Friday, December 31, 2010

Are we really sure excluding cattle from the Barmah Forest is a good idea?

Are we really sure excluding cattle from the Barmah Forest is a good idea?

I would argue we can't be sure, and that the exclusion was done so fast & unilaterally that it likely to have a number of unforeseen affects.

Earlier this month I saw "Out of the Scientist's Garden" by Richard Stirzaker, CSIRO Land & Water Australia Senior Research Fellow at Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Irrigation Futures, in a local bookshop. Did a quiet skim in the bookshop and borough it.

Got I home and after a few more minutes browsing, I realised I'ld seen him speak & been to his then home in the early '90 to see his back yards 'Clever Clover' plot. There are photos of that back yard in the book.

On further reading I found the following passage on pages 171 & 172, in Chapter 20: Simplicity.

A couple of notes first. Roan are a large antelope that can get to over 250 kgs. The park being talked about is the Kurger National Park in South Africa.
Roan tend to favour area growing taller, less palatable grasses. They wander over large areas of savannah, picking the few tender young leaves from the grassy tussocks. Zebras and wildebeest are more like lawn mowers. They concentrate in huge numbers on the more fertile soils which more palatable grasses, and by grazing patches of the savannah heavily, they ensure a continuous supply of nutritious young leaves.

Roan must cover large distances to select their diet, but they are also very dependent on water. There are large area of park with grazing suitable for roan, but without rivers for the roan to drink. So park managers put in windmills to pump ground water into troughs. The plan worked spectacularly well. The roan spread out over a much larger area around the new sources of water. The still occurred at low densities because the grasses in the region tended to be of lower quality, but their numbers steadily increased.

Over the years, the new water attracted other grazers, particularly zebra and wildebeest. Although the dominant grass was not ideal for these species, they changed some areas with their constant heavy grazing, producing lawn-like areas of young, more palatable grass. In doing so, the density of herbivores increased, and this did not escape the attention of the loins.

Since zebra and wildebeest are the favoured prey of loins, they get a lot of practice spotting predictors and running to safety. Not so the roan. Hunting had been an unprofitable business for loins in the area prior to the new watering points, because of the low densities of prey. Now the loins switched their attention from the ever vigilant zebras to the unsuspecting roan. Roan numbers started to go down alarmingly.

The solution of adding new watering points was put into reverse. The bores were closed and, as predicted, the zebras drifted back to more favourable areas. As always the loins followed them, but not all the loins. A few prides took up residence in the roan areas. They changed their hunting habits. No longer could they hang around the plentiful herds and ambush them at waterholes on the short-grass plains. They started wandering widely, and met up frequently enough with the meandering roan to virtually wipe them out.

It all begs the question of is this being done just to satisfy political needs in Melbourne. The Kruger reversal was done after a few year. The Barmah reversal is being done after well over a century. The lesson of Kruger is that it should be done using a phased approach with control area to compare with. I don't mean little 10 by 10 metre experiments. That scale of research is just preliminary for the real experiment of introducing a new system to the forest.

Is removing the cattle a diversion for not getting water right? My understanding is that the Red Gums aren't getting inundated often enough and that particularly the higher areas are missing out. That cattle are only grazing pressure after the fact?

Cattle grazing would be removing fire fuel load too. Sound like swing-and-round-a-bouts to me.

Given the about story I would think the safest way to proceed is to divide the forest into many zones and spell zones from any grazing for 10 or 20 years after inundation in a long term rotation. Keep the fuel loads low while allowing long periods from germination & establishment after inundations.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rainy days: curling up with Christopher Alexander's 'The Process of Creating Life'.

Rainy day here, good day to curl up reading! So I've been skimming my newly acquired Christopher Alexander books, starting with 'The Process of Creating Life' (The Nature of Order, Bk 2). The Appendix by itself is a beautiful document. Start page 571.

Appendix title: A Small Example of A Living Process.
1/ A Radical New Process.
2/ Finding A Site.
3/ First Analysis of the Site with Rough Twisted Paper and Balsa Models.
4/ Full-Size Tests of Volume and Position on the Site.
5/ A First Sketch.
6/ Checking The Neighbors' Views.
7/ First Emergence of an Internal Plan.
8/ Extension of the Lot: The Little Plum Tree.
9/ Deeper Questions About The Feeling of The Plan.
10/ A Deeper Conception of the Living Room.
11/ Laying the House Out on the Land.
12/ Starting to Get a General Idea of Construction.
13/ Establishing Rooms.
14/ Upstairs Rooms.
15/ Analysis of Cost.
16/ Concrete Wall Details.
17/ Plasterwork Experiments.
18/ Starting Construction.
19/ The Retaining Wall.
20/ Management Agreement That Feeling Must Guide Even the Most Technical Aspects of Construction.
21/ Setting The Main-Floor Level.
22/ Excavation.
23/ Fine-Tuning the Plan as We Fixed Forms for the Foundation Walls.
24/ The Lily Tiles.
25/ Placing and Fine-Tuning First-Floor Rooms. (What in Australia we would call ground-floor.)
26/ Making and Placing the First-Floor Walls.
27/ Fixing the Living Room: Its Door and Fireplace and Windows.
28/ Remaking Other First-Floor Rooms.
29/ Completing the First-Floor Structure.
30/ Pouring and Forming the Garage.
31/ Getting the Entrance Path Just Right.
32/ Remaking the Upstairs Rooms.
33/ The Master Bed Alcove.
34/ The Kitchen Fireplace Shape.
35/ The Kitchen Floor.
36/ Plasterwork.
37/ Window Openings and Windows.
38/ Balustrades of the Upstairs Balconies and the Concrete Frieze.
39/ Front Door Steps.
40/ Planting Windows and Exterior Woodwork.
41/ Flowers in the Garden.
42/ Use of the Fundamental Process.
43/ Common Sense: An Overview of the Process.
44/ End of the Appendix on the Upham House.
Notes (Pg 632)

I do love how in the notes Christopher observes that "the San Francisco City Hall, a rather large building, was built around 1900 from five sheets of drawings - something almost unimaginable today.".

Definitely not today's red-tape, legalistic nightmare of building. I learn yesterday, that if you want to build a new house on an existing site, the regional council (no local govt. here any more, thank you Anna) requires you to demolish the old house first. That would mean living in a farm shed or off site for a year. Renting a house off site sure does a lot for housing affordability.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is the #NBN bad for global warming?

Yesterday, I asked a leading question on Twitter about the #NBN and it's negative impact on #globalwarming.

I got a response. There is only so much you can say in 140 characters on the run.

Here is the stream and some notes I've added.

gnoll110 Given that high speed comms is one of the two drivers of globalisation. Is the #NBN, a bad move from a fighting global warming perspective.
djackmanson @gnoll110Absolutely not. The research into new energy production required to reduce global warming can only benefit from faster info tfr.
gnoll110 @djackmanson Miss my point. Localisation is a big factor in reducing fossil fuel use. High speed comm hinders localization.
gnoll110 @djackmanson #NBN is only a tool. Really depends how we use it. Helps R&D but also enabler for distributed manufacturing & outsourcing.
djackmanson @gnoll110 Not so much miss your point as disagree with its underlying philosophy. Don't think localism is the answer. Globalism...
djackmanson @gnoll110 ...with clean energy is what I prefer.
gnoll110 @djackmanson Think you're being techno-utopian. Costs of clean energy will drive re-localisation in part. Solution will have many parents.
gnoll110 @djackmanson In part, high speed comms got us from where we were in 1950 to here. Two edged sword, that one.
djackmanson @gnoll110 No good reason why cheap clean energy won't be distributed over wide-energy grids.
djackmanson @gnoll110 er, wide-*area* grids.
gnoll110 @djackmanson Clean energy will always be dearer. Fossil fuels are a once off free kick. Collecting/concentrating renewable means it's more $
gnoll110 @djackmanson It's a good place to go. But it can never be yesterday, just cleaned up.

I think the improvement to research from the #NBN would be marginal at best. Is this an opertunity cost question? You could do a lot with $40+ billion dollar if applied directly to the problem.

It isn't a philosophical question (localisation vs clean smart grids) for me. It's a question of available energy and what we choose to maintain. It's a continuum, we are replacing cheap energy with more expense energy. Some things won't be viable any more. This has hidden consequences. As something become unviable, other activities to produced inputs for it lose their economies of scale too (increasing unit cost), thus becoming less viable too. A downward spiral to a new status quo. How much we can reduce the reduction in energy yield per energy invested (money is only an easily handled proxy), the less we will have to give up in any new status quo.

I will retract my use of 'techno-utopian', that infers finding new tech that enables grow to go on regardless. It's not where Jack is really coming from. I do think changing the energy base of our society while maintaining the basically unchanged status quo where it is, is unrealistic.

Basically we differ on where we think the new status quo is likely to be. Preferences don't come into it. I would like to be wrong, I like my weekend trips interstate to #railscamp.

A link to One major influence on my thinking.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

LOTR set? No greenland!

Yesterday day in the twitter stream I found a great NatGeo photo, worth sharing.

Looks like a Lord of the Rings set, somewhere in the Riddermark. It's a replica of a church Eric the Red built for his wife, at their farm in Qassiarsuk, Greenland.

Here is what Google Image has to say on the topic 'Qassiarsuk church'

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Water: Cities vs Environment.

On twitter a while back, comments where raised about legal dams in the Upper Darling part of the Murray Darling Basin. There where some city tweeters who thought this would fix their water problems.

They have a mind set that farming isn't part of the environment and takes water away from it and them. This forgets a couple of factors. On a lot of land, farming is the environment. The water that gets to the cities come from three places. The high wet areas of the land, where that is always an excess of water for part of the year, especially the melt in early spring. Big rain events. The last is degraded lands in the rest of the basin.

It's these degraded lands I want to comment on. These lands are degraded due to imported practices and over use. As farmers improve practices and adopt more natural methods, like native perennial pastures, the water yield will continue to fall (even assuming no global warning reductions) back to natural levels. So farming isn't a source of water for the cities, if it's allowed to evolve and improve it will reduce water availability.

Maintaining water yields for cities means retarding the improvement of the farming environment. Better that cities learn to not over tax their local environments too. Rain water tanks all-round!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Coalless steel

Over on ABC's Unleashed there is a article called 'A renewable reality: don't let politics get in the way'.

In it I got onto the energy needed to make steel. I said steel could be made and was challenged on that point. I knew that steel had been made with charcoal pre early 18th century. What I didn't realise is that do to its total lack of coal, Sweden currently has at least some charcoal based production! ;)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is commercial Aquaponic effectively illegal on most Australian farms?

Is commercial Aquaponic effectively illegal on most Australian farms?

Unless you've got a water licence, yes. It falls outside the 'stock & domestic' clauses as they now apply in most farms. Stock & domestic applies to both surface run off and bores unless there a specific irrigation licences. Affectivly it's classed as irrigation.

The only way you could do it is if you can establish and run the system on only the roof collection of the fish sheds & green houses? Is that possible?

Food for thought.



Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fee & Dividend and the trees.

Australia economist John Quiggin recently added a post dealing with the political machination of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).

A LOT of debate ensued. In including some denialist noise making and some discussions on the merits of Cap & Trade vs Fee & Divided (F&D). It's part of that Fee & dividend stream I want to preserve here, as it has some of my 'back of the envelope' calculations on how F&D triggers more integrated farming practices.

Carbonsink's initial post.
How about we tax carbon at $20/tonne and repay the proceeds every quarter, split equally between all citizens?

Its simple. Its progressive. It compensates the poor, the old and the unemployed.

James Hansen is a smart cookie.

My first reply.
James Hansen doesn’t support a general carbon tax. He speciality supports a fossil fuel specific Fee & dividend system.
A fee-and-dividend system imposes a fee on the initial sale of a fossil fuel which is then redistributed to the public; the rising cost of carbon-intensive products would, it is hoped, encourage families to keep their carbon footprints low.

‘James Hansen rails against cap-and-trade plan in open letter‘ from the Guardian’s environment blog on 12 Jan ‘10

James Hansen doesn’t support a general carbon tax. He speciality supports a fossil fuel specific Fee & dividend system.

I know. That’s why he’s a smart cookie.

Wouldn’t it be funny if a non-economist came up with the best way to price carbon? I’d like to hear ProfQ’s thoughts on Hansen’s fee-and-dividend idea?
Governments must place a uniform rising price on carbon, collected at the fossil fuel source – the mine or port of entry. The fee should be given to the public in toto, as a uniform dividend, payroll tax deduction or both. Such a tax is progressive – the dividend exceeds added energy costs for 60% of the public.

Fee and dividend stimulates the economy, providing the public with the means to adjust lifestyles and energy infrastructure.

If global emissions trading is DOA, how about we give something else a try?

It’s not about taxing carbon, it’s about fossil fuels specially. ETSs miss the point in that carbon is not all the same. The natural carbon cycle is vast, it’s the relativity small ongoing injection of geologic carbon that’s throwing the whole biosphere/carbon cycle out of whack.

Back when the CPRS was being argured over in the press. A prosal was floated that becuase agriculture was too complex to figure out and that the ‘best approach’ was to simply include it by levying farmers on a per head (for livestock) or per acre (for crops) basis. Figures like $100/head for cattle were being banded about. That struck me as fundimentally ineffective as well as unfair, as it made no distinction between lot fed and grass fed cattle. It also had no way to take changes in farming method at the property level into account.

As a thought exercise I compare how you should treat a car, a lot fed animal & a grass fed animal to try to figure out a better way to include them. That when I realise that an ETS on carbon generally wouldn’t just work poorly, it won’t work at all!

Generally people will try to play with and bend the large natural flows of carbon to get the atmosphere CO2e figure down. Any thing but tackle the actual use of energy/fossil fuels & the problematic ‘new’ geologic carbon flows. Pushing carbon around in the biosphere is like pushing piss up hill. It ain’t going to stay where we put it long term.

The easy, knee jerk reaction is to try to ‘win’ by diverting big natural flows, rather than stopping the small problematic ones. An ETS in quantitative, a Fee & dividend is qualitative. Here is on example of how being quantitative gets it wrong. The cheap ETS reaction is to plant trees, lots of them, in large cheap monoculture forests. The qualitative and resilient approach is mixed forestry in a mosaic with other systems. An ETS here works away from a sustainable lower energy farming ecosystem that better suits local conditions.

Disclosure: I have family members involved in agriculture, including grass fed cattle production.

So how will fee-and-dividend discourage land clearing and encourage “mixed forestry in a mosaic with other systems” ?

Raising energy cost (Fee & Dividend) increases forestry & more diverse land use by a combination of product substitution and return on investment question/harvest frequency changes.

Cheap energy allows lots of product substitution. Steel and concrete for timber of every thing from houses to ships. Petrol & diesel fueled cars, trucks and trains for horses powered by hay. Synthetics for natural fibre. What this has done is remove a lot of demand to use our land surface for things other that food. In each case new fossil fuels replaced old solar based systems.

Cheap energy has also meant we’ve been able to substitute artificial fertility for natural fertility.

When the cost of energy is low, low return annual harvest systems make sense. When you dramatically raise the cost of energy, high return long rotation systems make more sense. We’ll always need a fair amount of annual harvest systems, our staple carbohydrate food stuffs are generally produced from them. If you harvest a system annually, the return is typically between 6% & 10%[1]. Plantation systems can return from 34% (over 6 years) to 310% (over 90 years). Harvest a natural system and you can get 1100% (over 300 years). If you have a cheap energy to drive an annual harvest, you can get more out of given area, over time. But the law of diminishing returns apply to the energy inputs.

Raise energy costs and some of these reverse. In construction I can easy see a time when steel and concrete are only used extensively in public building, where the engineering demands require them. Hoping we don’t have to go all the way down to riding and working horses, and building ships from oak again.

I’ve done some ‘back of the envelope’ calculations. They are based on EMERGY figures; Corn yielding at a 1.10 ratio and Radiate pine yielding at a 2.10 ratio, over 24 years. The figures also assume no cost to moving energy use between years and no yield from unused land.

Say it taken 1000 unit of energy to grow and harvest corn. The harvested corn yields 1100 units of energy. Over 24 years that’s a net gain of 2400 units of energy, for 24000 units in.

Now double the cost on energy. The farmer can now only afford 500 unit/year or 12000 in total.

If the farmer just plants corn, he can only use half the land. That 500 units of energy in and yields 550 units of energy. Over 24 years that’s a net gain of 1200 units of energy, for 12000 units in.

But if the farmer plants 47% to corn each year and plants 53% to Radiate pine in the first year, here’s what the farmer gets. 530 units are used to plant & harvest the pines plus 24 times 470 units to grow the corn each year. Total energy in is 11810 units (11280 units for corn + 530 unit for pines). The net gain over 24 years is 1711 unit (1128 from corn, 583 from pine).

By using a corn pine mix, the drop in production expected with a halving in energy usage can be reduced from a 50% drop to a 29% drop.

[1] David Holmgren, Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, p 65-7

Ultimately what my 'back of the envelope' calculation show is the when you start taking energy out of a farming system, the Law of Diminishing Returns can be used to work with you.

As energy prices go up and usage falls, the more land goes to trees, all thing being equal. Don't you love that last phrase.

In the developed world, that 'all things being equal' included only 3% (or less) of the population being involved on Agriculture, Horticulture, Forestry & Fishing.

So in a really low energy system you could end up with 1ha of market garden & orchards, 9ha of grain & 490ha of mixed trees! How to boost the system? Add labour. Go to ten families, 10ha of market garden & orchards, 90ha of grain & 400ha of mixed trees.

Ten families farming 10ha of gardens & 90ha of grains. What does that tell us? It tells us that food as a percentage of earnings is not going to stay cheap. It's that standard of living thing again. If you can't have standard of living, you gotta work on quality of life. Be happy!