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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Science creates possibilities - farming energy and food

Economics sorts out what is worth doing

When looking to increase profits from farming, science provides ideas to explore.
Economic assessment of each idea is needed to choose which ones can return a profit.
Aussie farming inventions improve the economics of new opportunities -
A UNIQUE Australian invention has won a major international design award.

The revolutionary Glenvar Bale Direct System, which is used to link a baler directly behind a harvester, won the coveted AE50 2009 Award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

The BDS is a bolt-on kit that is used to join a baler to a conventional combine harvester, enabling baling of the entire crop residue from the harvester.

"The residue can be marketed for numerous uses including cellulosic ethanol production, straw-fired power generation, stock feed manufacture, fire-logs, straw board and stock bedding. The baled product is not contaminated by stones, sticks or fencing wire, reducing the need for machinery maintenance," Alan said.

(From an article "Aussie baler wins top gong" by Mark Saunders | July 8, 2009)

Efficient: the award-winning Glenvar Bale Direct system bales behind a compact harvester.
Efficient: the award-winning Glenvar Bale Direct system bales behind a compact harvester.

An interesting idea for cotton farming (or wheat farming) depends upon several areas of science.
  1. Australian cotton farmers produced about 2,000 kg of cotton lint per hectare in the 2011 crop from a cropped area of almost 600,000 ha.
  2. As well as cotton lint and seeds, cotton crops produce about 8,000 kg of plant matter (stalks, boll shells and husk) per ha. (About 50 percent of this 8,000 kg is moisture content.)
  3. A scientific perspective on cotton growing includes some information that is not obvious:
    1. Photosynthesis stores solar energy by converting water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and plant matter.
      Plants - Nature's Solar Energy Collectors and Renewable Energy Stores
      Plants - Nature's Solar Energy Collectors and Renewable Energy Stores
    2. The dried plant matter - about 4,000 kg per ha - from cotton farming is produced by the cotton plants combining about 2,400 kg of water with 6,000 kg of carbon dioxide and releasing 4,400 kg of oxygen. 
    3. About 64,000 megajoules (MJ) of solar energy are stored in each 4,000 kg of plant matter (dry weight).
    4. For the 2011 Australian cotton crop that was grown on nearly 600,000 ha -
      • The crop converted about 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 1.44 million tonnes of water into 2.4 million tonnes of dry matter and 2.64 million tonnes of oxygen. 
      • The solar energy stored in the 2.4 million tonnes of dry matter is the same as the energy produced by burning nearly 1 million tonnes of coal. 
  4. The dry plant matter would not be very valuable if it was used to create energy. 
  5. It may be more valuable in edible insect farming. Insects convert plant matter into edible food about 6 times more efficiently than cattle.
  6. Insects are a potential protein source for fish feed in the aquaculture industry and a protein source for poultry.
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Flies for Food

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