GM not the answer: look at the facts

Published in Countryman, 7 April 2011

Genetically modified (GM) wheat is not the solution for more productivity and profitability.

I am an agricultural scientist with more than 30 years of international experience and have worked for CSIRO in south-eastern Australia as a wheat research agronomist.
For my work I received the Fellowship of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (FAIAST).
I now work with farmers to transition from conventional to more biological farming systems, improving their profitability by boosting soil fertility through activation of soil biology and increasing soil carbon.

Far lower inputs are then needed for similar productivity and soil health greatly improves, holding more water and nutrients, and becoming less sensitive to salinity.

In dry years these farmers have much higher yields than neighbours as plants become more drought tolerant under such management.

Many farmers in WA have experienced that as I have visited and given talks in towns such as Geraldton, Wyalkatchem, Northam and Kojonup.

Innovative big farmers, companies and agronomists in WA already support this farming. Official science is still sceptical and don’t want to do the required research.

WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman stated this week that the only barrier to commercialising GM wheat is consumer and market acceptance.

Mr Redman can’t show scientific evidence that GM food is safe so consumers remain wary.

He also fails to acknowledge important agronomic limits of GM cropping with issues of soil health, grain contamination, and resistance of weeds.

In my work I have seen conventional farmers needing more and more inputs to get satisfactory yields. Risky business in WA where rainfall is so unpredictable. GM won’t solve that problem as only soil health will, which is not achievable with conventional or GM farming systems.

While GM wheat breeding in WA claims to be developing solutions to drought and salinity that damages soils’ capacity to hold nutrients and water.
In the Wheatbelt, so dependent on storage of seasonal rainfall, it is irresponsible for the Government to invest in a farming system that will keep worsening soil quality and provide no long-term solution to the problems of drought, salinity and profitability.

The Productivity Commission recently reported on rural research and development priorities, recommending that “the primary aim of government funding is to enhance the productivity, competitiveness and social and environmental performance of the rural sector and the welfare of the wider community”.

Government funding of GM crop research and development does not meet this goal.
The US Department of Agriculture admits this in its report ‘The first decade of GM’, which states that yields and profitability were no higher now then they would have been without GM, and chemical use is now no lower than under non-GM.
Priorities foe Australian agriculture research should include building soil health, effective crop rotation systems, and reducing industry dependence on expensive synthetic fertilizers and chemicals that damage soils’ capacity to store water and carbon.

Carbon farming is the answer.

Maarten Stapper FAIAST
BioLogic AgFood, ACT

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