INDUSTRY NEWS: Export potential for Australian organic produce

RIRDC, 4th July 2006

Organic production is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global food industry, with an estimated global market value of $38 billion a year, the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Sussan Ley, said today.

Ms Ley was launching Export Potential for Organics - opportunities and barriers, a new report from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), which identifies opportunities for Australian organic producers in a number of expanding markets.

"This research is yet another demonstration that organic industries are not a passing fad," Ms Ley said.

"The report shows that the organic market in the United States caters to nearly 145 million consumers each year, and the market is growing by 20 per cent annually.

"In the United Kingdom, three-quarters of the population of 60 million purchases organic produce each year, with a market growth of 11 per cent."

The European Union has an enormous market for organic produce, and there are export opportunities in the rapidly-growing markets in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

"Australia already produces a wide range of organic products for export, like cereals, meat, sugar, animal feeds and processed foods but, in most cases, supply and capacity for processing, storage and transport are the main limitations," Ms Ley said.

"The organics industry also sits across the traditional sectors, like beef, lamb, broadacre grains and horticulture, as well as many of the emerging sectors. For organic industries to succeed, they need support from the sectors in which they operate."

RIRDC Managing Director Dr Peter O'Brien said the organics industry shared many of the features of new industries, like the need for strong industry organisations and better market access.

"We can see change in the makeup of Australian production already, and this change will continue," Dr O'Brien said. "With the right help, the new rural industries - including the organic industries - will make an important, growing and unique contribution to the profitability, sustainability and resilience of rural Australia."

Export Potential for Organics - opportunities and barriers is available from RIRDC. For more details, visit or call (02) 6272 4819.

AGRIBUSINESS NEWS: Brassicas as cover crops (part 2)

Part 2 of the article by Dr Paul Kristiansen, UNE published in Australian Organic Journal, Winter 2006.


Use of plants from the Brassicaceae family, or brassicas, as cover crops has long been observed to have a cleansing effect on soils with certain plant pests, including root-knot nematode and cereal take-all, whether through release of chemicals (allelopathy) by the cover crop or through absence of a suitable host for the pest.

Researchers in Australialooking at the effect of brassicas in conventional crop rotations on various pests and diseases have anecdotally reported that cover crops appeared to have a suppressive effect on weeds in the subsequent crop, presumably due to a group of chemicals called glucosinolates (GSL).

Other reports from Europe and North America have also suggested brassicas can be used for integrated weed management due to their apparent allelopathic effect on weeds. However recent work on brassica cover crops in Finland, Italy, the United Statesand Australia has found very little evidence of a reliable effect on weed numbers, even using high GSL varieties.

Although weeds may be effectively controlled during the time the cover crop is growing, weed levels in the following cash crops are the same as those for cash crops grown after various fallows or other cover crop varieties. The absence of an effect on weeds may be attributed to:

• insufficient plant material grown in a season to achieve effective weed control;

• incorrect timing of operations related to the cover crop, including termination and incorporation;

• lack of persistence by GSLs in the soil after incorporating the cover crop, especially where cover crop residues are mulched and turned into the soil; and

• disturbance of soil due to tillage practices in annual cropping.

Several signs show allelopathy was probably not even a significant factor in inhibiting weeds during the cover-crop phase. They include a strong link between shading and weed levels, weeds continuing to emerge very close to the cover crop without inhibition, and impacts not being correlated with the amount of brassica plant material added, or to measured GSL levels.


The inhibitory effects of allelochemicals are very specific to particular target plants and not others. Even when some weed suppression has been observed, certain weed species are susceptible and others are not inhibited at all.

This incomplete control is a normal aspect of an integrated whole-farm weed management program, where reliance is not placed on a single tool for broad-spectrum weed control. However, the number of reports indicating no effect on weed control by brassica cover crops provides a warning that allelopathic crops do not necessarily offer a simple, non-chemical “silver bullet” to weed control.

Indeed, very careful management is required to achieve success with any cover crop. After all, weeds have defied the silver bullets of tillage for centuries, herbicides for decades, and transgenic crop manipulation for several years.

Brassicas are a suitable alternate green manure to diversify rotations, add nutrients and improve soil structure and health. Brassica cover crops should be sown at the seed supplierÂ’s recommended rate (or greater if the germination rate is unknown or doubtful) into well-prepared seed beds in order to maximise biomass production and outcompete weeds.

Contact: Dr Paul Kristiansen, School of Rural Science and Agriculture, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351; phone (02) 6773 3962; fax (02) 6773 3238; email

ENVIRONMENT: Nitrogen fixation: Organic vs GM

Soil Association, UK, 26th June 2006

The Soil Association warns that research findings publicised by the John Innes Centre (JIC) concerning the control of nitrogen fixation in leguminous plants by genetic manipulation confirms that genetic engineering research is generally a costly, time-consuming and unrealistic way of spending public funds to achieve very little.

Gundula Azeez, Policy Manager at Soil Association said;

"Rather than being a significant contribution to solving the problem of agriculture's dependency on fertilisers, the researchers' chances of actual success are remote and unlikely. The researchers described the results as an "important step towards transferring the process of nitrogen fixation from legumes to crop plants that may reduce global need for nitrogen fertilisers". Yet, after years of research, they have only managed to control one small stage of a complex process and in a legume which naturally fixes nitrogen anyway and which is also apparently, "amenable to genetic transformation". This only highlights how far they are from identifying and managing to control and transfer the complete nitrogen fixation process to non-leguminous plants. This publicity looks like a shameless attempt to secure further funding to continue the research, rather than signalling any real potential with this result.

The researchers are also wasting time, money and effort by attempting to solve a problem already addressed in organic systems. Organic farming harnesses natural nitrogen fixation processes by growing legumes in rotation with crop production and livestock grazing. It has already managed to do away with the use of nitrogen fertilisers, halving the amount of energy needed to produce the same amount of food as non-organic farming.

Whilst we urgently need to move agriculture away from the use of nitrogen fertiliser, produced from fossil fuels in an energy-intensive process, contributing to climate change, this needs to be done within the next 15 years. At the rate the researchers are going, the oil will have long run out before they have a solution - if they do eventually have one.

The Soil Association urges research of the type now publicised by the JIC to be restricted in future, and funding to be diverted to more efficient, safer and more publicly acceptable approaches, such as the expansion of organic farming.

The Soil Association also strongly criticises the researchers for publicising their work the day before the study is published in Nature, which means that their claims cannot be confirmed or the implications discussed in depth.

For more information please contact Gundula Azeez, Policy Manager at Soil Association on +44 117 9874560 / or Victoria Record, Media Office Co-ordinator on +44 117 9874580 /

HEALTH:Role of organic food in Australian schools

Children's health is a hot topic with Australian governments under pressure to address the quality of food in schools and debate continues on how to reverse the trends towards a predicted 65 per cent of young Australians being overweight or obese by 2020. (Victorian Government 2005).

The NSW government has taken a leading role in limiting some of the more harmful foods allowed for sale in schools; however naturopath and organic entrepreneur John Walys would like to see organics playing a larger role in addressing the issue.

"Many of the problems our children face today including diabetes, allergic reactions and behavioural problems which appear to have come as a result of declining food quality since the invention of industrial agriculture practices. Organic food and farming is replenishing soils of their lost nutrients, does not use synthetic inputs in production or harmful food additives and hydrogenated fats in processing", said John.

A report by the Association of Primary Care Groups and Trusts in the UK (Soil Association, 2004) concluded that a mainly organic diet reduces the amount of toxic chemicals ingested; totally avoids genetically modified organisms (GMO); reduces the amount of food additives and colourings; increases the amount of beneficial vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids (EFA) and antioxidants consumed; and appears able to lower the incidence of common conditions such as cancer, coronary heart disease, allergies and hyperactivity in children.

John is the owner of Cobs Fine Foods, an established Melbourne-based company supplying quality organic foods. He has recently created a fundraising package for schools and other organizations that are seeking a healthy alternative.

John says that his popcorn product, being used as a fundraiser, is completely free of any additives, is made from quality organic ingredients and kids love it.

Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) is devoted to public education and is donating a 6 months subscription of Australian Organic Journal to schools that participate in Cobs Fundraising program.

Holly Vyner, spokesperson for BFA says "organic products in fundraising programs and in school canteens are in a position to reverse the trends in food choices by children and influence their future food preferences, often formed from childhood."

BFA is planning to launch its Education and Public Awareness Committee later this year which will have a focus on providing educational materials for schools including a network of organic farms for school tours.

Reference Sources:

For more information contact: John Walys, Cobs Fine Foods, ph 03 9555 6697, email; or Holly Vyner, BFA, ph. 07 3350 5706, email

GOOD TASTE:? ?? Recipe: Organic pasta with pumpkin sauce

Recipe provided by CleanFood Organic, Vol. 1, No. 3

1 kg butternut pumpkin, cut in half lengthwise, seeds and stringy bits removed
3/4 cup ricotta cheese or strained yoghurt (line a strainer with a sterilised cloth, pour in around 2 cups low-fat yoghurt, place over a bowl and leave to drain for several hours or overnight)
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp unsalted butter, chopped
1/3 cup snipped fresh chives
1 tsp sea salt
pinch GOH nutmeg
500 grams fettuccine

Preheat oven to 200 C
Lightly oil a small baking sheet, and place the pumpkin halves cut sides down on it.?
Roast for about 45 minutes until the flesh is very tender when pressed with a fork.?
Remove the pumpkin flesh from the skin with a spoon. Place flesh in a food processor bowl, and process until smooth.?
Transfer flesh to a bowl, stir in ricotta or strained yoghurt, parmesan cheese, butter, chives, salt and nutmeg. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted.?
Check seasoning and add more salt or nutmeg if necessary.?
Cook the pasta according to directions until al dente. Drain, but not completely; there should be some water clinging to it.?
Toss with the pumpkin sauce. Serve in warmed bowls, topped with extra parmesan.

CleanFood Organic has recently? released their 3rd Australian organic lifestyle and shopping guide. The book is available for $18.95 from or BFA members can purchase the book for a 10% discount at this link.

Your Organic Advantage
Editors: Holly Vyner, Alasdair Smithson

Ph: 07 3350 5716 (International +61 7 3350 5716)