Control of the Land

To avoid any confusion in the original story reference on 31 July 2012: Please note Fiona Lake is the correct name to use in this story; Fiona Mckindlay is Fiona’s maiden name and the original credits may have confused some readers. Thank you Fiona for pointing to that error.

When researching rural land holding in Australia it is easy to find historic and recent development information on holdings. It is less easy to determine the drivers behind motivation for the land. CO2Land org offers that Fiona Lake has got to the point. Using her words:

“Despite what many believe most extensive grazing properties are very well managed and there are few if any detrimental effects on the environment. Extensive grazing often has little or no impact on native wildlife, in fact sometimes birds and animals benefit (e.g. from a reliable water supply) and increase in numbers. By comparison, there is enormous, ongoing environmental damage in our cities and native wildlife is virtually extinct in urban areas (apart from a handful of bird species, some small lizard species and possums)”, and “Agricultural communities all over the world have a lot in common but unfortunately they also share the problems. Rural communities everywhere are rapidly undergoing fundamental, irreversible changes or they are under huge pressure trying to control or resist these changes”, and “It is an important responsibility to provide useful and accurate information to increase understanding and encourage respect and maintenance of a healthy, evolving rural culture, worldwide”.

CO2Land org then noticed some trends, again the reference is Fiona:

Religious ownership: “There are also religious organisations that own rural property. Top of the list is Ag Reserves Australia Ltd – a company fully owned by the Utah (U.S.A.) based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – commonly known as Mormons. In addition to rural properties in the U.S., they also own farms in Canada, Mexico and Argentina. In Australia they primarily own Riverina irrigation farms – the massive Kooba Station and Benerembah at Darlington Point (south of Griffith), Bringaree at Carathool and Booberoi at Euabalong. The properties run purebred Wagyu cattle and sheep; and grow a vast range of crops – rice, corn, horticultural crops, stonefruit, olives, nuts and others”.

“There are other smaller, but nonetheless significant overseas investors who own large tracts of land but who also keep a fairly low profile. Such as GP Cattle Pty Ltd, a Dutch company that purchased Cotswald near Condamine (southern Qld) then in 2007 purchased sheep stud Portland Downs, at Isisford (central western Qld). The two Australians on the board of GP Cattle Pty Ltd are Warwick Yates of Ferrier Hodgson (Brisbane) and John Cox, Managing Director of Stanbroke Pastoral Company when it was sold by AMP. Though Portland Downs was a highly regarded merino sheep stud, it now only runs cattle”.

Where do most corporate investors buy? “Those up the top of the tree know the old adage about land being the one thing that you can’t make more of; and quality being the single most important factor when choosing what to buy. While private corporate buyers such as the Myer and Packer families choose top drawer working farms/rural retreats within relatively easy reach of southern capital cities, usually not much more than an hour’s travel time away, the largest investment in big acres occurs in northern Australia. Companies buy or setup feedlots in close proximity to graingrowers and abbatoirs, such as Queensland’s Darling Downs and in central Queensland. They buy a geographically diverse spread of good quality properties to guard against all the stations being hit by severe drought at the same time. Large properties are chosen as economies of scale are possible. This means buying in Queensland’s Channel Country, the larger Gulf places, some of the larger properties in the softer country in the central west; the best quality properties in the top half of the Northern Territory; and the southern half of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, with handy access to the main highway. Plus larger sheep and cropping properties in the Riverina and central western New South Wales, and cropping country in top-drawer cropping regions, from Quirindi (NSW) north through Moree to the St George region of southern Queensland”.

There are some advantages in properties being owned by large companies. “There is often money to spend on major infrastructure repairs and maintenance and major capital works, very large amounts of money that private owners struggle to find. Larger companies can take risks that smaller operators would have difficulty justifying; most have survived for generations by being conservative. There are also community and production advantages in cashed-up buyers who were raised in the bush but had to move to the city to earn a crust, like Andrew Forrest, buying back into the bush (usually, buying back the family farm they grew up on, as he did). Such buyers are usually determined to keep the property efficiently producing food (or fibre, as the case may be), and they usually have the capital and interest in making essential repairs to everything from fencing, waters, pastures and stock breeding to houses and sheds. These owners can bring a sense of optimism to the surrounding community, helping to stabilise the value of land owned by surrounding farmers, and some are generous philanthropists.

Larger pastoral companies have traditionally been training grounds for large numbers of young people trying out a career in agriculture. This has been a win-win situation – pastoral companies need large numbers of employees with varying skill levels, and pastoral company employment has given many school leavers a start in agriculture which they’d have struggled to get otherwise. Many boys raised in the city dreaming of escaping to a life in the bush have gone on to climb the pastoral employment ladder while others have returned to family farms with much broader experience than they otherwise would have had. Unfortunately this very positive training-ground aspect of corporate ownership has greatly reduced over the last decade. This is because many companies have become very frustrated with the increasing difficulty of retaining skilled employees (exacerbated by the drain to the mining industry), and/or they have become more greatly controlled by short-term thinking upper-management bean-counters who haven’t fully thought out where the good quality station managers will come from in years to come. This change has resulted in a reduction of permanent employees to a bare minimum skeleton staff on increasing numbers of cattle stations, with the employment of contractors for several frenetic weeks or months of the year to do the mustering. Mustering contractors are under great pressure to get the job done with maximum speed and efficiency and most do not have the time for entry-level apprentices/trainees – so they greatly favour employees that are already experienced and/or who grew up in the bush. Thus outlets for young people who grew up in cities but who want to start a rural career, have a lot more trouble finding employers willing to take them on now. The reduction in a permanent workforce on cattle stations also has a hugely detrimental affect on the social life in the surrounding region, which discourages other young employees from remaining, and it quickly accelarates a downward spiral of reducing population and reduced local services”.

Family farms aren’t large employers but when it comes to efficient production of good quality food they’re nearly impossible to beat. “Because it’s not just unadulterated dollar-chasing, family farmers take more personal pride in what is produced – which means there’s an inbuilt safety mechanism with regard to the health safety aspects of the food being produced. Unfortunately buyers with a straight finance background usually buy rural land purely as a capital investment. This ‘real estate’ valuation rather than business valuation pushes the purchase price beyond the reach of family buyers who are increasingly scratching their heads and realising that there’s no way a place bought for $10 million, for example, can actually make a decent return on investment – apart from realising a capital gain when it is sold. They’d make more money sticking the cash in the bank and raking in interest, risk-free. Most family buyers buy without the intention of selling, because they’re thinking about the next generation, so capital profit rarely interests them because they have no plans to realise it. The last thing they want to do is sell their land, and there’s not point in realising the capital gain if you have to fork out even more money to buy a replacement property, anyway. You can’t eat capital gain; you need cash flow in the meantime, so the current values put on rural land are increasingly squeezing out family businesses. This would not be the case if food and fibre producers received more in their pockets in return for their primary produce; this would make the high land prices reasonable. But low wholesale prices for primary produce is an age-old problem – primary producers are ‘price takers not price makers’, and that doesn’t look like changing; middlemen will remain the ones to take minimum risk and receive maximum profit.

One other group of cattle station owners is worth a mention. These are the private buyers who are rapid-empire building. If one property after the other is added to the portfolio in relatively quick succession (over several years); almost invariably (unless they’ve won the European lottery), it is because their places border on to under supervised National Parks or half asleep neighbours with a lot of ‘wandering’ cleanskins; they’ve bought well developed, quality assets for good prices and asset stripped or at the very least neglected essential annual maintenance (forget about capital improvements completely). Or there’s been other dodginess involved. More often than not, it’s a combination of all of the above. Unfortunately, these owners can usually be spotted a mile away and people in the pastoral industry know exactly who they are, although the general community are often impressed because they think the properties are all owned outright rather than being mortgaged up to the eyeballs. There always seems to be several around on the horizon, but they tend to come and go – a lot of this rapid empire building is done on borrowed money, and the inevitable combination of high interest rates, low commodity prices and bad seasons usually brings the whole pack of cards down within 6 years or so. These rapid-empire builders are very detrimental to the industry because their spending can inflate property values while they run down good quality properties that others have spent decades building up. And without exception, they are appalling employers. While they do usually crash and burn, no mud ever seems to stick – almost none have ever received criminal convictions. I am constantly puzzled by this group of people. Very often they grew up in the bush, but they seem to have no genuine, deep love of the land, and the empire-building often seems to stem from some sort of inferiority complex – a desire to own more than anyone else simply for the sake of it. But at the same time they are usually very secretive, although some of their financial deals are so spectacular they are reported in the mainstream media”.

Employment in the pastoral industry: “When it comes to employment in the bush, all pastoral companies, whether publicly or privately owned, and whether large or small, have their own advantages and disadvantages. What appeals to one person won’t suit another. For example some people simply like to be able to tell others they worked on a very fashionable or famous property, while others couldn’t give a toss because they’re after a quality employer, an unusually friendly working environment or an extra good place to learn as much as possible. Anyone starting a career in the beef or wool industry is well advised to obtain as varied experience as possible – working for a range of different owners and in locations across northern Australia, both large and small operators, spending at least a year at each place, before figuring out who to settle in with for a longer stretch. This varied experience and widespread networking provides a solid foundation for a long term career. It’s the sort of experience that may be taken for granted at the time but could prove invaluable later in life. At the very least, it will provide a far more interesting bunch of memories than someone who just sat on the one place or who worked for just the one employer. Or someone who put in a brief appearance on a show pony place”.

Please go to the source “If you have any additions or amendments to suggest, we understand it would be much appreciated if you could let them know”.



Target 100 – livestock good moves

Target 100 is what Meat & Livestock Australia is doing to improve our practices on the land. They report the industry injects over $16 billion into the nation’s economy each year, and employs over 172,000 people.

The industry group profiles 100 initiatives as research and development projects that are commissioned to Australian universities and research organisations to undertake to find more efficient and environmentally beneficial practices across the supply chain.

The synopsis of the initiatives are:

Water management 22 initiatives. Seen as a key measure of environmental impact of the grazing industries. “Learn more about what the industry is doing to sustainably manage water.”

Reducing energy use, 4 initiatives, has the potential to reduce emissions and decrease costs while improving productivity for the industry.

Social, 8 initiatives. The role in rural and regional community. The sustainability of these communities extends beyond economic, to mental health, continued education and connection.

Climate variability, 9 initiatives. Australian farmers are challenged by the effects of this every day. Strategies to help producers more effectively deal with climate variability have benefits for food security and the economic and environmental sustainability of the industry.

Waste, 14 initiatives. There are opportunities to reduce waste to landfill, odour and methane gas by improved management.

Ethical farming, 6 initiatives, including animal husbandry and transport is a priority for the Australian livestock industry both domestically and particularly abroad.

Weeds and Pests, 7 initiatives. Weeds and feral animals are issues that impact both on farm productivity and the natural ecosystem and landscape.

Economic impacts, 47 Initiatives. The Australian red meat industry is an important part of the national economy. Employing over 172,000 people domestically the industry is an important employer of skilled and unskilled workers. Each year the industry injects over $16 billion into the national economy and is an important part of our export market.

Management of soil health, 30 initiatives. Groundcover is critical to reduce soil erosion loss and consequent loss of nutrients and sediment to catchment systems. Good groundcover management is one of the most important mechanisms to reduce the environmental impact of grazing systems. Learn more about what the industry is doing in the area of soil and groundcover.

Biodiversity, 13 initiatives, is the variety of all life forms on earth – the different plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems they exist in. In relation to livestock grazing, biodiversity refers to the woodlands, native scrub, trees, shrubs and native grasses, as well as the animals and insects that call this environment home. Learn more about what the industry is doing in the area of biodiversity.

Emissions, 40 initiatives. The focus is on reducing emissions across the supply chain. Learn more about methane production and livestock.

CO2Land is pleased with the approach, and you can check the initiatives in detail as included in the immediate following invitation: “For further information you can contact us at Target 100”. It follows that Co2Land org supports any industry that is doing its bit to ensure sustainable futures, and improving practice on the land.

Targeted – The most environmentally hostile House of Representatives

According to leading environmental groups the current US House of Representatives is one of the most environmentally hostile in history. Part of the problem, is that many members simply refuse to admit, for personal or political reasons, that humans are causing climate change.

To try and shake things up this after the elections, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) a nonprofit environmental advocacy group is pouring $1.5US million (on top of $2US million they already put into this election cycle) into a campaign to defeat five of the most outspoken climate deniers currently in the House.

The campaign, called “Defeat the Flat Earth Five” will focus on members that are ignoring science and out of touch with what most Americans believe.

“The Flat Earth Five is our first program ever to go after members of Congress specifically because they are climate deniers,” said Jeff Gohringer, LCV’s National Press Secretary. He goes on to say: “At a time when Americans are seeing the effects of climate change right outside their window — whether it’s drought, extreme temperatures or wildfires — these members of Congress are stubbornly ignoring science,” and “We can’t expect them to fix a problem they can’t or won’t admit exists.”

CO2Land org notes the targeting of the Flat Earth Five is because it is said they are at odds with their constituents, scientists and even the Pentagon – which has called climate change a national security threat.

CO2Land org also ponders, why is our politics so similar and even to the point you could close your eyes and forget where you are at and it all sounds so familiar, and you feel it is getting hotter by degrees!

Story credit to Joanna Foster – a freelance science journalist based in New York City. Known for work that has appeared in OnEarth Magazine and at the American Museum of Natural History. Story in full published in – Wed, Jul 25, 2012.



Myth Busting – American Way of Eating

Lessons could be learnt from the myth-busting book The American Way of Eating. It is an astute observation of the top 10 American food myths with similar parallels for Australia.

Myth 1 – 
Only the affluent and educated care about their meals; the higher your income, the more you will know about, and care about, what you eat.

 – The desire to eat well is universal. In a recent survey of low-income families, 85 percent said eating healthy food was a priority. Despite achingly low wages and long work days, sometimes at two jobs, the people I lived and worked with found creative ways to supplement their diets with fruits and vegetables.

Myth 2
 – In America, the land of plenty, we grow more than enough food for everyone to eat nutritiously. If we could distribute it more evenly and make it affordable, we could all eat well.

Fact – 
We all know Americans need to eat better, but the truth is there aren’t enough fruits and vegetables grown here to make it possible. The U.S. food supply contains less than 60 percent of the vegetables required to meet recommended daily allowances, and less than half of the fruit. To change that, the U.S. would need to more than double the acreage devoted to fruit and vegetable crops.

Myth 3 – The price of produce is directly proportional to farm worker wages; lower prices mean lower wages, and vice versa.

 – The bulk of food costs are tied to transportation, processing, and marketing—a full 84 percent. A very small portion goes to farm labor. Wages are in common, low, and if wages went up via a minimum wage hike—the USDA estimates that food prices would increase by less than one percent. Similarly, if the wages of farm workers alone increased by 40 percent, the average American family would see this as a $16 per year increase in their grocery costs.

Myth 4 – 
Rich people spend more on food than the poor.

Fact – 
Poor and working-class families spend a much larger share of their paychecks on food than the affluent. In 2010, households earning from $5,000 to $35,000 a year spent 16 to 35 percent of their income on food, whereas those earning $70,000 a year or more spent 8 percent. Imagine spending a third of your income on food! Our current food system makes eating healthy very difficult for a lot of Americans.

Myth 5 – 
Finding nutritious food is as easy as going to the supermarket; if you can’t afford organic food, grocery stores offer abundant conventional produce options. It’s a matter of choosing good food over junk food.

 – All over our country, but especially in urban areas, there are communities where the primary grocery options are in liquor stores and convenience stores. Produce, if it’s offered, is often paltry and past its prime. People living in these “food deserts” spend a great deal of non-work time driving (if they have a car; and gas is not cheap) to get to a supermarket. In areas of plenty of grocery stores those communities find it hard to understand the issues of urban areas. The author makes the point like water and electricity, real food—not processed, packaged food—is a natural resource all our communities to have ready access to obtain.

Myth 6 – 
Convenience foods—like Hamburgers—are time and money savers. Eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk food.

Fact – 
Food companies don’t want us to know it, but most of the convenience they’re selling us is an illusion. When I tried to make a from-scratch version of Hamburger Helper, I expected it would be faster, and it was: by one minute. In fact, a study of dual-income families’ cooking habits found that those who use convenience foods don’t save any time on meal prep. But what really shocked me was the price comparison. Making Hamburger Helper from scratch saved me 69 percent off the cost of the box, and 42 percent on the overall price of the meal.

Myth 7 – 
Most of America’s produce is grown in the Heartland.

 – Farms in the Midwest are primarily dedicated to growing commodity crops like rice, wheat, soy, cotton, and corn. In 2008 we spent 42 percent of the nation’s farm subsidies on these crops (used primarily for sweeteners, fuel, animal feed, and grain) and just 5 percent on fruits and vegetables. Our fresh produce is grown largely in California or overseas.

Myth 8
 – Small farmers are the backbone of our agricultural system.

Fact – 
Farming has become an industrialized process, and most communities are fed by a shrinking number of very large farms, rather than a vast network of small, independent ones. Today, 6 percent of farms, at an average size of more than 2,200 acres, generate 75 percent of farm sales, making the 2010s an era of unparalleled economic concentration in agriculture. The vast scale of these farms is no accident: As supermarket chains consolidated in the 1990s, creating huge demand centered at one company, farmers had to get big, too. After all, a chain of 200 stores doesn’t need just one pick-up full of green peppers, but several semi-trucks’ worth. And those who couldn’t get big simply had to get out.

Myth 9
 – Walmart is the best solution to food deserts.

Fact – 
Walmart got to be our country’s largest grocer by leveraging massive quantities of scale, but here’s the thing: those economies require industrial food, boxed stuff that can sit around without going bad. Healthy food like produce can’t be made as cheap. And though one in four American dollars spent on produce is at Walmart, it’s not necessarily the cheapest place for it. Walmart may draw you in with deals on the processed stuff – these are called loss leaders – but as soon as you start putting the fresh stuff in your cart, you may actually end up spending more.

Myth 10
 – Restaurants serve meals prepared from scratch, using raw ingredients and recipes.

Fact – 
Many restaurants do, of course! But just as many, from the least to the most expensive, and to varying degrees, are food assembly lines where workers simply heat, arrange, and serve food delivered to their back doors frozen or in bags.

CO2Land org gives full credit to author and journalist Tracie McMillan for the story to discover the biggest misconceptions we have about food in the American food chain — she is said to have worked in each of the area that formed the myths to give actual accounts of the facts. Thank you, also to Paul Harwitz, Managing Director at Emissions Auction & Associates for highlighting this story.

Bolt on and revolve with a hybrid car

Bolt on hybrid engines will be mainstream as a way to revolve our old cars –according to Valeo EU and Voorhies USA that have proof of concept cars running the respective technology.

The Valeo example is reported that “Valeo said it has recently launched an affordable hybrid concept for the mainstream”. Claimed is that it has developed a powertrain electrification solution, Hybrid4All, which enables car manufacturers to turn a traditional engine –diesel or gasoline- into a hybrid engine, at an affordable price by using simple and standardized components. The architecture is based on a compact motor/generator which uses a low voltage electrical system (48V), and can be installed in different positions: in front of the engine, after the gear-box or between the two. This solution also integrates Stop-Start, regenerative braking and torque assist functions. Claimed fuel savings is more than 15 percent on an average petrol engine vehicle. The system installed as an original alternator size unit can provide up to 15kW of power boost and mainstream availability expected in 2017.Referenced on 25 July 2012, by Anne-Françoise PELE, and visit SmartEnergy Designline for greater detail on this system and more of design, technology, product, and news articles of clean technologies.

The Voorhies example is installed in a Honda Civic station wagon as an in-wheel electric rotor and is designed as a plug in system for front wheeled drive cars. Early adopters are told to expect a fitted cost around $3000US and those that hang off a little longer can expect lower prices because of improved battery technology and economies of production scale.  Fuel reduction claims are from 25 to 50%.  This system is developed by Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) .

CO2Land org say wow, and fancies being able to keep the old favorite car and upgrade to the new technology – fantastic. How do you calculate the LLC of that revolve?


Zero Waste – recent questions asked

It means 90%: Absolute zero waste is not technically feasible at this time. It means striving to do 100% to minimize and divert waste stream from the landfill. The 90% will most likely be composted or recycled and made into new products.

What is what: Compostable – food or a fiber-based product; recycle – if it looks like plastic, and if in doubt treat it as recyclable.

What is being done to achieve absolute zero waste – like can it be done: Right now it is an aspirational goal, and fully developed technology may take some years to make this goal achievable, even the full 90% might not be fully achievable for a number of reasons but inside a budget period 90% should be possible.

CO2Land believes the level of achievement is directly proportional to the effort taken, and it is making the effort that is important – that is moving from policy to action.

What is needed to go to zero waste: As usual it requires steps in several stages, like convince you local council of the need to implement a successful program. Steps include:

  • Sell Minimizing waste, working partners need to be established to eliminate waste at its source.
  • Switch to compostable and recyclable products: work with partners to find compostable and recyclable alternatives to products at the enterprises use point.
  • Update the infrastructure: to have recycling and composting containers throughout the sites.
  • Operations: We are also working to modify and enhance the way the business operates to ensure a successful program.
  • Education: Bringing in additional help to monitor our waste stations and to educate the population in the appropriate recycling practices. Additionally, ensure proper methods are used by those preaching, and invest in very visible signs that help educate fans about the new program.

What do I do with my trash: If you have any trash, please dispose of it into the recycling. The recycling facility will pull the trash out of the recycling and dispose of it properly.

What is compost: Definitions can vary, but CO2Land org likes this one “composting is the biological decomposition of organic material; people taking a natural process and manipulating it.” The organic waste taken will be decomposed and turned into nutrient rich material for healthy plant growth. For more information see: OSU-OARDC Compost Research Group

What are typical types of waste categories in proportion: The best endeavors are an estimate is representing the three types of waste found in most academic buildings.  The biggest portion is recycling, comprising of 60% of waste. Then compost, with 30% and the remaining 10%, is trash. However, it is a long term commitment to search for treatment alternatives for trash.

Thank you to those that contributed to this information, and CO2Land org understands ZeroWaste Australia Inc is well advanced on these very matters, and should be the inspiration of Australian efforts for appropriate accreditations.

Issue – Food Security rolling the climate dice

The term  “Dust-Bowlification” is referenced, and the argument is that making banal observation of climate change may doom us to catastrophe, by:  1. Missing, ignoring or obscuring the longer-term upward trend. 2. Discounting that even a fairly modest rise in average temperatures translates into a much higher frequency of extreme events. The New York Times recently gave such an example where a devastating drought is now gripping America’s heartland and doing vast damage. Reasons for banal observation is given example: “Even with the best will in the world, it would be hard for most people to stay focused on the big picture in the face of short-run fluctuations. When the mercury is high and the crops are withering, everyone talks about it, and some make the connection to global warming. But let the days grow a bit cooler and the rains fall, and inevitably people’s attention turns to other matters”, then “the role of players who don’t have the best will in the world. Climate change denial is a major industry”.

The analogy of why climate change should remain on the agenda is well captured in the story Loading the Climate Dice. A story of how we should think about the relationship between climate change and day-to-day experience. It goes on the say a NASA scientist and his associates suggested, “representing the probabilities of a hot, average or cold summer by historical standards as a die with two faces painted red, two white and two blue. By the early 21st century, they predicted, it would be as if four of the faces were red, one white and one blue. Hot summers would become much more frequent, but there would still be cold summers now and then”. That was 25 years ago, and it has been proved as since 2000, “cold summers by historical standards still happen, but rarely, while hot summers have in fact become roughly twice as prevalent. And 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000”.

CO2Land org thinks it is even more worrying when we look around globally and note that extreme high temperatures are now fairly common. The rising incidence of extreme events means that the costs of climate change are not a prospect into the future. Albeit it is a smaller fraction of what will happen as in context this change has occurred “even though so far global temperatures are only about 1 degree Fahrenheit above their historical norms” Is it too late to act.?  The issue we will have the most difficulty with in adapting to climate change is food security.

The New York Times uses “The great Midwestern drought is a case in point. This drought has already sent corn prices to their highest level ever. If it continues, it could cause a global food crisis, because the U.S. heartland is still the world’s breadbasket. And yes, the drought is linked to climate change: such events have happened before, but they’re much more likely now than they used to be”.

In Australia, and here it comes: Our history on climate action is not encouraging. The politics divides and the deniers keep on denying, despite the matter will make them culpable for the looming disaster. Science is proving to be correct in the predictions of climate change despite enduring creditability arguments. The banal observations make it difficult to follow with enthusiasm and the public will lose interest again until the next for the looming disaster.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 23, 2012, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Loading The Climate Dice. By PAUL KRUGMAN



Trends – Food and Nutrition Report

Australia’s Food and Nutrition Report 2012.

Modern agriculture has focused on just a few plant varieties intended for intensive farming – although 250,000 plant varieties are available for agricultural purposes, fewer than 3% are in use today – as a result, this has dramatically reduced the diversity of plants contributing to food supplies – this trend is known as ‘genetic erosion’.The production of 1 kilogram of wheat requires about 1,000 litres of water, whereas for meat-based foods about 5 to 10 times more water is required.

The loss of biodiversity occurring in food and agricultural systems is a risk to future world food security – fewer than 20 animal and plant species now provide most of the world’s food –  just three crop plants, wheat, rice and maize (corn), supply more than half of the world’s food energy – agricultural systems with low genetic variation are more susceptible to pests and diseases and are also less able to adapt to environmental challenges, such as climate change and water scarcity.

Since the 1950s, world beef and mutton production has more than doubled, world grain production has tripled and oceanic fish catch has more than quadrupled – world fertiliser usage rose from 14 million tonnes in 1950 to 141 million tonnes in 2010.

Over the past 50 years, global fish stocks have fallen considerably, with more than 70% of the world’s fish species now either fully exploited or depleted – more than 200 million people rely on fishing and aquaculture for their income and 1 billion people rely on fish as their main source of animal protein.

Australia is one of the largest net exporters of virtual water i.e. much of the water used to grow crops, such as wheat, rice and cotton, is exported.

Like virtual water, Australia is also a net virtual exporter of phosphorus from the food system – only 5% of phosphorus fertiliser used in agriculture ends up in the food Australians eat – the remaining 95% is lost as waste at all stages of the food system, or exported off our shores as agricultural commodities or fertilisers.

Despite having only 6% of Australia’s surface water run-off, the Murray-Darling Basin accounts for more than 50% of Australia’s freshwater use.

Nearly 90% of the world’s phosphate reserves are found in just 5 countries: Morocco/Western Sahara, Iraq, China, Algeria and Syria, with 70% under the control of Morocco alone – as fertiliser prices increase, this is likely to have major geopolitical consequences.

Unlike fossil fuels, phosphorus can be captured from waste streams and recycled as a form of renewable fertilisers – as this element does not decompose, it is theoretically available somewhere on the earth, but extracting it is likely to become increasingly costly – although the global population consumes about 3 million tonnes of elemental phosphorus from food, about five times this amount is mined for food production – this is because large amounts of phosphorus are currently being lost throughout the food supply chain – from mine to paddock to plate and then sewage.

Compared with average world apparent consumption of various food commodities, Australians have much larger per person availability of alcoholic beverages (308% higher), meat (290%), milk (274%),and animal fats (267%), and moderately higher amounts of sweeteners (196%), vegetable oils (191%),fruit (156%), and seafood (147%) – in contrast, the availability of several categories is less than the world average, such as starchy roots (87% lower), vegetables (83%), eggs (75%), cereals (58%), and pulses (33%).

Bananas have the highest sales in fruit lines – average consumption per person is estimated to be 13 kilograms a year – this makes them one of the top 10 selling supermarket items – 70% are sold to Coles and Woolworths.

In recent years, consumers have preferred unblemished bananas that are large and uniform in shape – it is estimated that 10–30% of all bananas produced are discarded before they leave the farm with the majority of this waste due to the fruit failing to meet the product specifications set by retailers – over 52,000 tonnes of edible bananas are discarded each year due to cosmetic imperfections – embedded in this waste are large amounts of water (16 gigalitres) and non-renewable resources, such as oil (1,407 tonnes), coal (1,064 tonnes), natural gas (1.8 million cubic meters) and phosphate ore (681 tonnes) – in addition, the decomposition of this waste has the potential to generate 23,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Diet-related chronic diseases are now the major cause of death in Australia and their prevalence is increasing – male life expectancy is 79.5 and female 84.0.

The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has more than doubled between 1989–90 (1.5%) and 2007–08 (4.1%), and by 2023 is expected to be the leading cause of disease – this increase is linked to the rising prevalence of people who are overweight or obese, and low levels of physical activity in the population – the incidence of treated end-stage kidney disease is also increasing, with diabetes the main cause.

As of 2011, more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas – this represents a significant shift from the 1950s when the figure was less than 30% – 39% live in cities of more than 1 million residents and only 10% in mega cities of more than 10 million – globally, urban dwellers generally eat more meat, fruit and vegetables, whereas rural dwellers eat more cereals, tubers and roots.

Despite a 70% increase in the population, the world’s food system generates 17% more energy per person today than it did 30 years ago – the amount of food produced could supply each person on earth with at least 11,300 kilojoules per day – despite this, there are more than 925 million people without access to sufficient food, mainly due to poverty – in contrast, there are more than 1.6 billion people who are overweight and at least 400 million who are obese.

As countries become more prosperous, there is a shift in eating and physical activity patterns, characterised by people eating more fat, sugar and processed foods, and becoming more sedentary – 8 out of the 10 countries with the greatest increases in obesity rates are developing or newly industrialised nations – in countries such as China, Mexico, Thailand, Brazil and Morocco, obesity is increasing faster than in the Unites States – paradoxically, some countries, like Bangladesh, are experiencing increased rates of obesity and yet are still struggling with high rates of under-nutrition.

Each Australian household throws out an estimated average of $616 worth of food each year.

Greenhouse gas emissions arise from food waste include indirect emissions that are embodied in food from production, transportation, processing and refrigeration, as well as direct emissions from the natural processes associated with the breakdown of the waste.

 A by-product of organic waste decomposing in landfill is gas, with about half (55%) being methane which has a global warming potential 21–25 times that of carbon dioxide – therefore, reducing the amount of organic waste going to landfill would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions – household food waste is estimated to be responsible for 5.2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from landfill, equivalent to the total emissions involved in the manufacture and supply of iron and steel in Australia.

CO2Land org has the view, cutting waste benefits all round – no excuse pun intended!

Thanks again the Garry Reynolds of NRM DAFF for these insights.

Trends – Food Report

National Food Plan Green Paper 17/07/2012 (Australia)


Australia’s soils are ancient and weathered with limited nutrient content – fertilisers such as nitrogen and phosphorous are essential inputs into Australian agriculture – Australia imports around 77% nitrogen and 56% of its phosphorus requirements.

The cost of fertilisers has been steadily increasing in line with energy prices – the cost of phosphorus has doubled over the last 10 years.

At the end of 2010, 89% of agricultural land was entirely Australian owned – a further

5.5% at least 50% Australian owned – 99% of agricultural businesses, by number, were entirely Australian owned – 91% of water entitlements for agricultural purposes were entirely Australian owned – there had been minimal change in foreign ownership of land between 1984 and 2010.

In Australia in 2010–11, only 0.8% (or $1.38 billion) of approvals for foreign direct investment was in agriculture, forestry and fishing – a further 1.4% ($2.39 billion) was invested in food, beverage and tobacco manufacturing.

Foreign investment in agriculture globally is less than 1% of total world foreign direct investment inflows.

Australia produces enough food today to feed approximately 60 million people – it does so in the driest inhabited continent, on low-quality soils and in the face of continual climate variability.

While urban areas are expanding, agricultural production may also intensify, with a shift to higher-yielding or higher-value production, such as from broadacre grazing to intensive horticulture – in the Melbourne region between 2007–08 and 2009–10 the area under agriculture and the number of agricultural businesses actually increased by 4.6% and 5% respectively with a population increase of 6.8%.


In 2009–10, Australia consumed 13,476 GL of water – 52% was used for agriculture – manufacturing used 5% – and mining 1%.

Agriculture/Mining/Industry Co-existence:

The Australian Government has committed $200 million to support the management of the potential impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources – the government is also working with the state and territory governments to develop a national, harmonised framework for coal seam gas which will focus on specific concerns around water management and monitoring, including hydraulic fracturing, chemical use, well integrity and aquifer protection.

The Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (a partnership between the CSIRO and Australia Pacific LNG) has estimated an average of 25,800 ha of agricultural land per year would be shared with coal seam gas – less than 1% of the nation’s farm land.

Food Market dominance:

Australia’s two major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, represent about 50% of fresh produce sales in Australia, and about 70% of packaged food sales.

While private label brands are becoming more prevalent in the Australian grocery retail market, and the major supermarket chains have indicated that they plan to expand their private label ranges significantly, they currently have significantly less market share in Australia (around 14%) compared to some other international retail markets such as the United Kingdom (around 43%) and Switzerland (46%).

There is a perception that employment in food and beverage manufacturing is declining – in fact, full-time employment in the sector has remained steady for over 25 years and part-time employment has increased in recent years.

Food and Health:

Even though Australia has one of the safest food supplies in the world, there are an estimated 5.4 million cases of food-borne illness each year, at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion.

In 2008 the total annual cost of obesity to the Australian community was $58.2 billion – including $8.3 billion in lost productivity and $2 billion in health system costs.

There is evidence that the costs of healthy (low energy density, high nutrient-density) foods are increasing disproportionately when compared with the costs of higher energy density, relatively nutrient-poor foods.

68% of adult men and 55% of adult women are overweight or obese – 25% of children aged 5 to 17 years are overweight or obese – the proportion of children who are obese has risen by 60% in less than 10 years – 65% of young Australians are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020.

Based on these trends and no effective interventions, 83% of men and 75% of women aged 20 years and over in Australia could be overweight or obese by 2025 – the predicted increase is expected to significantly affect Australia’s disease burden and healthcare costs, mostly due to an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes, which is expected to become the leading disease burden by 2023.


CO2Land org feels compelled to look deeper at the opportunities for technology and policy changes that go beyond wanting handouts to encourage the necessary changes, increasingly that compelling need is the realisation efficiency of the practices is more important than effectiveness of the policy.

Thanks again the Garry Reynolds of NRM DAFF for these insights.

I like my comms – premium, with a little help from my friends $800m

The ACCC has given its final approval for Optus decommissioning its HFC (cable) network and not compete with the NBN’s monopoly service in a $800m cash deal. Opposition criticism is levelled at the ACCC with them saying it was “a dark day” to reverse a position it had taken persistently to be against quasi-monopoly status in telecommunications because of the need for more competition.

However, put aside the politics, the telecommunications market on its own shows no history of giving us a competitive network without regulatory intervention. Expand the argument to the regular market facts and findings of the Reserve Bank, and you will see they acknowledge that sophisticated and quasi-regulated markets need intervention at some point.

CO2Land org feels that facts point to the issue for the telecommunications case is whether a government sponsored monopoly can deliver an improving practice model, and that needs to be tested.

Thinking a little more on the subject: Why might the ACCC feel the need to move to create a monopoly: Removing the middleman makes it easier to manage rising costs – and all we know is evidence of cost rising continues. Changes in the delivery structure will not cause relinquishment of the current players net profit margins. Customers want to pay less for a premium service – not more! But what if we prefer vanilla flavoured – not an option?

Assume it will be a success for the NBN Co. would the indicators be:

The cost of the goods sold would have less cost recovery pressures. Churn of the customer base will not occur and the price effects removed from the equation. The monopoly player will have the sole access to the consumer with the volumes.

The cost of production could be tuned and reflect a price of take or leave it, and the consumer and component producers would become ‘price takers’ and having very little say in what they pay or receive and influence in terms of efficiency.

On the later point It may well be the only fair way to access a fair price to pay is the necessary read any NBN Co. report put forward and pay particular attention to what might be listed as “other” costs –they tend to be less transparent.

While being critical of some of the material taken from the initial reference for this story. The need to write was the result of a communication sent out by the office of Malcolm Turnbull and Published on: July 20, 2012. CO2Land org picked up the story from viewing his tweet.