Life on the land in Australia


GM fate hangs in the balance
By BRAD PFEFFER, Australian Cotton Outlook
Edition 325, 4/04/2008 9:12:14 AM


THE future direction of Australian agriculture rests on the shoulders of a small group of canola growers this winter.

With southern states opening the door slightly to what will be a reasonably small area of genetically modified canola this winter, the eyes of the country will be on them.

And success or failure could mean the difference between the door opening to GM crops, or it slamming shut.

At least that’s the view of national convenor of Producer’s Forum, Jeff Bidstrup, who sees the outcome of this winter as a crucial tipping point.

He believes success would path the way for more GM traits and grain crops, but failure would similarly give fuel to fire of green lobbyists against the use of such crops.

And he makes no reservations about just how important the outcome will be.

He believes key traits such as water use efficiency, nitrogen use efficiency and disease resistance will be critical to ensure sustained margins for producers.

“Once the rest of the world has it, and if we don’t, then it is really going to hurt,” said Mr Bidstrup, who also grows cotton and grain with his family on the Darling Downs.

“It is easy to think these traits are so far out, but they are really just around the corner.

“India is the growing example. Australian cotton growers always had the edge on them because we had better technology, but now they have Bollgard technology and are leapfrogging us. They have gone from an importer to the third largest exporter in the world.”

And if crops such as Roundup Ready and Invigour canola can sell themselves – as they have done in the northern hemisphere – then Mr Bidstrup hopes that it will be start of a farming revolution in Australia.

But in recent years, it is a revolution that has stalled.

Vocal lobbying from green groups convinced southern states governments to impose moratoria on GM crops, while in Western Australia even cotton remains banned by the WA government.

The result, according to Mr Bidstrup, has seen investors and researchers shy away from Australia because “there is no clear path to market”.

“No one in Australia had the confidence to do the work to get the pipeline flowing.

“We need to do this research here in parallel with the northern hemisphere, in our own conditions and on our own varieties, so that when something is released here we are only a few years behind.

“We can’t even start down the road of, say, sorghum that is 20 percent more nitrogen efficient or 20pc more water use efficient, because you would still have to go through all the regulatory hurdles with the NSW Government.”

He believes that one of the main saving graces so far has been the global ethanol boom – but this can not be counted on in to the future

“Ethanol has been our ‘get out of jail card’, and if not for that we would have sorghum at $110/tonne at the moment.

“But it won’t be there next time. So we need that extra 20pc yield, or to be growing it 20pc more often, or 20pc more cheaply.”

He also believes that GM canola use in coming years will also demonstrate that it won’t destroy the markets of those who choose not to grow it.

To the contrary, he believes that GM canola will actually create a non-GM market that doesn’t currently deliver premiums to growers.

“In Japan they syphon off about 100,000t of our canola for non-GM markets, but that premium is going to the Japanese merchants and not to our growers.

“But if Australia ended up growing less than 100,000t of non-GM canola then they would have to pass that premium on to the grower.

“That’s what I see happening in the next three to four years.”

March 27th, 2011

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