Sixth generation Freeling farmer, Corbin Schuster is among many South Australian producers calling for the ban on genetically modified (GM) crops to be lifted.
The Marshall Liberal Government last week introduced legislation to remove the moratorium on GM crops on SA’s mainland.
New regulations to lift the GM crop in SA, except for Kangaroo Island, were meant to take effect on December 1, but were denied by Labor, SA Best and the Greens.
Corbin understands that the moratorium was originally brought in under assumption that with SA staying GM free, it would create demand worldwide for non-gmo crops and a premium would be paid.
“When the Liberals came in there was a study to see if there was a premium or what the benefits were… it came to the point where there isn’t really a premium being paid for our non gmo crops,” said Corbin.
Corbin explained that as a producer, they basically want the seed companies out there to be faster at producing the best varieties, that are high yielding, drought and disease tolerant, and resistant to insects.
He believes lifting the ban on the GM crops is ‘the next big jump’ in keeping agriculture sustainable.
The first occurred 70 years ago according to Corbin, when all the wheat crops were a metre high and would use all their moisture making the straw, then running out of water when it came to producing the grain.
Dwarf varieties, at just two feet tall, were then introduced, allowing more moisture to make it to the grain and yield.
Corbin added that fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides were then introduced, being another ‘big jump’ in agricultural practices.
“We’re always looking for ways to increase productivity,” he said.
Speaking with ‘a bloke’ at a seed company about GM crops, Corbin learnt that it would be a way for them to fast-track varieties.
He explained that at the moment they are crossing a heap of varieties together, spend six to 10 years growing them from one seed to hundreds, and then perhaps finding out it’s not good enough.
Whereas with GM crops they can produce one seed and do a genetic test to discover if it’s got the exact genetic code and is resistant to a particular disease or drought tolerant.
“They can find that out straight away and it will enable them to produce varieties quickly without having to produce ‘junk varieties’,” said Corbin.
“It’s all about giving them the tools they need, to produce the varieties that we need.
“If they can produce more varieties which are resistant to the diseases we have to apply chemicals for, then that’s less we have to use and less cost for us. It’s ultimately just a more sustainable production.”
Whilst Corbin would like to use GM crops on his Freeling land, he wants it to be clear that for others, it’d be purely their choice.
He explained that they currently have a choice in SA to grow barley for feed or barley for beer production, there’s the choice to be an organic farmer, and to use chemicals or not.
“If you want to grow GM you should have that choice, but no one would force you or be twisting your arm. If you don’t want to grow GM then you wouldn’t have to,” said Corbin.
“But if these GM varieties show they can produce more yield, in a cheaper and more sustainable fashion, then in my opinion it’s kind of a no brainer.”
Corbin believes that in Western Australia especially, there’s a problem with weeds and controlling ryegrass in canola.
However, a GM variety of canola has been created that is resistant to Roundup.
This means the farmer can spray canola with Roundup, it’ll kill the ryegrass and weeds, leaving the canola unaffected. Then once the canola is harvested a nice clean paddock is ready for the following year.
“GM is there, and it’s proven how useful it can be. I think if we can allow it in South Australia, there are not so many immediate benefits, but definitely benefits going into the future. If we say no we won’t know what those are,” said Corbin.