DESPITE a combination of high canola prices and an aggressive marketing strategy, GM canola plantings are likely to only increase slightly in Australia in 2012.
Monsanto spokesperson Keryn McLean said the company expected around 175,000 hectares of GM canola to be grown this year, which compares to Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) estimates of 164,000ha of GM planted in 2011.
However, Ms McLean said the final figure was subject to change during the seeding period. With more interest in canola due to high prices, total GM plantings may increase slightly as part of that.
AOF executive officer Nick Goddard said last year’s GM plantings represented around 9pc of total plantings.
This year’s figures will be around the same, given the projected increase in plantings.
However, Mr Goddard said GM canola does appear to have found a niche in Western Australia, where plantings are likely to increase by more than the national average.
Western Australia’s cropping systems and herbicide limitations, with extensive herbicide resistance to Group A and Group B herbicides have meant Roundup Ready canola has been more popular there than on the east coast.
On the eastern seaboard growers have other treatment options and continue to get good service out of Clearfield and Triazine Tolerant (TT) varieties.
Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps said the figures showed Australian growers were rejecting GM.
"Global crop seed and agrichemical giant Monsanto is scrambling to find a market for its genetically manipulated (GM) seed that few will grow and no-one wants to eat," says Gene Ethics Director, Bob Phelps.
He pointed to a deal done by seed company Canola Breders in WA, offering a 25pc discount on the GM variety Eclipse.
However, commercial director at Canola Breeders David Strong said it was not a case of a fire sale on GM canola seed, but rather an attempt to gain some market share in the competitive canola seed market.
“With canola prices high and many growers looking to go in with an extra paddock to take advantage of this, we thought we’d go in with a sales promotion.
“We’re certainly not struggling to sell GM varieties, but we did have excess seed of this particular variety and we like to try and turn the seed over each year.
“Competition between seed companies is quite high, and we thought that by bringing GM varieties basically back to the cost of conventional hybrids, we would attract some business.”
Along with competition from other seed companies, Mr Strong said the industry was also expecting large acreages to be planted with farmer stored seed.
“Hybrids are performing well, and farmers are seeing the advantages in terms of yield, but it is more expensive, so those looking to cut upfront costs will use stored seed.”
GM seed generally sells for about $30/kg and hybrids for around $24/kg.
Meanwhile, GM growers in NSW can also take advantage of a pilot marketing scheme, where growers can lock in at just $10/t below conventional canola prices.
Spreads between GM and conventional canola have been out as wide as $50/t, especially when Europe is the major buyer, with the Europeans not wanting GM.
AWB is offering the Roundup Ready canola contract for farmers delivering to Gilgandra and Newcastle, where its parent company Cargill has a crushing plant.
“The contract will provide oil exclusively for Asian markets,” said AWB spokesman Peter McBride.
“It’s a similar product to our sustainable canola contracts, which are for dedicated European export, it’s all about linking our grower customers and our end-user customers.”
Mr Phelps said Monsanto was helping to promote the contract in NSW in a bid to attract GM acreage.
Ms McLean confirmed letters had been sent out to NSW GM canola growers, saying the company often sent out information it thought might be useful to growers.
However, Mr Phelps said he felt Monsanto was fighting a losing battle trying to win over farmers on the east coast.
He quoted Birchip Cropping Group trial data from Victoria that showed GM varieties’ gross margins did not stack up with top-performing conventional hybrid lines.
Ms McLean said this was more to do with the variety itself, rather than the Roundup Ready trait.
“New varieties are hitting the market all the time, and we expect some of the new GM lines to perform very well.”
However, Mr Phelps said the added costs, in terms of technology fees, brand-name herbicides and added freight costs would make it hard for GM lines to compete.