Duxton’s Agri Bits and Pieces – Vol. 323
Posted on: February 23rd, 2017




This week’s quote comes from Michael Dean, a co-founder of the world’s largest agricultural crowd equity platform AgFunder and highlights what he feels is a current gap in Australia’s agriculture sector.

“Our farmers are among the best in the world, yet the industry isn’t getting the support and funding that it needs to drive technology innovation to boost farm efficiency and productivity…On a per capita basis, Australia spends 32 times less than the USA on agricultural venture capital.”



Hoarding oil of a new kind after terrible harvests in Italy, Spain and Greece.

Now erratic weather in Spain and Italy, the world’s biggest producers, is rippling through global olive oil markets, and it’s about to get worse. Prices for extra virgin olive oil in Italy have soared almost one-third since October to €5.75 ($6.15) a kilogram, while Spanish costs jumped about 10%, according to the International Olive Council in Madrid. The forecasters at Mintec Ltd. in England see room for even further gains.

Nowhere is the surge felt more than Britain. Thanks to the Brexit-induced collapse of the pound, olive oil is the most expensive it’s been in at least seven years. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is closing six of his Italian restaurants around the country after the currency’s crash drove up costs.

“Olive oil is expensive and very much in the hands of nature,” said Oliver. “The really good stuff is worth every penny. You pretty much charge the oil per tablespoon, like you would foie gras or caviar.”

Prices have become more volatile because of erratic weather in the past few years, and global production is set to drop about 8% this season, according to Bourne End, England-based Mintec.

Hot, muggy weather in Italy attracted olive fruit flies and helped bacteria to flourish, damaging groves. The nation’s production is expected to plunge as much as 50% this season. In Greece, last spring’s heat waves are poised to cut output by about one-fourth. Floods in Andalusia, Spain’s main growing region, ruined its harvest.

At the same time demand is increasing from China and other emerging markets. Spanish producers have had to drain stockpiles to meet export orders, including to the U.S.

Italian Chef Francesco Mazzei, who runs Sartoria in London’s Mayfair, says he had to raise prices. “Olive oil is becoming a luxury,” said Mazzei.



A drone that can pollinate flowers may one day work side by side with bees to improve crop yields.

About three-quarters of global crop species, from apples to almonds, rely on pollination by bees and other insects. But pesticides, land clearing and climate change have caused declines in many of these creatures, creating problems for farmers.

Cross-pollination, however, requires the transfer of pollen from one plant to another. This mostly relies on pollen becoming stuck to the bodies of bees and other insects when they feed on flowers, and then being deposited on the next plant they visit. It has advantages over self-pollination, in that it increases genetic diversity and improves the quantity and quality of crops.

Eijiro Miyako at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and his colleagues have used the principle of cross-pollination in bees to make a drone that transports pollen between flowers.

The manually controlled drone is 4 centimetres wide and weighs 15 grams. The bottom is covered in horsehair coated in a special sticky gel. When the drone flies onto a flower, pollen grains stick lightly to the gel, then rub off on the next flower visited.

Miyako says the team is now working on developing autonomous drones that could help farmers to pollinate their crops. GPS, high-resolution cameras and artificial intelligence will be required for the drones to independently track their way between flowers and land on them correctly, though it will be some time before all that is in place. “We hope this will help to counter the problem of bee declines,” says Miyako. “But importantly, bees and drones should be used together.”



This week’s chart comes from the Climate Council’s Cranking up the Intensity: Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events report. The chart shows the change in the number of extremely hot days (classified as maximum temperatures of more than 35oC) between 1950-1980 and 1981-2011. By 2090, the report predicts that Darwin will experience 265 days a year above 35oC – the current average is 11 days.





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