GM canola to play a role in food security

27 Feb, 2011 02:00 AM
Brett Fowler.
Brett Fowler.

BRETT Fowler points to feeding the world's growing population as an adequate reason for WA farmers to produce GM canola.

After year-in year-out rotations of export hay, malt barley and canola Mr Fowler and his family decided it was time to look into GM technology to combat weeds.

In the 2010/11 season he grew 650 hectares of canola of which 340ha was GM varieties and the rest TTs.

His family planted a mix of GM varieties which included Pioneer's 46Y20, Pacific Seeds' Hyola 601 and an open pollinated line from Canola Breeders at a cost of about $300+/ha.

As a result he harvested and stored 300 tonnes of GM seed and 120t of TT.

"I wanted to trial hybrids against open pollinated and TTs just to get a bit of an idea about their performance," Mr Fowler said.

"I only needed to achieve a maximum of 100kg/ha to get the money back which was spent on Roundup Ready technology and I was pretty confident we'd do that.

"If we didn't, I was pretty confident the weed control would be worth it and in the end it out yielded TTs and the weed control was excellent."

Mr Fowler's theory was to move into GM with all his guns blazing.

"Why fluff around the edges," he said.

"I don't want to wait until I've got weed problems and only have one tool left to deal with it, I'd rather go in now and clean the program up.

"I want to go in all guns blazing and knock the weeds for six then we can reassess after that."

Mr Fowler said hay was also a major tool in his crop rotation but it was his confidence in the technology that was the real benefit.

He said he'd much prefer to have confidence in GM varieties and utilise it as a broadacre program because growers wouldn't gain anything by growing a small amount.

Mr Fowler's long-term canola yield average was about 1.9t and had since dropped to about 1.2t in the last five years.

He said the 2010/11 season was a difficult period to get a handle on GM varieties because the seasons played such a big role in determining such things.

His GM canola averaged .85t but his TTs only went .55t so he was still 30pc-40pc in front.

"I'm most concerned about the hybrids," he said.

"They grew as much bulk in a poor season as we would normally grow in a good year so I'm a bit worried that in a good season they might put all their energy into that and not put it into yield.

"That's the only thing that could bring us unstuck."

Mr Fowler would probably increase his planting of GM canola next season to 850ha and drop his TTs back to 50ha.

Although all his canola's oils performed strongly he still direct headed 85pc of the program which had a large impact on the result on both yield and the oils.

"But to do that you need confidence because it's a lot of money swinging in the breeze," he said.

Mr Fowler didn't see a marked price difference between GM and non-GM canola.

Despite being a GM convert he supported the development of a non-GM niche market for WA growers.

"The people who are anti-GM tend to be more concerned about our problems regarding Roundup resistance than their own," he said.

"I've got absolute respect for people who don't want to have anything to do with GM but I don't particularly like them trying to decide what approach I want to take to farming.

"If people are against having any kind of GM material on their farm I can see their concern surrounding the tolerance levels to a small degree but I do think co-existence is absolutely achievable to keep that percentage to a minimum.

"To a degree it's unfortunate but people might have to get over it because we have to feed the world."

Mr Fowler used the same fertiliser package on his GM canola and his TTs which included MacroPro Boost as a compound, 18-20 units of phosphorous, 80-90 units of nitrogen and 50-60 units of potassium.

"I make a big effort to try to knockdown with something other than Roundup," he said.

"I used a Sprayseed and Trifluralin knock down and then the two Roundup Ready sprays.

"The TT package is now very sub-standard."

He said the difference between a GM or conventional system and an organic system was that it was a more recognised version of the standard conventional farm.

"We use the usual inputs that we'd love not to use but it's frustrating that the overall interpretation of someone who farms like we do is that we have a choice," Brett said.

"But we don't.

"If we want to stay in business we have to farm the way we're farming."

He said an organic grower might disagree with that but they would need to change their way of thinking because GM crops were becoming more relevant in large-scale modern agriculture.

"If we all went to organic farming then we'd all be out of business," he said.

"Organic farming is a niche market and that's great and I hope they can sustain that market.

"We farm in a style that we've been channelled into over the years because it's a profitable style of farming.

"You have to keep up with modern farming techniques and it would be nice if some of that attitude came back our way at some point instead of people who aren't growing organically being treated as if they have no care in the world."

  • Farm Weekly grains writer BOBBIE HINKLEY spoke to a GM canola grower, a conventional grower and an organic grower to compare the three operations and to hear their thoughts on future plans for each system. Follow the three articles online this weekend over Friday February 25, Saturday 26 and Sunday 27.
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    Bob Phelps
    27/02/2011 4:25:29 PM, on Farm Weekly

    To claim genetically manipulated crops and foods can 'feed the world' is a cruel hoax. Commercial GM crops were launched in 1996 when 788 million people were starving. Now there are 1.02 billion, yet the UN says: 'the world already produces enough food to feed every child, woman and man and could feed 12 billion people, or double the current world population.' But food is unfairly distributed or wasted, and global trade sends food to market where it is most profitable, not most needed. Over 97% of global farmlands are GM-free and just 6 countries grow over 90% of all GM crops. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report "Failure to Yield" shows GM crops yield less than the best conventional varieties (not TT) and that traditional breeding gave more to crop yield gains than GM. A UN report on global agriculture by 400 scientists backs a shift from oil-dependent industrial agribusiness to sustainable farming systems, to stem soaring food prices, hunger and social injustice. They say GM crops have no role in solving climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger or poverty. Monsanto wants GM as the only tool in the toolbox and makes farmers liable for its failed technology.
    27/02/2011 6:54:22 PM, on Farm Weekly

    With guns blazing Brett Fowler has a vision of feeding a starving world. What a wonderful ambition...but where is the reality to this image? As Ron Watkins points out the majority of GM crops are for animal feed to supply the meat centred diets of the first nations, and the poor countries are not even on our radar.Most GM corn in the US is to feed petrol tanks, which is in direct competition to the food supply. But the biggest of all problems is still the safety of the product. A recent letter sent to USDA head Vilsack refers to a new pathogen linked to Roundup and Roundup Ready crops. Where is the science to investigate this problem? Once again we are being failed by our regulatory bodies who would prefer to make us all guina pigs through people like Fowler using false imagery. The majority of us do not want to buy it or eat it so control it, segregate it and label it
    28/02/2011 6:19:03 AM, on Farm Weekly

    What a crock! Feed the world! Ask Brett how many tons of GM Canola he will be sending to Africa or Ethiopia to feed the starving folks there---- without payment, of course. Well they haven't got much in the way of money so how are they going to pay for what they need? Wake up! this is not about feeding the world, it's about making money, particularly money for Monsanto. If we are producing more than we need for domestic consumption the excess is sold to the highest bidder not the starving masses so lets hear no more crap about feeding the world. Brett is either an idiot or he thinks the readers of Farm Weekly are.
    trevor WA
    28/02/2011 8:25:34 AM, on Farm Weekly

    this' we know it all,' my way or the highway is a form of megalomania. brett your young, you sound a bit like a loose canon. it would be mostly the propoganda that your fed what your imediate peers and the media have fed you. feeding the world, well there are plenty of crops that you can grow that people can actually eat. do you have canola seed for breakfast with your milk and sugar, come on its not even a healthy oil to eat on your salad. the one thing that main stream farmers can boast about is their ability to grow unwanted weeds, they are second to none. look at WA's record on producing herbicide resistant weeds, its not those goofy organic people its the smartest and the best operators that hit weed resistance first. explain that, is that being responsible to future generations
    Get Real
    28/02/2011 9:31:16 AM, on Farm Weekly

    I only needed to achieve a maximum of 100 kgs / ha to get my money back on this technology .What about the rest of it brett ? This seasons canola price of around $500/ton and $15 dollars a ton less for gm canola ($485) . 100kgs is one tenth of a ton ,$485 divided by ten is $48.50/ha A total failure is what this is ,I am sure that will feed the world and keep your bank manager happy. More BS propagandra from monsanto and thier brainwashed followers.
    trevor WA
    28/02/2011 10:31:03 AM, on Farm Weekly

    Brett if we all went organic and production dropped what do you think would happen to the price for what was produced. it would sky rocket, how would you like to work nine to five five days a week and make a good living. Give up farming and get a real job! No stop playing into the hands of every other sector of the economy produce less and make them pay, let agriculture claim its rightful spot in the economy, your a serf at the moment, that is a SELF EMPLOYED RURAL FOOL.
    28/02/2011 10:36:22 AM, on Farm Weekly

    Mr Fowler, Monsanto have brainwashed you into believing their hype and much disinformation. If you loved farming you would not be doing down this path. Perhaps farming is not your thing, you might want to consider finance or banking as your understanding of true farming is not on your radar. Leave the growing of food to people who understand soil, microbes, environment etc who do it because they like to do it and enjoy it.
    28/02/2011 4:30:00 PM, on Farm Weekly

    I'm not sure why anyone would want to eat a product that's been sprayed with dangerous chemicals. I certainly wouldn't and make sure my family does not come into contact with products containing canola oil. As for feeding the world - there's already plenty to go around and there are much more nutritious plants to use than canola. Sounds to me there's a lot of bull dust being used - and its not on the crops.
    1/03/2011 10:52:28 AM, on Farm Weekly

    Bob Phelps is the founder and executive director of Gene Ethics, who can tell or who cares about the rest of his Co travelers identity or opinions. Congratulations Bret Fowler first for giving GM Canola a shot on what was a very tough year and giving a insight to your Canola growing history, I will continue to watch you and other canola growers both GM and TT with the greatest of interest Owen Hall Waitavalo Farms Narembeen.
    2/03/2011 8:01:51 PM, on Farm Weekly

    Well done Brett. A good positive read. Don't worry about the posts from the dwindling non GM minority. This avenue is all they have left. They have no answers to upcoming food issues, only hysterical rhetoric. After attending alot of talkfests about the pros and cons of GM, my sad observation is that they where nothing more than a bunch of well fed scatterbrain wanabees and hasbeens debating an outblown nonsense, ultimately determining the cost of food for those not quite as fat. No economic commonsense, bussiness sense or vision for the future.
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