Organic crop co-existence 'possible'

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Wongan Hills farmer Jemma Sadler believes famers who receive a premium for growing special crops, such as organics, should bear the cost of protecting the status of that crop in the long term.

Recently returned from a Nuffield study tour, Ms Sadler investigated the controversial issue of the co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops.

She said her studies in the United States and Canada demonstrated all three types of farming could co-exist in harmony.

Ms Sadler said since the use of GM canola was now an accepted management tool for WA farmers, it was important to establish strategies to ensure all types of farming techniques could co-exist.

"Every farmer has the right to farm how they want to, and it's important to maintain diverse and dynamic new technology in the industry," she said.

"My international studies have illustrated that farmers that gain a premium for the particular way they farm, should bear the cost of protecting that special status."

Ms Sadler said there was currently a 0.9 per cent tolerance of GM material in conventional crops, but in organic crops, there was a nil tolerance of any GM material whatsoever.

"The Australian organics industry has one of the strictest standards in the world in terms of GM contamination, and yet those same crops have a 5 to 10 per cent tolerance level for potentially dangerous pesticides," she said.

"I believe this has the potential to make organic farmers less competitive on the world market."

Ms Sadler said US and Canadian organic certification was based on processing procedures rather than growing methods.

"Australian organic standards for the GM threshold need to be reviewed," she said.

Ms Sadler said her study took her to many counties, with most of her time spent in the US and Canada.

"I saw some excellent examples of co-existence in the US, even within single farming enterprises," she said.

"One grower in North Dakota grew GM sugar beet, and every sugar beet that went to seed had to be removed to ensure that the seed did not contaminate the other crops.

"This farmer also grew non-GM soy beans and both crops co-existed effectively."

She said in Oregon, US, co-existance strategies were successful between horticulture farmers, where it was important to maintain the purity of their seed.

"Buffer zones were critical, and they all mapped the location of their crops through the Department of Agriculture," she said.

But she said the US compensation model, whereby farmers could insure against the presence of GM material in their crops, was costly and did not appear to be effective.

Ms Sadler said while GM technology was an important weed management tool, growers must understand the risks of growing herbicide-tolerant crops.

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