Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 048 February-March 2004 - North
FORUM 6 FEBRUARY 2004 Our debt to ancient farmers Ian Godwin: "Without human intervention, many of our familiar foods would not exist." Dynamic Giants of Australian Cropping Gason air seeders are designed and manufactured here in rural Australia and are available now in a range of capacities from 2200 litres to 12,600 litres to suit all applications. At the top end of its range Australia's leading air seeding and tillage manufacturer has launched the dynamic new Gason 2120 Series Air Seeder. HIGH PERFORMANCE AIRSEEDER The 'intelligent' new Gason hydraTILL features an hydraulic tine assembly that lets the operator adjust breakout pressure to suit the terrain. This means, in rough stony ground, breakout can be adjusted to avoid damage to ground-engaging tools. CULTIVATORS • Cutting widths from 7.7m to 20m (25.3ft - 66ft) • Underframe clearance 600mm (23.5in) • Five row frame with tine spacing options for excellent trash clearance in all soils A.F. Gason Pty. Ltd., Blake Street, Ararat, Victoria, Australia, 3377. Telephone: 03 5352 2151 Facsimile: 03 5352 2581 E-mail: email@example.com SCARITILLS • Rigid pull or floating hitch • Five row minimum till, conventional till and seeder bar • 200 & 250mm (8 & 10in) tine spacings • Maximum cutting width 15.25m (50ft) • Vertically adjustable tines 760mm (30in) underframe clearance • Breakout 1780N (400lbF) up to maximum of 2850N (640lbF) HYDRATILL www.gason.com.au IMC GASO GROUNDCOVER 2004 AQueensland cabinet member told me at a 'Science Meets Parliament' Day a while back: "You can't improve on three billion years of nature," as he hoed into his bread roll. He obviously did not know that wheat is synthetic -- that wheat is genetically modified, albeit by farmers about 6000 to 8000 years ago. Wheat is the result of three grasses hybridising and was a two-step process. The first step produced the wheat we now know as durum and is used specifically for making pasta. This happened in a farmer's field, maybe 8000 to 10,000 years ago, probably somewhere in the fertile crescent of what is now Iraq or Syria. Perhaps 2000 years later, durum wheat hybridised with goat grass to give us bread wheat. By a stroke of genius, or luck, farmers were skilled enough to recognise these plants as special. In other words, they did a bit of plant breeding, or genetic manipulation. They did not have sophisticated tools like DNA markers, best linear unbiased predictors or near infra-red technology to help them with their selection. But we have some insight into what made these seeds stand out. They would have been two to three times the size of the other wheat seeds in the paddock and would have been much easier to thresh. And these ancient agriculturalists were smart enough to keep them for next season's planting, rather than turn them into bread. The debt we owe these early genetic manipulators is substantial. Many of our agricultural species are the result of inter- specific hybrids. Most of these hybrids probably occurred in a farmer's field. Just think where the great civilisations, or indeed our civilisation, would be without wheat, canola, oats -- and the list could go on. Without human intervention, many of our familiar foods would not exist. We have been directing evolution for millennia. Major centres for these genetic manipulations were in Africa, southern and eastern Asia, the fertile crescent of the Middle East and Latin America. Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond points out that the great ancient civilisations started in these places because they had good plant species. Good plant species allowed agriculture to develop. Agriculture allowed specialisation in human endeavour, which allowed civic centres to start. These farmer-supported civic centres gave us millers, bakers and weavers, who then fed and clothed blacksmiths, teachers, doctors and Test cricketers. You may have heard claims that GM crops are bad for the environment. Have you also heard that in 2001, US farmers who used GM crops achieved a 1.8 million tonne increase in crop production. They saved $US1.2 billion in input costs, mainly pesticides and fuel. In fact they used 12 million kilograms less pesticide. Farmers who grew herbicide-resistant soybeans with no-till management also achieved a 90 percent reduction in topsoil erosion. Do these not represent substantial environmental benefits? I do not know of any more powerful means to deliver technology to farmers than in improved varieties. The technology is all encapsulated in the seed and GM technology gives us an extremely versatile tool to deliver some of these benefits. The results to date reveal significant environmental and economic benefits. For more information: Associate Professor Ian Godwin, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website http://pig.ag.uq.edu.au/molecular/ By IAN GODWIN, Associate Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics, School of Land and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland. This column is an edited extract of his broadcast on ABC Radio National's 'Ockham's Razor'.
Ground Cover 049 April-May 2004 - North
Ground Cover 047 November-December 2003 - North