Saturday August 23, 2014

GM has to gain advocates


In a spring when a record Canadian crop seems landlocked by a struggling grain handling system ill-equipped to deliver a huge crop to port, and generally softer farm commodity prices, other issues tend to get lost in the world of agriculture.

That, I suppose, is to be expected. Farmers need to focus on the things which most directly impact their bottom lines today, and grain movements and prices do that in a major way.

But there are issues which are going to have a longer term effect than whether a badly set up, and poorly government regulated rail system can manage to get a big crop to port in years when yields are the best ever.

One issue I still strongly believe will have a huge effect on farm margins moving forward is the broad area of genetically modified crops.

It is an area of agriculture I have written about before, which I suppose is not surprising. Few issues in agriculture arise, are dealt with, and are then left behind. Most are long term, and are matters of debate for years, if not decades.

As an example, the current woes surrounding rail service for farm grain may be more serious at present, but it is also a long held issue facing the agriculture sector.

Crops which have been genetically modified are no longer new. Almost the entire Canadian canola crop is now a GM variety of type, or another. Farmers were quick to buy-in to the idea of canola varieties modified to be resistant to certain herbicides. It made weed control in canola crops more manageable, and allowed farmers to push canola in terms of cropping rotations.

What that has meant is canola has become the major cash returns generator on the Canadian Prairies.

Canola yields hit record levels in the fall of 2013, and as farmers have grown more and more acres, a significant oil crush sector has emerged to utilize the canola here on the Prairies.

Yorkton, SK., is the poster-child of such value-added industry with two canola crushing plants coming on stream in recent years.

I would suggest the expansion of canola acres and the accompanying oil crush capacity have occurred at a much quicker pace with the emergence of GM varieties.

That all said, there remains concerns over the arrival of more GM crops.

The mere suggestion a GM wheat resistance to a herbicide sent shudders through the farm sector.

It was one based on the resistance from consumers, or at least the perceived resistance. In this world the vocal minority often gets more than its fair share of press, and reluctance to trust GM crops is likely one such case.

It was certainly a concern several governments were quick to pick up on, realizing it was an easy back door way to restrict imports and protect their own farmers from competition.

That is short-sighted in terms of providing a false sense GM crops have somehow shown themselves to be non-safe, and it also is a stance which limits the upward movement of production a growing world population will eventually need.

A company looking at releasing a GM alfalfa in Canada has recently announced it will delay that release.

The decision has been applauded by the likes of the National Farmers Union, which will not surprise anyone.

But is it a sound vision for the future to not embrace what GM can offer?

Some like the NFU will argue it is folly to go that direction, but I suggest hungry mouths demand broader acceptance of where the technology can take us.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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