GM canola fails to germinate in Australia; growers want compensation
Australian farmers have found problems with a GM Roundup Ready canola, which failed to germinate properly, and have asked for compensation.
The article below is from last year but it's interesting as an example of the unexpected problems that can arise with GM crops.
There's some desperate footwork going on in this article and in the comments thread to claim that the problems with this GM canola are nothing to do with GM, with one commenter citing as proof the fact that the variety grew OK in previous seasons.
But that does not let GM off the hook.
GM can cause problems by disrupting host gene function due to transgene insertion and other mutagenic events, which may not immediately manifest but be brought to light later by differing growing conditions in different years. Plants respond to different weather and soil conditions with differing gene expression patterns as they try to adapt to conditions. It is possible that mutagenic events in the Hyola 404RR GM canola caused this lack of effective adaptation. It’s a kind of “GM time bomb” effect.
It is difficult to tell exactly what is going on without molecular analysis but it is not possible to rule out GM as a fundamental cause.
A comment by a reader nicknamed "harry" is apt: "The correct title is 'GM canola's growing pains'. Why is it that when things go well, it's a GM canola success story, but when they fail it's never a GM issue but always some other excuse? For a new technology, this ducking for cover looks dodgy. It's been said many times before that 'GM growers are being sold a pig in a poke'."
Canola's growing pains
Farm Weekly (Australia), 6 June 2013
It remains to be seen how Pacific Seeds will handle widespread grower complaints about its popular Hyola 404RR canola variety.
Renowned for its high oil content, high-scoring plant vigour and excellent flowering uniformity, the proven performer has been a benchmark variety for a number of years, assisting Great Southern growers to clean up weedy paddocks while harvesting profitable yields.
But this season, a batch of seed has caused havoc for a number of WA growers who planted the highly adapted variety only to find that it barely germinated - if at all.
Now these growers are calling for compensation.
While little is yet known about the reason for the seed's terrible performance, it has been alleged a botched batch of seed imported from the USA (after Australian seed stocks were sold out) could be to blame.
Thousands of planted hectares have since been re-visited and re-sown by a number of growers but for some it was too late.
Some individual growers planted up to 1500 hectares only to find it didn't germinate at all and others, whose agronomists heard about some of the seed's lack of performance, were able to return un-opened bags of seed to distributors and recommend replacement varieties just in time.
Katanning growers Terry and Kallum Blake planted their Hyola 404RR seed into good moisture on May 15 after the variety yielded 1.47 tonnes a hectare with 43 per cent oil last season.
By chance, the Blakes also planted Nuseed's GT-41 right alongside the Pacific Seeds variety which proved to be a good gauge of the germination problem.
Kallum Blake said, at a rough guess, only 10 per cent of the planted Hyola 404RR seed (per square metre) had germinated in his paddocks.
"Insecticide is the only thing that has been sprayed onto it and there is still lots of ryegrass in the paddock because I was waiting for a germination before I could spray at the two leaf stage followed later by a six leaf stage spray application," Mr Blake said.
"The ryegrass is exactly why we chose to plant Hyola 404RR in the paddock in the first place.
"Last year it proved to be an incredibly effective tool in the clean-up of problem paddocks."
Like all growers who experienced the same problem, the seed was purchased this year from a reputable distributor.
"We bought 220 kilograms of Hyola 404RR and 200kg of Nuseed's GT-41," Mr Blake said.
"The pictures show plants that were sown with the same airseeder on the same day with the same fertiliser (65kg of Gusto) on the same moisture levels.
"Hyola 404RR's oil bonus alone was worth planting it last year."
It trumped Crusher's 38pc in the 2012/13 season.
"GT-41 was a new variety but performed much the same as Hyola 404RR last year so we thought we'd plant both to spread the risk," Mr Blake said.
"It's not a GM issue, it's purely an individual seed stock issue."
Since Farm Weekly visited the Blake's farm last week, Mr Blake had re-seeded 100ha with a different variety.
"There has to be some sort of compensation arranged in this and more than just giving growers their seed costs back," he said.
Late last week Pacific Seeds canola business manager for Australia, Justin Kudnig said the company was aware of some issues regarding the field establishment of new season Hyola 404RR being observed in WA.
He said the issue had been observed in a limited number of Hyola 404RR seed lots and only in WA.
Other seed lots of the product in WA continued to perform well with some excellent crops being observed across a number of ag zones.
"Based on these field observations Pacific Seeds is currently re-testing these selected seed lots for both germination percentage and quality levels to determine if there have been any significant changes in the quality from the initial seed quality testing conducted during processing and conditioning," Mr Kudnig said.
"Pacific Seeds would like to state that the quality of all Hyola 404RR hybrid canola seed had met Australian industry and internal required standards under International Seed Testing Authority seed testing protocols and rules for both germination percentage and physical purity at the time of processing and seed release.
"Preliminary investigations indicate that the observed problems are not related to the variety itself, including not being related to the genetics of the hybrid and also not being due to it being GM with the incorporation of the Roundup Ready gene in the hybrid.
"The results of the re-testing analysis will be made available as soon as possible once finalised."
When asked whether growers were encouraged to see their failing crops through to harvest and whether they would be formally compensated for any loss, Mr Kudnig said all crop reports received were being considered individually.
He said as with any crop, all measures should be taken to maximise the output return from growers' crops to minimise any downside.
"As soon as Pacific Seeds was aware of the situation with the limited lines involved we ceased distribution of those seed lots," Mr Kudnig said.
"Each grower, to date, with any concern has been visited and their crops inspected and where mutually agreed as necessary, growers have been offered replacement seed of an alternative hybrid.
"Importantly, it should be noted there have also been many reports of excellent establishment with other growers currently growing Hyola 404RR this season throughout WA."
He also encouraged any grower with concerns to contact Pacific Seeds' WA territory managers Steve Lamb or Mitch Tuffley to ensure a crop inspection is arranged if required.
"Pacific Seeds will address any inquiries with urgency and address the issues revealed on a case by case basis," he said.
It's still unclear what the affected batch numbers are, when they arrived in WA (if it was imported), how many tonnes of seed was affected and whether it was all sold and sown.