Publications on nutritional and environmental topics

By Ronald Elton-Bott
Consultant Chemist and Agronomist
Western Fertiliser Technology Pty Ltd
Western Australia



UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Climate Action: OPINION / 20.Mar, 2017 By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on 22/03/2017 at 5:02 pm

Unified global action to arrest the dangerous yearly decline of Arctic sea-ice is long overdue. Global climate stability and sustainable development are only as strong as their weakest link; their weakest link is now Arctic stability.

Warming of the Arctic now far exceeds warming elsewhere, and far exceeds the 2 degrees warming limit set at the 2015 Paris UNFCCC Global Summit. Heat waves due to increased methane and CO2 emissions from the Arctic regions will be impossible to stop if the Arctic is not cooled soon. There isn't time to delay action. An Arctic emergency must be called now by the UNFCCC Secretariat to initiate effective global action.

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Climate Action: OPINION / 20.Mar, 2017
By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on 24/03/2017 at 2:31 am

The UNFCCC Secretariat should hold a public meeting with 12 leading climate scientists including 6 experts on the Arctic at the earliest opportunity, for their views on the current status of the ice-melt in the Arctic. If in their majority view the Arctic is heading soon towards irreversible, dangerous change, the UNFCCC Secretariat should immediately declare an Arctic emergency and recommend global mobilisation. Posted March 26, 2017

Warming Had Clear Hand in Record Australia Heat

CLIMATE CENTRAL By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on March 6th, 2017

Accumulated greenhouse gases are causing record heat with high maximum temperatures spread over large areas of Australia. Intense heat waves have longer duration. Warm ocean water is causing extensive bleaching of corals. The 2 degrees C temperature increase limit is increasingly risky for ecosystems in the Arctic, Australia, the U.S. and other parts of the globe.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) established a range of 2 C to 4.5 C temperature increase for a doubling of CO2 concentration in Earth's atmosphere which provides a relation between temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration for calculation of global surface temperature increase.

dF (increased radiative forcing from doubling CO2) = 5.35 ln (2) = 3.7 Watts/sq.m
Climate Sensitivity = dT/dF = 2 C / 3.7 Watts/sq.m = 0.54 C/Watts/sq.m, and
Climate Sensitivity = dT/dF = 4.5 C / 3.7 Watts/sq.m = 1.2 C/Watts/sq.m.

dT (temperature increase) from pre-industrial (280 ppm CO2) to 2016 (490 ppm CO2-eq.)
= 5.35 ln (490/280) Watts/sq.m x 0.54 C/Watts/sq.m = 1.6 C
= 5.35 ln (490/280) Watts/sq.m x 1.2 C /Watts/sq.m = 3.6 C
Calculated surface temperature increase from pre-industrial to 2016 is in the range 1.6 C to 3.6 C, with a calculated average temperature increase of 2.6 C.

The Paris UNFCCC Summit's key objective is to contain global average temperature increase to well below 2 C. Posted March 8, 2017

Coastal Cities Could Flood Three Times a Week by 2045

CLIMATE CENTRAL By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on February 13th, 2017

Recent severe El Nino and continuing ice-melt in the Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland and glaciers all confirm warming of oceans from high greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere which will increase sea levels further causing flooding of coastal areas and cities.
Calculations by scientists using GH gas levels showed (some time ago) that Earth's average surface temperature would be -18 C and not the warm +15 C were it not for CO2 and other GH gases in the atmosphere. That is a considerable +33 C warming attributed to the GH gases. Since then, CO2 has increased to 484 ppm CO2-eq and methane to 1880 ppb (Jan. 2017). Updated calculations would be useful. Posted February 21, 2017

By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on February 18th, 2017

Calculation of average global surface temperature increase, from increasing levels of greenhouse gases CO2, methane, nitrous oxide etc. and from their global radiative forcing (W/sq.m) would be both accurate and precise as analysed regularly by NOAA. Calculated global surface temperature increase can then be compared to measured global surface temperature increase.
The Paris Climate Summit's key objective is to keep global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees C to prevent dangerous climate change. Temperature rise and rapid ice-melt increase in the Arctic especially, as well as global sea-level rise and increasing atmospheric methane levels are serious worries for scientists. Posted February 21, 2017

The Winter of Blazing Discontent Continues in the Arctic

CLIMATE CENTRAL By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on February 7th, 2017

Warm air is starting to "siphon" (flow) from the tropics to the North Pole. Scientists can explain what is happening in terms of both kinetics and thermodynamics.
There is normally a fairly large temperature difference between the North Pole and the tropics to resist the siphon effect. As the Arctic warms from high global CO2 levels in the atmosphere, melting of sea-ice in the Arctic increases. Melting of ice is endothermic, so if the temperature is raised there is more energy to move the equilibrium kinetically to the right causing movement of warm air, melting more ice. Increasing temperature in the Arctic makes thermodynamic Gibbs Free Energy more negative and melting ice increases entropy, which increases spontaneity of melting. We can expect more storms around Greenland as the climate warms further from high levels of CO2. The Arctic is in a mess; methane is a serious worry. UNFCCC must declare a climate emergency. Posted February 10, 2017

The U.S. Has Been Overwhelmingly Hot This Year

CLIMATE CENTRAL By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on December 27th, 2016

The U.S. is home to NASA and NOAA, the world's leading authorities on climate change. NASA has a proven, innovative record in space, one of them was to bring home safely 3 astronauts aboard the crippled Apollo 13, "Houston!! we have a problem...". Articles from Climate Central explains why the U.S. has been overwhelmingly hot this year; Warming is sending mountain glaciers off a cliff; Temperatures are soaring in the North Pole; Arctic sea-ice sees strange cold season retreat and recent articles on methane surge that emeritus professor Peter Wadhams has been warning us about.

Can NASA and NOAA inform us on what action to take? Can global photosynthesis in forests, crops and oceans (phytoplankton) absorb atmospheric CO2 quickly to safe levels? Can initiation of small but numerous phytoplankton blooms, if spread out at large distances from each other all over the world safely absorb CO2?

By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on December 28th, 2016

Physics and Chemistry tells us that quickly lowering CO2 levels to previously safe levels will quickly alter the heat balance of our planet by reducing the greenhouse effect of CO2 and allowing excess heat to escape into space. Management of CO2 with oceanic phytoplankton should be a safe solution if done in small scales, in addition to forestry, agriculture and other solutions discussed in Google search for "climate change solutions". If NASA and NOAA could investigate the phytoplankton solution and find it to be safe and effective that would quickly reduce the awful climate impacts such as deadly heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods and melting permafrost releasing methane. Posted January 3, 2017

By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on January 10th, 2017

NASA, NOAA, to initiate and feed phytoplankton blooms to lower atmospheric CO2 quickly to a safe level, very finely ground iron ore (or iron sulphate) and limestone can be used in an ocean water slurry. Calcium from limestone would be needed to replace oceanic soluble calcium taken up by phytoplankton and will help to reduce ocean acidity too, increasing phytoplankton activity and growth. Energy to grind iron ore and limestone can be from renewable solar energy. Posted January 15, 2017

Arctic Sea Ice Sees Strange Cold Season Retreat

CLIMATE CENTRAL By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on December 8th, 2016

In August 2012 average sea ice cover in the Arctic reached its lowest level ever. That was a very hot year globally, and 2016 is hotter still. Average ice extent in August 2016 was a shade higher than in August 2012, yet ice extent in October 2016 fell below ice extent in October 2012. Its nearing a dangerous tipping point if ice extent in August 2017 falls below that of August 2012 and August 2016. We certainly do not have much time to lower CO2 level, and must act now. Atmospheric CO2 level must be lowered to a sustainable level. UNFCCC should declare a climate emergency in 2016.

By Ronald Elton-Bott (Perth WA 6110) on December 16th, 2016

Its true, it looks very grim indeed with ocean temperatures and atmospheric CO2 level at unprecedented high levels with falling sea ice extent in the Arctic region. Its true too that if CO2 level is not lowered soon the Arctic will become ice-free because at the tipping point ice cover would spiral downwards very quickly. Uncontrollable release of stored methane into the atmosphere will then spike temperatures upwards. If August 2017, November 2017 and August 2018 set record lows in Arctic sea ice extent, scientists will probably declare that a climate tipping point, but it will be too late then to correct. We are now in a climate emergency.

Before the tipping point is breached, there is one fighting chance: harness the power of global plant photosynthesis to plateau CO2 level and after that lower to below 400 ppm CO2-eq. . If the astronauts on board the failed Apollo 13 moon landing could save themselves by lowering cabin CO2 level with a CO2 absorbing device, so can scientists, using global photosynthesis in forests and crops. However, for this effort to begin globally, the UNFCCC must declare a climate emergency. Posted January 3, 2017

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach Record High of 400ppm

EcoWatch 13 May 2013 ... R. Elton-Bott says May 14, 2013 at 9:20 am.

CO2 in the atmosphere had just exceeded 400 ppm (CO2 equivalent of 460 ppm), which exceeds the lower threshold limit of 450 ppm CO2 equivalent to keep below a 2 degrees C warming limit set by the IPCC in their key 2007 report. Imagine, on that stifling unbearably hot day, a teacher and students of a year 12 class making their way down a beach dune for a swim in the ocean. They had just passed a car parked on the edge of the dune when someone yelled "Look out!". The parked car had just started to roll, heading towards the waters' edge where children and parents were splashing and playing, unaware of the impending disaster. "Quick, follow me!" shouted the teacher as he ran towards the car, immediately followed by all the students. As the students and teacher slowed down the rolling car, the teacher opened the driver-side door (unlocked!), jumped inside, applied the handbrake and locked the gears, just in time. To the applause of everyone, the teacher and students had cooperated and saved many lives. Human nature had won the day!.

The key ingredients for nations meeting in 2013 and 2014 for agreeing a global treaty in 2015 on climate change are leadership and cooperation; each nation contributing to the best of its ability commensurate with national pride, affordability and ambition. There is an urgent need now for the leaders of each nation to implement urgent CO2 reduction measures, and to discuss in a spirit of goodwill a template to voluntarily share the enormous load using the "Spectrum of Commitments" floated at Bonn 2013, and the GDP of nations as a guide to commitments.

Climate Change Milestone Demands Shift to Renewable Energy

EcoWatch 3 May 2013 ... R. Elton-Bott says May 6,2013 at 2:39 am.

Leading scientists have always qualified reports (on which governments act) by acknowledging large uncertainties in climate models. In their key report, Meinshausen and colleagues (Nature Vol 458/30 April 2009) state "Representing current knowledge on future carbon- cycle responses is difficult, and might be best encapsulated in the wide range of results from the process-based C4MIP carbon-cycle models", and, "Additional challenges arise in estimating the maximum temperature change resulting from a certain amount of cumulative emissions". This says that the evidence -based 2 degrees C warming limit set by governments in Copenhagen 2009, to prevent initiation of frequent and dangerous weather globally, could be automatically revised to a lower limit because dangerous and extreme weather has increased globally since 2009.
Breaching the 400 ppm CO2 threshold in the atmosphere (much higher as CO2 equivalent) would have been alarming news for government policy-makers.

UN Climate Talks: Nations Negotiate Climate Change Deal

EcoWatch 1 May 2013... R. Elton-Bott says May 1, 2013 at 11:24 pm.

To give momentum to the present meeting at Bonn on the crucial need for governments to begin mitigating high CO2 levels in the atmosphere, leading scientists there should advise the meeting at Bonn on the upper ppm threshold of CO2 which must not be exceeded to limit global warming to below the agreed 2 degrees C.
Australia has just been through one of the hottest summers ever experienced, and there are grave fears about maximum heat wave temperatures which could again approach, or even exceed, 50 degrees C during the coming summer. The 2012 spring and summer in America were also the hottest ever experienced.

Experts Warn: Carbon Bubble Could Worsen Global Economic Crisis

EcoWatch 19 April 2013 ... R. Elton-Bott says April 20, 2013 at 9:45 am.

The problem is in the 2 degrees C global warming limit agreed to by governments to reduce emissions and keep warming below 2 degrees C. There is a critical need to link the upper 2 degrees C limit to the actual upper CO2 ppm level to be allowed in the atmosphere, presently at 396 ppm CO2 (higher as CO2 equivalent when other GH gases are included). CO2 levels are actual monthly values analyzed at NOAA (Mauna Loa CO2 monthly mean data), and is a highly accurate, real time value which links to the warming global climate.
When investors see the actual CO2 levels approaching closer each month, to the upper CO2 limit, they will know their risks are increasingly uneconomic and react accordingly.

If You Thought 2012 Was Hot, Just Wait a Few Years

CLIMATE CENTRAL By R. Elton-Bott on March 21st, 2013

A new colour, purple, for daily temperatures at or above 50 degrees C, was added this year to temperature charts in Australia by the Bureau of Meteorology. With climate change, all cities adjoining deserts are now vulnerable as maximum temperatures during heat waves have hovered between 46 and 48 degrees C for several days this year. Soon, evacuations of young children and older folks from cities experiencing 50 degrees C or above for more than a day or two, is now a distinct possibility. Certainly, charts with increasing trends of average temperatures are needed, but should show too the increasing trends of maximum temperatures reached, which are a much more dangerous aspect of climate change. We must move back to 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 quickly before forest ecosystems deteriorate. Global forests are hungry for nutrients and will respond strongly to even small amounts of aerial-applied fertilizers. Forest sequestration of CO2 would be eminently quicker, cheaper, and safer than other methods of CO2 sequestration.

50 Cities Urge Obama to Act on Climate Change

EcoWatch 19 Mar 2013 ... R. Elton-Bott says: March 26, 2013 at 12:10 am.

Cities rely on clean air and water which comes from functioning ecosystems (forests and oceans), which in turn depends on sensitive biological interactions of plants and microbes with rugged physics and chemistry. The interactions and interconnections which sustain ecosystems on a daily basis are fragile and easily broken with extreme heat and drought (forests) and increasing acidity and temperature (oceans). Small imperceptible changes at first lead to observable deteriorations of the ecosystem fabric, leading to sudden collapse.

In the past, ecosystem collapse and effects on communities has been localized (e.g. loss of forest cover on Easter Island), but now with global climate change called by increasing atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases, ecosystem deterioration and eventual collapse can be widespread, over very large areas, and over a similar time scale. This makes it difficult or impossible for the planet to heal at discrete locations, as in the past.

Humankind has the technology now to save our planet for us and our children; only the will to do so seems to be missing! Our future is too precious to lose.

Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Topped $620 Billion in 2011

EcoWatch 27 Feb 2013 ...R. Elton-Bott says: February 27, 2013 at 9:48 pm.

If the UN through the support of the UN Security Council can persuade all governments to donate the $620 billion they spend on fossil subsidies, this money can be used to quickly draw dow the CO2 levels in the atmosphere from the 399 ppm now to a safer 350 ppm.. The difference of 49 ppm CO2 represents billions of tons of carbon as wood in global forests, but this can be quickly done within a short time, coordinated by scientists from donating governments. To quickly absorb the excess CO2, which are now at crisis levels, standing forests around the globe, rather than establishing new forests (takes too long and too costly) should be used as they already possess the ecosystems and climate for increased growth and rejuvenation of trees by the aerial application of liquid fertilizers and amendments.

Without a future for us and our children, surely money would lose all value, causing enormous instability. We also owe it to our past great world leaders, who sacrificed much for us, that our generation stood up to and won the fight against climate change.

Grain Analysis - A Powerful Method for Predicting Fertiliser Requirements

FARM WEEKLY, December 11, 2003, p11

Estimating the amounts of nutrients removed by a crop from a hectare of soil has been a useful tool for agronomists in advising fertiliser requirements for the past fifty years or so. For example, the amount of nitrogen removed by a four-ton crop of wheat grain is easily calculated by multiplying the nitrogen analysis of the grain with the yield. The nitrogen removed from the soil by the crop is then expressed as kilograms N per hectare. The same sort of calculation is used for all the other nutrients removed, such as phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, molybdenum etc. This ability of a soil to supply a quantity of a particular nutrient in question allows the agronomist to make his fertiliser advice for the following crop more accurate. More accurate fertiliser advice means a higher yield for the farmer for his next crop, often at lower cost by minimising fertiliser wastage.

Thus in developing the method of grain analysis, I compared its accuracy against soil analysis and leaf analysis, which are the current methods used by agronomists for providing fertiliser advice. The accuracy of a fertiliser recommendation is firstly only as good as the sample chosen and analysed, and in this context, grain samples are proving to be exceptionally better samples than soil or leaf samples.

A grain sample is conveniently taken at harvest, in a clean, dry, uniform state suitable for immediate posting to a laboratory. Compared to a grain sample, a soil sample is highly heterogeneous, and might also be contaminated by sheep and cattle droppings and urine. For a wheat and sheep farm, it is difficult if not impossible to avoid a urine patch, which is high in nitrogen and potassium. The soil sample may also contain a significant level of fertiliser residue from the previous crop, as fertilisers are usually applied to furrow depth with the seed. Leaf samples are taken relatively late in the growing season, and represents changing levels of nutrients in contrast to a grain sample. Accurate leaf sampling depends on sampling at a specific growth stage, which might be missed; and the sample, if not dried immediately may deteriorate affecting nitrogen nutrient levels. Later sampling and analysis for leaf tissue also means valuable time could be lost in purchasing the needed fertilisers.

A grain sample taken at harvest represents nutrient availability from a very high soil mass (hundreds or thousands of tons), as the plant's roots has grown to depth and removed nutrients from it over several months. A soil sample, in total weight, may be two to three kilograms sampled from the whole paddock. A leaf sample represents the amounts of nutrients taken up by the plant in the first month or two, and not during its whole growth stage.

This property of grain analysis, which allows the sample to represent nutrient supply from a huge mass of soil over a longer period of time, makes the results highly accurate and representative for advisory purposes.

Soil analysis on the other hand represents nutrients in a small mass of soil after harvesting a crop. Leaf analysis represents nutrient supply from a smaller (than grain) mass of soil over a shorter period of time.

By selecting the seed for analysis, a measure of nutrients is obtained which represents the first fertiliser package for the young plant. In this respect, the analysis of grain is forward- looking and gives a good indication of fertilisers needed. This is because nutrients in grain fall between quite specific and narrow margins depending on the type of seed. We use this information to determine whether a particular nutrient falls in the low, medium, or high range. The data is drawn from a large number of samples that have been collected over a long period of time from soils with varied fertility and fertiliser treatments. The nutrient ranges obtained are therefore extremely useful for interpretation.

For example, if an analysis of wheat grain falls in the low range for phosphorus (0.18% - 0.27%) and zinc (7ppm - 19ppm), the farmer would benefit by using extra phosphorus and zinc fertiliser. If the analysis falls in the high range for phosphorus (0.34% - 0.45%) and zinc (30ppm - 41ppm), phosphorus and zinc fertiliser might be reduced or not even used. A table for nutrient ranges for wheat grain is given below. The values were compiled from wheat grain samples collected from a wide area of the wheat-belt over a period of time of 20 years, while working as a chemist and research officer at the Chemistry Centre of WA.

Wheat Grain (dry basis) Low range Medium range High range
% Nitrogen
% Phosphorus
% Potassium
% Calcium
% Magnesium
% Sulphur

ppm Copper
ppm Manganese
ppm Zinc
ppm Iron
ppm Boron
ppm Molybdenum
ppm Cobalt
1.30 - 1.67
0.18 - 0.27
0.28 - 0.49
0.015 - 0.036
0.080 - 0.123
0.073 - 0.117

1.1 - 2.6
10 - 36
7 - 19
14 - 22
0.6 - 3.0
0.02 - 0.34
0.010 - 0.030
1.67 - 2.04
0.27 - 0.34
0.49 - 0.60
0.036 - 0.053
0.123 - 0.146
0.117 - 0.144

2.6 - 3.9
36 - 62
19 - 30
22 - 31
3.0 - 5.5
0.34 - 0.66
0.030 - 0.060
2.04 - 2.41
0.34 - 0.45
0.60 - 0.73
0.053 - 0.072
0.146 - 0.175
0.144 - 0.183

3.9 - 5.5
62 - 89
30 - 41
31 - 43
5.5 - 8.0
0.66 - 0.98
0.060 - 0.090

With the close cooperation of the Chemistry Centre of WA and its huge data bank built up over several decades, the analytical ranges for canola , barley and lupin grains have also been obtained. Together with wheat, the data will no doubt go a long way towards increasing the productivity of these crops in WA.

The grain analysis data for wheat is still useful when the next crop following a wheat crop might be rotated to, for example, canola or lupin. This is because the wheat crop is being used as an indicator of nutrient levels and supply from the soil. In planning fertiliser applications for canola or lupin after wheat, or vice versa, added attention is then given to nutrients which present in the low ranges.

Another benefit of obtaining nutrient levels for grains, other than in interpretation of fertiliser requirements, is in assessing the quality of a grain. Protein, amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates, moisture, grain weight and grain size can also be analysed in addition to the mineral nutrients. Together, they determine to quite an extent the quality of the grain, and reveals a lot of information about the soil in which the crop is grown. Quality will improve the vitality of the seed at germination, and help it to resist fungal and viral diseases. D. Davidescu (Fertilisers, Crop Quality and Economy, April 1972, p 1102, Edit. Elsevier, Amsterdam), has estimated from trials that 15 per cent of potential yield is due to the quality of seed the farmer uses, the balance of potential yield is due to the quality of fertiliser, cultivation method, seed-bed preparation and crop rotation. Grain quality analysis data would assist in improving management. Also, customers of grain crops are now increasingly demanding quality as competition between grain exporting nations increase.

The above discussion recommending the adoption of grain analysis recognises that soil analysis is still needed for certain analyses. Examples are soil pH for lime recommendations, EC for estimation of soil salinity, together with soil phosphate, soil potash, organic carbon, particle-size analysis, etc, when these tests are used to assess the status or value of a soil.

In considering the overall ease of sampling procedure, posting, sample preparation, analytical method, analysis, reporting, accuracy of interpretation and fertiliser recommendation, the method of grain analysis should be considerably cheaper and attractive. Used together with soil and leaf analysis to fine-tune fertiliser recommendations and crop management, grain nutrient analysis will play an increasing role in improving profitability for farmers.

Value of drainage

COUNTRYMAN, August 9, 2001, p8
Letter to the Editor

A REMARKABLY detailed map of the river systems of WA (Water Resources Council, 2/1991 pages 5, 18) surveyed and recorded by WA public servants, probably in the early part of the last Century, could play a pivotal role in the State's battle against salt (The West Australian, August 1, 2001. P12).

This map is a transparent record of the existence of thousands of rivers, which formed a network feeding the main rivers, which conveyed excess rainwater to the ocean.

Many of these rivers have disappeared.

Superimposing present day maps of the road and rail network of country and metropolitan WA on this old map should spot the exact locations where these rivers came to an abrupt end.

For many years past, people blamed clearing and the removal of trees solely for the rise of stored salt to the surface. The obvious conclusion, that most of the rainfall occurs during the cold, winter months, when trees transpire little water, and that the shallow, sandy gravelly soils have little capacity to soak up water, were not made.

The real blame, of course, lies with the wide-scale economic development of WA during the last Century, where it was found to be cheaper to fill in the rivers than to wisely build a bridge over them for roads and rail.

Except for the invincible larger rivers like the Black-wood, Avon, Murray and Warren, many of the smaller rivers and tributaries, including countless streams, were culled off one by one, leaving WA without sufficient natural drainage to the sea.

Recent flooding and salt encroachment of buildings in Moora, after two successive floods, should convince the most hardened sceptics of the value of drainage.

To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, in case of another flood, the Moora Shire Council could identify old river-beds and where they have been blocked by roads or rail, and approach the Government for funds to clear and build bridges over them.

The mean annual and maximum flows (in cubic metres per second) of WA rivers versus annual rainfall (in millimetres or billions of litres) have also been faithfully recorded by our public servants. That these annual flows removed a major part of the rainfall, which prevented salinisation of WA before settlement and development, cannot be disputed.

Other factors assisting removal of excess rainwater were the natural vegetation, evaporation and recharge to groundwater. The excision and passing of the network of rivers removed their vital contribution, and put us on the path to salinisation.

Logic should indicate that time is fast running out with the recent dramatic rise of groundwater in South-West WA. If the contribution to drainage by rivers is not restored quickly, an irreversible situation will be reached for many areas.

This will occur when all efforts to remove water (by localised drainage, pumping, cropping and trees) cannot stem the rise due to sudden storms or increased rainfall.

With more and more farmers in dire financial straits, a cause of real worry for everyone, their contribution to the removal of water by cropping and planting trees could be greatly reduced.

Our potable water supplies, infrastructure and land values, in both country and Perth are all at risk.

A whole-of-catchment integrated approach to river reclamation and maintenance has been suggested (Countryman, February 8, 2001, p8). The cost to the people of WA could be $500 million a year for 20 years- a small sum of money indeed, compared to what is at stake.

Restoring the flow of smaller tributaries and streams that feed ocean-flowing rivers, fencing and re-establishing vegetation along degraded stream and river courses, and deep drainage of farms to contribute rainwater to the rivers are the keys to save a large portion of our State.

Drainage key to salinity

COUNTRYMAN, February 8, 2001, p 6
Letter to the Editor

ESTIMATES agree that it will take about 20 years to stop the advancing salt problem of South-West WA, an area of land the size of France, between Geraldton to Esperance and the Indian Ocean.

Drainage of land is now widely accepted as being the key solution to the salt crisis.

If we reasonably estimate the total cost of natural drainage by river reclamation to be $10 billion spread over 20 years, we will need to raise $500 million each year from revenue to spend on earthworks to clear blocked rivers and their tributaries, and on building bridges.

This will enable the salt to quickly flush out to sea with rainfall, as nature intended.

Positive benefits will flow in the way of increased confidence in the future of a large portion of our State, which includes Perth and its water supply; increased productivity of pastures and crops; improved value of real estate and employment opportunities.

A "Restore WA" plan should be both equitable and workable to be quickly accepted.

The area of land initially chosen for drainage should be land situated along the whole length of three main rivers that drain the catchment areas of the Dandaragan, Yilgarn and Black-wood plateau areas of South-West WA.

During year one, a budget of $500 million will enable $16 million to be spent on the earthworks and bridges along each of 10 smaller rivers which confluence with the three main rivers, leaving about $20 million each year for planning, administration and maintenance.

This plan is repeated every five years for the remaining main rivers, until within 20 years most of South-West WA would be effectively drained.

The people of WA will enthusiastically support a Government which will spend a part of their hard-earned money wisely on drainage to remove the invading salt from their land, and restore it to its former health.

Soils need acid test

COUNTRYMAN, December 24, 1998, p10
Letter to the Editor

IT IS certainly worrisome that the acid concentration of soils has been traditionally recorded in the negative logarithmic scale as soil pH.

This method of recording of pH may be convenient for industrial purposes as it provides a simple indicative value. For example, a change of one pH unit from pH 7 to pH 6 indicates that there has been a 10-fold increase in acidity of a solution.

When applied to agricultural soils, however, the significance of this scale may go unnoticed over time, with terrible consequences worldwide. For example, farmers may not be aware that a change of 3 pH units (eg from pH 6.8 at clearing to the present pH 3.8) represents a 1000-fold increase in soil acidity and not a 30-fold increase as some might think.

Farmers who are undecided about lime please note that this is now a major problem. It is scientifically well known that in acid conditions the plant uptake of all the major elements comprising N, P, K, calcium, magnesium, and sulphur become a problem which is further complicated by the loss of valuable trace elements through acidic leaching.

Better farming methods, which include liming, and fertilisers containing trace elements are now crucial for sustainability.

It is time we developed a new scale for recording soil acidity which more clearly reflects the awful increase of soil acids, and consequent fall in productivity worldwide.

Magnesium's mysteries unravel

COUNTRYMAN, February 12, 1998, p 32

MAGNESIUM is an essential plant nutrient regarded by plant chemists to be the fifth member of the major nutrients comprising nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur.

Although overshadowed by its companions, principally N, P, K, magnesium is accepted as a crucial member of this group as it is the central atom of the chlorophyll molecule or the green plant pigment which is responsible for the process of photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis occurs in leaves where the energy from the sun is harnessed to chemically combine water and carbon dioxide from the air to form glucose, the basic building block of all plant matter and foods. Glucose is further converted within plants to form starch, proteins and oil.

Besides magnesium's function in harnessing energy, it has a close interaction with phosphorus in many plant and animal enzymes responsible for growth, reproduction and respiration.

Increasing recognition of its importance as a companion to phosphorus is seen in the production of fertilisers containing magnesium.

However, in a similar way to urea, magnesium reacts with phosphorus to form a sticky compound, which makes granulation very difficult and expensive to achieve. This problem is not apparent in liquid fertilisers.

Salts of magnesium (eg. magnesium sulphate and magnesium chloride) are highly hydrated and carry up to seven molecules of water. This has led agronomists to suspect that magnesium occupies an important function in water economy of plants, revealing its potential importance in dry-land farming.

The highest concentration of magnesium in plants is found in seeds, and a 2.7-tonne crop of wheat removes about 7 kg of magnesium element (or the equivalent of 12 kg of magnesium oxide) per hectare.

The urine of sheep and cattle also causes acidic leaching of magnesium from the soil. Being an important member of the alkali minerals which include calcium, the removal of magnesium increases the acidity of soils, and decreases productivity.

As it is a powerful anti-acid, the increasing use of dolomite (calcium-magnesium carbonate) and magnesium oxide (E-Mag and Caus-Mag) by WA farmers is a good sign for the agricultural industry.

LOOK at the big picture

FARM WEEKLY, July 22, 1999, p 6
Letter to the Editor

PICTURE a child standing in a grassy field on a sunny day, a cool breeze is blowing as a shower has just passed and a fresh, earthy aroma permeates the air.

The child holds a flower, which a honeybee is claiming as its own. All the elements of life are present, carefully nurtured by the powerful environmental forces of heat, light, air, water, nutrients and microbes.

Spiritually, mankind has always recognised the profound influence of these environmental forces on life, although science has not yet united their relative magnitudes and relationship to life in a grand integrated scheme. Greater understanding is needed as we struggle to survive in an ever-changing world subject to the laws of these forces.

Chromosomes made up of DNA and residing in the nucleus of the cell are the keepers of the genetic blueprint, and repositories of information for the present and the future survival of the organism.

The cell and its genetic codes are constantly under the influence of the environmental forces, and its integrity is affected by them; its position in space can be considered to be at the origin of the three dimensional Cartesian coordinates x, y and z, which locate the six forces. An eight-sided crystal of influence (an octahedron) around the cell is formed, with the forces at each apex forming a bi-pyramid model. This model shows the interactions between the environmental forces themselves, and the cell.

Scholars in ancient Egypt, China and Korea have long recognised the influence of the environmental forces fire, air, water, earth; life is visualised as a constant battle between good and bad. The Korean national flag depicts this concept. A modern, scientific explanation could be that, under the influence of the combinations of forces with certain optimal values, the cell's immunity would be at a maximum, and disease at a minimum.

The forces act both externally (our environment) and internally (our health). Light is represented in the cell as bioluminescence (light without heat), by deep-sea angler-fish and the fire-fly.

We could use this model to make useful observations, predictions and measurements. For example, one can predict that, in the future, perhaps in 100 or 200 years, we should be able to improve our external environment and our internal environment to such an extent that disease is a thing of the past and life expectancies are greatly increased.

Hopefully this model can be used to explain the likely outcomes of things that concern us today. Such worrisome events as the effects of global warming on coral reefs; the hole in the ozone layer and the effect of increasing ultra-violet radiation on life; the depletion of vital nutrient elements in the soil and our foods; the pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink; dieback in forests and soil degradation; the effects of overpopulation on resources, and the increasing incidence of powerful pathogenic microbes.

The seed - life raft for the young plant

COUNTRYMAN, February 27, 1997 p 32

ONLY a few millimetres in size, the young plant embryo is safely embedded in its surrounding seed, which acts as its home and its nutrient source.

Within the living cells of the young plant, its nucleus carries the long thread-like chromosomes which holds the genes on which are encoded all the information it needs for its continued survival, its germination and growth, development and reproduction.

The young plant waits for the environmental signals of moisture, warmth, light, and air composition, and when these are just right, the enzymes, proteins, hormones, trace elements, mineral salts and carbohydrates are activated to begin the process of germination.

By means of a light absorbing protein called phytochrome, the young plant can detect how deeply the farmer has buried it in the soil. This information will determine whether or not the seed will germinate, and if it does, to emerge triumphant from the soil with a single leaf if it is a wheat plant, or a pair of leaves if it is a dandelion.

The various types of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, trace elements and the moisture it carries, its "quality", determines to quite an extent its future yield. This quality, if optimal will cocoon the germinating plant in an ideal environment and strengthen its immune system against ever present fungal and viral diseases.

D. Davidescu (Fertilisers, Crop Quality and Economy, April 1972, p 1102, Edit. Elsevier, Amsterdam), has estimated from trials that 15 per cent of potential yield is due to the quality of seed the farmer uses, the balance of potential yield being due to the quality of fertiliser, cultivation method, seed-bed preparation and crop rotation.

This points to the importance of ensuring that crops are grown in soils which are not too acid and deficient in minerals and trace elements; plants being deficient in certain elements being more likely to produce lower quality seed and affect future yield.

The seed acts as the first fertiliser package for the young developing plant. Analyses reveal that the mineral nutrients fall between quite specific narrow margins depending on the type of seed.

For a wheat crop yielding 2.7 tons per hectare, we can calculate the actual uptake of each nutrient (in grams or micrograms) per square metre by multiplying the yield per square metre (270 grams) with the analysed value of the nutrient.

I propose that a grain analysis recommendation system for grain-growers would be beneficial, by comparing the nutrient uptake patterns of high performing crops against poor performing crops.

The soil conditions favourable to the developing seed are also the same conditions favourable to soil microbes and earthworms. These conditions are soil pH, moisture and temperature, organic matter, soil tilth and aeration. In acid or saline soils where the availability of trace elements and nitrogen, phosphate, potash, magnesium, calcium and sulphur are low, the microbes and earthworms will be poorly represented.

As a result animal manure and crop residues will decompose only slowly. This has led to the emergence of "organic farming". The organic farmers react to the fertility problems by applying liquid bio-fertilisers produced from composted manures containing microbes, while some breed earthworms for release.

The important thing to remember here is that the use of lime as E-Mag, dolomite, limestone or hydrated lime, and phosphate fertilisers containing trace elements, potash and sulphur will encourage naturally present microbes and earthworms to multiply and flourish, the soil thereby becoming "organic" and productive.

The "sustainable package" approach promoted by Western Fertiliser Technology Pty Ltd, based on Super Energy and the Tank-mix system, is gaining widespread acceptance from leading farmers. The package aims for a combination of scientifically planned nutrition and soil management, highly efficient seeds and varieties, better cultivation methods and effective weed and pest control for a highly rewarding, productive system.

What causes dieback?

FARM WEEKLY, March 9, 1995, p 20. Landcare '95

DIEBACK is a disease causing the death of terminal buds and leaves of some native trees, such as jarrah, in Western Australia, eventually leading to the death of the whole tree.

Present understanding of the problem is that the phytophthora fungus in the soil attacks the roots and causes dieback, which is partly alleviated by phosphonate injections to the trunks of affected trees.

However, my interpretation of the problem is that it is dieback itself, which predisposes the roots of trees to parasitic attack.

What causes dieback?

I considered the source of nutrients to the trees after they settled down to grow new leaves after a fire.

Nitrogen is a key nutrient in all living beings, and its main source to forest trees (other than a small amount in rain) comes from legume plants living in close proximity to the trees.

With regular systematic burning, the numbers of these nitrogen fixing plants would decline, and further, their health would weaken from the loss of organically-bound nutrients released by the fire as soluble ash.

The resulting shortage of nitrogen supply to the trees would result in reduced chlorophyll (the green pigment of leaves), diminish carbohydrate and protein production in leaves and restrict the assimilatory power of the roots.

Thus the roots will be less able to absorb potassium and boron from the predominantly light soils which are poor in potassium and boron.

It is often observed that the classical dieback symptoms (death of terminal buds and leaves) in plants and trees is due to a severe deficiency of potash and boron.

Moreover, deficiency in potassium will render the roots of plants and trees susceptible to various fungal diseases such as mildew, rust and the dreaded phytophthora, as the cell wall thickness and firmness of the root cells are reduced, thus allowing the fungus to penetrate into the roots.

Injections of phosphorus will alleviate dieback as it will help the growth of roots, but it cannot prevent potassium or boron deficiency altogether, and the tree will succumb eventually to the combined effects of deficiency and attack from phytophthora.

The next step, I suppose, is for those having an interest in dieback to test the hypothesis through chemical analysis of affected and healthy leaves, treatment and observation.

In such an event, there will be a progression in understanding of this most pressing problem, and finally we may obtain the means of stopping dieback.


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