Saving the Maize: An Insight into Fall Armyworm Management in Uganda

This background to Fall Armyworm management is from a consultant managing outbreaks of Fall Armyworm in Uganda who provided us with a valuable insight into managing this very damaging insect as it moves across the country.

Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is a new pest threatening maize crops in Uganda and southern and central African regions. It is the first complete season the pest has been found in Uganda following suspected introduction either through imported goods or via the strong Atlantic wind currents. In fact, the Fall Armyworm in its moth stage is a very adept flier capable of covering many thousands of kilometres in a lifetime. It was first sighted in Uganda in mid-2016. Uncontrolled, this insect will potentially force many farmers and families into poverty and severe food insecurity.

In Rwanda, the army is out in force spraying maize crops to protect farmers from the insect. Uganda has set aside thousands of litres of insecticide and funds for accompanying educational programs to encourage farmers to protect their crops and food. On a continental scale, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is organising a similar program of insecticide and education for farmers in the regions under attack.

Pest Overview

The fall armyworm is native to southern US, and central and south Americas causing millions of dollars in crop damage every year. The name Fall Armyworm comes from the way the caterpillars ‘march’ into crops, leaving a trail of destruction as they pass through and because in the US the caterpillar is most active in Fall.

The Fall Armyworm differs to the African Armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) in host plant range and timing of attack. As the name suggests the fall armyworm is present during the autumn months in the US. The adult female Fall Armyworm is a strong flier and the moths move in large swarms at night. A mature female Armyworm can lay in excess of 1000 eggs during its lifetime. The host range of plants spans nearly 100 species in 27 different families with preferred hosts of grass based plants such as maize, sorghum, millet, rice and sugar cane.

Damage from Armyworm can appear to come in waves often a month apart as the populations rapidly increase and decrease in density. Armyworms will eat the tender portions of the leaf first – so farmers will check for the ragged edges of the leaves. However, damage may be present on all parts of the plant. For example, larger fall armyworms will act as cutworms (very damaging caterpillars in Uganda) and completely cut off the young maize plant at the base. Other damage will appear as clear leaf windows (picture below).

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.53.44 PM
Fall armyworm damage on a young maize plant. Note the fess  (caterpillar excrement) on the growing point in the centre. Source

The Armyworm has a tendency to build up resistance to insecticides given the high egg numbers and rapid breeding rates.

There are several factors which make Fall Armyworm more damaging to maize than other Spodoptera pests:

  • Adult females place eggs directly on maize compared to other species that firstly oviposit on wild grasses before older larvae move onto crops.
  • The mandibles of caterpillars have comparatively stronger, serrated cutting edges which increase the ability to chew on higher silica content leaves.
  • Older larvae are cannibalistic and can dominate both inter and intra specific competition.
  • The damage seems appears almost overnight and without warning as the final growth stage caterpillars eat more than all the other stages combined (Figure 2)
    • This reduces the ability to detect and enact control techniques before widespread damage.
Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.15.50 PM
The final growth stage or last molt of the caterpillar consume more than all the other stages combined. Controlling the caterpillar prior to this stage is critical in preventing crop failure. Source

Pest Management Strategies

Control options for the fall armyworm are limited although as with all pest management strategies an integrated approach is generally most effective. Combining host plant resistance (CIMMYT currently breeding resistant maize), chemical control, pheromone traps, biological control, intercropping with legumes and habitat management has been able to reduce infestation levels in CIMMYT trials. In 2016 the Ugandan Government reported infestations from May through to July. Farmers should begin monitoring crops immediately for infestation.

Insecticides and GM (Bt toxin producing) plants are the most effective methods although Fall Armyworm is very adept at becoming resistant to the Cry1F toxin produced in Bt plants. The MAAIF is recommending that farmers use a combination of Lambda-cyhalothrin (106g/l) and Thiamethoxam (141g/l) and Rocket at a rate of 20-30mls in 15 – 20 litres. Care must be taken to prevent the development of resistance.

There are a number of natural predators and diseases that kill Fall Armyworm. Certain practices such as clearing a buffer zone around the crop in combination with weed management may slow the march of Armyworm as it approaches. However, the moths are able to fly long distances at night and on storms. Recent research has shown that infestations have been reduced by 20-30% by intercropping maize with beans. Further, the range of crops will spread the risk of food shortage following infestation damage.

While some research suggests that reducing the number of attractive weeds within the crop will reduce armyworm numbers by reducing breeding and feeding areas, others suggest that having other weeds in the crop may spread the damage. The latter (leaving weeds in crop) may be effective in developed systems whereby larval control can be rapid and potentially effective. However, increasing the area of breeding and feeding for the caterpillar with the possibility of no action or a lack of effective action may ultimately make the situation worse for the maize itself or neighbouring crops and other farmers. Thus a clean field and clean borders are crucial in controlling the pest. Clean interrows will enable the farmers to get a better look at the pest on the plants and narrow down exactly where to apply chemical. If chemical is limited and expensive, the fewer plants to spray the better. Timing of the spray is also very important. In the US the recommendation is to apply insecticide early or late in the day when the armyworms are most active. In African Armyworm management, the destruction of their native habitat on native grasses will lead to an influx of armyworms in the crop. However, as maize is a preferred plant for the fall armyworm this technique may be of limited use. Even still, the impact of control techniques on the prevalence of African armyworm and other insects must be considered carefully.

The most important factor behind a management strategy is monitoring and area specific control. Pest identification sheets or sticky sheets allow the establishment of a ‘treatment threshold’ whereby once a certain number of caterpillars are found per square metre (in the US 3 per sq ft is a common value or an equivalent 32.28 per sqm) insecticide should be applied. Too frequent and ineffective applications of insecticide will ultimately lead to the development of resistance. For example, certain insecticides will not effectively manage large larvae and may result in the development of resistant populations able to metabolise the chemical. As with many pests, a smaller size and prevalence of the pest is much easier to manage effectively. Further, these sheets are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Light traps provide another alternative to sticky sheets to assess a potential outbreak by monitoring the moth stage. They are constructed by using a tripod of sticks to hold up a lantern of kerosene hanging over water. The moths are attracted to the light, die from heat exposure and fall into the water.

Another method of control for the marching front of armyworms can be a 45cm deep by 60cm wide ditch. The caterpillars crawl and fall into the ditch and then are unable to crawl out. They can then be killed with logs, fire or any other suitable technique. This is used commonly in African armyworm management.

All in all, effective control requires the combination of all avenues of control in an integrated pest management approach. Further, healthy plants free from disease and weed competition will recover more quickly and will be less likely to die from a minor attack.

From Gallipoli to Australian farms: The story of settler soldiers following the war

This article and the incredible research behind it featured is attributed to the ABC Rural team and featured on their site for Anzac Day 2015. The original article can be found here. Recording and sharing these stories is crucial to ensuring that we can appreciate the hard work and sacrifice of the early farmers and that no tale is lost to the passage of time.

Cover photo: Tom White and his family on the Carnamah Western Australia soldier settlement property. Mr White had been working on farms in the south of the state for just two years before war broke out. 

It is a little known fact that some of Australia’s iconic farming districts share a link with the bloody battlefields of World War I.

Following the war, a soldier settlement scheme was introduced in each Australian state to help repatriate servicemen who had fought overseas. The program saw the creation of around 23,000 farms nation-wide across 9 million hectares.

Districts along the River Murray in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were obvious choices to establish fruit industries. Queensland created cane and horticulture areas, while Tasmanian solider settlers specialised in dairy.

Soldiers were given small parcels of land potentially suited to farming, although many men learned the hard way that they were not cut out to be farmers and the land they received would not sustain them and their families.

“They virtually taught themselves and learnt by trial and error, and there were a lot of errors made,” remembers Robert “Buck” Stevens from Birdwoodton in north-western Victoria, the son of an original solider settler.

Buck’s father, James Stevens, fought at Lone Pine and White’s Gully in Gallipoli with the 24th Australian Infantry Battalion before contracting typhoid fever. He returned to Melbourne and shortly after was granted one of the state’s first ever solider settler blocks, west of Mildura.

“He was the first to draw a block in the solider settlement and the last to leave it,” said Mr Stevens. “He lived and worked here right up until the day he died. The blocks were never big enough and lots of the soldiers walked off their land and handed their blocks to other soldiers, to help them become viable and make a living. The blocks were only small, from about nine or 10 acres up to 15, which was considered a big one.”

Mr Stevens is one of only a handful of solider settler descendants still living on an original farming block. The land where his father once grew grapes has since become residential housing for the expanding population of nearby Mildura. The tales of soldier settler hardship are not isolated to Victoria.

Margaret Wood was born to the generation of solider settlers who pioneered the south-east Queensland farming town of Beerburrum, north of Brisbane. More than 24,000 hectares of land was subdivided into around 500 blocks for pineapple growing. However, Ms Wood said the blocks were too small and the region was not suited to growing pineapples.

“You’d get a good season and then a fire would burn you out, or you wouldn’t get enough rain and there was no such thing as irrigation,” she said.”Pineapples either grew, or they didn’t grow. The soil was not suitable to grow pineapples and that was that.”

It meant a life of severe poverty for the soldiers and their families who settled in the district. Ms Wood recalled her family survived on what they were able to grow.

“Many times our dinner at night was stewed pineapple and custard, which I still enjoy to this day incidentally,” she said. “We always ate, but it was never anything fancy. Quite a lot of times we got by on pineapples. Clothes were a wash-and-wear and a spare; I never wore a new dress until I was 13, and everything came from the Country Women’s Association. Without them, we’d have gone naked.”

War injuries, mental scars and the Great Depression slow farm progress

Poverty, low agricultural prices and a lack of farming skills were not the only hurdles which first-time farmers were confronted. Many had lost limbs or suffered other major injuries during the war that made farming near impossible.

Len Sullivan, 85, from King Island near Tasmania is still running the farm his father, Clifford Sullivan, took on after his service in Gallipoli and Palestine. The island was the home of 50 original soldier settlers, but Mr Sullivan remembered many of the farmers struggled to work the land due to their impairments.

“The first lot that failed was the chap next door who lost an eye in the war and he had a disability, and a chap down the road who had a war injury,” Mr Sullivan said. “It was their failure in health mainly, and they didn’t have enough cows.”

Within the first decade 61 per cent of Tasmania’s original 1,976 settlers had already left the land, one of the highest failure rates in the country. It was a similar story in Victoria, where of the 11,639 returned servicemen who settled across the state, only 39 per cent were still on blocks by 1934. Although the settlers endeavoured to support each other, it was the onset of the Depression in 1929 that was the nail in the coffin for many.

In the South Australian Riverland region Howard Hendrick, a World War II solider settler and the descendent of a WWI settler, remembers the sense of camaraderie between the veterans that helped many see through the tough times.

“Often a settler would get ill, but they couldn’t afford to employ anyone, so the solider settlers would band together and all go to that property and prune the whole block in a day,” he said. “You would get 50 or 60 men to turn up to pick the grapes or to help with important jobs because they’d never see anyone stuck. They’d club together and help anyone out who was in trouble.”

A report by the Royal Commission on Soldier Settlement, as early as 1925, acknowledged major faults in the program, but struggled to find a solution that would benefit all soldiers due to the diversity of the scheme.

“There are several classes of cases where the proper remedy for one group would be quite ineffective in others. The process of bringing soldier settlement into a solvent and satisfactory position will be a long one.
There is no easy road by which that end can be attained. In a sense, soldier settlement is not solely a business proposition and cannot be dealt with as such.
At the same time, it would be disastrous for our country if it were admitted contracts should be treated as scraps of paper whenever they become difficult to carry out.
We are thus confronted with a contradiction, and the way to reconciliation lies somewhere in between.
Hence, the unavoidable vagueness of some of our recommendations.
The course lies across an imperfectly charted sea, through many reefs and shoals, and shifting sands called ‘prices’.
The ship was hastily equipped but it is well manned and we believe will, ultimately, be brought safely into port.”

Source: Royal Commission on Soldier Settlement, 1925

Farm expansion brought settler success

Although the scheme was ultimately deemed a failure, and widely criticised for bringing further hardship to veterans, there are individual stories of triumph.

Tom White holds a child, posing with his prize winning crop
Tom White with his prize winning crop (Supplied: Bruce White

Often, the soldier farmers who managed to hang on to their land benefited from those who walked away. The rusty gates to Rosedale, a grain property in the Carnamah district in Western Australia, have been swinging for almost a century due to the farm’s ongoing expansion. It is still owned and operated by the same solider settlement family, and currently managed by Bruce White.

Bruce’s grandfather, Tom White, is one of the 5,000 original West Australian soldier settlers who had been working on farms in the south of the state for just two years before war broke out. On his return from the war, he took up a soldier settlement block and almost a century later his family is still there.

“Tom came to Carnamah in 1921. He signed over the leasehold documents and the government helped them set up with seed and the bare necessities,” Mr White said. “He had to grow feed for their horses, and there was about two-thirds wheat and one-third fallow, but without the government assistance it would have been impossible. In 1929 my grandfather’s brother took up the block next door, but had to walk off during the Depression, so things were pretty tough.”

“It really had a big impact on my grandfather later in life. He was very cautious and didn’t like debt.”

“My grandfather got injured with artillery fire… shrapnel stayed in his foot for 20 years and is now part of a display on the soldier settlers (in the National Museum).”

Bruce White, direct descendant of settler in the Carnamah district, Western Australia

It was a similar story for 1,500 of the state’s 5,000 soldier settlers who, crippled by falling agricultural prices and the looming Great Depression, surrendered their blocks. But through this adversity came an opportunity for the Whites to expand and diversify.

“The horses were the mainstay of the farm, but after the Second World War we got into tractors and my father was progressive and ambitious, so he took the opportunity to buy land when it came,” Mr White said.

He said a piece of his family’s war history is on show at the National Museum in Canberra. “My grandfather got injured with artillery fire and one of the wounds was in his foot,” he said. “That piece of shrapnel stayed in his foot for 20 years and is now part of a display on the soldier settlers”.

Despite being an Englishman, Tom White was eligible for the settlement program because he fought for the Australian Army. However, Margaret Wood from Queensland said even soldiers who fought for foreign armies were eligible for repatriation in Australia provided they were part of the allied forces.

“I believe Canadian and New Zealanders could also apply for a block,” she said. “I’ve researched more than 200 soldiers now and have struck a few Canadians, so provided they fought for the allies they were entitled to a block.”

Tom White ploughing the fields with a horse-pulled plough, on his Western Australian soldier settlement block.
Tom White ploughing the fields on his West Australian soldier settlement block (Supplied: Bruce White)

Sugar legacy: El Arish soldier settler blocks still farmed 100 years on

In many cases, the community connection to soldier settlement histories has been eroded by time. People have moved away, records have been lost, and stories forgotten. But in the far north Queensland sugar town of El Arish it is not only the cane farms that have continued to flourish, but also the history of the settlement.

“I think it was just a sheer determination that even though it was a hard slog on the farm, it was way better than that trench.”

Marie Carman, El Arish ‘history station’ co-ordinator

El Arish takes its name from a strategic army base in Egypt and was the location of a major battle for the Australian Light Horse regiment.

The town’s streets were named in honour of the generals under whom many of the men would have served before taking up land in the settlement. Today, a converted railway station in the main street is a gateway to the rich history of the town, its soldier settlers and the many others who subsequently took to or worked on the land.

A journal of the settlement supervisor Francis Paxton Martin records every nail, sheet of tin, tool and even the billets of cane given to new farmers in order to get established. The walls of the converted railway station are adorned with photographs of the standard houses built for the settlers, which were equipped with stoves and rain tanks for the married men only, and other memorabilia collected by members of the community such as Marie Carman.

“They created a wonderful relationship that we still have with El Arish in the Middle East,” Mrs Carman explained. “They had been there… and they all had something in common. They’d all defended this country and I really think that was very, very binding and important to them and we feel it today. We feel the relationship with World War I today here in El Arish still and that’s what we do at the history station to try to keep that feeling alive.”

Mrs Carman never knew Willie Hugh Williams.

Her grandfather died in the 1940s, eventually succumbing to the effects of mustard gas and a young life spent underground in the Wolfrem mining camp inland from Cairns. Willie’s legacy is one of about six El Arish farms which are still going concerns nearly 100 years later.

His name was one of 72 original settlers plucked from a hat in a land ballot at the Innisfail Courthouse in 1922. However, receiving a soldier settlement block number was no winning lottery ticket.

The men took on about 50 acres and a 625-pound loan and then, set about forging their farms and futures out of virgin rainforest and the dense, unforgiving scrub.

“That wasn’t a gift, they had to pay it back to the government,” Mrs Carman said. “I know my grandfather’s plot was on a wallaby patch, so the family story is he used to throw the dog in his bed before he went to bed and the dog would take the fleas with him when he left.

“So, it was pretty rugged… but luckily here, they were nearly always near a creek.”

It was that perennial supply of water, along with strong global demand for sugar, that proved the defining difference in the fortunes of El Arish compared with other soldier settlements.

“They all had something in common. They’d all defended this country and that was very, very binding and important to them and we feel…the relationship with World War I today.”

Marie Carman from El Arish

“If ever there was a place to grow cane, well, it was certainly here. It just grew madly. And they had their badilla (variety) and they had a big crop and the way the price of sugar was then, they did reasonably well so they could pay their farms off so they were happy here.”

The cost of planting was about 30 pounds an acre. Then there was the challenge of cutting and loading the cane by hand and, with the establishment of the Tully Sugar mill still several years away, getting it crushed several hundred kilometres away in the Burdekin.

Of course, not every returned serviceman was able to make a go of farming and many surrendered or traded their blocks. But Mrs Carman still believes the ballot was an opportunity many, including her grandfather, jumped at.

“I think it was just a sheer determination that even though it was a hard slog on the farm, it was way better than that trench,” she said.

“They had so much feeling for humanity, they’d lost so many mates and things like that, the value of the family was there and I suppose it’s a case of ‘if it suits you, it suits you’. And it suited him, to stay here.”

Len Sullivan shows the remnants of the house built by his father, Clifford Sullivan, on the family property.
Len Sullivan shows the remnants of the house built by his father, Clifford Sullivan on the family property (Source: Alex Blucher)

It suited Len Sullivan to stay on his father’s King Island property too, and he remembers a reintroduction of the scheme following World War II, helped to revolutionise the island.

Mr Sullivan said the reputation of the island, and the agricultural success is has since achieved, is due to the solider settlers.

“The scheme helped to clear land, where before it wasn’t cleared,” he said. “After World War II it was very exciting because huge areas of King Island were bulldozed and turned over to help set up 200 to 300 farmers here. It was unreal and it was huge for King Island and it has progressed on today, even though farms have been bought out by big monopolies.”

Mr Sullivan said he never questioned whether taking on his fathers farm was a good idea.

“We were milking cows and as I did that in the morning and night and looked after the farm during the day, I didn’t have much time to think about anything, other than milking cows.”

“I did ok, quite well actually.”

Father and son: two world wars and two soldier settlements

Along the banks of the Murray River a tale of two generations of service and sun dried fruits has played out over nearly a century.      

Thomas Hendrick and his son Howard have lived eerily parallel lives, both serving in a World War, both receiving medals for gallantry, both marrying English women they met as part of their service, and both returning to Australia to farm citrus and grapes in the South Australian Riverland.

Carving a living out of a soldier settler block is no easy task and the hard labour of building and maintaining irrigation channels, hand drying sultanas and rushing out in the dead of night cover sun drying fruit from the rain dominate Howard Hendrick’s memories.

“My father didn’t know a vine from a tree when he first went to Renmark,” he said. “His first job was to clear the land, the hardest part was when they planted the vines they had to obtain their own posts to train the vines up.

“He cut all his own posts by hand and carted them back on a spring dray. It was a very hard life, I remember very well as children we used to help out on the block.”

“When the fruit was on the ground drying we would get rain sometimes and the fruit wasn’t supposed to get wet, so my father would light the hurricane lamp and he would draw up the whole family and we would go out and cover the fruit with hessian, it might be two o’clock in the morning.”

Born in England, Howard Hendrick’s father Thomas came out to Australia before the First World War and worked as a timber cutter clearing scrub around Albany in Western Australia. Joining up with mates in WA, Tom Hendrick fought at Gallipoli from June until the December evacuation. After the campaign he was caught in an Egyptian sandstorm and temporarily blinded.

The time in hospital meant his Westralian friends departed for the Western Front without him and instead he was sent to the 32nd Battalion, made up mainly of South Australians. The 32nd would go on to claim battle honours at many infamous clashes including Fromelles, where it lost 75 per cent of its battalion strength, He also fought at Passchendale, where men and horses vanished in to a quagmire of mud and corpses, Polygon Wood and Bellicourt along the Mont St Quentin Canal; where Thomas Hendrick was awarded the Military Medal.

That twist of fate in an Egyptian sandstorm led to Tom Hendrick choosing to stick with his new mates and take up a soldier settler block in Renmark, in the South Australian Riverland. Today the former World War II Lancaster Bomber pilot Howard Hendrick has retired from his own soldier settler farm block and lives overlooking the Murray River.

Once a month, 91-year-old Mr Hendrick still flies a plane, “to keep his mind sharp” in his words.

This Anzac Day he said he will remember his father, his RAAF mates and the 73rd anniversary of his enlistment during the Second World War.

This article and the incredible research behind it is attributed to ABC Rural who featured on ABC Rural for Anzac Day 2015. The original article can be found here

Learning from Aspiring Farmers

Cultivate Farms is a fantastic new social enterprise connecting young aspiring farmers with older farmers moving off the land. Removing the barriers preventing young people getting involved and educating the new generation of farmers! The story of Elliot and Rebecca comes from the team at Cultivate Farms in their search for what defines a passion for farming and where it originates. Well worth a read.

Elliot and Rebecca in the ACT

It’s always inspiring to meet passionate people with a vision. Elliot and Rebecca reached out to us a few months ago and we spoke about their farming dream and how difficult it will be to make it a reality. It is these conversations that bolster us that we are on the right track to help make farming a reality for great people like them and you.

5 takeaways we took from the interview:

  1. Farming should be seen by any high achiever as a great career option; a great lifestyle, profitable and you get to have a positive impact on the planet.
  2. Insect farming might not be as crazy as it first sounds. A nice article about it here – https://www.milkwood.net/2014/06/12/farming-edible-insects-hello-zero-footprint-protein/
  3. Like nearly every aspiring farmer we have met, they are working hard off-farm to somehow afford to buy their own piece of dirt. But will they ever be able to save enough before they’re too old to enjoy it?!
  4. If you love people and talking, then training and educating others on your farm could be a great option for many farmers and another source of income.
  5. They love the idea of being connected with a retiring farmer who can hand over both their farming and farm wisdom.
  6. I know there should only be 5, but the list of inspiring farmers near the bottom is a must for people to check out.

 

 

  1. What are your names, where are you currently living and where would you like to farm?

Elliot Holgate and Rebecca Ceravolo Alves de Oliveira, currently living in the ACT and want to start farming anywhere between Port Macquarie and Rockhampton.

  1. When you walk out onto the front deck of your dream farmhouse, what sort of farm do you see before you and what work do you have ahead of you for the day?

Ideally, we will be looking out onto a biodiverse, healthy and productive ecosystem. It might contain intensive organic cropping, agroforestry, insect farming, educational centre and on farm processing.

Today we will first tend to livestock who free range through the alleys of our agroforestry system. Second, we will harvest from the main crop to supply meals for ourselves, guests and students. Third we will check on processing of our on farm produce and fourth relax with the rest of the farm team.

  1. Why do you want to own and operate your own farm? What drives you?

Lifestyle. Rebecca and I believe that a farm lifestyle is one of the healthiest, happiest ways one can live. From our past experiences farming there is something incredibly satisfying about being directly involved in providing your own basic needs such as nutritional food, clean water and shelter. You begin to appreciate more, want less and improve your overall wellbeing. Not to mention the ecological benefits such as reducing waste, improving ecosystem services, carbon capture etc.

The other motivation is positive impact. Being high achieving, hardworking and highly motivated individuals we also want to make a positive impact on the planet. We strongly stand by the phrase “leave it better than you found it” and this is our goal for our farm. To not only produce highly nutritious food but also improve the aesthetic and functional elements of the land.

There are also many social goals that we have alongside the environmental ones such as partnering with indigenous communities, providing farming scholarships and running educational programs. So in the end it is about creating a healthy lifestyle for ourselves as well as future generations, whether that be ecologically or socially.

  1. What obstacles are in the way of you achieving your farming dream? How are you going to make your dream a reality?

At the moment we are basically working as hard as we can to get funds together to buy some property. As we have heard many times over today’s market is not very conducive to saving to buy property so we are also looking being innovative through building our own company and looking into options such as cultivate farms.

Like my parents used to say “money is up there with oxygen” and unfortunately it is a little harder to come by than the latter. This is our major barrier to starting a farm. We have the knowledge, the motivation and a significant amount of experience but it is just the capital that is lacking which is a real shame.

If options like Cultivate farms were not around we would probably go the conventional route of saving until we get there. We may look into getting a loan or have to make some compromises such as size and location.

  1. What benefits can Cultivate Farms offer you?

My favourite thing about Cultivate farms is it’s potential to also connect investors in farming projects. Rebecca and I have some great ideas that require seed money to get off the ground and investments is a great way to do this.

The other thing I love is how Cultivate Farms can connect us with a landholder who has been in the game his/her whole life. There is a wealth of knowledge that is priceless. Not many people know the land like someone who has been living on it for 50 years. It’s that kind of knowledge that can really make the different in farm management.

  1. Is there anything about Cultivate Farms that worries you? E.g. Sharing equity with someone else.

Ideally, we would like to own our own farm and have the freedom to make our own decisions. We would like to apply some innovative agriculture methods, which will require some experimenting so we would like the flexibility that will allow us to do this.

In saying that we are happy to collaborate as long as we share the same vision with partners.

Rebecca and I believe that very few enterprises become successful without partners so we realise that this is a part of the process. The hard part is finding that 5% of people who you can work with and share a common goal.

  1. What are the three things Cultivate Farms could do for you right now to make your farming dream a reality?

Land (20 – 100 acres)

Seed money ($100,000 – $300,000)

Advice from experienced farmers

  1. Are there any amazing farmers, who you could name, that you admire?

We have done a variety of courses with a number of different farmers who we admire.

Geoff Lawton – http://www.geofflawtononline.com/

Ernst Gotsch – https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/climate-stories/stories/ernst-gotsch-syntropic-agriculture-agroforestry

Joel Salatin – http://www.polyfacefarms.com/

Masanobu Fukuoka – http://onestrawrevolution.net/One_Straw_Revolution/Massanobu_Fukuoka.html

Dan Kettridge – https://s3.amazonaws.com/bionutrient.org/audio/listen/DanKittredge_Permaculture_Realized_Podcast.mp3

Bill Mollison – http://www.tagari.com/home/

David Holmgren – https://holmgren.com.au/about-permaculture/?v=3a1ed7090bfa

  1. Any other pieces of gold to hand over?

We are looking at getting into precision agriculture using the latest technology to assist farm management. This may include drones, GIS mapping and remote sensing. We would like to link this with universities and industry so that we can develop an evidence base that our methods are both highly productive and ecologically beneficial.

We have a special interest in nutrition and would like to develop a system of measuring the nutritional value if individual food items. This means buyers will be able to pick food based on its nutritional value instead of how it looks. It is our opinion that a lot of the food you buy from the supermarket is nutritionally depleted and also probably contains some toxins from pesticide use.

We have our own company (Ubatuba Amazonian Health Food) selling functional foods and natural cosmetics sourced from indigenous communities around the world. We have products that are increasing in popularity in China with a huge potential to access the growing middle class. We would like to setup the processing for these products on the farm so that we can market our products as green and clean for the Chinese market. We believe there is huge potential in this business.

Socially speaking we would like to setup the farm as a type of school where people can come to learn sustainable land management practises. We will offer scholarships to disadvantaged individuals who can then take the knowledge to develop projects in their home towns wherever that may be.

 

Bridging the Agri-Urban Gap

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, lawyer, policeman and a preacher; but everyday, three times a day, you need a farmer”  Brenda Schoepp

As of May 2016, the Australian Agricultural Industry employed just over 320,000 people or 1.5% of Australians, in jobs directly related with food production. These farmers, labourers, shearers, stock handlers, breeders, scientists and agronomists to name a few, are responsible for feeding over 70,000,000 people worldwide! How’s that for growing an impact.

Even more amazing is that agriculture now has the highest growth rate of any industry 8.3%, and earning a record breaking $63.4 billion for the Australian economy. Fiona Simson, head of the National Farmers Federation said “ag might be the new black”.

Australians are lucky enough to enjoy some of the best food going around, with the safety and quality of our grain, beef and cotton making it highly sought after around the world: Udon noodles in Japan, bread in Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, to noodles, beef and bread in China – the ‘Made in Australia’ branding a key selling point in distinguished restaurants. I know I often take this quality for granted!

Yet because 66% of us live in the urban area we often miss out on meeting those responsible for our meals and the 69,999,999 others relying on Australian farmers each day. Back in the early days, when farms were smaller, rural towns more populated and many people closer descendants of farmers, the connection with the land was more prominent. So how do urban Australians rediscover that connection?

The first step is education on provenance and process.

Internet, technology and social media allows people to be closer to the country than ever before. Farmers are one of the most active groups of users on twitter, providing a fantastic opportunity to connect. It must be remembered that connection is a two way street. Farmers and urban consumers have much to learn from each other for the benefit of all.

Many consumers may now be beginning to understand the origins of their Saturday morning brunch, the daily toast or the lunchtime avocado and salad sandwich as packaging and marketing campaigns aim to focus on advertising local produce and its benefits in quality. But do you know when and how the avocado was grown and picked? Or the labour intensive process of producing edible quinoa on those quinoa-based eggs benedict?

If not, well that’s what AgriEducate is here for! It is an exciting prospect informing people about something they never even considered – take this xkcd comic as an example. I for sure, love learning new things everyday!

So don’t be shy, ask us a question on Twitter or through the Contact form and together we can begin to bridge the Agri-Urban gap improving outcomes for everyone.

GMOs or OMGs?

What do Frankenstein and Food have in common? I’ll give you a clue – it can save billions of people from undernutrition and improve food security globally.

The Problem: Micronutrients

Over 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, most prevalently iron, zinc and Vitamin A. Deficiency in Vitamin A is one of the most detrimental forms of malnutrition in the developing world. It causes stunted growth, blindness, and a weakened immune system. Whilst improving the amount and diversity of food remains a challenge, scientists have found a way to improve the micronutrient density of existing staple crops.

A Solution: Biofortification

Biofortification involves enhancing the nutritional qualities of food crops through modern biotechnology, traditional plant breeding and agronomic practices. This differs from conventional fortification as nutrient levels are improved during plant growth, rather than during the processing of the crops. This usually occurs with staple crops, which provide around 50% of nutrition in developing countries. Farmers are provided with the enhanced crop which leads to a virtuous cycle of improved nutrition and consequent improvements to health and living standards.

Hear Howarth Bouis, Director of HarvestPlus, explain biofortification in just 50 seconds!

Examples

  • Vitamin A in sweet potato, maize and cassava
  • Iron in rice, beans, sweet potato, cassava and legumes
  • Zinc in wheat, rice, beans, sweet potato and maize
  • Amino acid and proteins in sourghum and cassava

Effects

Bioforitfication is cost-efficient, can reach remote communities, is sustainable and long-term, and has a proven impact.

How it works

There are 2 main agronomic technologies used for biofortification, either to increase micronutrient density or to improve bioavailability. These are: traditional selective plant breeding and genetic engineering.

Traditional breeding involves selecting seeds that are nutrient rich, and breeding them with high-yielding crops, to get a crop which is both nutrient-rich and high-yielding.

Genetic engineering involves inserting a gene containing the desired nutrient into the seed itself. This seed is then bred with a high-yielding crop, also resulting in a micronutrient-rich crop. This method produced the beta-carotene rich Golden Rice.

So what’s the difference?

How does a researcher go about biofortification?

1) Profiling – a population and staple food are identified, and nutritional targets are made.

2) Crop Development – through either selective breeding or genetic modification.

3) Delivery –  consumers are educated about the new crop, the crop is made available to farmers, and monitoring continues.

Watch Professor Kevin Folta from the University of Florida explain the process!

GMO or OMG?

Genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) have been met with their fair share of criticism with concerns for human health and environmental problems. Further challenges involve slow take-ups in some communities with engrained farming practices. But these concerns must be met by acknowledging the huge benefits GMOs have to offer – one of which is the impacts of biofortification on food security globally.

Farmers have been intentionally changing the genetics of crops for around 10,000 years. Almost all commercially available fruits, vegetables and grains have been altered in some way. The process was expanded in the late 20th Century, and the benefits of GMOs have allowed improved availability, consistency, quality, quantity and costs of foods since.

Case Study: Iron enriched Pearl Millet in India

See how iron-enriched pearl millet has improved lives in India. It is said to improve yields, be more nutritious, be disease resistant, more water efficient, and even be more tasty!

 Biofortification is an exciting new avenue for agricultural research, and will have huge impacts for people and communities all over the world.

It’s no wonder the 2016 World Food Prize was awarded to a team of plant breeders who engineered Biofortified Sweet Potatoes!