Category Archives: Science

Blow Out Investigated

17/08/2004 12:00:00 AM
FOLLOWING disasters, whether natural or man made, there are always questions asked.On Sunday morning, July 18, a 100m stretch of the Rangitaiki River stopbank just north of Edgcumbe gave way under the volume of water that three days of consistent heavy rain produced.

This occurred just hours before a peak flow 5m above normal levels. Water poured through the stopbank and on to farmland, roads and houses on the Rangitaiki Plains.

The Fonterra Dairy factory just out of Edgecumbe was also hit by the floodwater.

No one doubts that this is a huge volume of water, but questions have arisen because Rangitaiki River stopbanks are made to 100-year flow standards.

Environment Bay of Plenty has commissioned an independent investigation to find out why it was breached.

“We need to know exactly what happened so we can take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” says EBoP chief executive Jeff Jones.

“This is extremely important to EBoP and the communities living in the shadow of our stopbanks.”

Mr Jones says the stopbanks are designed to hold floodwater — not to fail.

“The Rangitaiki River stopbank should not have breached like it did, even with the huge amount of pressure that was on it,” Mr Jones says.

“It didn’t fail because water overtopped it, as can sometimes happen, it just blew out.”

The Edgecumbe earthquake in 1987 and major floods in the region in 1998 have raised concerns about Rangitaiki stopbanks and their stability.

They have been investigated and reinforced during the years to prevent the kind of breaches seen last month.

The Government will provide more assistance to flood-affected parts of Bay of Plenty, including agricultural recovery, repairing schools, fixing roads and giving direct help to low income earners and people who had to be evacuated.

This brings the total Government support to an estimated $30 million.

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Northern Farmers Find Enlightment at Levet Field Day

13/11/2003 1:00:20 AM

A LARGE audience packed into Gordon Levet’s woolshed near Wellsford in Northland last month for a serving of knowledge from a respected line-up of speakers.

Celebrating 50 years as a sheep breeder, Mr Levet brought together a group of scientists who had come to know him through his contributions to science of worm and footrot resistance to name a few.

“He certainly has challenged conventional thinking — question everything, accept nothing is his catch-cry,” says Lincoln University geneticist Jon Hickford.

“It’s a miracle an event like this can happen. You wouldn’t be able to get this sort of turn-out if it was held at Lincoln. You would be lucky to get people from the next department to come to it.

“It shows the level of respect there is for Gordon and what he has done for farming and science.”

The speakers at the October 22 field day included Amy Bell (CSIRO), Jon Hickford (Lincoln University), John McEwen (Invermay), Nick Nicholson (Wool Exporters Council), Chris Morris (AgResearch Ruakura), Professor Brian Kirkpatrick (University of Wisconsin) and Mr Levet himself.

After a farm tour at mid-day and a light lunch, attendees found a wool bale to sit on, ready to be enlightened.

Former Northern sheep breeder John Reeves kicked the event off, before Mr Morris talked about breeding for resistance of worms, ryegrass staggers and parasites.

Mr Nicholson followed up with his comments on the fickle and unpredictable state of the wool market.

Mr Levet spoke about his experience in breeding for resistance and how to go about building a flock tolerant to footrot and resistant to worms.

Mrs Bell talked about CSIRO’s Armidale findings and success in breeding for worm resistance, with particular reference to barbers pole worm.

Mr Hickford spoke about the gene marker test he and his colleagues have come up with for breeding for footrot tolerance.

Professor Kirkpatrick discussed his studies into twinning genes in cattle, with reference to Mr Levet’s cow that has produced two sets of triplets.

Finally, Mr McEwen backed up the ideas of some of the other speakers on disease resistance and production.

Mr Levet’s stance on breeding for resistance as opposed to resilience was a big talking point.

“Resilience is no good for barbers pole, because it’s a blood sucker, and while you have that you are going to get dead lambs — it’s as simple as that,” said Mr Levet.

“It might be good for South Island farmers who don’t have high occurrences of barbers pole worm, but for the North Island it’s different.

“I know farmers in the Waikato region who say barbers pole worm is the main killer of their sheep.

“Besides, why would you pursue resilience when it is only 10% inheritable, while resistance is 25% inheritable?”

A central theme in Mr Levet’s comments was the need for worms in sheep.

“Sheep need worms as much as worms need sheep. Without worms the animal’s immune system is weaker.

“Scientists in Britain are even saying the same things about humans.

“If you drench extensively then you are killing off the majority of worms and, at the same time, creating super-worms resistant to drenches.

“Breeding for worm resistance means managing the worm levels in an animal’s gut.”

For all concerned the day was considered a success.

Semi-retired Maungataroto sheep farmer Alan Davey says it was interesting to compare approaches and see where the industry is going.

“Times have moved on and you have to move with them.

“I have been around the sheep industry worldwide and we are streets ahead of the United States and British farmers.

“If you were to hold a meeting like this over in Britain, farmers would be scratching their heads with this material.

“In talking about footrot they would say, well you can treat it with this — they wouldn’t know too much about breeding for tolerance and genetic selection. That is just the level they are at.”

Meat and Wool Innovation research and development manager Mark Aspin said the speakers made the event come alive.

“It was an interesting and varied diet of speakers which was good, because farmers like hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

“You can see we are making progress, but it’s about application and that is where the challenge is.

“We might not get a super-model sheep, but it’s a worthwhile goal.”

Director of the former Wool Board Tom Mandeno says the information delivered at the event is badly needed.

“Feet are a big problem, because they hold back productivity in so many other areas — farmers can handle most things, but feet can cause real problems.”

Most attendees were involved with sheep breeding and the wool industry, though Mr Levet says four goat breeders were present.

International Array of Speakers at Levet Field Day

18/09/2003 10:00:08 PM

TO celebrate 50 years of sheep breeding, well-respected Wellsford farmer Gordon Levet will be holding an on-farm field day on October 22.

Mr Levet says it will “focus on the attributes my sheep have excelled in”.

He took over the farm in the early 1950s from his father and uncle, who began farming there in 1922, and runs it with wife Trish.

Renowned among the agricultural science circles, Mr Levet is well known for breeding resistance to footrot and facial eczema in his sheep, as well as 15 years of testing for worm resistance /d longer than any breeder in New Zealand.

The field day, which runs from 10am to 4pm, includes several notable speakers, including Professor Brian Kirkpatrick of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Amy Bell of CSIRO Livestock Industries Australia.

New Zealand speakers, apart from Mr Levet, include Dr John Hickford of Lincoln University; Dr Chris Morris, a geneticist from Ruakura AgResearch; his colleague, Dr John McEwen of Invermay, Dunedin; and Nick Nicholson, Wool Experters’ Council.

Mr Levet says the topics covered and the calibre of the speakers is generating interest among those in the sheep breeding industry.

“I am pretty well known among the scientific community in New Zealand, so it didn’t take much to convince these experts to speak,” he says.

“I have tended to challenge conventional thinking and I have sent some pretty heated letters to scientists during the years.”

And, he says, with some success. He has made scientists discard several years of research after disproving their theories in his own trials.

Aside from being informative, Mr Levet says there are other reasons for farmers to attend.

“Apart from my stud sheep, there is a cow that in three calvings has had three sets of triplets.

“Three clones of this cow, presently at Ruakura, will also be on the farm. She has got to be a freak — one in many millions.”

Mr Levet says finding the fertility gene in cattle is the holy grail of ag science.

The Levet farm now boasts 19 lots of farm forestry from 0.5ha to 10ha each. Trees range from eucalypts, macrocapa, hardwoods and poplars, among others.

All this diversity will be on show at the field day, which is sponsored by Wrightson, Richmond and Ballance. A light lunch will be provided and a tour of the property is sure to be an eye-opening experience.

Contact Gordon Levet, phone 09 423-7034

Oil Prices Drive Push For Alternative Fuels

31/08/2004 12:00:00 AM
As the world’s oil supplies dwindle, alternatives must be found. FRED LUNJEVICH investigates one. 

NATIONAL Geographic summed it up best in its June lead article: “The end of cheap oil”.

On August 13, light crude oil prices hit an unprecedented $US46.65 a barrel before closing the day on $46.58, up $1.08, or 2.4% on the day.

With the oil reserve finish line coming into view, the resulting higher cost of fossil fuel means alternative fuel sources are being sought now, more than ever.

Sources like biodiesel have been used for sometime, mainly in a research context, but it is now gaining more traction in the fuel market.

What is biodiesel?

Simply put, it is a sustainable fuel made from vegetable oil. A simple chemical reaction converts the oil into methyl ester — the biodiesel component, and glycerine.

Consequently, the carbon dioxide produced when biodiesel is burnt is the same amount the next season’s crop of canola will use as it grows, while other noxious exhaust emissions, such as sulphur compounds, are greatly reduced.

It is reported to provide better engine lubrication, even cleaning out dirt and other deposits left in the fuel system by oil-based diesel.

Associate Professor Ralph Sims, director of the Centre for Energy Research at Massey University, has been researching biodiesel since 1976.

He says present oil prices have led to him fielding much more questions about biodiesel.

“Now that oil prices are at the level they were when we started our research, the biodiesel subject is very topical.”

He and his research team experimented with many oil crops before settling on oilseed rape as the best option.

“It grows from Auckland to Southland, it’s easy to harvest and it has a good oil yield. That is why it is often used in Germany and other parts of Europe.

“The only problem with vegetable oils is that it costs money to harvest. So we started using tallow because vegeatble oils and animal fats are fairly similar. Animal fats are cheaper as they are a natural by-product of the meat processing industry,” he says.

No engine adjustments need to be made to use biodiesel.

“You can run it on biodiesel one day and diesel the next and the engine wouldn’t know it,” says Prof Sims. “It mixes with diesel in any proportion.”

Biodiesel doesn’t perform as well in cold temperatures, but Prof Sims says a 4:1 blend of diesel to biodiesel would solve that problem.

“Earth Race want to run a powerboat around the world and run it entirely on biodiesel,” he says.

“Biodiesel is good in a marine context, because spills turn in to fish food instead of toxic slicks that organic diesel produces.”

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) suggest tour operators in Fiordland and the Bay of Islands use the product to protect those sensitive marine environments. Another suggestion is that biodiesel could be used to power Auckland buses.

Prof Sims agrees biodiesel would be valuable in our cities.

“According to recent figures, 300 people die in Auckland from respiratory diseases caused by vehicle emissions.

“Our research has served its purpose. Now the technical issues are resolved it’s just a matter of solving the commercial issues.”

The Employers and Manufacturers Association is curious as to why biodiesel hasn’t been fully explored.

“Biodiesel in New Zealand could probably compete on an even footing with petroleum-based diesel at around $US35 a barrel for oil,” says EMA chief executive Alasdair Thompson.

“However, instead of encouraging the adoption of renewable transport fuel blends, like biodiesel and ethanol, the Government appears fixated on the discredited Kyoto Protocol.”

He says it’s ironic that countries like Australia and the United States are well ahead of us in the introduction of renewable transport fuels, yet they have no intention of signing the protocol.

“The ironies run deep since the feedstocks here for making such as biodiesel from waste animal fats and vegetable oils are potentially far better than for most others.

“The use of biodiesel also results in less particulate and carbon gas emissions; New Zealand needs to seen to be walking the green talk on this issue.

“We want to know what the Government is planning to do to introduce biodiesel blends to help offset the price spikes that seem likely to become the norm for oil.”

EECA senior advisor for renewable energy Elizabeth Yeaman says there is still some hesitation by the private sector to invest in biodiesel production.

“Interested parties are looking at the long term viability of producing biodiesel,” she says.

“If you are going to invest in a biodiesel plant you want to know how profitable it will be 10-15 years on.

“We are doing all that we can to push those fuels to meet National Energy Efficiency Conservation Targets for Renewable Energy.