Ground Cover West : Ground Cover 050 June-July 2004 - West
Aleading US consultant on conservation farming, Dr Richard Fawcett, says the substantial economic and environmental gains arising from no-till cropping are, and will continue to be, a consequence of modern biotechnology, including GM crops. Dr Fawcett, former professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, says that while the public and policymakers are aware of the environmental and human health benefits that are coming from conservation farming, they need to be more aware that this is resulting from advances in biotechnology -- especially, in the US, of GM crops. Dr Fawcett told growers at Grains Week that a survey of American growers who had switched to conservation and no-till cropping showed that the availability of GM crops, particularly herbicide- resistant crops, was the catalyst for the change. "It's the reliability of the product that has given them the confidence to give up tillage," he said. "An economic analysis by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy of 40 different GM crops -- both commercial and those still being field-tested -- show that all have the capacity to increase production and farm income, but more significantly there would be a potential 65 million kilogram reduction, annually, in pesticide use if all these crops were in production." Dr Fawcett regards conservation farming as fundamental to the future sustainability of agriculture and said the evidence is growing every year to support this view. "Studies now show that no-till reduces water and wind erosion by 90 percent, and reduces the run- off of pesticides and nutrients into waterways by more than 70 percent. Sedimentation of waterways that interferes with navigational and recreational activity is also reduced by 90 percent or more. "It also leads to a significant reduction in agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration, and reduced fossil fuel consumption. "US farmers are saving an estimated one billion litres of fuel a year because of reduced tillage -- that's the equivalent of 23,000 tanker trucks. "Not only are we not burning that fossil fuel, we are sequestering carbon. When you till soils, organic matter is mineralised, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As you go to a no-till system it's the opposite. You are taking carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it into the soil as that organic matter builds up." Dr Fawcett said long-term studies in the US -- where no-till is well established and GM crops have been in commercial use since 1996 -- also show important flow-on benefits for wildlife habitats. "The soil is covered with litter, it is protected from drying out, and this is creating a much greater diversity of arthropods and earthworms." A widely-publicised study in the US of the impact of farming on the bobwhite quail has shown a dramatic turn-around in the bird's populations in areas where no-till is practised. Because of the build up of insects in crop stubble, young quail can obtain their daily food needs in just a few hours. In ploughed fields this can take a whole day, while also being exposed to predators. "It illustrates that no-till farming has the potential to provide wildlife habitat as well as provide food for humans," said Dr Fawcett. Similar results had emerged from studies on the impact of birdlife since cotton growers switched to Bt cotton. "The use of Bt technology has led to a million kilograms a year reduction in the use of insecticides in the US. There has been a similar percentage reduction in Australia. This has significantly reduced off-site impacts on water quality, wildlife and people." Dr Fawcett reported that the annual songbird survey, an ecology health indicator, had shown a 30 percent increase in songbirds around cottonfields. "The insecticides we were using weren't killing the birds, but they were killing insects -- pests and non- pests. Bt cotton being much more specific is leaving more of those other insects as a food source for birds." Dr Fawcett said his main concern is the potential for over-use of such technology because of the potential for herbicide-resistant weeds, which is already happening with ryegrass. "So we are now encouraging farmers to really pick which crops they need this technology for, and for other crops use different herbicides and rotations." Page 27: Patents blowing in the wind: the Percy Schmeiser case. The "reinvention" of the grains industry will be an opportunity for rural communities to become leaders in innovation and new industries, a specialist in global, regional and national future issues, Dr Peter Ellyard, told growers. Dr Ellyard said if the innovation required to make the grains industry reach a level of "sustainable prosperity" was the product of rural business it would create global export opportunities for rural communities. "Don't wait for the cities to innovate for you because they don't understand rural communities, so it will never happen. You must look to your own innovation through regional universities, the CSIRO and CRCs," Dr Ellyard said. He said the difficulty for rural communities was that they were fundamentally doing the same thing in 2004 as they were in 1904 -- in a more high-tech way, but still essentially the same. "The reason why cities prosper when rural communities don't is because the new concepts, technologies and services are invented in the cities. "Rural communities therefore have to create their own destinies, solve their own problems and go to their own plazas. Do that and every other rural community on the planet will want to deal with you because every rural community, not just in Australia, is in trouble. "You must ask, what do we need to do to create a 21st century country town instead of the updated 19th century town that we have and which is dying?" Dr Ellyard, who has worked with the UN, governments, and international corporations, likened the challenge facing rural communities to the Apollo space program. "When John Kennedy said we were going to the moon and back, no one at the time had a clue how to do it, but they went and found out how to make the vision happen -- and look at the enormous intellectual property that resulted. "If we develop the technologies and systems to create sustainable prosperity in rural communities, it will be knowledge that every farming community on earth will want -- and success goes to those who get to the future first. This industry strategy is providing that opportunity." Dr Ellyard also stressed the importance of industry leadership that saw the future in terms of 'destiny' rather than 'fate', and of the importance of the new strategy's 'single vision' being a shared vision. "Having a 'single vision' is about having a destination. If we agree on the destination -- sustainable and profitable agriculture -- it doesn't matter if we take different paths. The reason we fight among each other is because we all get into the car and then argue over the destination. "Decide and agree on where you all want to go ... and then the most unlikely bed fellows suddenly come together." For more information: Dr Peter Ellyard, Preferred Futures Pty Ltd, 03 9820 8245 firstname.lastname@example.org COVER STORY 6 JUNE 2004 "US farmers are saving an estimated one billion litres of fuel a year because of reduced tillage -- that's the equivalent of 23,000 tanker trucks." THE AUSTRALIAN GRAINS INDUSTRY STRATEGY 2005-2025 Despite recent political resistance, the GRDC will not shy away from funding research into genetic modification (GM) technologies, chairman Terry Enright told Grains Week. Mr Enright said the GRDC regarded research into biotechnology, including GM crops, as important in providing substantial gains from varieties with quality traits that can overcome production constraints. He said that while the GRDC had to live with current political reality, it was not research that could be turned on and off quickly. He said the research would continue, as would the GRDC's involvement in improving the level of community understanding. Mr Enright said research in biotechnology was crucial for the industry's ongoing growth and ability to match production with demand. He used survey results showing 34 percent of growers had changed cropping practices in the past two years as a result of R&D, to illustrate not only the importance of innovation, but how it was intrinsic to the Australian industry and a crucial element of the new industry strategy. He cited a number of research innovations that are based on biotechnology -- not necessarily GM -- that hold considerable promise. "For example, the development of new synthetic wheats bred from crosses with wild grasses will provide the basis for new varieties that are much more tolerant to severe disease and environmental stresses. "The aim is to develop a suite of super stress- tolerant wheats that are tolerant to drought, heat and frost. Work is also progressing on multiple root disease resistant varieties." Mr Enright also noted changes taking place through the emergence of new market- driven breeding entities which are replacing agriculture departments in breeding and road- testing new varieties. One consequence has been grower concerns over a perceived lack of industry standards for comparing new varieties and performance data. He said the GRDC was in the process of establishing a nationally coordinated and independent crop variety testing system -- the National Variety Testing (NVT) initiative, which he expected to be operating by March 2005. GRDC will stand by GM research for the future's sake Grains will revive rural communities Biotechnology the key to farming's ongoing health Peter Ellyard: "Success goes to those who get to the future first." Terry Enright at Grains Week: biotechnology crucial for the industry's growth.
Ground Cover 051 August-September 2004 - West
Ground Cover 049 April-May 2004 - West