Anyone who is interested in the GM debate or would like more information I suggest watching “Jimmy’s GM Food Fight”. It takes a non bias scientific look at the Genetic Modification of crops, their use and societies view on them.
I recently watched the Vice report “Saviour Seeds” on GMO cropping (On HBO Season 3 Episode 9), during the program they talked to some farmers from Paraguay on their experiences with growing Roundup Ready soy beans. Their main issue with the product was the issue of weeds resistance that they stated was caused by the excessive use of glyphosate (The herbicide commonly referred to as Roundup). Personally I thought that the story was servilely one sided and heavily bias but even so weed resistance is unfortunately a real everyday issue for many farmers around the world including Australian farmers.
But are GMO crops to blame?.
In short the answer is NO, while in some countries it could be argued that the misuse of glyphosate in Roundup Ready crops has helped to increase the prevalence of weed resistance it is unfortunately a problem that affects many areas in Australia and around world including those that have never been touched by GM cropping. So what causes herbicide resistance?
Herbicide resistance occurs when a plant a natural mutation in the plant allows it to become immune to the mode of action (the bit that kills the weed) in a herbicide. If the the same herbicide is applied in further sprays this plant may then survive allowing it to set seed, leaving viable seed in the soil for up to 10 years. Resistant plants then germinate from the seeds and if a chemical with the same mode of action is used these plants will set seed and possibly spread. The situation can then be made worst if the producer changes to chemical with another mode of action using it religiously until the weed becomes resistant to it as well. The situation is now that bad in some parts of Western Australia that weeds are resistant to several modes of action almost eliminating chemical options.
In order to combat this issue the producers have had to adopt Integrated Weed Management (IWM) strategies in order to help manage and reduce the problem. Common features in many IWM strategies include rotating modes of action, the double knock strategy and non chemical control methods.
Rotating modes of action involves using different types of chemicals that will still kill the weeds but will use a different method in order to prevent a resistance occurring to one type of mode of action. The different mode of actions can be determined by checking the label to see its group.
The double knock strategy is similar to rotating modes of action and involves making at least two passes over a field. The first pass is down with a chemical using one mode of action before a second pass is done with another chemical that uses a different mode of action in order to knock out any weeds that may of been left by the first pass. This method is becoming increasingly popular when used in conjunction with WeedSeeker technology that identifies weeds in a paddock and only sprays them instead of doing a blanket spray over the entire paddock. This has caused a massive reduction in the amount of chemical used on farm and the operating cost allowing many more expensive chemicals from different groups to be a cost effective option.
Finally the last control method is the non-chemical mechanical control which can take many forms from the simple to the more elaborate. Strategic ploughing is one of mechanical options available as it is able to physically destroy the plant in the fallowed paddock working under the simple idea that no weed can develop resistance to steel. Other methods include trying to control the seed bank though using machinery like seed crushers that a pulled behind the harvester to windrowing stubble in a way that allows it to be burned destroying any seeds.
Overall weed resistance is a problem that effects the entire cropping industry and not some accidental by-product of a RoundUp ready cropping system, it is also a problem that can be managed, prevented and avoided through care full management. I’d like to finish this discussion on Weed Resistance by asking two questions on the Vice program.
1. VICE News claims that farmers could use a range of herbicides before the introduction of RoundUp Ready (RR) soy beans in order to prevent and control resistance. But before RR soy beans you couldn’t spray any herbicide in crop and could therefore only spray during fallow. So why aren’t they still rotating their herbicides during fallow to control and prevent resistant weeds along with weeds in general while using glyphosate to control weeds in crop as recomended?
2. If the Paraguay’s farmers are so unhappy with the product why do they still use it and not revert back to conventional seed? The program stated that the majority of Paraguay’s farmers used RR soy beans but not all farmers do meaning there are still conventional seeds on the market, so why not switch back?
On a side note…….
The show also commented on how the how the UN has recently found glyphosate to be “probably carcinogenic” which in all fairness they have. But in this day and age everything seems to cause cancer so I thought I’d research things that are proven to cause cancer and are not just “probably carcinogenic”. According the American Cancer Institute there are many many things that can and will cause cancer however I have chosen to just list a few everyday materials that are Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans such as:
- Alcohol (I know, I was disappointed as well)
- Engine exhaust
- Leather Dust
- Mineral oils
- Salted fish
- The Sun (Solar/UV Radiation)
- Wood Dust
- Tobacco/Tobacco Smoke
Just to lighten things up here’s a song that a South Australian agronomist and farmer wrote about weed resistance and is called the Wild Radish Song.
Its been a up and down week for Australian agriculture in media, with #supportliveex trending on twitter for almost twenty four hours while Animals Australia #LiveExShame tag failing to get a mention being the up for the week. Unfortunately Animals Australia also announced this week that Coles will be selling their “Make It Possible” bags, leaving Australian farmers frustrated at Coles to say the least.
On Wednesday night a couple of ladies on twitter found out that the keyboard warriors at Animals Australia were planning a twitter storm with the tag #LiveExShame, they quicklydecided that two can play at that game and launched their own twitter campaign with the tag #supportliveex; within seconds my twitter feed was soon full of tweets from people showing their support for live export and the farmers that depend on it. With such a great response it came as no surprise that #supportliveex was soon trending on twitter reaching number three on the list, unfortunately we were not able to remove bieber from the top of the list but at the same time #LiveExShame hadn’t made a appearance. By this stage it was getting late so I went to bed with the assumption that it would be all over by the morning, however the next morning it was still trending and continued to trend throughout the day and into the evening. The sheer length of time that #supportliveex was trending just goes to show how many people support Australian farmers and how they will not be swayed by the campaigns of groups like Animals Australia.
Animals Australia and Coles have announced that as of the 3rd of June Coles will be stocking Animals Australia’s “Make It Possible” grocery bags, leaving farmers and supporters of Australian agriculture frustrated with grocery giant to say the least. It is widely viewed that the funds generated from the sale of these bags will only go back into campaigns against Australian farmers instead of being used to make a real difference to a worthy cause such as helping drought affected farmers and their livestock. These views are well founded as only a quick glance at their website will show you their many campaigns against Australian agriculture and their relentless push for a vegan Australia.
The biggest concern about Animals Australia is that it is a lobby group and a very effective one; it does not run any shelters, give drought assistance or provide either time or money to help improve the conditions of animals in need such as those in drought affected Queensland. Instead they aim to influence legislation and promote a vegan Australia and they are very good at what they do. Animals Australia in conjunction with Four Corners where able to shut down a entire industry overnight through the use of images that were simply designed to generate a emotional response. The industry still hasn’t fully recovered from this ban, leading to a domestic oversupply, reduced prices and a build up of cattle on Australian farms enhancing problems such as the current Queensland drought, meaning that the lack of foresight by Animals Australia has only created animal welfare and environmental problems.
Their campaign against live export is not their only flawed policy, they have many (to many for me to write about) including their support of the protection of feral animals; they believe that because humans brought them to Australia we are responsible for their welfare and attempts should only be made to remove them if it is proven that they are over populated and a non lethal control is used. Feral animals have a hugely negative effect on the environment, native animals and of course farmers, so trying to protect them would only be counter productive to other environmental works and attempts at regenerating native species.
Coles decision to work with Animals Australia will only work to worsen already frosty relations between farmers and the giant, hopefully they will soon realise the error of their way and cease the sale of these bags, I know I’ll be shopping at Woolies now. For more information on the problems that Animals Australia causes farmers read “Animals Australia – The Wolf Amongst the Sheep“. Please feel free to comment and leave your thoughts and opinions on either Coles and Animals Australia or the social media campaign on twitter.
Yesterday I received a e-mail from a animals rights group asking for signatures on a petition to ban the baiting of dingoes, while the 1080 baiting of dingoes is one of the most effective ways to control pest numbers this is not what this post is about. One of the closing lines in the e-mail stated that “There are plenty of other methods for farmers to protect their crops humanely”, which makes you wonder how in touch they are? As last time I checked dingoes were carnivores and predators (mentioned in the e-mail) which would makes them the very real threat livestock that they are and not a threat to cropping.
Their website didn’t go on to mention anything about the protection of crops or livestock from dingoes but instead just focused on why dingoes should be protected, in particular on Fraser Island and the dangers of 1080 poison, which where misleading and inaccurate. As the website handles a varying range of petitions I can not be sure of who wrote the e-mail or if it was even written by some one in Australia but I still think that if you are going to campaign a issue you should know and understand it so you avoid doing something as silly as saying that dingoes are a threat to crops.
This isn’t the first time a campaigner has shown they were greatly out of touch, late last year animal rights group and general annoyance PETA was trying to have burnt out stations in Queensland’s Gulf Country face legal action on animals welfare grounds. Not only did they not understand the sheer logistics and costs of they believed should have been in place but they killed their campaign in a heart beat when they called the station owners “Ranchers” on radio. How these organisations can hold any credibility or support is a sheer wonder to me and I’m assuming many others feel the same.
The email can be found below and as always please feel free to leave any comments or opinions below.
Dingoes are one of Australia’s top predators. But intense lobbying from farming interests has landed this ecologically critical animal on the pests and vermin list. That means, despite the rapid disappearance of pure dingoes, the species can be killed, including with 1080 poisoned bait.
1080 poison is an indiscriminate killer. While it’s been approved to kill foxes, rabbits and wild dogs, it gets into the ecosystem, killing pets, untargeted native animals and “pests” in a slow, horrific way. Worse, the suffering isn’t even necessary. There are plenty of other methods for farmers to protect their crops humanely.
Scientists have warned for years that we’re close to losing pure dingoes in the wild. Allowing them to be poisoned is only making things worse.
The other day I watched a documentary called “Gasland” and it was frightening, it was about the extraction of shale gas in US and effects it has caused on the people and the environment. The main concern highlighted in the the documentary was air and water contamination caused by the fracking process, because in the US at the time of filming the companies were exempt from the clean air act and clean water act, while most of the contaminated shown was dirty water some contained chemicals and some could even be set fire to as it came out of tap. While we don’t have shale gas production in Australia we do have CSG which sometimes uses the fracking process, there were also some important points that the documentary failed to mention but I’ll get to that later so lets start with what CSG is and the fracking process.
Coal Seam Gas or CSG is methane gas that is extracted from coal seams instead of sandstone where it is normally found, it makes up 27% of Australia’s gas resources, 78% of the eastern states gas resources and is set to supply 50% of the eastern states gas demand by 2030. Coal Seam Gas is pressurised by water which traps the gas in the seam so in order to extract the gas they have to remove the water first, this requires drilling of a well often between 400 and 1000 metres deep and possibly fracking it if gas flow isn’t sufficient.
If drilling and pumping out the water in the coal seam is not enough to get a suitable flow of gas then fracking is required to get enough flow, fracking is a process that involves forcing a mixture of water, sand and a combination chemicals down the hole so that fractures the rock around the well allowing more gas to flow into the gas well. There has been a lot of concern in regards to the chemicals used in the fracking process in particular benzene (which can cause cancer), toulene (a toxic chemical), ethyl-benzene (cancer causing) and xylene (toxic and highly flammable), fortunately these chemicals have been banned in New South Wales and Queensland but there are still many other chemicals used in the fracking process. Although fracking has only been used on eight percent of Queensland’s gas wells the use of these chemicals and the possible contamination they can cause to ground water and waterways is what has got farmers and the producer of the documentary “Gasland” concerned.
In the documentary “Gasland” they were drilling for shale gas which always requires fracking and may need to be fracked up to eighteen times in its life unlike CSG, so its a bit different but the fracking process is similar as are the depths. As I mentioned earlier the documentary highlighted cases where ground water contaminated by sediments, chemicals and even gas to the extent where it could be ignited as it came out of the tap. But what the documentary failed to mention was that this shouldn’t happen because of the distance between the aquifers that the bore water is found in and the coal seams where the gas is found. Bores for water in CSG areas only tend to around 200 metres but in some parts of Australia they can go down to 2000 metres with the water that comes out being too hot to touch, the coal seam layers are typically found between 400 and 1000 metres, so there’s a large gap between the two meaning the any chemicals that could have entered the coal seam during fracking would take hundreds if not thousands of years to seep through to the aquifers. But in order to get to the coal seam you have to go through the aquifers, so how do they do it without damaging the aquifer?
In order to get to the coal seam you need to drill through the aquifers, so its important to protect the aquifer during the drilling process and during the gas extraction process. To do this they case the gas well with layers of concrete and metal piping as they drill, however it is possible that the concrete could crack and allow gas and chemicals to escape into the aquifer, this is the main theory behind the water contamination and the flammable water seen in “Gasland”. Hopefully a higher level of regulation and tougher casings will prevent these sort of incidents occurring in Australia, although gas wells have been know to leak around the head in Australia. There are also other water issues involving CSG that farmers are more concerned with.
Earlier I mentioned that in order to get the gas from the coal seam it needs be de-pressurised by removing the water from it, this is one of the main concerns for farmers as they need to know what will happen to the ground water level and what will happen to the removed water. The CSG industry expects that will it remove over 75 gigalitres of water a year from the Great Artesian Basin even though the basin has a annual recharge of 880 gigalitres it is spread over a large area and with a large amount of localised pumping it could take many years for the water to come across and refill it. This lack of water flowing back into the pumping area could cause the water in the aquifers above to seep down into the coal seam dropping the water table, this may not happen imminently but over a extended period of time possibly spanning generations and this is what farmers are concerned about. They want to know if the water level will still be there for their children and their children’s children. One of the methods of achieving this is by treating and cleaning the extracted water before it is put back into the ground, this process is called re-injection. Other options for dealing with the extracted water include treating it and using it in cropping operations or town water supply.
Company access to farm land is another major concern facing growers, as under Australian Law the land owner owns the land all the way to the core but they don’t own the mineral and fuel resources found in that area. Those resources are owned by the state or the people, the government which is the representation of the people can then issue a mining lease to companies that mine the gas or minerals as long as royalties are paid to the government and the land holder gets compensation. If the landholder refuses the company access and refuses to negotiate with them the matter is taken to the courts and the land holder will be awarded minimal compensation for the mining activity.
CSG is a major issue facing farmers in Australia, it has the potential to do massive amounts of damage to the farming sector but it also has the potential to help out the farming sector. I believe that for the best results farmers need to work with the mining companies and the mining companies need to be proactive in working with the farmers as well as protecting the environment to ensure minimal impact to the land and water. But I also believe that legislation needs to change so land holders can refuse access to their properties.
Please comment and leave your thoughts on the issue.