THE first commercial plantings of genetically modified (GM) canola have been earmarked for 2004.
Crop Improvement Institute director Keith Alcock told delegates at last week's Crop Update that while the canola industry recognised GM production and marketing benefits over the longer term, the short-term view was the development of separate paths-to-market for GM and non-GM canola.
The focus would not be on GM-free zones, which were not considered necessary to protect the integrity of GM and non-GM production.
The industry was currently working to further test and develop a Code of Practice ahead of the expected first release of GM canola seed in Australia in 2003.
Current expectations were that Monsanto and Aventis would be submitting clearance applications by the middle of this year for commercial release of GM canola varieties in all canola-growing states.
Mr Alcock said major issues were being addressed concerning GM canola, including:
pOutcrossing to weedy relatives ‹ risks were low and manageable
pWeediness potential of volunteer canola ‹ risks were low and manageable
pAltered selection pressure for herbicide-resistant weeds ‹ integrated weed management practices apply
pCross pollination of GM to non-GM crops ‹ not seen as a big problem with research trials indicating less than 0.25pc detection as an outcrossing (the world standard is one per cent).
The uptake of GM canola would obviously be reliant on farmer acceptance and Mr Alcock said the message to growers would be to "capture the benefits and manage the risks".
Canadian experience indicated 10pc higher yields on average for GM varieties over non-GM and higher quality as expressed by lower dockages.
In WA, where triazine tolerant (TT) varieties dominate, the inherent "yield drag" of 10pc to 20pc and downward pressure on oil content provided further scope for GM varieties to deliver increased yield and quality.
In the absence of any published data on the potential yield and quality benefits, however, it was difficult to do more than speculate on the likely increases in returns of GM canola.
"WA has a choice," he said. "In the short term the industry has elected to establish separate paths for GM and non-GM canola.
"There are customers who will source GM but we will be able to supply what the market wants."
In research carried out by the Grain Pool of WA with their customers, there is limited evidence of market premiums for non-GM canola.
According to Mr Alcock, the current view of CBH is that in the first two to three years when GM canola plantings are low, CBH would set up dedicated bins at specified receival sites.
The CBH Q-Track system could "flag" growers with GM crops and put in place the most cost-effective monitoring and testing of deliveries.
Working with the Grain Pool, CBH has initiated a pilot study this season (using a new variety of non-GM canola) to test its model of a least cost but fully effective segregation.