Ground Cover South : Ground Cover 058 October-November 2005 - South
12 The GRDC chairman Terry Enright, program manager Katrina Spencer and young chef of the year finalist Colin Barker discuss Colin's quince and polenta upside-down cake. PHOTO: REBECCA THYER News Dr John Lovett: "Allelopathy fits well into the clean, green approach to food production." PHOTO: BRAD COLLIS Science award for academic By ALEC NICOL n Former GRDC managing director Professor John Lovett has been awarded the Molish medal, the International Allelopathy Society's top award for academic achievement. Professor Lovett and co-winner of the award, Dr Leslie Weston of Cornell University, were recently presented with their medals at the society's fourth international congress at the Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. Recognised since ancient times, allelopathy is the ability of plants to use natural chemical reactions to out-compete their neighbours or to stimulate growth. However, in accepting the award, Professor Lovett queried whether this complex science had the ability to lead the next revolution in agricultural production. "The credibility of allelopathy will remain in doubt until we can demonstrate its performance in practical terms," he said. "There are millions of plants with allelopathic potential but only a little over one per cent of the recently published material details management practices designed to harness this potential." Citing work in Japan and Pakistan to harness the allelopathic potential of rice as a natural method of weed control, he wondered whether or not the opportunity for the science would come in the form of a marriage with genetic modification. "Allelopathy fits well into the clean, green approach to food production. It carries no baggage with it," he said, "and we need to take advantage of this." Dr Weston suggested that the success of many invasive weeds was due to their allelopathic properties, citing in particular the case of spotted knap weed, which now infests millions of hectares of the US, and of Japanese knotweed, which has begun to move away from its preferred wetland habitat. Studies of these and other known plants with allelopathic properties promised the potential of new pharmaceutical and herbicide products. FARMERS' GROUP QUESTIONS SEED ROYALTIES n The Australian Seed Federation (ASF) and NSW Farmers' Association (NSWFA) are at loggerheads over the association's call for a review of the Plant Breeder's Rights Act. The NSW Farmers' Association annual conference has called for the Act to be reviewed because of concerns that improved new varieties are not becoming available in the necessary volumes. However, ASF chief executive officer Chris Melham says another review is the last thing the industry needs: "We had a thorough review in 2002 involving consultation from the grains industry, including the Grains Council of Australia (GCA) -- of which the NSWFA is a member," he says. "The Act works efficiently for plant breeders, farmers and distributors. It costs $1 million and 10 years for a new grain variety to be commercialised -- the seed companies which make that investment are within their rights to ask for a return on it." Former GCA president Keith Perrett, a member of the association's grains committee, says farmers have numerous worries about Plant Breeder's Rights -- from the growing royalties to be paid on delivery through to the tight control of commercial licensing. "New varieties are coming out which offer many benefits to growers, but when it comes time to plant them, there just isn't the volume around," he says. "If it is a good, new early-season variety and there is an early break, that variety quickly disappears, because they just don't hold the quantities to get it out there to the growers. "At the same time, there are people who have it and would like to sell it, but they can't because the seed companies have a strict commercialisation process. Yet they themselves don't want to take the risk of cleaning, treating and storing seed which might not be needed -- well, spread the risk and allow others to take it on." Mr Perrett says the objective of any review should be to ensure that good research and development occurs through the enforcement of the Act. "Farmers are happy to make an investment in research and development three times -- through levies, the purchase of seed and end- point royalties -- and we will be happy to do that if there is a good return on our investment. "It is when it gets too high we start to question it. Royalties are up to $2 a tonne -- that's high when we don't have grain prices to match." Mr Melham wants the NSWFA to educate its members on the value of using commercial seed contracts and paying royalties: "There is little point in attacking the Act when farmers know they often only have to buy the commercial seed the first year and then bulk up their own supply in the years after, as well as supplying the neighbour, without any royalties being paid," he says. "The issue is not with the Act but the commercialisation, and they should take that up with the companies involved." The ASF recently announced it was developing an intellectual property database that will list all varieties by IP, royalty collection method and contact person. A special supplement on Plant Breeder's Rights will be published with the December issue of Ground Cover. GROUND COVER OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2005 RDCs SHOWCASE THE VALUE OF INNOVATION n GRDC chairman Terry Enright and new grain products manager Katrina Spencer tucked into quince and polenta upside-down cake with spiced brulee ice-cream, created by Colin Barker, a finalist in the Lexus Young Chef of the Year Awards. Mr Barker, from the Sydney restaurant Cruise, was one of several young chefs who created dishes at the 'World's Best Food and Fibre Forum & Dinner' at Parliament House, Canberra, to showcase the importance of innovation that has made the nation's primary producers among the world's best. All of Australia's 14 rural research and development corporations (RDC), including the GRDC, were represented at the forum. The event highlighted the value of the RDC model -- an industry-driven and market-responsive approach that is funded jointly by industry and the Australian Government. Mr Enright said that research funded through the GRDC had over the past 10 years enabled the grains industry to double crop production on the same landmass: "We are twice as good as we were a decade ago." National Farmers Federation president Peter Corish said the R & D model had served Australian farmers well, but he also highlighted the challenges ahead: "We needittodoalotofthings--allowusto compete with China, identify, access and capitalise on high access markets, help with the environment and maintain profits." However, he said that getting the message out to farmers remained a challenge: "The top 30 to 40 per cent of farmers will always try new things. The challenge is to reach out to middle-of-the-road producers. "There needs to be more effective ways to get the uptake of R & D. It's extremely difficult, but extremely important. "I'm passionate about the future, but one of the most important things that will underpin this is R & D and adopting the technologies that flow from it." Some $464 million is now invested each year through the 14 rural RDCs.
Ground Cover 059 December-January 2006 - South
Ground Cover 057 August-September 2005 - South