INFLUENTIAL farm research group Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) has set the record straight regarding its position on biotech crops.
Research from BCG has been used by anti-GM lobby group Gene Ethics to argue the case against growing genetically modified (GM) canola.
The research came from the 2011 harvest and found that the gross margins of growing Roundup Ready (RR) lines of canola were way behind that of conventionally bred varieties.
BCG research agronomist Simon Craig said the figures had been taken out of context by Gene Ethics.
“They were only meant as an example of one year in one location, and were not meant as an overall assessment of the fit of GM canola," Mr Craig said.
“Results from that year and that location showed RR was less profitable, but that will not be the case in every year and every location.
“In 2011 the conditions were very favourable and the Crusher TT variety yielded very well, which it might not do in a tougher year.”
Mr Craig pointed to 2012 National Variety Trial data from Hopetoun, which showed RR lines yielding 31pc more than Clearfield varieties and 29pc more than triazine tolerant (TT) cultivars.
Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps said he thought the figures were a good demonstration of the problems with GM crops and denied they had been misrepresented.
“They show a clear discount to conventional varieties,” Mr Phelps said.
BCG chief executive David Chamberlin said it was disappointing to see the figures continually used by Gene Ethics.
“We always take an unbiased position in regards to the role of GM crops.”
Mr Craig said over the years there had been little difference in yield between RR, TT and Clearfield lines of canola.
Results from 2011 did, however, show that at that time, and in that location, Roundup Ready canola was less profitable in the Mallee, with freight a key consideration.
“To help farmers make informed decisions BCG uses economics to show some of the considerations that need to be factored in when selecting a variety to grow in certain areas,” Mr Craig said.
Crucially, Mr Craig said farmers would never use figures from just one year in making their management decisions.
“The results did not factor in the long-term rotation implications of each variety.”
Mr Craig said with resistant weeds increasing across the Wimmera and Mallee, growers were looking to GM canola varieties as one more tool they could use to protect, and improve, the productivity of their farmed land.
“The weed spectrum that is present in the paddock will determine what canola variety the farmer should grow,” he said.
“There is growing resistance to Group A and Group B herbicides used in the Clearfield and TT systems so another tool in the form of RR varieties will be useful.
“There are not only issues with ryegrass, but also wild radish and brome grass that need to be managed carefully.
“We’re not going to tell growers not to grow RR because of the political ramifications.”