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Ecological News

Voice of
ecological agricultural communities


No. 16 | September, 2013
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Inside

  • Presidents Editorial
  • The Greens
  • Solar energy news
  • BEAS | New curriculum
  • Generation 2050
  • A2 Milk
  • Can soil carbon be measured?
  • Earth in Mind
  • Farmer Endorsement Scheme
  • Membership
  • TED
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From all of us at EAAA


Links


Australian Carbon Cooperative
Rahamim Ecological Learning Community
Erin Earth

Eco-quote


"Reality cannot be found except in
One single source,
because of the interconnection of all things with one another."

~ Leibniz, 1670s



 


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Editorial


It could be called Australia’s biggest ‘sleeping’ issue but climate change in Australia seems to have taken a back-seat position with both the main political parties. It seems the only one political party to maintain the rage are the Greens. And all this is happening at a time when temperatures are surely on the rise. The mean average for Winter in Sydney was the highest on record and expectations are that the Spring and Summer will go the same way. A recent report on the summer in Tokyo by an ABC reporter told the story of record summer temperatures with the temperatures in Tokyo getting into the high 30s.
 
In terms of climate change policy the EAAA supports the mechanism that forces the polluters to take action. This seems a straightforward and reasonable equation. You pollute you pay. We also seek a process whereby the polluter’s pollution is offset by investment in farming. Ultimately, this might involve carbon sequestration in soil if an efficient process can be found for measuring it but in the interim the EAAA endorses the policy of offsetting carbon through re-vegetation. This might mean locking up country to enable tree growth or the planting of forests in strategic located parts of the farm.
 
Where does this leave the outcome of the election? It seems that if labour wins the CFI (carbon farming initiative) remains intact including penalties for the largest 500 polluters. If the coalition wins the polluters won't be penalised as such but will receive tax-payers money to encourage them to pollute less. What this means in terms of offsetting carbon via farming is questionable although the coalition is also supporting a soil carbon sequestration process. How this would be measured hasn't been stated so in a sense it would seem to be mainly wishful thinking.
 
The EAAA and the Australian Carbon Cooperative (ACC) are grappling with this issue and are working on developing an approach to the voluntary carbon market where polluters voluntarily seek to reduce their carbon footprint. This offsetting would be channeled through the ACC and the ACC would in turn seek to invest this money with farmers via various re-vegetation programs.
 
This is a complex issue which the ACC board is working on. Whilst there are darkening clouds hanging over the compliance approach to carbon offsetting there is some 'sunshine' emerging in our understanding of how the voluntary market might work.
 
Our understanding of this issue was enhanced last month when Louisa Kiely of the Carbon Coalition (CC) joined the board of the ACC  as a Director. The ACC  board now comprises representatives from the EAAA, the CC, and the Rahamim Ecological Centre in Bathurst.
 
 
Other stories in this bulletin relate to our areas of interest - ethics, education, farming and ecology. The EAAA is always on the lookout for interesting stories which promote a more ecological way of producing food and fibre. If you have any links or stories of interest please send them in to Kerry Cochrane.
 
Enjoy this edition

Kerry Cochrane
Kerry Cochrane | PresidentPresident

 
Kerry Cochrane | President

From the Farming Pillar


Greens pitch for GM levy, labels

 

Our acknowledgement to Brad Thompson, The West Australian, August 26, 2013, for this story.

The Greens have raised the stakes in the debate over genetically modified food, calling for a contamination levy on GM seed producers and the introduction of rigorous labelling laws on all products.

Money from the levy would be used to compensate farmers in cases where GM-free crops were contaminated by GM products from neighbouring farms.
 
The mandatory labelling laws would see foods that contained any ingredient, additive, processing aid or other constituent produced using GM clearly marked. It would include meat from animals fed with GM grains.

The Greens expect the policy to be a big vote winner at the election with some polls showing 90 per cent of consumers want ingredients derived from GM crops labelled on food.
 
Senator Rachel Siewert, who has a degree in agricultural science from the University of WA and worked as a research officer for the Department of Agriculture and Food WA before entering politics, said Australia did not have proper safeguards on GM food.
 
She said GM labelling was extremely limited and screening of products by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator inadequate.
 
Senator Siewert said the regulatory bodies did not test for double-stranded ribonucleic acid (dsRNA) proteins which a major study had shown could be unexpectedly produced in the genetic modification processes.
 
Research showed the proteins transferred easily to humans and animals and could change genes.
 
"We are concerned about consumers' right to know and about protecting farmers who want to stay GM free to give themselves access to premium markets,"

Senator Siewert said.

"At the moment farmers are losing their choice to stay GM free and we make no apologies for seeking a levy on the companies that produce GM seed to create a compensation pool for those farmers."
 
But CropLife chief executive officer Matthew Cossey said the levy showed complete ignorance of the foundations of agricultural coexistence.
 
Croplife, an industry body representing the agricultural chemical and crop biotechnology sector, believes the proposal ignores "the agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of GM crops and the rights of Australian farmers to choose what approved crops they want to grow".
 
Mr Cossey said it was pure hypocrisy that the party which demanded the government adhere to and act on the science of climate change now failed to adhere to the proven science on agricultural biotechnology.
 
WA is on the frontline of the debate over the issue with Kojonup neighbours Stephen Marsh and Mike Baxter fighting a landmark court case and sales of Monsanto's GM canola seed booming in WA.
 
Mr Marsh alleges that GM canola from Mr Baxter's farm contaminated his land and caused the loss of his organic-grower status in a case set for trial in the Supreme Court early next year.
 
Monsanto, the world's biggest producer of GM products, recently paid $4.5 million to increase its stake in local crop breeding company InterGrain to 26 per cent under a controversial deal backed by the WA Government.
 
Since the WA Government gave growers approval for GM canola in 2010, the planting area has almost tripled to 209,000ha.
 
Monsanto has announced that WA growers purchased a record 416 tonnes of Roundup Ready seed, a 38 per cent growth in sales from last year compared to 22 per cent nationally.
 
Pro-GM farmers, including the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, accused the Greens of scaremongering and said there was danger the cost of any levy being passed on to grain growers.
 
China recently lifted restrictions on imports of GM canola but many key markets remain highly sensitive on the issue.
 
The discovery of GM wheat on a US farm this year saw Japan and South-East Asian flour mills impose import restrictions.

 

Soil carbon measurement tool has been released in the U.S.A..


A new article in the Scientific American revisits the history behind soil carbon management in US agriculture. One of the few historical efforts to encourage farmers across the US to participate in no-till agriculture was the voluntary Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), whose exchange platform closed in 2010 but in its heyday came to cover 810000 hectares of farmland with plant to generate and sell millions of carbon offsets into a proposed nationwide cap-and-trade program.

Despite the exchange platform closing down the US Department of Agriculture has gone on to roll out conservation programs to help farmers sequester more soil carbon. Late last year, VCS approved a soil carbon methodology developed by The Earth Partners (TEP) for use on agricultural offset projects, based on decades' worth of USDA science. In past interactions with The Earth Partners, California's Air Resource board (ARB) reportedly reviewed the soil carbon methodology and acknowledged soil carbon as a potential future project type for its cap-and-trade program.

Read more about the new VCS (Verified Carbon Standards) methods.

Websites worthy of benchmarking

 

1. The selected website Extension Providers Portal has a wealth of detail about carbon and the carbon farming initiative in particular. It is easy to access and most readable. The site has been constructed by the Uni of Melbourne. Take a look and see what you think!
 
2. If you are unsure about climate change or simply want to update your knowledge the following site will keep you engaged. The article is similar to a wikipedia story with numerous links. It will keep you engaged for hours! The author is an emeritus professor of ecology -  Climate change summary and update.
 
3. And still on climate change a Sydney group led by Ken McPherson is creating a website on the climate change issue. This website is offered as a collaboration tool for creative activists, and engaged artists and thinkers - a space for dialogue about the nature of the transition we face and how we can prepare for it. Go to The Age of Transition


  1. Extension Providers Portal
  2. Climate change summary and update.
  3. The Age of Transition

Does this sound familiar?


Just as we have unwittingly destroyed vital microbes in the human gut through overuse of antibiotics and highly processed foods, we have recklessly devastated soil microbiota essential to plant health through overuse of certain chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, failure to add sufficient organic matter (upon which they feed), and heavy tillage. These soil microorganisms -- particularly bacteria and fungi -- cycle nutrients and water to plants, to our crops, the source of our food, and ultimately our health.

Soil bacteria and fungi serve as the "stomachs" of plants. They form symbiotic relationships with plant roots and "digest" nutrients, providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and many other nutrients in a form that plant cells can assimilate.
 
If this resonates with you read on: Healthy soil microbes healthy people.
 

Interesting news on solar energy


According to the Clean Technica website there is good news ahead re the cost of setting up solar cells and the process involved comes from left field:
 
A new method for producing “electronic ink” — a specialized form of ink from non-toxic nanometer-sized crystals of silicon — has been developed by researchers from the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The researchers say that their new technology brings the possibility of solar-cells-as-cheap-as-roof-shingles one step closer to reality, as well as the means to lower the production costs of a variety of other electronics.

“Imagine a world where every child in a developing country could learn reading and math from a touch pad that costs less than $10 or home solar cells that finally cost less than fossil fuels,”

stated Uwe Kortshagen, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor and one of the authors of a new paper detailing the research.

The reason that the electronic ink is so valuable, is that the ‘ink’ can be used to, essentially, “print out” electronics — potentially a much cheaper way to produce many commonly used electronic devices.


 
“Light is emitted from excited argon gas atoms flowing through the glass tube of a plasma reactor. The plasma is a reactive environment used to produce silicon nanocrystals that can be applied to inexpensive, next-generation electronics.”
Image Credit: University of Minnesota"

The University of Minnesota continues:

First, there is the ubiquitous need of organic “soap-like” molecules, called ligands, that are needed to produce inks with a good shelf life, but these molecules cause detrimental residues in the films after printing. This leads to films with electrical properties too poor for electronic devices. Second, nanoparticles are often deliberately implanted with impurities, a process called “doping,” to enhance their electrical properties.

In this new paper, researchers explain a new method to use an ionized gas, called nonthermal plasma, to not only produce silicon nanocrystals, but also to cover their surfaces with a layer of chlorine atoms. This surface layer of chlorine induces an interaction with many widely used solvents that allows production of stable silicon inks with excellent shelf life without the need for organic ligand molecules.

In addition, the researchers discovered that these solvents led to doping of films printed from their silicon inks, which gave them an electrical conductivity 1,000 times larger than un-doped silicon nanoparticle films.

The researchers have a provisional patent on their findings.

“What this research means is that we are one step closer to producing more pure and more stable electronic ink with non-toxic chemicals,” Kortshagen stated. “The bigger goal here is to find a way that this research can benefit everyone and make a real difference." The work was funded primarily by the Department of Energy Frontier Research Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics.

The new research was just published in the journal Nature Communications.
 

Farmer Endorsement Scheme
 

The EAAA Farmer Endorsement Scheme serves to help farmers “climb the ladder“ from conventional industrial agriculture to an ecologically driven farming system.

The EAAA producer endorsement is creating a "community of ecological farmers" who, through peer review, self development and mutual assistance, create a brand that will give consumers confidence that the produce they buy was grown under an ecological paradigm.


3 levels | EAAA Farmer Endorsement Scheme

To find out more, visit our website: EAAA Farmer Endorsement Scheme

or drop us an email. 


Kerry Cochrane | President

From the Education Pillar


New curriculum | Bachelor of Ecological Agriculture (BEAS)


The new curriculum line up for the Bachelor of Ecological Agriculture (BEAS) at CSU is now available.
 
CSU has changed the composition of the ecological agriculture degree starting in 2014. It has less subject related to ecological production such as permaculture or biodynamics although aspects of these may well feature in certain subjects.

There is still a strong emphasis on natural and social ecology, which is important. What features strongly now are subjects related to its sister course in the Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management. This may mean that there could be an internal offering of the BEAS.

The EAAA is happy to provide advice on the strengths and weaknesses of this course should you be interested. For details of the course refer to the link below: 

Ecological Agriculture: Course Structure

UNE Agrifood Experience Day: 1 November 2013


Those of you who attended the recent PIEF Conference will know that UNE have launched a new course for 2014 – the Bachelor of Agrifood Systems

This three year degree combines vocational training in farm management with UNE units to produce ‘hands on’ graduates who can apply the latest practices in agricultural science and technology.

Interested students are invited to the inaugural

‘Agrifood EXPERIENCE Day’

on Friday 1 November 2013.

The day is FREE for all attending including lunch and some travel subsidies are available. Accommodation will be available free of charge on the night of Thursday 31 October in a UNE College.

Places are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis. 

Bachelor of Agrifood Systems

"Generation 2050: Project Feed the World"


1 - 4 December 2013 

100 passionate agriculture students from around Australia will be chosen to take part in UNE's inaugural

Generation 2050: Project Feed the World conference.

To apply, students must be in Years 10, 11 or 12 in 2013 and studying / enjoying agriculture or science at school.

The Conference, accommodation and meals are free and travel subsidies are available. Visit the Generation 2050 website.  
Kerry Cochrane | President

From the Food Pillar


Food production


Now to the vegi garden: the next link has some great advice on soil for small areas -  perhaps for your town block or a small acerage near the town centre. It has been written for the Canadian market but the information is generic and therefore relevant to Australia.

 


A2 Milk


What is A2 milk? Is it better than 'normal' milk? These questions beckon whenever we go to the supermarket for our milk supplies. Here is an interpretation on this from EAAA member Simone Goldie, a dairy farmer in her own right, who is preparing to produce A2 milk - from Jersey's of course! 
 
One bovine dairy breed that has been pushed to the background is reemerging after epidemiological studies have correlated A¹ beta-casein milk protein (predominately produced by holstein dairy herds) intake by humans to the incidence of certain non-communicable conditions, such as Type 1 Diabetes. With strong evidence demonstrating that A² beta-casein milk protein, often referred to as the ‘original milk protein’ as it has always existed, is a much more natural and healthy product -  as opposed - to the A¹ beta-casein milk protein that Holsteins produce. 

The dairy breed known as Jersey, are now proving themselves through their ability to produce A² milk, which when consumed by humans is digested differently to that of Holsteins A¹ milk. Because of a subtle difference between the two variants’ structures, these beta-casein types are digested differently, whereA¹ beta-casein milk protein produces beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7). 
 
Recent studies have indicated that the production of BCM-7 exasperated problems associated with the intake of A¹ beta-casein milk protein, through causation of additional physiological effects with its opioid activity linked to non-acidity mediated stimulation of mucous production and thickening from goblet cells in digestive tissue, histamine release and other symptoms of intolerance reactions.

One alarming report from Kost et al (2009) cited in a² National Intolerance Protection (2010) demonstrated that bovine milk derived BCM-7 was detected in the blood stream of formula-fed infants. Allergies and other illnesses, such as coronary heart disease, autism and schizophrenia have been on the rise since the mutation of affected modern European breeds, which have led to the appearance of A¹ Beta-casein in dairy herds.  It cannot be emphasized enough, when it all boils down, the importance of raising ‘awareness’ in our relationship with natural and unnatural products, hence strong evidence positing  A² beta-casein milk protein as a much more natural and healthy product - as opposed - to A¹ beta-casein milk protein.

With more than 80% of Australians consuming dairy food (Dairy Australia, 2013) annually, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend how many of us find natural products and what they have to offer us so difficult to believe in, even when scientists are presenting us with hard facts.


Further reading:
 

  1. a2 Milk (2010) A¹ & A² Beta-casein, Managing Intolerance in Susceptible Individuals
  2. a2 National Intolerance Protection (2010)
  3. Dairy Australia (2013) About Dairy Products


 

Is it possible to sequester carbon in soil and measure it?


Certainly the first part of this question is undoubtedly true but what about the second component. Is it possible to measure it or not.

This is a question that entertains the minds of farmers and scientists alike but politicians are engaged in with it too, in fact, the coalitions carbon policy is based on carbon sequestration in soil. The following abstract and attached link provides a clue:
 
Concerns about increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), have raised worldwide interest in the potential of agricultural soils to be carbon (C) sinks.

In Australia, studies that have quantified the effects of improved management practices in croplands on soil C have generally been inconclusive and contradictory for different soil depths and durations of the management changes. We therefore quantitatively synthesised the results of Australian studies using meta-analytic techniques to assess the technical and economic feasibility of increasing the soil C stock by improved management practices. Our results indicate that the potential of these improved practices to store C is limited to the surface 0–10 cm of soil and diminishes with time. None of these widely adopted practices is currently financially attractive under Australia’s new legislation known as the
Carbon Farming Initiative.

 

Social Ecology

 

Do you resonate with the following exert from a book called Earth in Mind by David Orr?


"From newspapers, journal articles, and books, the following random facts crossed my desk
within the past month:

1. Male sperm counts worldwide have fallen by 50%, and no one knows exactly why.

2. Human breast milk often contains more toxins than are permissible in milk sold by dairies.

3. At death, human bodies often contain enough toxins and heavy metals to be classified as
hazardous waste.

4. Similarly toxic are the bodies of whales and dolphins washed up on the banks of the
St Lawrence River and the Atlantic Shore.

5. There has been a marked decline in fungi worldwide, and no one knows why.

6.  There has been a similar decline in populations of amphibians worldwide, even where the
pH of rainfall is normal.

7. Roughly 80% of European firsts have been damaged by acid rain.

8. U.S. industry releases some 11.4 billion tons of hazardous wastes to the environment each
year.

9. Ultraviolet radiation reaching the ground in Toronto is now increasing at 5%per year.


 
These facts only appear in random. In truth, they are not random at all but part of a larger pattern that includes shopping malls and deforestation, glitzy suburbs and ozone holes, crowd freeways and climate change, overstocked supermarkets and soil erosion, a gross national product in excess of $5 trillion and superfund sites, and technological wonders and insensate violence.

In reality there is no such thing as a "side effect" or an "externality." These things are thread in a whole cloth.

The fact that we see them as disconnected events or fail to see them at all is, I believe, evidence of a considerable failure that we have yet to acknowledge as a educational failure. It is failure to educate  people to think broadly, to perceive systems and patterns, and to live as a whole person."  Orr goes on to say: " The kind of discipline-centric education that enables us to industrialise the earth will not necessarily help us heal the damage caused by industrialisation. Yale University historian Paul Kennedy (1993), after surveying the century ahead, reached broadly similar conclusions, calling for "nothing less than the education of humankind" (p331).
 
Whilst Orr's reference point is the U.S.A no doubt the dots can be connected here in Australia as well. The point is well made: education continues to churn out students who are disciplinary based, with little understanding of systems, of holism, or of critical thinking in a broader context. To be able to think rationally in a scientific manner is seen as the target of most university courses but what is missing from the formulae is the capacity to think broadly in ways which enables the student to see life from a broader context.

The EAAA would encourage a letter or two from you on this issue. For our part we are beginning to run workshops in the community that address issues of holism and systemic thinking and enables students to see life from the broader perspective that Orr refers to in the above extract. If you are interested in a 2 day workshop being run in your community please contact the EAAA.
 
Reference: Orr, D 2004, Earth in Mind, First Island Press, USA.

You Tube and the EAAA


The TED programs on YouTube offer lots of insightful stories about life. The link below is unusual because the message is complex and the story teller is only 11 years of age. As the boy says: we can either put our money into
farming or we can put it into hospitals. The details are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Id9caYw-Y
 

The EAAA sees climate change
as a social issue
as much as a technical one.



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The good news is that student membership is free. Donations are welcome.


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