Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 065 November-December 2006 - North
FROM 'ROOS TO MOOSE n Watching Canadian graingrowers harvest the previous season’s crops as soon as the winter snow had melted was one of the many fascinating differences that South Australian grower Wade Nagel witnessed while working in Canada this year. Wade swapped farm work on the Treloars’ wheat and sheep property at Edilillie on the Eyre Peninsula for Ian McPhadden’s grain enterprise in Saskatchewan. He says it was amazing to see his new neighbours pull out their combines (headers) in spring (April) to harvest the previous season’s crops. “These were crops they didn’t have time to get to before they were snowed under. They had to swath (windrow) the crop because quite a bit of it was laid over. Everyone said it was still good quality grain.” Winter snow offers a disease and pest break, and also provides more than enough in-soil moisture for the crop, Wade says. “Growers don’t wish for too much rain because it makes it too wet to get onto the fields.” The weather makes Canada’s growing season so different to Australia’s, he says. “In Australia the weather allows you to work for 12 months of the year. In Canada they virtually shut down for three months over winter when it’s snowing. “The crop is put in the ground and harvested within a 100-day period. And then there is 18 hours of sunlight a day when the crop is growing. You can virtually watch it grow.” Wade says he also noticed a difference in input and land costs. “Input costs, like fuel, are a lot lower in Canada. Less chemical is used and they have minimal weeds. Also, the price of land is cheaper. You pay about A$700 an acre for good dirt in Canada compared to A$2000 on the Eyre Peninsula.” Export and domestic markets for Canadian wheat and barley are controlled by the Canadian Wheat Board, with some discontent with this arrangement among growers, he says. “There’s demand for this year’s grain, but growers can’t move any of it until the wheat board has moved last year’s grain. All the elevators (silos) are still full from last year.” Wade says Canadian growers are paid about C$1.50 (A$1.77) a bushel on delivery, with full payment 12 months later. With GM canola dominant in Canada, Wade also saw first-hand how it yielded. NOVEMBER -- DECEMBER 2006 GROUND COVER 17 Canada observed CANOLA VARIETIES Canadian farmers grow three main types of herbicide-resistant canola: Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® and Bayer CropScience’s LibertyLink™ varieties – both of which were produced using genetic modification – and BASF’s ClearfieldA varieties, developed using a traditional plant breeding technique called mutagenesis. They also grow Nexera©™, a canola that produces a ‘healthier’ oil. Roundup Ready® canola was introduced by Monsanto in 1997, providing farmers with herbicide tolerance to Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides. Last year, there were more than 40 different canola options from 12 different seed brands that carry the Roundup Ready® canola trait. Bayer CropScience’s LibertyLink™ canola varieties are resistant to glufosinate ammonium (Liberty). Liberty can control various annual grassy and broadleaf weeds. Nexera©™ was developed by Dow AgroSciences as a canola that produces an oil that is natu- rally stable, making it virtually trans fat-free, an important quality given the health implications of trans fat. Trans fats are created when vegetable oil is hydrogenated during manufacturing to make it stable. The process usually converts liquid vegetable oils to solid or semi-solid fats. Most trans fats consumed today are industrially created and have been linked to increases in coronary heart disease. North American food manufacturers must now list trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged food. BASF’s ClearfieldA canola varieties are herbicide-resistant (to imidazolinone) and were developed using traditional plant breeding techniques. CANADA FACT BOX n The Canadian grains industry is almost one-third bigger than the Australian grains industry n It has about 215,000 farms, compared to Australia’s 35,000. About 15 per cent of growers produce 85–90 per cent of the grain n The average distance from farm to port is 2000km over the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver n Most grain is stored on-farm. The cold winter (–40ºC) controls stored grain insects n Wheat and barley is regulated by the Canadian Wheat Board n Field peas, other pulses and canola are deregulated and grown extensively throughout western Canada n 83 per cent of the canola is GM n Canada’s R&D is considered more fragmented than in Australia n Wheat, barley and pulse breeding is done mostly by the public sector. Canola breeding is done mostly by the private sector. BROADENING HIS EXPERIENCE 2005 GRDC-SUPPORTED NUFFIELD SCHOLAR ANDREW BROAD TRAVELLED TO CANADA TO STUDY THE ECONOMICS OF GROWING GM VARIETIES Victorian mixed farmer Andrew Broad believes that GM crops have a place in Australia, but cost structures may need to be changed to suit Australia’s low- input, low-output system. “Without access to GM varie- ties, Australia’s canola industry will not be viable,” he says. “GM canola will certainly add value to Australian farmers, their farm- ing system and the economy, and Australian agriculture is suffer- ing as a result of lack of access. However, the cost of using GM canola is high, and I would like to see the biotech companies share some of the seasonal risks with growers.” Mr Broad has calculated and compared the costs of growing conventional and Roundup Ready® canola. The comparative example between Roundup Ready® and conventional canola showed an increase in cost for Roundup Ready® of $27.82 a hectare. “However, it is important to note that an additional $27.82/ha is easily compensated for if there is a four per cent increase in yield,” he says. For example: 1.8 tonne/ha x $400/tonne = $720/ha gross return; $720 x 4 per cent = $28.80. More information: Andrew Broad, 0428 373 136, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nuffield.com.au/report_f/report1.html well,” George says. “And the thing is, we could spray it out with another chemical if we noticed it was getting out of control, although we’ve not had to do that.” As for TUAs, it is a similar story. Both Ian and George say TUAs are simple to manage and have not stopped them from buying and planting seed covered by these agreements. Monsanto’s TUA requires growers to pay a technology fee for every acre they plant with Monsanto’s patented seed. Growers pay this fee to their seed merchant once the crop is established, and under the terms of the agreement, they must deliver all their crop to a silo or crushing plant. That means they are prohibited from saving and replanting any harvested seed – so new seed must be bought each year. They are also prohibited from making the seed available to other growers. Under the agreement, Monsanto also has the right to inspect paddocks to check for Roundup Ready® crops. “From what I’ve seen it yields better than standard canola and the fields tend to be very clean, with minimal weeds.” Wade says working overseas has its benefits. “Although it is a big move, it allows you to experience different cultures and meet some great people. And it is funny to see deer and moose popping their heads up in the field, instead of ‘roos and emus.” George says paddock inspections are “not a big deal ... a Monsanto guy was here inspecting our crop the other day”. However, one of the reasons a lot of growers prefer to use LibertyLink™ – apart from its yields – is because the cost is upfront and no inspections are required. Herbicide-resistant varieties – be that Roundup Ready®, LibertyLink™, Nexera©™ or ClearfieldA – all work out to be about the same price, says George, quoting about C$43 an acre. “You either pay for the chemical or you pay for the TUA. You pay the TUA once the crop is established – so if there’s drought or disaster, you don’t have to pay it,” George says. Neither would go back to conventional canola now, even though input costs are higher for GM varieties. “It’s a question of economics,” says Ian. “And the returns are much higher with GM varieties.” Wade Nagel, from SA's Eyre Peninsula, takes a break from windrowing canola. Wade worked at McPhadden Farms for the 2006 summer. PHOTOS: REBECCA THYER Comparing notes: 2005 GRDC Nuffield scholar Andrew Broad (left), the University of Melbourne's Dr Rob Norton and the University of Manitoba's Dr Martin Entz.
Ground Cover 064 September-October 2006 - North
Ground Cover 066 January-February 2007 - North