Aussies bringing sustainable to the table

Aussies bringing sustainable to the table

Agriculture
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AS Australians continue to order hand-made coffee to accompany their macadamia smoked blue mackerel, peas, dill and poached eggs for breakfast, it is clear we're not about to give up our nosh.

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The obesity crisis aside, if everyone ate less, the environment would benefit. It would mean less strain on agricultural land to produce food.

But because Aussies love their tucker, this isn't about to happen. This in turn means Australia has to produce more with less.

The good news is, Aussie agriculture is bounding ahead in this area, with food sustainability becoming well-entrenched as a consideration for modern farming practices.

Agribusiness Australia president, Mark Allison, believes old-fashioned farming was about being at the whim of the environment and the skies.

"Modern agriculture is about controlling the controllables, about industry restructure with planning around sustainability and productivity at the heart of every business plan," he said.

"It's all about supply chain efficiency. The increases will come from breeding and genetics, processing and labour efficiencies, and transport capabilities namely our ability to get produce out of the paddock and into markets around the globe faster and cheaper than we did it this year."

A scholarly theme

AUSTRALIAN agriculture's push for a better way of doing things can be seen no clearer than within the crop of Nuffield scholars.

Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarships provide the financial means for farmers from various backgrounds to investigate ways of improving operations, often gathering best practice ideas from overseas to be adapted or adopted at home.

At the awarding of the 2020 Nuffield scholarships, Nuffield Australia interim chief executive officer, Jodie Redcliffe, said there was a real focus on the community amongst the group.

She said topics to be studied ranged from the adoption of regenerative principles in order to improve land management practices, to the prioritisation of nutrition in guiding cropping decisions.

"These scholars will sow the seeds of change and their findings will act as a springboard for industry growth," Ms Redcliffe said.

"In particular, their focus reflects the changing relationship between producers and consumers, and looks at how the sector is continually evolving to meet societal expectations across all aspects of food and fibre production."

Mixed farm operator and 2019 Nuffield scholar, James Alexander, Boorowa, NSW is researching how mixed farming businesses can solve common land management issues, such as reduced ground cover and soil health.

Having worked as an agronomist for several years, Mr Alexander is currently employed on a large scale, organic and biodynamic grazing property in southern NSW.

"I believe Australia can be a leader in sustainable agriculture. In particular, my scholarship will seek to build on the philosophies of regenerative agriculture, and to identify practical solutions across a wide range of industry challenges," Mr Alexander said.

"My research aims to unearth potential ways that regenerative approaches could lead to greater landscape functionality, improved social well-being of farmers, and increased profitability of farm businesses."

Australian agriculture is increasingly making moves to take food sustainability into account in production practices.

Australian agriculture is increasingly making moves to take food sustainability into account in production practices.

Let them eat... meat

ONE man who is upbeat about Australia's improved sustainable livestock production is CSIRO chief research scientist of agriculture and food, Professor Mario Herrero.

At the premier science conference for tropical agriculture, TropAg 2019, in Brisbane last year, Professor Herrero said it will be the combination of improved livestock production plus dietary shifts that will ensure environmental pressures are kept within a safe operating space.

He said the solution to a sustainable and healthy future for all will come via "a lot of little arrows rather than one silver bullet".

"And the future is relatively bright because we have a lot of technology coming up that could help us improve livestock efficiency," he said.

"We now use 60 per cent less land to produce the same calories than in 1960, with 45 per cent less GHG emissions, but 180 per cent more nitrogen."

Eat your greens

GRANITE Belt Growers' Association president, Angus Ferrier was part of a Queensland group which recently travelled to the United Arab Emirates to explore ways of improving fruit and vegetable productivity in marginal environments.

"It mostly revolves around protected cropping, so the use of glasshouses and polytunnels and the like as a means to protect against extreme weather, but also that is a means of having more produce per megalitre, increasing your water efficiency," Mr Ferrier said.

"These systems are already in place within Australia; they are probably not a mainstay of our production systems, however the times are changing with regards to water reliability and increasingly erratic weather."

Packet in

HOW food is served up is even being re-thought.

Australia's oldest dairy company, WA-based Brownes Dairy, has switched 25 of its milk carton products to a new sustainable packaging.

That's about 17.8 million milk cartons per year which will be made entirely from plant-based, renewable materials.

The Tetra Pak bio-based package is the world's first fully renewable beverage carton, with the protective layers derived from sugar cane.

"There is a lot of emphasis on the importance of recycling but less of a focus on how we can make products more sustainable from the beginning," Brownes Dairy CEO Tony Girgis said.

"Brownes Dairy wanted to improve the sustainability of our packaging across the entire lifecycle of our products."

Drink up

LAST year saw the launch of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, a national sustainability program for the grape and wine sector.

Program manager, Mardi Longbottom, said there were very few united national programs in the wine industry.

"This is all about managing resources in the most efficient ways possible; it's all about sustainability in its broadest sense. It's not just environmental sustainability, it's economic sustainability and the two are intrinsically linked," she said.

Kay Brothers is the oldest winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia, still in founding family hands.

Its long-term sustainability mindset means it hasn't used pesticides in its 22 hectare vineyard for 40 years.

General manager, Steven Todd, said environmental health while farming was vital.

"You don't get extra points for making good wine anymore because everyone is doing it," he said.

"Now you need to make exceptional wine and have something else that the market finds attractive and it's the same with sustainability.

"We're looking after the land because it needs looking after not because there's any financial gain but because that's what we should be doing."

Waste Not

PART of the sustainability story is about what isn't consumed as well.

According to the Rabobank 2019 food waste report, Australia remains the fourth highest food waster globally.

The average Australian household wastes $1026 worth of food annually or 13 per cent of its total grocery buy, it also said.

Even in this area, clever Australians are creating change.

The Enrich360 program sees dehydration machines installed into restaurants and commercial kitchens to turn food waste into fertiliser.

At the heart of the process is a fully automatic food dehydrator which goes through the process of dehydration, sterilisation and volume reduction.

All food waste including meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, coffee grinds and flower displays can be put into the machine.

The product from this system can be utilised as a directly-applied fertiliser, a pelletised fertiliser or as a compost enhancer.

The initiative is supported by the NSW and Victorian governments.

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