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Canola plantings to drop

Genetically modified (GM) canola plantings are likely to come back as part of an overall smaller canola plant this year. Nick Goddard, executive director at the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) said it was likely there would be less canola planted overall than last year’s bumper plant. “We’re likely to lose a lot of those acres that were planted in drier areas, where canola is perceived as a risk, but looking on averages, it will still be a reasonable sized crop, providing there is an autumn break,” Mr Goddard said. He said while GM Roundup Ready (RR) lines had a reasonable fit in Western Australian farming systems, on the east coast it was being used more sparingly. “It’s used more tactically than as a widespread choice in NSW and Victoria, probably less so than the other two herbicide tolerant lines, the triazine tolerant (TT) and Clearfield varieties,” Mr Goddard said Rob Sonogan, senior consultant at Agrivision, an agronomy firm based in Swan Hill in Victoria’s Mallee, said RR was lagging behind TT and Clearfield varieties in his area. “The TTs are certainly very popular, the only issue there is with potential residual problems for the following year’s crop, if there is a dry summer,” Mr Sonogan said. Mr Sonogan said there was no ideological concerns about RR, but said a combination of relatively high costs, lower prices and limited delivery options meant it was not particular popular in the Mallee. “It’s probably not that much dearer than other herbicide tolerant lines now, but there is still a reasonable discount to conventional canola lines and there can be additional freight costs, as there aren’t a lot of segregations there,” Mr Sonogan said. “When you combine that with consistently lower yields for RR lines, there is no compelling reason to plant it.” Mr Sonogan also said preserving the efficacy of glyphosate was another reason not to plant it. “Glyphosate is so crucial to farming systems in the Mallee and Wimmera that farmers are making sure they don’t overuse it.” In the Riverina, agronomist John Sykes, John Sykes Rural Consulting, Albury, said overall canola plantings will be back. “There was a big canola plant last year, and rotationally, we’re limited in the paddocks we can choose,” Mr Sykes said. He also said farmers were happy with TT varieties. “They like the wild radish control they can get with TTs, and they are also getting into Clearfields, but GM plantings are probably just steady,” Mr Sykes said. He said marketing was the major constraint, but added that in terms of weed control the short window for spraying had downsides. “Farmers are finding they can’t get a late spray out for a late germination of ryegrass or wild radish, which you can control with the other types of canola,” Mr Sykes said. “The genes available in North America, which allow glyphosate to be applied later in the plant’s life would be good.” However he said there was a certain fit. “Farmers do use it, either when sowing very early or very late, on their very grassy paddocks, but it’s certainly a niche product.” President of the VFF grains group and strident proponent for GM technology Andrew Weidemann said it was likely there wouldn’t be as much RR around this year. “It’s certainly just another tool in the shed, and people are aware of the stewardship side of things and not overusing glyphosate,” Mr Weidemann said. “The other herbicide tolerant varieties are used extensively, but GM will have a fit in some cases. “People do like the fact they can sow early and control weeds in one pass, or it can be used as part of a double knock strategy, but people are conscious of rotating their chemical groups.” NSW Farmers grains section chairman Mark Hoskinson said canola plantings in his area in the Central West would be back overall due to the dry summer and perceived risk, and added GM had not really taken off. “You don’t get the prices you get with conventional varieties, and the method of weed control is not what is wanted in terms of chemical rotation,” Mr Hoskinson said. “It’s a useful tool for some growers, and it’s horses for courses, but overall I wouldn’t suggest there would be big plantings of GM canola this year.” WA farmer Bob Iffla, who farms in that state’s south-eastern wheatbelt, said canola plantings as a whole would be back due to the dry conditions there and also said GM plantings would be back. “It’s not as good for late weeds, whether that’s ryegrass or radish,” Mr Iffla said. “I supported getting it, but at present I don’t see much of a fit for it here.” But WA-based agronomist and GM proponent Bill Crabtree said he thought acreage in the west would go up again. “We had 120,000ha of GM canola last year, and I’d say that will go up again to around 150,000ha.” Mr Crabtree’s reasoning for the increase in the use of RR was precisely the same as why others are saying it will come back – herbicide resistance. “We have a lot of issues with the Group B herbicides here, and that is put under further strain with TTs and Clearfields, so RR is a good way to rotate herbicides,” Mr Crabtree said. “The message is not to worry solely about glyphosate resistance, you’ve got to make sure you don’t run the risk of getting resistance to the grass weed selective herbicides, which are equally important to farming systems.” He said much of the problem with RR uptake was to do with outdated varieties. “We’ve had GM lines about 10 years behind conventional varieties and it has taken time to catch up, but they are catching up now.” WA farmer Tony White, Miling, in the state’s mid-north said he would plant RR for the first time this year. “We like the rotational benefits of canola, and we can see a good fit for RR in certain circumstances,” Mr White said. “Wild radish is a big problem in our area, and we think glyphosate will do a better job on it than atrazine. “It’s only one tool, but we don’t see any risk of weed resistance when we’re only using it every five years.”

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