GM is the future - but don't oversell it

Photo of Dr Van Ripley

Noted oilseed researcher Dr Van Ripley, from Agriculture and Agri-Good Canada"s Saskatoon Research Centre, offered Australian growers and advisers at the recent GRDC Research Updates an insight into where the Candian industry is headed.

[Photo: Dr Van Ripley: "As an industry, we have to do a better job of illustrating the benefits of the technology to the public." - Photo by Brad Collis]

GM canola now dominates the Canadian market - 77 percent, or 4.5 million hectares, in 2004. The figure for herbicide-tolerant canola, overall, is now about 92 percent, since an additional 15 percent of the market has been captured by non-GM Clearfield resistant varieties, in addition to the Liberty and Roundup Ready® resistant types.

However, while the early stages of GM canola development in Canada focused mainly on herbicide tolerance and evaluation of transgenic pollination control, the focus for development of new transgenics has shifted and the predominant interests now include stress tolerance, metabolic pathway enhancement and biotic stress resistance (see table).

The overall lesson from Canada"s use of herbicide-tolerant canola is that we have realised great potential to improve production. The major reasons that farmers chose herbicide-tolerant canola in a 2000 survey were:

However, a number of points should be kept in mind for introducing the technology in Australia. Do not oversell it, because it will not work for all conditions.

Additional agronomy work will be required once GM varieties are introduced to optimise the technology for different conditions. Also, as an industry, we have to do a better job of illustrating the benefits of the technology to the public.

It is often stated that traits such as herbicide tolerance only benefit farmers, but as the 2000 survey indicated, the introduction of this technology in Canada has had several environmental benefits.

Savings in fuel consumption have risen from 9.5 million litres in 1997 to 31.2m litres in 2000, through the application of herbicide-tolerant canola in minimum or zero-till fields. Allied with this has been a significant reduction in herbicide use.

Hybrid canola has been under development for several years, including herbicide-tolerant hybrids. Hybrids have steadily increased their market share, reaching about 50 percent in 2004. The InVigor® hybrids captured about 31 percent of the market while 18 to 20 percent of the market consisted of Roundup Ready® hybrids.

The yield potential of hybrids has been demonstrated commercially for the past few years, and prairie-wide variety evaluation trials have consistently shown that the yield improvement of the new LibertyLink® or Roundup Ready® hybrids is 20 to 25 percent above standard open-pollinated varieties.

Growers have also reported additional value from reduced dockage in harvested seed, greater uniformity in the crop stand, improved stress tolerance, reduced pod shatter due to uniformity of plant stands and reduced green seed.

Initial work on developing B.juncea canola for western Canada was done by Dr Gerhard Rakow at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Saskatoon. The first varieties, Arid and Amulet, arose out of collaboration between AAFC and Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (SWP) and were registered in 2002. Two new varieties, Dahinda and Davin, have since been introduced.

All varieties are currently being grown under contract since the seed from these varieties is not visually distinguishable from condiment mustard B.juncea. This species was originally chosen for conversion to canola quality due to its heat and drought tolerance.

In surveys in 2002 and 2003, growers identified the B.juncea canola benefits as being heat and drought tolerance, seedling vigour, blackleg resistance, resistance to pod shatter and frost tolerance.

Several groups are now involved in development of B.juncea canola varieties, including SWP, Pioneer Hi-Bred and AAFC Saskatoon.The private companies are focused on developing new varieties with improved yield and agronomic characteristics.

The development of hybrids will give a dramatic boost to the establishment of this new species.

A significant level of genetic diversity was found between Canadian and Australian B.juncea canola breeding programs and this will help development of high-yielding hybrids for Canadian and Australian conditions.

The current limitation to establishing the crop is a lack of herbicide tolerance. However, companies are working on non- GM Clearfield-resistant B.juncea canola and the first varieties from SWP with this trait will be available by 2008.

Once the crop is established, extra value will be its source of low-fibre canola meal.

The varieties of B.juncea canola currently on the market and being developed are yellow-seeded types that have lower levels of fibre and can more effectively compete against soybean meal in feed formulations, especially for monogastric animals.

At AAFC our focus has been on developing further quality improvements in B.juncea canola including increased oil content, reduced glucosinolates and high oleic, low linolenic fatty acid profiles.

The trend for speciality fatty acid canola over the past few years has been in the development of high oleic, low linolenic types. These generally contain more than 70 percent oleic acid and less than three percent linolenic, and are targeted for the processed food and frying industries. This fatty acid profile is now entering the mainstream and major players are developing varieties with herbicide tolerance.

The market share for speciality oil types to date has been low. However, it is expected to rapidly increase with improved varieties and increasing demand, as processed food producers look for an oil to address the trans fat issue. Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil -a process called hydrogenation, which increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. From 2005 in Canada and 2006 in the US, trans fats must be listed on food labels.

Speciality oil canola market share is expected to grow from 200,000ha to more than 800,000ha by 2007. The growth is expected to come largely from the Japanese market, from the European market that sees it as a non-GM alternative and from the North American food processing industry that must find a replacement for hydrogenated oils.

In addition to use of high oleic, low linolenic oils in the food industry, there is potential for use of the same profile oil in industrial applications, and use as a base in cosmetics.

Industrial applications could eventually require more oil than edible applications.

For more information: Dr Van Ripley, ripleyv@agr.gc.ca

* Numbers represent the number of trials with the specific trait listed

Region National, North, South, West