Young farmers back GM

04 Jul, 2012 02:30 AM
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14
 
Lachlan Hunter and Eliza Star.
Lachlan Hunter and Eliza Star.

FARMERS have been benefitting from the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) crops in North America since the mid 1990s - or for almost as long as Eliza Star and Lachlan Hunter have been alive.

The two teenagers are future plant breeders who support GM technology as a way to help feed the world’s poorest nations in a food-insecure future, especially where the growing conditions are restrained by water or nutrient availability.

They want to know why their country has been so slow to adopt GMs and hope other people their age ask the right questions and come to understand the science.

Outside of cotton, Australia has been slow to adopt GM crops on a commercial scale, having only lifted State-based moratoriums on GM canola over the past three to four years in Western Australia, NSW and Victoria, despite ongoing proof about the technology’s economic and environmental benefits and the lack of any solid evidence of any adverse impacts.

Lachlan and Eliza participated in an agricultural industry youth roundtable forum in Canberra last week, which looked at ways of overcoming ag workforce shortages.

The common message behind the crisis is that young people are steering clear of ag-related careers, chasing higher paid jobs in the city or in mining.

But the two students are firmly committed to the agricultural industry and passionate about its opportunities, especially playing their part in advancing scientific discovery in areas like biotechnology.

Lachlan is WA’s PICSE Ambassador and a student at the WA College of Agriculture Cunderdin.

His family operates a 10,000-hectare cereal cropping farm and Merino sheep stud at Bruce Rock in the Central Wheatbelt.

Lachlan said his parents tried to talk him out of pursuing an agricultural related career, but his passion and belief were too strong.

He is hoping to study plant science at the University of Western Australia and one day become a plant breeder.

Eliza is from a mixed cotton, rice, sheep and cattle farm in Carrathool in NSW. She is the Ricegrowers Association of Australia’s Horizon Scholarship holder, which is a program supported by the Rural Industries Research and Development (R and D) Corporation’s rice program.

Eliza’s scholarship helps her study a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University that she hopes will lead to a career in plant science, R and D or as an agronomist.

She said the ag industry has a bright future and provides exciting opportunities to engage in dynamic innovations.

But for industry to capitalise and on its bright future, she said stronger collaboration was needed, especially with resources, so issues like the current skills shortages could be overcome.

Eliza said a high degree of passion and enthusiasm were exhibited at the youth round table in Canberra last week, which made her even more excited about agriculture’s future.

Lachlan sat on the youth round table and also contributed to the business round table.

He said the industry and governments were not failing agriculture, which gives him an optimistic view of the future.

Lachlan said embracing innovative agricultural technologies like GM crops was also part of a positive way forward.

“If we’re going to be heard in politics we need to embrace new technology, and plant breeding and plant sciences are the way to go,” he said.

“If we’re going to feed the world we can’t keep using old techniques - we need to be leaders, not followers.”

Lachlan said GM crops were a hot topic in agriculture, but suggested older generations may not be as accepting of new technologies.

“We need to step forward and embrace GMs – younger people need to be advocates of looking at the new ways that plants can grow,” he said.

“Why are we so far behind the rest of the world?”

Eliza said there would always be negative ramifications and opinions about issues like GMs - but commonsense and facts needed to be applied to any discussion or decision-making.

“You need to take a step back and filter through it all,” she said.

“You need to look at all the facts and understand the implications for agriculture and plant breeding.

“Farmers should be the leaders.

“There’s so much for agriculture to gain - we should not be held back by the minority who may not even understand all of the facts about GMs or what it means for farming.”

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READER COMMENTS

George
4/07/2012 8:31:17 AM

Unfortunately it seems like the Australian education system has failed Lachlan Hunter, Eliza Star, and ultimately us all. The reasons for poverty and hunger in the third world have nothing to do with a lack of wizz-bang biological technologies, and everything to do with history, culture and power. Google 'feeding the world griffith review' for a really thoughtful and readable article on the problem of food insecurity.
Bob Phelps
4/07/2012 12:54:10 PM

Idealistic young plant breeders are misled by the false promises of genetically manipulated (GM) crops. Broad-acre GM soy, corn, canola, cotton and sugarbeet yield no better than the best conventional varieties, so cannot 'feed the world'. A recent Birchip Cropping Group canola report found GM and conventional yield and oil content are similar. Birchip's gross margin analysis also found GM canola is $150/hectare less profitable than non-GM because of GM discounts of up to $50/tonne, higher GM seed royalties, brand-name chemicals required, and more transport to distant silos. GM's a dud!
Bob Phelps
4/07/2012 3:01:35 PM

GM is not the answer to hunger. Eliza, Lachlan and others who really care about feeding the one billion hungry and malnourished people should read the article on Professor Olivier De Schutter, United Nations' Special Rapporteur on food. He explains why there is already plenty of food for all, but it goes where it is most profitable not where it is most needed. See: http://www.theage.com.au/national /hungry-for-change-20120618-20k6t .html Australians waste 40% of our food and much is also lost in countries with poor infrastructure to store, transport and sell what is grown. We do best, GM-free.
Hebe
4/07/2012 3:23:06 PM

Most of the world’s farmers (99%) still farm GM-free, and the majority of GM crops (almost 90%)are still grown in the just four countries:- US (53%) Argentina (18%) Brazil (11.5%) and Canada (6%) Are Eliza and Lachlan aware that GM canola is more costly and sells for less than conventional canola, and that markets are demanding GM-free crops with even the WA Premier Colin Barnett rejecting commercialising GM wheat? These are facts and implications that paint a real picture of the future of GM crops here in Australia and it is not as rosy as these future farmers will have you believe.
THE FARMER
4/07/2012 8:04:39 PM

Bob, fat Australians eating less and wasting less won't feed the third world. Economics tell us producing food for people who can't buy it is not sustainable. The 3rd world must largely feed itself. When food is more important than guns or lines on maps or the religion or politics of who is trying to kill whom, then agriculture can flourish. While I dislike the notion of companies owning & licensing the technologies of GM, there is nothing stopping govts getting involved for common good. India could feed itself if the rats didn't eat nearly a third of the harvest.
dunart
4/07/2012 8:08:55 PM

they will be embarrassed one day about how they were use by the pro-GM lobby
jeffito
5/07/2012 8:02:14 AM

Farmers are not stupid. If they don't profit from current GM canola varieties they will stop growing them. If they do profit, like all technlogical advances, they will embrace it. They will not put up with the likes of B. Phelps telling them they can't try new technologies because some fundamentalists try to ban them. Best wishes to Eliza and Lachlan for careers in agricultural science.
ELizabeth
6/07/2012 10:29:25 AM

Australia needs more young agricultural scientists like Eliza and Lachlan and it needs to spend more on agricultural research. We need these to hold on to our market share of ag products. We also need these to develop techniques that can help poorer countries needing to produce more food. Bob Phelps always knocks GM technology this time on the basis that globally the world already has plenty of food so GM is not needed . To be intellectually consistent he would also be pushing for termination of other(viz. non-GM ) plant breeding work - we already have enough food globally !!
Bob Phelps
6/07/2012 3:52:06 PM

De Schutter's case, that the world has plenty of food for all, is strong. Also consider the evidence in the IAASTD reports at: http://www.agassessment.org/ This five year study by hundreds of scientists found that biodiverse farming systems can feed and clothe future generations sustainably, enabling local control of production. Also, that genetically manipulated plants and animals can contribute little to feeding the world. Please consider these crucial reports: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inte rnational_Assessment_of_Agricultu ral_Knowledge,_Science_and_Techno logy_for_Development
Brence
8/07/2012 7:03:30 PM

The article states that “The two teenagers are future plant breeders who support GM technology as a way to help feed the world’s poorest nations ..” In response Bob Phelps sets up a straw man – “GM is not the answer to hunger “ and proceeds to go on about yields and economics . Bob – Eliza and Lachlan did not say GM would be the answer to hunger they indicated that it was a tool that would help ! - and this has always been held by plant breeders. Perhaps Bob should know that GM has increased the corn yield in Philippines (25%),soy in Mexico and Romania (9%, 25%) and papaya in Hawaii (40%)
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