residents the chance to lease one of ten empty farmhouses for just $1 a week.

During the Millennium drought, Trundle’s population dropped by one-third with significant consequences on the local community and economy. Half the local shops closed, and the school was in danger of closing due to low enrollment numbers.

The tree change initiative invited applications from people looking to move to Trundle, pairing ten families with ten empty farmhouses in an effort to boost the local population.

Five years on and all ten farmhouses are still leased, with additional empty homes having also been filled. The town’s population has increased to 750 – higher than the pre-drought figure of 580. Unemployment is low, vacant residential properties are scarce and sporting teams have been rejuvenated thanks to the influx of new residents.

The main street, which has undergone extensive community-funded upgrades – is now home to several new businesses including a chemist – a service that has been absent from the town since the last one closed up shop in 1976.

Sources: The Australian, Regional Australia Institute, The Daily Telegraph, ABC

25 Sep

Juiced: Hurricane Irma devastates Florida’s Citrus Industry

Hurricane Irma has significantly damaged Florida’s Orange crop, which should lead to an increase the price of Oranges globally. Image: Vintage Postcard – Oranges In Florida, licensed under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

Orange juice futures soared amid the devastation left by Hurricane Irma, with the biggest jump in price in 16 months.

Orange juice for delivery in November increased by 6.2% in price to US$1.45/pound, with cotton for delivery in December climbing by 4.2% to US74.88c/pound. Market concern for future supplies of oranges for juicing prompted some manufacturers to bump prices by 10%, with future rises expected.

Florida feeling the squeeze

The state of Florida – America’s top orange producer and the world’s second-highest producer of orange juice – declared a state of emergency in the wake of widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Early estimates indicate losses of up to 70% of Florida’s orange crop, worth US$7 billion. With citrus crops almost ready to harvest, the impact upon the global prices will be significant, but exact figures won’t be available until the damage has been fully surveyed.

Shannon Shepp – the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Citrus – says the storm damage will affect the industry on both a short and long-term basis.

‘Significant is not the right word. It’s somewhere between significant and catastrophic. And that’s a big word – I don’t use it lightly,’ she said.

In addition to the short-term impact on the industry, many trees will need to be replanted, delaying any future harvests until the trees reach maturity.

Orange growers have already battled through a ten-year battle to manage citrus greening disease, which turns fruit bitter and reduces crop yield. Since 2005, the disease has reduced Florida’s citrus crop by 70%.

90% of Florida’s oranges are used for juice. Estimates for this season had projected the state to produce 68.5million boxes of oranges and 7.8 mission boxes of grapefruit.

Surveying the wider damage

With up to US$3 trillion of property in the path of the hurricane in Florida alone, experts estimate that the damage bill could be as high as US$300 billion.

Winter crops including tomatoes, capsicums, wheat, corn, snap beans, cucumbers, strawberries and squash were also at risk of being damaged. Given many of these crops were recently sown, there is potentially still a window of opportunity for growers able to replant.

However, it may be too late for sugar cane growers, who are due to start harvesting their crops at the beginning of next month. Florida is also the largest US producer of sugar cane, with this season’s crop estimated to be around 2.1 million tonnes. Aerial surveys to determine the extent of the damage are due to be carried out this week.

Wheat’s looking up Down Under

Closer to home, encouraging recent rainfall events – predominantly on the east coast – have prompted ABARES to increase the annual wheat crop estimate by 1% to 24.19 million tonnes.

Sources: CNBC, gro-intelligence, The Guardian, ABCNews, The Sun

25 Sep

Tattoo You: The Future of Labelling for the Fresh Produce Industry

Image: Could tattooed labels on fruit and veg be a sustainable answer for the fresh produce industry? Image reproduced with permission from Laser Foods.

Tattooing labels on fruit and vegetable items could become a norm as the fresh produce industry seeks an alternative to traditional stickers.

Spanish-based company Laser Foods has developed a technology that can tattoo custom labelling directly into the skin of fruit and vegetables. Their machines use lasers to ‘print’ a label on the skin of produce without affecting eating quality or shelf life.

The technology can be installed into packing rooms and uses conveyor belts to feed items into the machine, where the labels are printed on the produce before it is packed and dispatched. The printing process takes a fifth of a second per piece of fruit or vegetable.

In Search of Sustainability

In 2014, it was reported that UK retailer Marks and Spencers used 7 tonnes of individual labels on loose fresh produce items. Identifying a way to avoid sticker labelling reduces the environmental footprint involved with producing, sourcing and applying labels, and presents exciting new marketing options for growers and suppliers.

With growing consumer interest in food traceability, sustainability and nutrition, tattoo labelling could be used to provide the information customers are looking for including place of origin, brand and even use by dates. It also opens the door to promotional campaigns such as marking pumpkins for Halloween and making fruit more appealing to children.

Opportunities for Organics

The technology has appeal for growers of certified organics who are seeking a way to differentiate their produce from non-organic items. Loose produce sold without packaging – such as apples and bananas – is notoriously hard to segment from its conventionally grown counterparts, but tattoo labelling could offer a realistic solution.

As part of a Nuffield scholarship, Queensland Banana grower Matthew Abbott investigated labelling options as part of a search for more suitable packaging than traditional sticky labels. As an organic grower, he was also looking for a way to separate his produce from conventionally grown bananas.

‘One of the big problems that we have at the moment is being able to brand our fruit so we can sell conventional and organic side-by-side in the shop’ he said.

Mr Abbott had already considered several alternatives including printing ink logos directly onto the skin of bananas.

‘When it ripens it goes into a cold room and it gets moisture on the fruit and the ink. If it’s touched when it’s wet, rubs off.’

During his Nuffield Scholarship travels, Mr Abbott came across the Laser Food technology and is now in talks with the company to develop a system that could be incorporated into his packing system.

‘The technology can be there but if you haven’t got a system around it that can be functional when it goes into your shed it can be just too hard to make it work’.

Sources: ABC, BBC

19 Sep

Back from the Brink: Is the Tassie Tiger alive and kicking?

Image: Sightings and rumours that the Thylacine is still alive have fueled several volunteer groups to actively look for signs of the marsupial. Wombat and Thylacine Lithograph, by an unknown author from the Instructive Picture Book (1877) available through a public domain license.

Recently released footage of what appears to be a Thylacine has renewed speculation that the Tasmanian Tiger has escaped extinction.

A Thylacine tracking group – The Booth Richardson Tiger Team (BRTT) – has released a video that purportedly includes footage and audio of the carnivorous mammal.

While the group is seeking independent verification that the animal is a Thylacine, one expert has already cast his doubt. Conservationist Nick Mooney, who analysed the video, says the animal is more likely to be a spotted quoll.

‘I think based on anatomy, movement, behaviour size, I think it is perhaps a one-in-five chance it’s a thylacine’ he said.

While he’s hopeful that the animal could still be alive, he is cautious about the effect a confirmed siting could have.

‘Half of Tasmania would think it was like finding oil, and the other half would probably be horrified to think what it would mean to the animals. Essentially it would be very exciting. But it’s just one piece of evidence’.

In July this year, Yorke Peninsula school teacher Paul Day claimed he had filmed a Tasmanian Tiger running across a paddock at Moonta.

Tiger History: From Apex Hunter to Extinction

Although commonly associated with Tasmania, there is strong evidence to suggest that Thylacines once lived across mainland Australia, and even in Papua New Guinea. Rock art including images of the Tasmanian Tiger has been found in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and Thylacine bones have been discovered around the country – with some having been dated as more than 2,200 years old.

The demise of the mainland Thylacine pre-dates European settlement, with experts suggesting that competition for food and the threat of other predators caused their extinction.

Thylacines continued to thrive in parts of Tasmania until European settlers brought sheep to graze on the apple isle. By 1930, the Van Diemen’s Land Company offered a bounty for the scalp of each animal effectively sealing the fate of the species.

The last known Tasmanian Tiger, Benjamin, was captured in 1933 and kept at Hobart Zoo, where he died in 1936 – supposedly from exposure after a zoo keeper forgot to lock him in an enclosure overnight.

Tiger Future: Science Fact or Science Fiction?

Since 1999, The Australian Museum has been leading a project to see if it is possible to bring extinct species back to life. Thylacine genes were successfully artificially duplicated in 2002.

Theoretically, if enough chromosomes can be replicated, they could be transferred into the egg of a Tasmanian Devil – the only living close relative of the Thylacine – which could give birth to a live, young Tasmanian Tiger.

Sources: Australian Government, ABC, 7 News

 

30 Aug

Beef for Burgers and Chicken for Chow Mein: Foreign Investment in Australian Agriculture is on the Rise

Image: Interest in Australian farm land is increasing, with buyers from Europe, America and Asia keen to secure both land and established agricultural enterprises. Aerial Photo of an Australian Summer Landscape by Thennike from Wikimedia licensed under a Creative Common CC BY-SA 4.0

More than 10% of Australian agricultural land is owned by foreign investors, according to the Foreign Investment Review Board’s annual report (2015-2016).

The United Kingdom has the biggest slice of the pie, owning 25.5 million hectares – 52% of foreign-owned Australian agricultural land. The USA claims the second largest share with 7.7 million hectares, followed by the Netherlands (3 million hectares), Singapore (1.9 million hectares) and China (1.5 million hectares).

Interest in Australian agricultural land and agribusiness grew in the 2015-2016 financial year, with 227 approved foreign-backed transactions totalling $4.6 billion – an 80% increase on the previous year. The United States was the most active spender, investing $1.3 billion, followed by China ($996 million).

No Kidding about Foreign Investment

The sale of S Kidman & Co’s cattle stations – located in Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland – was a highly contentious story in 2015.

As the largest privately held portfolio of land in Australia, there was significant community unease about a potential sale to a largely Chinese backed entity, especially given the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) defence zone makes up a significant portion of Anna Creek Station.

The sale was halted in 2016 by the Treasurer, who cited the proposal as being ‘contrary to the national interest’. In October of the same year, nine of the ten properties were sold to Australian Outback Beef Pty Ltd, owned in majority by Gina Reinhart’s Hancock Beef. The remaining 33% is owned by Chinese entity Shanghai CRED Real Estate Co. Ltd.

Anna Creek – the world’s largest cattle station – was sold in a separate transaction to neighbouring William Cattle Company, alleviating fears about foreign investment in Australian defence land.

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

Attention from foreign investors is being driven by Australia’s capacity to provide large volumes of quality food products for a growing global population. Asian countries, including China, are facing unprecedented rates of population growth, urbanisation and income growth – creating more demand for Australian food products.

In 2016, Van Diemens Land Company (VDL) was sold for $280 million to Moon Lake Investments, owned by Chinese businessman Lu Xianfeng. As Australia’s largest dairy company, there was significant interest from buyers including two Australian bidders. Following approval from the Foreign Review Board, Moon Lake was announced as the successful purchaser. Rival bidder TasFoods launched legal proceedings against VDL’s parent company claiming they reneged on a previous sale agreement. The Melbourne-based company was awarded an out-of-court settlement of $1.25 million.

Contrary to popular belief, VDL has always been a foreign owned entity. Established 190 years ago through a land grant, VDL was established on a land grant and was sold to Moon Lake by the New Plymouth District Council (New Zealand).

Sources: Foreign Investment Review Board, Australian Bureau of Statistics, The Weekly Times, ABC, ABC,

30 Aug

Capturing Carbon: The Quest for Sequestration

Image: Researchers from Eurofins Agroscience Australia (far right and far left) shoe Soil C Quest’s Mick Wettenhall and Guy Webb (centre) how research into inoculums is progressing. Image supplied.

A bold new project aims to put the future of food security and climate change firmly in the hands of farmers, through the development of ‘game changing’ biotechnology.

A newly formed non-for profit research and development organisation is exploring the potential for the humble fungi to be used to create and store large amounts of carbon in the soil.

Soil C Quest is extending initial research by The University of Sydney that discovered the potential for soil microbes to ‘capture and build soil carbon at unprecedented rates’.

‘The University of Sydney study sourced isolates of fungi from the Sydney basin area. Of those, 24 showed a statistical increase in soil carbon over a 14 week period, and two or three showed a significant increase in soil carbon’, explains Guy Webb, CEO of Soil C Quest.

Trial results also detected a mild increase in crop growth indicating that there could be a host of additional agronomic benefits if the biotechnology can get to a market-ready stage.

Soil C Quest was formed to further the research, initially conducting a field trial to test the inoculum in canola which showed a 30% increase in soil carbon in 30 days.

‘We’ve had success increasing soil carbon under canola, cotton and sub clover, and part of the research we’re doing now is identifying the specific fungi that will be able to increase soil carbon in other crops and different climate zones’.

Two birds, one inoculant

For farmers, particularly continuous croppers, the prospect of being able to build soil carbon through a simple seed inoculant represents an opportunity to increase yields using fewer inputs, leading to increased sustainability.

An essential feature in all landscapes, carbon is the pillar of soil fertility, directly influencing soil’s ability to hold water, cycle nutrients and make nitrogen available for plants. Experts speculate that between 50% and 80% of organic carbon in the surface of Australian soils has been lost since European settlement, contributing to the ever-increasing input requirements of modern farming systems.

The biotechnology being explored by Soil C Quest has the potential to reverse many of the issues caused by land degradation. An increase in soil organic carbon from just 1-2% can store the equivalent of an extra 30 units of nitrogen/hectare, as well as increasing the capacity of soil to hold water. Consider that against the initial trial where soil organic carbon increased by 30% in 30 days and the sustainability of farming systems seems all the more positive.

Reversing Climate Change

As well as the benefits to the agricultural sector, biotechnologies like the Soil C Quest project offer a contingency plan for the effects of climate change. Human activities like deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels have contributed to an excess of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, one of the main contributors to the greenhouse gas effect.

‘Locking carbon up in the soil is a really cheap climate change mitigation tool. Effectively it will be paid for by farmers, they’ll deploy the technology at a scale given one billion hectares is cropped globally every year’.

‘The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 400 parts per million, and that needs to be reduced to 350 parts per million to start reversing global warming. A 10% increase in global soil carbon stores annually could theoretically remove around 10 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide each year’.

In an effort to continue research in this area, Soil C Quest will be launching a crowd funding campaign at the NSW state Landcare conference in October this year.

Sources: Landcare Australia, Amazing Carbon, NASA, 350.org, Soil C Quest