Duxton’s Agri Bits and Pieces – Vol. 325
Posted on: March 9th, 2017




This week’s quote comes from the February 2017 Browning World Climate Bulletin and highlights the outlook for prosperous Southern Hemisphere’s harvest.

The muted La Nina event meant this season is seeing above-average prospects for South American corn and soy, Asian rice and Australian wheat and canola…The favourable January weather that Australia experienced allowed late planted winter crops to excel. This meant that even as many Australian crop forecasters were anticipating rough yields all the way through early January, the eventual outlook is more favourable. Production is expected to nearly 50% better than the five-year average”


Unusual weather in the Southwest, USA, could cause a nationwide salad shortage later this month. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce): Scientists say the weird weather is probably caused by climate change — which means these sorts of problems are likely to happen again.

The shortage is the result of two separate phenomena in Arizona’s Yuma County and California’s Salinas Valley, the two places where the United States grows most of its leafy greens. In Yuma, the lettuce harvest, which usually runs from November to April, wound up early because of unusually warm weather. And in central California, which typically picks up the harvest once Yuma is done, heavy precipitation delayed some plantings.

Across the U.S., February 2017 was the near-warmest in three decades.

Both the temperature in Yuma and the rain in Salinas have a link to atmospheric warmth. The case of Yuma is pretty obvious: Temperatures in the Southwest have been increasing for 100 years, and this winter was no different. According to the National Weather Service, February’s average temperature was two degrees warmer than the recorded average in recent decades.

In Salinas, the situation is a bit more complex, Overpeck said. The region has seen an unusual number of storms called “atmospheric rivers” — you might know them by the name Pineapple Express — which push heavy precipitation to the Pacific coast from around the Hawaiian islands. It’s unclear whether climate change has a role in the increased incidence of atmospheric rivers, Overpeck said.

That said, it’s “a basic concept of physics” that when the atmosphere is warmer, it holds more moisture, Overpeck explained. That means that, when storm clouds form, you tend to see more snow and rain.
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Yuma County boasts nearly 70,000 acres of planted lettuce, while Monterey County, the home of the Salinas Valley, has 134,000. The 2015 Salinas harvest was valued atmore than $1.65 billion. Incidentally, these sorts of cascading disruptions aren’t just limited to lettuce — or even to the United States. Britain recently suffered a widely publicized shortage of iceberg lettuce, zucchini, broccoli and cabbage, brought on by extreme weather in Europe’s “salad bowl,” Spain.


Start-up businesses that use drones to assess crop health through infrared mapping are becoming more popular across Australia, according to industry players and researchers.

Using normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) – a mapping method that identifies whether an area contains live green vegetation or not – drone surveillance can provide an early warning of crop stress and crop health issues on farming properties.

While the use of NDVI is not new, and has been used through satellite and plane surveying for almost a decade, industry players say drones can provide a far more detailed map resolution – measuring areas within centimetres, compared to metres.

Using drones is also relatively fast and cheap.

Deakin University associate professor John Hornbuckle said, “…you’re seeing traditional agronomists taking up the technology and using it within their business to provide more site-specific information back to farmers about how they can manage their nitrogen or their water, for instance.

Mr Smith said the imagery and processes that they were using cost farmers between $3.50 and $7 a hectare depending on overall size of land and the type of crop.

But he said having information about what crops were stressed in advance could save farmers a lot of money.
“Alternatively they may reduce their cost because it’s too stressed, so rather than going and spraying everything like they’re currently doing at the moment they can stop the spray and stop the input costs going in.”
He said maps worked best if you did it right after germination from broad acre.

“We had the perfect example where we’ve done one and there was actually chemical burn right from the beginning,” he said. “What happened was we’ve come in late in the season but if we’d done that at the beginning that farmer could have gone through and re-seeded and gained 50 per cent of his crop back again.




This week’s chart of the Week comes from the Economist’s Water Scarcity Liquidity Crisis and shows the share of Agricultural Groundwater Usage across the globe.






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