Canola's growing pains

06 Jun, 2013 02:00 AM

IT remains to be seen how Pacific Seeds will handle widespread grower complaints about its popular Hyola 404RR canola variety.

Renowned for its high oil content, high-scoring plant vigour and excellent flowering uniformity, the proven performer has been a benchmark variety for a number of years, assisting Great Southern growers to clean up weedy paddocks while harvesting profitable yields.

But this season, a batch of seed has caused havoc for a number of WA growers who planted the highly adapted variety only to find that it barely germinated - if at all.

Now these growers are calling for compensation.

While little is yet known about the reason for the seed's terrible performance, it has been alleged a botched batch of seed imported from the USA (after Australian seed stocks were sold out) could be to blame.

Thousands of planted hectares have since been re-visited and re-sown by a number of growers but for some it was too late.

Some individual growers planted up to 1500 hectares only to find it didn't germinate at all and others, whose agronomists heard about some of the seed's lack of performance, were able to return un-opened bags of seed to distributors and recommend replacement varieties just in time.

Katanning growers Terry and Kallum Blake planted their Hyola 404RR seed into good moisture on May 15 after the variety yielded 1.47 tonnes a hectare with 43 per cent oil last season.

By chance, the Blakes also planted Nuseed's GT-41 right alongside the Pacific Seeds variety which proved to be a good gauge of the germination problem.

Kallum Blake said, at a rough guess, only 10 per cent of the planted Hyola 404RR seed (per square metre) had germinated in his paddocks.

"Insecticide is the only thing that has been sprayed onto it and there is still lots of ryegrass in the paddock because I was waiting for a germination before I could spray at the two leaf stage followed later by a six leaf stage spray application," Mr Blake said.

"The ryegrass is exactly why we chose to plant Hyola 404RR in the paddock in the first place.

"Last year it proved to be an incredibly effective tool in the clean-up of problem paddocks."

Like all growers who experienced the same problem, the seed was purchased this year from a reputable distributor.

"We bought 220 kilograms of Hyola 404RR and 200kg of Nuseed's GT-41," Mr Blake said.

"The pictures show plants that were sown with the same airseeder on the same day with the same fertiliser (65kg of Gusto) on the same moisture levels.

"Hyola 404RR's oil bonus alone was worth planting it last year."

It trumped Crusher's 38pc in the 2012/13 season.

"GT-41 was a new variety but performed much the same as Hyola 404RR last year so we thought we'd plant both to spread the risk," Mr Blake said.

"It's not a GM issue, it's purely an individual seed stock issue."

Since Farm Weekly visited the Blake's farm last week, Mr Blake had re-seeded 100ha with a different variety.

"There has to be some sort of compensation arranged in this and more than just giving growers their seed costs back," he said.

Late last week Pacific Seeds canola business manager for Australia, Justin Kudnig said the company was aware of some issues regarding the field establishment of new season Hyola 404RR being observed in WA.

He said the issue had been observed in a limited number of Hyola 404RR seed lots and only in WA.

Other seed lots of the product in WA continued to perform well with some excellent crops being observed across a number of ag zones.

"Based on these field observations Pacific Seeds is currently re-testing these selected seed lots for both germination percentage and quality levels to determine if there have been any significant changes in the quality from the initial seed quality testing conducted during processing and conditioning," Mr Kudnig said.

"Pacific Seeds would like to state that the quality of all Hyola 404RR hybrid canola seed had met Australian industry and internal required standards under International Seed Testing Authority seed testing protocols and rules for both germination percentage and physical purity at the time of processing and seed release.

"Preliminary investigations indicate that the observed problems are not related to the variety itself, including not being related to the genetics of the hybrid and also not being due to it being GM with the incorporation of the Roundup Ready gene in the hybrid.

"The results of the re-testing analysis will be made available as soon as possible once finalised."

When asked whether growers were encouraged to see their failing crops through to harvest and whether they would be formally compensated for any loss, Mr Kudnig said all crop reports received were being considered individually.

He said as with any crop, all measures should be taken to maximise the output return from growers' crops to minimise any downside.

"As soon as Pacific Seeds was aware of the situation with the limited lines involved we ceased distribution of those seed lots," Mr Kudnig said.

"Each grower, to date, with any concern has been visited and their crops inspected and where mutually agreed as necessary, growers have been offered replacement seed of an alternative hybrid.

"Importantly, it should be noted there have also been many reports of excellent establishment with other growers currently growing Hyola 404RR this season throughout WA."

He also encouraged any grower with concerns to contact Pacific Seeds' WA territory managers Steve Lamb or Mitch Tuffley to ensure a crop inspection is arranged if required.

"Pacific Seeds will address any inquiries with urgency and address the issues revealed on a case by case basis," he said.

It's still unclear what the effected batch numbers are, when they arrived in WA (if it was imported), how many tonnes of seed was affected and whether it was all sold and sown.

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    6/06/2013 12:24:10 PM, on Farm Weekly

    The correct title is "GM canola's growing pains". Why is it that when things go well, it's a GM canola success story, but when they fail it's never a GM issue but always some other excuse? For a new technology, this ducking for cover looks dodgy. It's been said many times before that "GM growers are being sold a pig in a poke".
    7/06/2013 10:57:13 AM, on Farm Weekly

    A germination issue can appear in any type of a cultivar being it RR, TT, CL or conventional. As previous batches of Hyola404RR in previous years performed very well with regards to germination, this clearly indicates that this year's incident has nothing to do with the GM part of this cultivar. Thus, NOT a GM issue. It's good to read the article with a smart eye and not just blindly stamping 'GM's fault' on every issue.
    7/06/2013 5:24:04 PM, on Farm Weekly

    Hyola404RR was advertised as a high performance new variety for 2013 season for better control of weeds and profits. Looks like a truth issue. .au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/20 13-Roundup-Ready-canola-product-g uide.pdf
    7/06/2013 6:38:35 PM, on Farm Weekly

    Actually it does not clearly indicate that it is not a GM issue at all, it could still well be. For instance prior to the seed harvest of the GM crop there very well could have been a weakness to some sort of condition in which the plant was grown, that factor can not be ruled out and we will will never know.It helps if you are not totally bias towards using GM crops as you can become blind sided by the actual advantages, if indeed in reality there are any.Having worked with GM seed for a number of years I am yet to see the real benefits.
    John Smith
    9/06/2013 12:35:56 AM, on Farm Weekly

    No Denise, seed that does not germinate is not a GM issue specifically but good luck getting Monsanto to admit fault and refund you. They are notorious for sticking by their products (even when clearly at fault). I figure your seed supplier will refund you (as per article) but the seed retailer probably won't see a cent from Monsanto. Monsanto will get their scientists to study the seed and they will conclude that the seed is safe and has no problems and that they are not liable. Just like their own scientists say their crops are safe to eat (when hundreds other independent scientists disagree).
    9/06/2013 1:14:23 PM, on Farm Weekly

    Compensation for what ? All businesses make poor decisions and often do not listen to world wide research and practical experiences. Let this be the warning they had to have.
    10/06/2013 4:52:08 PM, on Farm Weekly

    I'd like to see what the real problem is with this particular batch of seed, whether it is the GM component or not. Farmers need good, transparent evidence from all scientists that are independent of seed companies and the people they',ve bought (or not) along the way. Society's food production is far to important to be messed with . Whether it be politics, greed, ignorance or self interest in general.We must find the best way to feed ourselves or die it's as simple as that.


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