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.”