Archive for December, 2018

Where have the bees gone?

IT’S THE bee version of a mystery thriller. Hives full of healthy honey bees suddenly empty. Inside, beekeepers the world over would find abandoned young and a queen but no worker bee corpses.

At first apiarists worried a new disease was infecting their colonies. Evidence would later show bees were stressed out – by pesticides, pests and poor food quality – but not even that could explain the rapid decimation of colonies.

Now an Australian-led team has discovered how multiple stressors trigger a series of events that can quickly lead to a total breakdown of bee society.

“It’s very rapid,” said research leader Andrew Barron, from Macquarie University.

“Your colony goes from having lots of bees to no bees in a few weeks. There’s no obvious pathogen and there’s no corpses left in the hive,” said Dr Barron.

Known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), it has affected about 30 per cent of honey bee colonies in Europe and North America each year over the past decade. Australian honey bee colonies, which play a significant role in crop production, worth about $5 billion a year, have so far been unaffected.

“When you get a colony failing like that, you’re not just seeing the death of individuals but the absolute collapse of a whole society,” he said.

Rather than focus on the stress chemical exposure, pests and pathogens had on individual bees, Dr Barron and his team wondered what impact chronic stress was having on bees’ highly sophisticated hierarchical communities.

It is well known that honey bees delay leaving their hive to forage until later in adulthood. Foraging for nectar and pollen is hard work, and bees frequently die from exhaustion or getting lost.

But if external stressors such as pests or pesticides kill too many forager bees at once, it triggers a rapid maturation of the next generation and prompts them to leave the nest before they’re are ready.

“Bees who start to forage when they’ve been adults for less than two weeks are just not good at it. They take longer, and they complete fewer trips.”

When Dr Barron and his team placed tiny radio trackers on young forager bees they discovered they also died earlier.

When the team entered this information into a model they found these premature deaths triggered a vicious cycle, whereby subsequent generations of inefficient foragers could not return enough resources to keep the colony going, leading to its collapse.

“Our model suggests bees are very good at buffering against stress, but there’s a tipping point and then you see this rapid transition into complete societal failure,” Dr Barron said.

Dr Barron said their findings, which have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, are the first to propose an explanation for the unusually rapid collapse of bee colonies.

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Better forecasts still under the weather

CONFIRMING what most farmers already know, research shows that while weather forecasting is more accurate than ever, predictions should not be taken as gospel.

Newly completed research by a South Australian Nuffield scholar says that weather forecasting has become increasingly accurate in recent years, but farmers who take predictions literally are taking a big risk.

In his paper Weather Forecasting and Business Management Systems, Robin Schaefer says five- and seven-day forecasts in Australia have increased in accuracy by 45 per cent over the past 30 years, while the three-day forecast has increased accuracy by 27 per cent to become 97 per cent accurate.

Forecasting technology and methods had come a long way with the advent of more sophisticated technology like satellite forecasting, but primary producers should still be wary of the impact of over-subscribing to forecast data said Mr Schaefer, who undertook his Nuffield scholarship study with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

“Given the uncertain nature of weather forecasts, the riskiest thing anyone could do is to take a weather forecast literally,” said Mr Schaefer, who shares a collaborative farming venture at Loxton, SA.

“In the media we see stories of farmers who followed a forecast of a drought literally, made a dramatic business decision, such as deciding not to sow any crop at all or totally de-stocking, which proved to be the correct decision and resulted in a dramatic escape from its effects.

“For every one of these stories, there are many more where a dramatic decision proved to be incorrect resulting in huge losses.

“As weather forecasts continue to become more accurate farmers will begin to increase their reliance on them. However, this could increase the risk to the business, especially when the forecast will inevitably be wrong.”

The paper looks at an array of decision-making tools available to farmers in Australia and beyond, including popular services like Climate Kelpie, and forecasting technology and research overseas. While Australia is said to have seen rapid improvements in recent years, decision-support tools from Canada, New Zealand the United Kingdom, United States of America, among other countries, which he visited as part of his scholarship-supported study tour, offer lessons in how local services could enhance their offerings to farmers.

Mr Schaefer concludes that weather forecasting has plenty more progress to make, both in longer-term, seasonal forecasting, as well as more localised predictions via micro meteorology, to help farmers make the most of decisions informed by weather.

“The weather is an essential part of planning daily operations and in the longer term can mean the difference between a profitable and unprofitable year,” he said.

“As a farmer I am also a weather forecaster, I refer to as much information as possible, from as many sources as I have available, then use this information to influence my decision making.

“Research needs to be targeted at seasonal forecasting. Investigations for this report have confirmed there is plenty of scope to continue to improve seasonal forecasting.

“To achieve this, researchers need to think outside the square, to be bold and innovative.

“On the opposite end of the scale to seasonal forecasting is the emerging science of micro meteorology.

“Currently any micrometeorology data that is collected is not normally available to farmers.

“As technology improves, with the advent of on-farm instrumentation and communications systems and satellite-derived, instantly retrievable information, it will become possible to map microclimate variations. This will be at time scales that are useful for input into businesses.”

Click here to listen to a GRDC Driving Agronomy interview with Robin Schaefer.

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Top country artist to party the night away in Jamberoo

AINT NOTHIN’ BUT A PARTY: Kiama resident and multi award winning country rock artist, Benn Gunn, is sure to entertain when he takes to the stage at Jamberoo Pub to release his latest album.

MULTI AWARD winning country rock artist, Benn Gunn,will launch hislatest album Ain’t Nothin’ But a Partyat Jamberoo Pub on Saturday, October 10.

The Kiama resident, createdthealbum with U.S. hit songwriter Jason Patrick Mathews and acclaimed producer Bart Busch andsaid the album reflectshis own life journey over the last few years.

“On the first album I wrote pretty much all the songs, this is definitely a different approach,” Gunn said.

“I had the opportunity go to Nashville and work with some of my idols in the industry who produced some of my favourite albums.

“It was a completely new process which I loved.I think this is one or two notches above what I’ve done before.”

“It starts out talking about partying, bonfires anddrinkingbeer,then goes into a deeper side of things with songs likeWhat I need tonightwhichshows a more sensitive side,” he said.

“We shotthe film clip at the Sebel, so you will be able to see a bit of Kiama in it.”

Gunn spent his childhood travelling around rural Australia like many great countrymen before him, and once again he has foundinspiration in the outback.

“The last few years I’ve got into the B and S circuit and small rural festivals.Young outback communities, mainly in Victoria are what I’ve been focusing on,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated a lot of this album to those guys.”

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Newman resigns as Qld Premier

Campbell Newman has resigned but will remain as caretaker Premier until Queensland has an answer as to who will govern Qld.CAMPBELL Newman has tendered his resignation as Queensland Premier.

But he will remain as caretaker Premier until Queensland has an answer as to who will govern the state.

It is a question which has been left open since the January 31 election.

A hour after Mr Newman tweeted his intention to visit the Governor, a statement was released.

“This morning I tended [sic] my resignation as Premier of Queensland to his Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, pending the appointment of a new Premier,” he said.

“In accordance with my constitutional duty, I have agreed it is my obligation to remain in office as caretaker Premier until that time.

“It is a duty I take very seriously and one I will continue to undertake to the best of my ability.”

Earlier, newly-elected Liberal National Party leader Lawrence Springborg said “delicate” discussions with the two Katter’s Australian Party MPs were continuing.

Mr Springborg, LNP president Bruce McIver, and Katter’s Australian Party founder Bob Katter were spotted meeting at Waterfront Place in Brisbane’s CBD but left when spotted by the media.

Katter said they would wait until seats had been declared before announcing their support.

The third crossbencher, long-term Independent Peter Wellington, has already thrown his support behind Labor which would give the party the numbers needed to govern.

While counting continues, the LNP is expected to win 42 seats and Labor, 44.

A spokesman for Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said they were still watching and waiting on the seat count.

The LNP is pushing for the state to remain in caretaker mode until all seats have been declared – including Ferny Grove, the result of which has already been disputed and is headed to the Court of Disputed Returns as soon as the count is finished.

The Palmer United candidate was discovered to be an undischarged bankrupt and therefore unable to stand for office.

It is understood to be the first time in modern political history that an election result has been disputed before the seat has been declared.

If the court declares the Palmer candidate’s votes affected on the seat’s result, it could declare it void, sparking a by-election.

That would be the only chance the LNP has to retain power. It would need to win the by-election and then win the support of the two Katter party MPs to form government.

The pair released a list of 21 priorities on Monday, among them, the right to move on fruit bats, an ethanol mandated percentage in fuel and an inland highway.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission of Queensland said 10 seats had been declared already and electorates would continue to be progressively declared as the count was finalised.

That was not expected to happen on Tuesday.

On Monday, an ECQ spokesman said the count was not expected to be finished in all seats until the end of the week.

Caretaker provisions continue to remain in place.

A spokeswoman for Mr Springborg said Mr Newman’s actions were “consistent with what the LNP has said”.

“The LNP respects the office of the Governor and this is a matter for the Governor not politicians,” she said.

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CBH ‘war’ on inquiry agenda

RECENT public infighting among CBH directors was a focal point of questioning at last week’s Senate inquiry hearing into grain logistics.

Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) grains committee chair John Snooke told the Committee concerns about the CBH board’s “public factional war” were escalating in WA.

“We are now constantly seeing a factional war playing out on the board and it is spilling over into the media,” he said.

“Just recently I have had numerous members call me who are very, very upset by this public factional war that is being played out.

“They are looking at their balance sheets, which are struggling, and they see this equity in CBH that they cannot realise.

“But the value of CBH at the moment would be in some decline.

“Without going into the nitty-gritty of each issue, that tells you of the broader frustration that is really developing in WA.”

PGA wants CBH privatisedMr Snooke said the PGA wanted to see a board that operated commercially, “like other companies in Australia”.

He said the PGA questions the way CBH is being managed and operated but “our members still identify that they have equity in the company”.

“Firstly, we would want to see CBH privatised so that it is operating by profit and loss, and not by legacy loyalty,” he said.

“That is where our members are getting very concerned. When we look back at the CBH board of the early 2000s, they were trying desperately to prepare the company for the changes that would inevitably occur in the industry.

“Our members are having problems when they do not see those changes. We are not seeing any rationalisation. We are not seeing CBH wanting to earn its business.

“It wants to retain its legacy loyalty by way of business rules.

“It is those things that are frustrating our members.”

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert moved to clarify the board room scenario during her questioning of various witnesses, including ascertaining whether the infighting was due to differences of opinion over the co-op or corporate structure.

Mr Snooke said he did not believe that was the issue – which CBH chief executive officer Dr Andy Crane agreed with. “I do not think that at a board level that issue is being debated at all,” Mr Snooke said, noting that the current “ructions” on the CBH board were playing into a current climate of uncertainty in WA.

“Everyone is talking about it,” he said.

Dr Crane told the federal Senators, “You live in a political world, so I think you would fully understand”. He said the board situation resulted from “the machinations of a normal co-operative member based organisation”.

“We have nine grower directors elected to our board,” he said.

“We have 12 directors, and three are non-grower directors who bring external experience as well.

“Strong robust debates, I think, are healthy. It is often perceived as a downside of the co-operative, but I actually think it is a strength because what it is saying is that members are working out what they really want the business to do for them.

“Sometimes that spills out of the boardroom, but I do not see a negative in it and it is certainly nothing to do with – and I agree with John Snooke – a co-op corporate debate.

“Our board is very unified that the cooperative model is delivering the best for our growers.

“So this is just more passionate debate about what is right in a whole range of issues.”

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