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  • Mango farmers in Australia’s Top End have drastically cut their export supply chain into Asia thanks to new direct flights from Darwin to Hong Kong, and speculation is in the air that their peers in Cairns might do the same.

  • Total winter crop production in Australia for 2018 is expected to drop by 12% to 33.2 million tonnes, with production declines forecast in all eastern states, according to the latest Australian crop report from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (ABARES).

  • The decision to pursue improved profitability via higher-value grain sales or via increased yields and higher volumes is a constant concern facing the Australian grain industry as it looks to achieve efficiencies and preserve the competitiveness of Australian grain in global markets, according to a new report from Rabobank. 

  • The Australian pomegranate industry is on the verge of an exciting period of growth, largely due to a major research project, being led by a South Australian research organisation.

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 12 forecast Australian wheat production and exports in 2018-19 to be the lowest since 2007-08.


  • A USDA-Agricultural Research Service area-wide integrated weed control study started in 2015 is investigating weed harvesting and destruction tactics deployed in Australia and applying them to U.S. fields.

  • Through the cacophony of the UN’s global climate talks, an Australian farmer is quietly spreading his plan to reforest the world.

  • Australia — In a community of only about 100 people, Louise Hennessy says, neighbors need to look out for each other. Whenever someone goes quiet for too long, she picks up the phone to check that everything is all right. In recent months, more often than not, the answer has been no.

  • A unique Australian-developed atmosphere management technology system is proving to be very popular throughout the horticulture sector, with substantial growth in on-farm use across many regions nationally and overseas.

  • The SwagBot and the more affordable option Digital Farmhand, both from Australian startup Agerris, are now being commercialised and will be available in Australia and overseas.
     
    As a professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, Salah Sukkarieh and his team have been developing air and ground robotic solutions for the agricultural industry since 2005. Their research at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics resulted in the founding of startup Agerris.


    Prototypes of the SwagBot robot have recently been tested and proved to be useful for weeding, pasture monitoring, soil sampling and animal monitoring. Agerris has since then raised $ 6.5 million from Uniseed, Carthona Capital and BridgeLane Group, for building commercial smaller than tractor-sized robots.


    Low cost robotics for the agricultural industry
    The work on the robots started after Sukkarieh received funding from a cattle grower to look at low cost robotics for the agricultural industry in general. “Because it was a donor fund, I felt that one of the robots we should build was for the grazing livestock industry”, he explains.

    Recently, Agerris was able to test 2 prototypes of the SwagBot. Sukkarieh: “Testing has gone really well. We built 2 versions of the SwagBot and were able to demonstrate them on different grazing livestock farms. The technology has now been spun off to be commercialised.”

    Identifying and eradicating weeds
    Farmers can use the robots for identifying and eradicating weeds, monitor pastures, row and tree crops and for monitoring animal welfare and herd cattle. “SwagBot can traverse around very difficult environments such as undulating terrain, over logs, rocks and ditches”, says Sukkarieh. “It can automatically detect weeds and spray them. SwagBot can also detect individual animals with the hope of detecting any sickness in animals.”

    The SwagBot has sensors on board such as GPS, vision and laser that provide navigation and collision avoidance information to the computing system on board. It works with onboard path planning and control algorithms that help the robot go around obstacles and track animals.

    SwagBot works together with drone
    The SwagBot also has the ability to work together with a drone. The drone provides high level mapping information of the terrain and detecting weeds in general so that SwagBot can define more accurate planning to those weeds and can easier avoid obstacles. It is battery powered and can get about 6 hours of activity before recharge. The recharge can happen at solar points around the farm.


    The other robot Agerris built is the Digital Farmhand. This robot was designed for row and tree crops and gives small-scale farmers around the world a cheaper option. “It is meant to focus on low cost applications for farmers and for mums and dads”, emphasises Sukkarieh. “It has on board sensing and machine learning algorithms that help build models of individual plants. This way we can minimise the amount of chemicals used for spraying and weeding, as well as help farmers understand their crop growth characteristics.”

    Sukkarieh says a better environment management, such as better care of weeds or better management of animals can save farmers money.

    Useful addition to the aging Australian agricultural workforce
    The robots can also be a useful addition to the aging Australian agricultural workforce, he explains. “Working on the land is very hard and farmers are getting older. With the robotics technologies we are building, we are able to assist farmers with the daily chores on the farm.”

    The robots can potentially excite the next generation of farmers as well. Sukkarieh: “We now have a program were the Digital Farmhand is taken to schools for a term and the kids learn how to code the robots in an agriculture setting.”

    Prices not yet known
    Both SwagBot and Digital Farmhand are now being commercialised. Sukkarieh says he cannot yet name a price, since Agerris just started the commercialisation process. “We will know more as we work closely with farmers. However, they are meant to be low cost solutions for all growers.”

    The latest research of Sukkarieh is focusing on non-chemical solutions to weeding and robotics for crop manipulation such as fruit harvesting.

  • Amid growing evidence and awareness of the impact of industrial agriculture on the environment, climate, public health, farming communities and local economies, an “underground insurgency” as Charles Massy calls it, is transforming the practice and culture of agriculture.

  •  China’s grain output has nearly quintupled over the past 70 years, according to a report from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

  • Australia’s drought has prevailed since 2015 with the past two years being extremely tough on agriculture.

  • Millions of hectares of sandy, infertile Australian farmland could benefit from the commercialisation of a South African shrub, allowing farmers to better carry sheep over the summer-autumn period.

  • Australian startup thingc Robotics expects to deliver its first commercial agricultural robot in 18 months.

  • Bulls cannot breed at Inverell. They are becoming infertile from their testicles overheating. Mares are not falling pregnant, and through the heat, piglets and calves are aborting.

  • Australian company Myriota supplies remote farmers, who don’t have access to the internet, with low-cost connectivity solutions.

  • A surge of South Africans seeking protection in Australia have been disappointed as no visas have yet been approved.  

    Rejection letters to the families applying for protection and humanitarian visas have said they are not refugees because the violence in South Africa is widespread, random and opportunistic. 'The risk of murder and serious physical/sexual assaults is one faced by the population of the country generally and not by the applicants personally,' said the letter, quoted in The Australian newspaper.

     

    South Africa's minority white farmers say there has been a concerted campaign to drive them off their land, and violent murders - some involving horrific rape and torture - have been forcing them to leave. Liberal National Party member Savanna Labuschagne, herself a migrant from South Africa, said some people had their skin ironed off and holes drilled through their knee caps.

     

    'An elderly couple had boiling water poured down their throats. I could go on for days. How do we help our people?' she told The Australian. Ms Labuschagne said both blacks and whites had suffered from the South African government's 'corruption'.

    She also shared some of the racial hatred that has been directed at the white minority by black South Africans on Facebook.

    One black South African man had posted to social media that it was his duty and the duty of others to 'eliminate every white person in South Africa'. 

     'The only way to end racism and the oppression of my people is to destroy the white race. This must be done as quickly as possible,' his post read.

    Ms Labuschagne along with fellow LNP member Patti Maher, also a South African migrant, said they were feeling frustrated as South Africans were prevented from receiving assistance by the bureaucracy.  

     South Africa has been divided by deep racial grievances since the apartheid system of racial segregation ended in 1994, and this has been worsened by an economic gulf between rich and poor.

     White people, who are less than 9 percent of the population, own most of the farmland in South Africa.

    They are vastly outnumbered by black people who make up 80 per cent of the country's 57.7 million population, but who have the least amount of land ownership.

    A plea to stop the racist killing of whites in South Africa, pictured on a ute in 2017 in Brisbane. South Africa has a high crime rate however many of the attacks on white farmers have included brutal tortures that suggest racial vitriol was part of the violence

    South Africa's ruling party the African National Congress, led by Cyril Ramaphosa, plans to take land without compensation from minority white farmers, who own most of the farmland, and redistribute it to black South Africans.

     South Africa's parliament voted in 2018 to amend the constitution to allow land seizures, and has issued a proposed land expropriation bill on which the public comment period is open until 29 February, Business Tech reported.

     In March 2018, Mr Dutton suggested white farmers were being persecuted and deserved special attention under Australia's humanitarian program.

     He instructed his department to consider claims from persecuted South African farmers, alongside people from Asia, the Middle East and other African countries.

     Liberal politicians pushed for up to 10,000 South Africans to come to Australia.

     South Africans responded with a surge of 220 claims for humanitarian visas made in the last two years, almost triple the previous rate.

     South Africans had previously made just 350 applications for humanitarian visas from 2008 to 2010, an average of 35 per year. 

     However most of the visa applications have so far been denied leaving South Africans disappointed.

     Of the 570 humanitarian visa applications since 2008, only 41 were granted and 340 are still to be finalised, The Australian reported.

     Protection visa applications have also failed with 97 rejected in the past three months.

     Of 33 protection visa applications lodged since November, none have been approved.

     A Home Affairs spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia on Monday that anyone who makes a claim for protection will be considered under the humanitarian program, and that there are many other visas available to South Africans such as the skilled, temporary and family visas.

     'Almost 80,000 visas have been granted to South Africans since July 2018, allowing them to come to Australia,' the spokesperson said.

     'South Africa is the 9th largest source country of permanent migrants in Australia.'

     To be considered a refugee, a person must have a well-founded fear they will be seriously harmed because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group, the Home Affairs Department says on its website.

     The serious harm can be to their life and liberty, or the denial of a capacity to earn a livelihood to survive.

     Australia's Refugee Review Tribunal wrote in 2011 that despite concerns among white South Africans that they were being targeted for race, most evidence pointed to other motivations such as financial gain.

     Crime is widespread in South Africa where 14 million people live in extreme poverty, and farmers are isolated and thus can be seen as easy targets.

     In 2018, South Africa suffered almost 20,000 murders with most of the victims being black victims of black violence, while only 62 were farm murders - not all of them white, according to government figures quoted by investigative journalist James Pogue writing in Harper's Magazine. 

     Mr Pogue wrote that the brutality of the torture inflicted on some of the white victims does indicate a level of racial vitriol in the attacks.

     In May last year, South African activist Annette Kennealy, 51, who spoke out against attacks on white farmers was found stabbed and beaten to death on her own farm in Limpopo province.

     Kennealy was a public supporter of the white Afrikaner community and in her last Facebook post, she shared a link alleging that 10 farm attacks, including one murder, had been reported in just four days in 2019.

     She also routinely shared links and stories relating to politics in South Africa, and the government's plans to start expropriating farms from white land-owners.

     The South African Human Rights Commission has said black farmers have given evidence that farm safety isn't the preserve of any one racial group, although it does not dispute that there are attacks motivated by racial hatred.

  • If Australia is known for anything in the farming world, it is the ability to produce food from a brittle environment.

  • PRODUCERS, red meat supply chain businesses and even the Federal Government have lashed out at sensational United Nations' claims the meat industry is driving climate change.

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