Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 050 June-July 2004 - North
FEATURES 32 JUNE 2004 Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate about, gene technology. The organisation is supported by three peak bodies, including the GRDC. Is GM canola a victim of tall poppy syndrome? Australia has taken a world leadership role in responsible and stringent regulation and industry management protocols and still no GM canola can be grown due to state bans. GM canola, as the test case for future GM crops, has been cut down. Sadly, the current moratoria prevent the generation of data for needed for informed decision- making about GM crops. Forget GM-free zones, welcome to Australia's new data-free zone! The Australian Oilseeds Federation, Bayer CropScience and Monsanto had hoped to run canola coexistence trials this season but decisions made at the state government level in New South Wales and Victoria will not allow this. Without larger scale coexistence trials no data will be generated. Farmers will not have the opportunity to see the products and make informed business decisions. Industry will be unable to demonstrate coexistence and our farmers will be denied a crop production choice. Australian state governments have justified moratoria on the basis of protecting a "clean, green" image. Surely GM cotton -- delivering a pesticide reduction of 50 percent per annum -- enhances this ideal. Do not the GM canola varieties currently under scrutiny provide a "cleaner, greener" alternative to some of the existing canola varieties? State and territory governments are encouraging biotechnology investment, but fail to announce that research outcomes cannot be deployed and marketed in most of the country. There is no clear path to commercialisation for organisations involved in gene technology research, and the majority of this research in Australia is undertaken by public research agencies such as CSIRO, not by private, international corporations. It is critical that Australian agribusiness, including growers, has the opportunity to generate data and assess these products on a case-by-case basis in order to make informed decisions. For more information: www.afaa.com.au GM canola: where to from here? Leading biological science in legume research, focusing on scientific discovery, is the aim of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research, which was launched last year. The value of legume production worldwide exceeds $200 billion annually, and the centre aims to keep Australian research at the forefront of discovery in this area. Legumes, such as pea, chickpea and lupin, play a vital role in providing sustainable pasture production and as a component of cereal crop rotation because of their nitrogen fixation capabilities, mycorrhizal (soil fungus) associations and their deep rootedness. The centre has three main objectives: n to understand the gene functions within the plant in order to modify legumes for adaptation to the Australian environment, and so optimise legume productivity, quality and environmental performance; n to investigate the potential of developing legumes as value- added products for human health; and n using model legumes, to describe the interactive gene networks and metabolic pathways in order to identify intellectual property for Australian researchers to use in other legumes. The Centre has a $10 million ARC research grant and is a partnership that brings together researchers from four Australian universities: the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne and the University of Newcastle. For more information: www.cilr.uq.edu.au Vital role for legumes Foods of the future have to be healthy, convenient and enjoyable, according to CSIRO researchers who are targeting the healthiness, flavour and quality of foods grown in Australia with a $20 million research partnership, the Food Futures National Research Flagship, which was launched in March. Using leading biological science technologies, five components of the food chain will be put under the spotlight by the new program. Of interest to the grains industry is research targeting wheat, with the aim of developing new varieties that incorporate nutritional and functional improvements to meet consumer demand. The wheat research will not produce genetically modified end-products, however, but will use modern research tools to speed up conventional breeding. The focus will include developing new varieties resistant to heat stress, which can cause major losses in a hotter-than- normal year, and varieties that are more easily digested and help prevent the incidence of colon cancer, of which 11,000 cases are diagnosed in Australia each year. Healthier vegetable oils, with high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids are also targeted by the Food Futures project. For more information: www.csiro.au/foodfutures Research flagship targets foods of the future Gene technology was identified as one of the top four issues facing the grains industry by the 'Single Vision' strategy launched at Grains Week. Grains industry leaders recognise the need for wider consultation on the potential of biotechnology and GM developments to expand demand for Australian grain as benefits become available to growers and consumers. Two speakers from the USA addressed Grains Week delegates on gene technology. Dr Richard Fawcett, National Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy, spoke about his experience in growing GM crops, including on-farm coexistence, and Greg Conko, from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, addressed the regulatory frameworks in place around the globe. Both presentations are available from the Grains Council of Australia website at www.grainscouncil.com For more information: www.grainscouncil.com Gene technology hits grains industry top four By CATHY NICOLL Too much water at the wrong time or a missed opportunity? That's the dilemma faced by growers and researchers battling dryland salinity. According to Dr Phil Price, researchers at a GRDC water balance workshop identified the potential for a win-win solution to dryland salinity for some growers. "In situations where the problem is driven by local (shallow) groundwater systems, growers might find their best option is to change cropping practices to try to take advantage of the extra water and maximise production and profits," says Dr Price. In this situation, losing income by replacing profitable crops with less-profitable perennials might not be the best option, even if it would otherwise mean a smaller area of salinity. The water balance workshop brought together leading scientists from all grain-growing areas. It sought to work out "where to next" for researchers and growers in manipulating on-farm groundwater and surface water to control dryland salinity (some initial findings were reported in Ground Cover 44). The workshop revealed that the best mix of management options is likely to vary widely from place to place. Growers and communities need tested methods and tools to consider the full range of options for particular situations. Growers will already know about many of the intervention options. They include biological solutions (planting lucerne, alley farming, agroforestry), and engineering solutions (drains or raised beds). Some of these are expensive, in terms of upfront cost and forgone income. Some involve a major change in land use such as cropping to agroforestry. The issue at the workshop was that it has not been convincingly demonstrated in Australia that major changes in land use will achieve the desired results on a landscape scale. For many growers, most intervention options will never be as profitable as annual crops. This means it is essential to identify where exactly in the landscape that intervention will be most effective, and over what time period. "The workshop identified some major risks with some biological interventions, such as the early death of tree plantations which run out of stored soil moisture, the over-drying of soil profiles by lucerne, and lucerne-induced bypass flow," says Dr Price. Engineering solutions, he adds, also have their problems. Some soil types are not suited to drains because the rate of lateral flow is too low; and there is the ongoing issue of managing drainage waters which may contain not only salt but other contaminants. Despite these concerns, data presented at the workshop showed that some significant increases in water use can be achieved through improved crop agronomy. Even better, the workshop was able to provide several examples where changing land use had reversed an earlier ''problem'' associated with small-scale, local processes. This was considered to be most effective at managing salinity where cause-and-effect relationships between increased recharge and increased discharge operate within a single sub- catchment or even a single property. It is in these smaller, local groundwater systems that groundwater levels may respond to changes in land management over a few years. "But if it has taken 50 to100 years to raise groundwater levels, it may take an equivalent or greater time of reduced recharge to reverse this effect," says Dr Price. The story for areas with salinity driven by regional (deep) groundwater systems is, unfortunately, very different. Growers in these areas will have to work with others in the groundwater catchment to minimise the damage caused by rising water levels and salt. "The problem for growers dealing with regional groundwater systems is that even the highest long-term water use by annual cropping systems is significantly less than that of native plant communities," says Dr Price. Another problem is that causes and effects are often separated by large distances in these landscapes, and there are few practical methods to achieve equitable sharing of the costs and benefits of remedial action. Dr Price says that communities in these areas will have to consider the full range of options using the best possible knowledge to try to manage their farming systems in the context of the landscape. Bringing together specialists in soils, groundwater, water use modelling, crop agronomy and even agroforestry, was an important first step to further develop some of these methods and link paddocks to entire catchments and landscapes. GRDC program 4 For more information: Dr Phil Price, 02 6251 4669. THE GENE SCENE GMOs and gene technology in Australia By PAULA FITZGERALD, Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited Workshop shows there is no simple answer on salinity WATER BALANCE For many growers, most intervention options will never be as profitable as annual crops. Monsanto out Monsanto confirmed last month that it is withdrawing from GM canola trials in Australia. The company said that state-based bans and restrictive trial conditions had forced the decision. A company spokesman said that "it would take a significant change in the regulatory environment across the states for the opportunity in canola to become attractive".
Ground Cover 051 August-September 2004 - North
Ground Cover 049 April-May 2004 - North