Monday Message Board

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link


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48 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. I think it’s very clear that cotton growing in Australia and rice growing in the Riverina need to cease. We don’t have enough water for such crops.

  2. I don’t think it is clear. One thing about rice is that it can be grown only when water supply conditions are favourable. A flexible crop.

  3. Harry Clarke is correct. The important thing is how much, and when, water is extracted from rivers for irrigation, not what the water is used for. Cotton and rice phobia is one of many unfortunate shibboleths in the water policy ‘debate’. Perhaps the worst is confusion over the meaning of water use efficiency and water saving, leading to gross economic waste with unwarranted public expenditure on off-farm and on-farm irrigation infrastructure that should be the financial responsibility of irrigators.

  4. Paraphrasing from a recent Twitter post: 1kg of cotton requires 20,000 litres of water which produces $669 value per megalitre, compared to $8409 for beef.

    And I think this unique Twitter thread about Cubby Station’s history exemplifies Australia’s adolescent (to me) environmental overreach –

  5. hc and Alistair Watson,

    If people make high capital investments in growing cotton and rice (both water-intensive and capital-intensive crops under Australian climatic and economic conditions) then they are not going to want annual crop cycles to be an on-again / off-again proposition according to rainfall and water availability. They are going to want to harvest annual crops to pay off the capital investment. In turn, this then leads to the lobbying pressure for big dams and annual water allocations no matter what the rains and rivers are like.

    A site I found suggested cotton is by far the most water-intensive of any broad-acre crop grown on the face of the earth.

    Cotton: About 22,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton.
    Rice: 3,000 to 5,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of rice (under traditional methods).
    Cane: 1500-3000 liters of water to produce a kilo of sugarcane (sic so not even sugar).
    Soybean: About 1000 liters of water for 1 kilo of beans.
    Wheat: About 1000 liters of water for 1 kilo of grain.

    So cotton is far and away the worst crop. Though, I admit I much prefer cotton clothes to any other fiber type.

    It is clear that cotton needs to be shut down as an industry in Australia. The driest inhabited continent on earth has no business growing cotton, especially as climate change is making us hotter and drier. It is environmentally destructive madness. The sooner it ends the better.

  6. The amount of cotton planted depends on water prices water availability. The cotton planted around Australia halved in 2018:

    https://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/agribusiness/cropping/drought-bites-into-cotton-and-rice-this-season/news-story/c1e7d27b42a3a0b953ee19e1b61fd9f3

    Maybe this is still too much given the state of the MDB but that is purely a matter of water availability, This depends on the amount allocated to the environment which I would think has been shown to be inadequate.

  7. Ikonoclast: “I think it’s very clear that cotton growing in Australia and rice growing in the Riverina need to cease. ”

    Ikonoclast is in favour of centralised planning by which bureaucrats tell farmers what crops they can and cannot grow. Such planning has a long and unfortunate history.

    Why should a farmer have to plant wheat if global wheat stocks are in surplus and the cost of production exceeds the market price? Why should a farmer be prevented from capitalising on a wet year by planting rice?

    In regards to the MDB, what matters most is the total amount of water farmers may extract. All else being equal, it shouldn’t matter whether farmers use the water for crop X or crop Y. The farmer is best placed to make that decision although government agencies have a valuable research, support and information role that can help the farmer make an informed choice.

    As to rice, we known that rice growing in the MDB has been a boon for the environment. We’ve known this for a decade. This is why environmental groups like Birdlife Australia have been in the vanguard of fighting the ignorance and prejudice surrounding MDB rice. This is why environmental groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation have climbed on board.

    However, I agree with Ikonoclast re money, vested interests and lobbying. Our democracy isn’t even close to being a level playing field.

  8. The old Bogeyman of centralised planning! It’s ludicrous to suggest that centralised planning does not play a necessary and indeed central role in modern civilization. How is a city laid out with its roads, railways, blocks and plots? Centralised planning. How are health, education and welfare delivered? Centralised planning. How are the justice system, legal system and policing run? Centralised planning. How is national defence delivered? Centralised planning. How are infrastructure and utilities coordinated, and best delivered? Centralised planning. How are dams and irrigation infrastructure delivered? Centralised planning. How are natural monopolies best run? Centralised planning. If we don’t plan centrally and adequately, civilization falls apart and the environment gets trashed.

    The proof of this is in what has happened under neoliberalism for the past 40 years. It gave semi-anarchic free markets open slather on our society and environment. It’s been generating, spreading and worsening social and environmental disasters ever since.

  9. I might add to the above that the information revolution has strengthened the hand of centralised planning. This now comes down to the dichotomy of democratic government versus autocratic corporations. This applies far beyond just agriculture of course.

    In the field of agriculture, the sole proprietor farmer of a small holding, working his own land and understanding the minutiae of conditions better than distant bureaucrats or owners is fast becoming a thing of the past. Holdings are becoming larger and more corporatised.

    I am not necessarily arguing in support of industralised agriculture per se, but given the fact of it and how it is run with modern technology, state holdings could be run as successfully as large corporate holdings and probably at more benefit to ordinary people.

  10. I don’t have an ideological problem with centralised planning. Some centralised planning is good and as Pr Quiggin points out, large private corporations do their very own central planning.

    But you go way beyond a call for prudent central planning by advocating the planners tell farmers what to plant. In your latest comment you go further than that and tell us large state-run farms would probably “benefit to ordinary people”.

    In some distant future state owned farms and more centralised planning might be the way to go. In fact, I hope that is where we are heading. But as of now it would be a disaster.

  11. US coal update: advert for a blog post on the astonishing volume of renewables that FERC staff expect US generators to install over the next three years. If it happens, *half* the current coal capacity will become redundant, and a similar share of the surviving coal mining jobs.
    ******samefacts.com/2019/01/everything-else/donald-trumps-war-on-coal/

  12. Hugo says: “As to rice, we known that rice growing in the MDB has been a boon for the environment. We’ve known this for a decade. This is why environmental groups like Birdlife Australia have been in the vanguard of fighting the ignorance and prejudice surrounding MDB rice. This is why environmental groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation have climbed on board.””

    One bird to me does not make “a boon for the environment”. Is this your claim Hugo?

    Extrordinary claims ( especially with no evidence to back it up) needs extrordinary evidence. My searches do not back up your claim that rice is “rice growing in the MDB has been a boon for the environment.”. Evidence please Hugo. I am happy to be proven wrong.

     I thought your claims needed some links. Bird life;

    https://www.birdlife.org.au/projects/bittern-project/bitterns-in-rice-project

    “”In 2011 the Australasian Bittern was added to the EPBC Act as Endangered, however virtually nothing is known about how the birds utilise rice crops. …we do not know if the industry is beneficial to this species, as it is in other parts of the world (for a similar bittern species).””

    Hugo, how are the bitterns and rice going? Hugo where were bitterns before rice? If irrigated rice assists bitterns what is on the other side of equation? Number of billabongs lazer levelled. Vegetation gone? Wasteful use of capital? What is the baseline please?

    https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/01/can-csiro-wwf-and-technology-fix-the-australian-cotton-industry

    “”An Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner, Jonathan La Nauze, is more interested in another area of CSIRO work – the agency’s climate change research,which forecasts a dramatic rise in extreme weather events such as droughts and heatwaves, and a sharp drop in winter and spring rainfall across southern Australia.

    “We’re already the driest part of the world and water use is a key concern – cotton uses a hell of a lot of it,” he says.

    “Growers are aggressively trying to increase amount they can take rather than accept the current amount as the upper limit. We saw the Darling river stop flowing for months this year – extraordinary and avoidable.”” … “”Analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals both the dramatic ebbs and flows of cotton production in response to water supply, and the continuing intensity of water use despite the progress made. During the water-scarce season of 2014-15, cotton sales represented 1.7% of Australia’s agricultural commodity value but used 12.2% of its water. In the more favourable conditions of 2013-14, cotton generated 3.9% of agriculture profits but in the process devoured 24% of the water diverted to agriculture.”” … “”But even Cotton Australia’s own promotional material acknowledges that the crop’s irrigation requirement of eight megalitres a hectare is the second-most water intensive in Australia, behind rice (12ML per hectare), but ahead of alternatives such as nurseries or cut flowers (5ML).””

    And the ACF? Ricegrowers acf quote: “”When you buy Australian rice…you know that they’re careful with the water, you know they treat their labourers well. Who knows what happens overseas?” 
    Arlene Harriss-Buchan, Australian Conservation Foundation.
    http://www.rga.org.au/the-rice-industry/rice-and-the-environment.aspx

    And ACF’s Arlene Buchan again: “Arlene Harriss-Buchan, a healthy rivers campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation, argues the basin plan has social concerns at its base because protecting the environment means safeguarding livelihoods. ”If you don’t have a healthy, functioning basin, you don’t have any agricultural activities.’
    Dryland cropping provides 1.2 jobs and dryland grazing just 0.4 jobs per 1000 hectares of cultivated land.
    By contrast, fruit-growing provides employment for 74 people for every 1000 hectares of cultivated land and 16 jobs for one gigalitre of irrigation applied.
    Cotton, a northern basin crop, provides six to seven jobs for the same area of land and employs 1.2 people for a similar amount of irrigation water.””
    https://www.smh.com.au/environment/sustainability/buybacks-drain-life-from-towns-20100912-156zk.html

    I must admit the social cost to existing communities can be great. Central west nsw has had 12 or more small communities virtually empty with schools, shops closing and populations in the fingers and toes region. Reason; coal mines. Uber disrupts taxis in darwin. Water effects are dramatic. Yet uber and taxis aren’t asking for gigalitres of water. Our food and fiber choices are competing directly with healthy environment. 

    Can anyone tell me why we don’t switch to hemp?  Less input up front more water in processing?

    And please Hugo, if you say things like “rice growing in the MDB has been a boon for the environment.” do us a favour and show us some proof not your bluster.

    Maybe we both need a week off.

  13. SMH tiday. No worries. We hardly planted anything. How are the bitterns again?

    https://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/what-happens-when-the-last-resort-on-the-darling-river-dries-out-20190110-p50qo3.html

    “”The reservoirs were officially 3.1 per cent on Thursday, according to WaterNSW, but most of the lakes themselves were a sea of baked earth.

    Remaining pools will shrink further with at least six days in a row forecast to reach 41 degrees or more, including 44-45 degrees from Monday to Wednesday.””

  14. One of the main tenets of efficient rice production is to exclude waterbirds which eat developing grain. The aim is to have bank to bank growth without any “duck patches” which encourage water birds to land. Currently there is a shift to direct drilling or broadcasting of seed before flooding (rather than arial broadcasting of sprouted grain from planes into already flooded bays) to achieve this outcome.

  15. Regarding water and rice in the Riverina. Sunrice have offered growers $500+ a tonne to grow rice this season, a considerable advance on previous years. Very few have taken up this offer as it is more profitable to sell the water. It is possible that “centralised planning” will be unnecessary if this keeps up. Partially or non irrigated winter grains, along with lambs, will provide the major source of income.

  16. The rice fields around Deniliquin are about the most reliable places I know in Australia for seeing Little bittern and Australasian bittern. Neighboring wetlands rich in waterfowl such as Freckled duck. Some positives among a sea of negatives.

  17. JQ, Ernestine and anyone who has built used or been nudged by a model:
    “”The SciDash project aims to make validation of scientific models against experimental data easy, transparent, and continuously integrated into the model development process.Let’s identify the best models together!””

    http://scidash.github.io/

    I am ‘retired’ yet I’d love to implement this on mdba models. And every ‘model’ I can find. “continuously integrated” sounds promising. And python.

    “SciUnit, a Pythonic framework for data-driven unit testing that separates the interface from the implementation, respecting the diversity of conventions for modeling and data collection.”
    Also a specific neuron framework and a portal to test and visualise.

    I’d love to hear feedback on potential target models, modellers and commisioners please.

  18. KT2: “And please Hugo, if you say things like “rice growing in the MDB has been a boon for the environment.” do us a favour and show us some proof not your bluster.”

    I am a long term member of Birdlife Australia. The general interest magazine they produce has had numerous articles over the years about how certain wetland birds and various other wetland species have benefited from rice growing in the MDB. Those articles generally quote the hard science and experts in the field.

    If you want direct access to the hard science, you can take out a subscription to Emu. https://birdlife.org.au/education-publications/publications/emu-austral-ornithology

    I used to subscribe to Emu but I’ve tightened the belt since retirement.

    Are you aware how important other human-made environments are to birds? Sewage farms are vitally important to many species.

    And what Harry Clarke said.

  19. From the Bitterns in Rice Project synthesis of he science as at 2016:

    Over the last four years, we have learnt much about the other waterbirds and
    wildlife using rice fields, and we’re keen on seeing them prosper alongside
    bitterns. We have recorded 53 waterbird and seven frog species in rice, with at
    least 18 breeding. We’ve found 11 species listed as threatened in New South
    Wales, like the Brolga and Eastern Grass Owl. The populations of several
    waterbirds, such as Baillon’s Crake, Whiskered Tern and Glossy Ibis, are significant,
    probably numbering into the tens of thousands in some years. Migratory shorebirds
    that breed in Russia can be found. Populations of Spotted Marsh Frog may exceed
    a billion in some years. There is much more to this story than bitterns.

    Good night nurse.

  20. These comments on the fraught links between rice growing and birdlife indicate just how problematic the whole idea of a prescriptive Murray-Darling Basin Plan was, and still is, as distinct from a more disciplined approach to public administration that sought environmental remediation of the MDB, recognising the scientific and economic complexity of the problem.

  21. Alistair Watson  “the fraught links between rice growing and birdlife indicate just how problematic the whole idea of a prescriptive Murray-Darling Basin Plan was,” +1.

    Hugo. Good morning patient Hugo. Nurse kt2 here for your morning medicine. Lets drop the ad hom eh?

    As you referenced what hc said, I spent a confusing time trying to understand that referece. So…

    Hc1. I don’t think it is clear. One thing about rice is that it can be grown only when water supply conditions are favourable. A flexible crop”

    Hc2. “”Cotton planting halved 2018.
    Maybe this is still too much given the state of the MDB but that is purely a matter of water availability, This depends on the amount allocated to the environment which I would think has been shown to be inadequate.””

    Hc3. “The rice fields around Deniliquin are about the most reliable places I know in Australia for seeing Little bittern and Australasian bittern. Neighboring wetlands rich in waterfowl such as Freckled duck. Some positives among a sea of negatives””

    Which of the above hc (I assume your harryclarke is hc?) were you refering to Hugo? 

    1. “A flexible crop” ( we sell water and don’t plant so less habitat for bitterns)

    2. “the amount allocated to the environment which I would think has been shown to be inadequate. ” (We sell water so biome drastically altered short term due to commercial return being greater for water sales than crop – or endangered spicies. Mdbp was going to make up for this effect. I hope it does soon.)

    3. “Rice fields best place to see bitterns… Some positives among a sea of negatives.” 

    Bitterns ‘positive’ for rice as they arrive 2 weeks after planting seed.

    As your references state Hugo, 60 speccies in rice, yet only 18 breeding?

    hc, if you are as Hugo states harry clarke, and anyone else think as I do,  that this “positive among a sea of negatives”, with bittern numbers still declining, indicates rice is becoming a claytons zoo for bitterns?

    Justification of Red List category
    This species is listed as Endangered because it has a very small and rapidly declining population owing to the loss and degradation of its wetland habitats. Urgent action is a priority to halt declines in Australia.
    Population size: 1000-2499 
    Population trend: Decreasing
    http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/Australasian-Bittern

    ENDANGERED (EN) – A taxon is Endangered when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the following criteria (A to E), and it is therefore considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild:
    http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/spcredcrit

    And just an observation, saying Deniliquin rice fields is the most reliable place to see bitterns is like my child saying I am the best dad in the world. 😊

    I do bird counts for birlife. And just so we know what we are talking about. The Austalasian Bittern not little bittern.; “The Bittern Project was started in 2007 in response to concerns over the plight of the Australasian and Australian Little Bittern. Our research has revealed that the Australasian Bittern is indeed threatened and through our efforts has been added to the EPBC list as Endangered, while the Australian Little Bittern has less precise habitat requirements and hence not currently threatened. 
    http://birdlife.org.au/projects/bittern-project

    The Minindee fish kill has reawakened my inner environmentalist and tent outsider efforts. I actually feel some remorse now for not being engaged and have already moved to support both enviro water users and agribiz users. And more importantly I have engaged with local decision makers trying to come to grips with mdb vs bitterns vs humans. Bordering on black swan territory yet simple prioritising of enviro and social IF community engaged and on board, will see a better triple bottom line in medium term. Just can’t see it getting better in short term. Risk & Sustainability group at UQ I hope soon, delivers an up to date insight in all this.

    BoM says temperature this week from minindee to windamere (dam near mudgee) 37 – 40+. Lucky no turtles there… oops!

    And fianlly rice is a refuge. Good effort humans. Yet in reality we need refugia. It seems the place where the fish live – water in river – is now not even a refuge for them.
    “Refugia buffer species long-term, where as, a refuge buffers species short-term.”
    wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_refuge 

    I’ll get back to you Hugo when I get a reply from birdlife as to history of a/asian bittern and landscape alterations and hopefully a dynamic model we can then play with as the ball. Not our opinions. I am sure you are keenly interested.

  22. Robbie! Researcher had to crowd fund for tracker. One bird. How much profit in rice in Australia please?

    When is the rice season? It would seem bitterns haven’t been schooled in intricacies of rice season.

    “He flew 600 kilometres back but it was too early for the rice season and that was in September, so he turned around and flew back to the coast.”

    The tracker showed Robbie made nine state border crossings in 323 days and also divulged his favourite spot — the recently restored Long Swamp wetlands system near the South Australian/Victorian border.”

    abc.net.au/news/2016-04-13/tracked-bittern-robbie-goes-missing-in-action/7322388

  23. Models like these: (except when copyright by wiley).
    This one says storing up water in dam and simulating flood promotes breeding. Ever other target species, but not aa bittern!
    As we have bulldozed mashes, wier-d, damned fragmented and laser levelled large swathes of land area, I can see that simulating a flood is good. Humans fixing up after the fact tho. And yes I like my rice. And cotton. Hemp?

    Interesting that robbie the tracked bittern flew back from rice as season not on time for ” robbie bittern”.

    Also, 3 scenarios only. Has model been integrated with mdbp and rice??? We used to generate excel of scenario data and allow another relevant model scenario to be acted upon via output from say breeding vs road works. Old school but it was handy to nuance infrastructure works.

    Waterbird breeding and environmental flow management in the Macquarie Marshes, arid Australia
    Richard T. Kingsford 
    Kristin M. Auld
    First published: 09 March 2005
    https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.840

    Abstract
    Colonial waterbirds breed in relatively few parts of Australia and the Macquarie Marshes are one of the more important wetlands for these species on the continent in terms of size of breeding colonies and frequency of breeding. Breeding data were collected for ten species of colonial waterbirds in the period 1986–2001: Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris, Little Pied Cormorant P. melanoleucos, Great Egret Ardea alba, Intermediate Egret A. intermedia, Little Egret A. garzetta, Cattle Egret A. ibis, Rufous Night Heron Nyctiorax caledonicus, Glossy IbisPlegadis falcinellus, Straw‐necked IbisThreskiornis spinicollis and Australian White Ibis T. molucca. Breeding of most colonial waterbirds in the Macquarie Marshes was positively related to flow in the three months before breeding and triggered when flows were usually above 200 000 Ml. Flow was also positively related to wetland area. These relationships allowed modelling of three different options for management of environmental flow, nominally an annual allocation of 125 000 Ml. Even though the Macquarie River is highly regulated, there were predicted to be major differences in breeding frequency, flow variability and wetland flooding for different options delivering environmental flows. Use of all environmental flows each year provided the least variable option while accumulating the flow in the major dam and delivering it at high thresholds provided considerably more variability for the Macquarie Marshes, increased breeding of colonial waterbirds and increased frequency of large floods. The size of a waterbird breeding event and flooding extent were still primarily affected by river flooding and diversions upstream, despite the amount of environmental flow and the predicted ecological differences among the environmental flow options. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/rra.840

    Australian waterbirds – time and space travellers in dynamic desert landscapes
    R. T. Kingsford A D , D. A. Roshier B C and J. L. Porter A
    Marine and Freshwater Research 
    https://doi.org/10.1071/MF09088
    Published: 13 August 2010 

    “They respond to changing patterns of resource distribution, with rapid movements at spatial and temporal scales commensurate with the dynamics of the resource. The most serious conservation threat to waterbirds is a bottleneck in resource availability, leading to population declines, increasingly forced by anthropogenic impacts. River regulation and other threats (e.g. draining) reduce the availability of wetland habitat and decrease the probability of viable resource patches. It is axiomatic that waterbirds need water and such population bottlenecks may occur when the availability of water across the continent is limited. The rehabilitation of regulated rivers with environmental flows and protection of naturally flowing rivers in the arid region are essential for long-term sustainability of Australia’s waterbird populations. ”
    http://www.publish.csiro.au/MF/MF09088

    I’ve emailed birdlife. We will see if bittern / rice / cotton / interface with mdb plan.
    I’m hopeful researchers buried somewhere do have these models now.
    I will not be surprised if no one else knows about them other than a point in time value on a page.

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