Rural round-up

September 21, 2014

Diversity of services competing for awards – Sally Rae:

Three diverse Southern businesses are among the entrants in this year’s Rural Women New Zealand Enterprising Rural Women Awards. Agribusiness reporter Sally Rae finds out a little more about them.

A line-up of work boots outside Riversdale accountancy firm Hammond Davidson is not an unusual sight.

”There’s boots out there at the moment,” partner Kylie Davidson laughed yesterday, as she glanced at the front door of the business, where about 80% of the client base are farmers, farming support businesses or contractors. . .

One-stop irrigation know-how shop – Maureen Bishop:

A pilot project on 14 farms in Canterbury and North Otago has shown there is considerable scope to improve the efficiency of energy used in on-farm irrigation systems.

The pilot project was a partnership between Irrigation New Zealand (INZ), the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority and the electricity lines companies of Canterbury and North Otago. It considered where there was an opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of on-farm irrigation systems and their operation and, if so, what the scale was. . .

Business with a twist in final – Sally Brooker:

A Timaru business is a finalist in this year’s Enterprising Rural Women Awards.

Irricon Resource Solutions Ltd is an environmental consultancy co-owned by Keri Johnston and Haidee McCabe. It is based at Washdyke but works throughout the South Island, offering services including designing dairy effluent systems, preparing and auditing Overseer nutrient budgets and farm environmental plans, water quality monitoring, aquifer and irrigation tests, ecological assessments, and resource consent advice.

Clients range from smallholdings to corporate farms. . .

  GM on the agenda at Roundtable – Tim Cronshaw:

The challenge of feeding another two billion people will go on the shoulders of Ashburton farmers Craige and Roz Mackenzie when they attend the Global Farmer Roundtable next month.

Craige Mackenzie became the first Kiwi to be invited to join farming leaders at the roundtable talks two years ago and was asked back to the event, which is part of the World Food Prize meetings in Iowa, United States. Roz has been officially invited after informally attending the last meeting.

The focus is on providing enough food for 9 billion people by 2050 through trade and technology and the subject of genetic modification (GM) to improve agriculture production – controversial in New Zealand – will be freely discussed. . . .

                                       *   *   *  *   *


GM crops can help counter affects of climate change

January 11, 2014

Dr Robert T. Fraley, co-winner of the 2013 World Food Prize writes on the role GM crops could play in countering the affects of climate change:

. . .  at the very same time the demand for food is skyrocketing, food production is under severe pressure from climate change. It is fair to say that this represents one of the greatest challenges in the history of humanity.

But it’s one that GM crops can help meet. In fact, they’re already being called on to do so. In Africa, for example, climate change is leading to more frequent and more severe droughts, which are threatening the continent’s staple maize (corn) crop. In response, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), a public/private partnership, is helping to improve food security and the livelihoods of smallholder maize producers in Africa by developing new drought-tolerant and insect pest-protected maize hybrids. WEMA is providing the technology royalty-free to African seed companies for distribution to smallholder farmers. The WEMA project is led by the Kenyan-based African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) and involves Monsanto, CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and five National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.

But water-efficient maize and the other advances we have already made are only the tip of the iceberg. Seeds that offer even better drought resistance, nutrition, higher yields, and many other benefits are now under development by scientists around the world.

In fact, continuing the advance of science is not really the issue. The bigger challenge is the social and policy barriers that block many of the potential innovations. . . 

It’s not science but emotion and  politics that are the stumbling blocks and there’s nothing new in that.

. . . Innovation in the food supply has evoked strong reactions throughout recent history. It happened when milk was first pasteurized a little more than a century ago. And it happened when Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution and founder of the World Food Prize, introduced his newly bred Mexican wheats to India and Pakistan. Some of Dr. Borlaug’s field trials were sabotaged. When others succeeded, rumors spread that growing the Mexican wheats would make the land sterile, or children who ate them would become sterile. In fact, these wheats ended up saving hundreds of millions from starvation.

Dr. Borlaug used to say it all the time: “You must be prepared for opposition.” I think those of us who believe in the promise of biotechnology have not prepared the way we should have.

I think all of us engaged in the struggle to feed the world need to create more understanding of the fact that the safety of our products never has been and never will be compromised. GM foods are the most thoroughly studied food products ever launched commercially. The issue has been examined in more than 1,700 studies by hundreds of independent research groups and reviewed by the world’s leading scientific and medical authorities, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization. The consensus is clear. As the European Commission’s review concluded, there is “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.” Yet doubts remain, and we in the scientific community need to engage in meaningful conversations to address them.

Although we have done a good job communicating with farmers, we haven’t connected as well with consumers. I am confident they will at least be open to listening to us if they know we’re listening to them.

I believe we can find common-ground solutions. They’ll be found around agriculture that minimizes the environmental impact of water and land use and that reduces the risk of political disruption. . . .

The Green Party is trying to urge New Zealand to follow the Tasmanian Government’s lead and have a moratorium on genetically engineered (GE/GMO) crops and animals.

There’s more than a little irony in this – the party which is most vociferous about its concerns about climate change and the impact of farming on the environment is equally determined to oppose one of the measures that could mitigate the impact of rising temperatures on food production.


Monsanto scientist wins World Food Prize

June 20, 2013

For the first time in its 27-year history, a prestigious award for enhancing the global food supply has gone to a creator of genetically modified crops, a top scientist at Monsanto.

Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, will share the $250,000 World Food Prize with two other scientists who helped devise how to insert foreign genes into plants: Marc Van Montagu of Belgium and Mary-Dell Chilton of the United States. . .

The prize was started in 1987 by Norman E. Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for bringing about the Green Revolution, which vastly increased grain output, and who thought there should be a Nobel Prize for agriculture. The award is given to those who improve the “quality, quantity or availability” of food in the world. . .

The World Food Prize Foundation said the work of the three scientists led to the development of crops that can resist insects, disease and extremes of climate, and are higher-yielding.

Genetically engineered crops, which for the most part contain genes from bacteria, now account for roughly 90 percent of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States. Globally, genetically modified crops are grown on 420 million acres by 17.3 million farmers, over 90 percent of them small farmers in developing countries, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an organization that promotes use of biotechnology. . .

“I’m sure there will be some controversy about it,” Kenneth M. Quinn, the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, said in an interview before the winners were announced. “At the same time the view of our organization and our committee is that in the face of controversy, you shouldn’t back away from your precepts. If you do so, you are diminishing the prize.’’

Mr. Quinn, a former United States ambassador to Cambodia, said crop biotechnology had “met the test of demonstrating it would impact millions of people and enhance their lives.’’ . . .

The winners of the 2013 prize were part of teams that independently developed methods three decades ago for putting foreign genes into the DNA of plants. . . .

This is a win for science and business and a blow to the anti-science, anti-business movement.

Although as their case is political and based on emotion rather than science, they are unlikely to let the facts get in the way of their story.

 


Direct drill inventor up for World Food Prize

June 2, 2012

The sight of one of our neighbour’s paddocks blowing past our kitchen window in a nor wester is one of my enduring memories of the droughts which punctuated the 1980s in North Otago.

Thankfully it is something I’ve never seen since and one of the reasons for that is that soon after  that happened direct drilling was introduced.

This low tillage method of cultivation doesn’t leave the soil exposed to wind and weather as conventional ploughing does and it is now the preferred practice in our district.

The drill revolutionised farming and its inventor has been nominated for the US$250,000 (NZ$327,000) World Food Prize.

Dr John Baker perfected the cross-slot seed drill over 30 years as a scientist at Massey University and then spent 10 years fighting to win ownership of it from companies the university sold it to.

He regained control of the drill in 1998, after $10 million had been spent on developing it, and set up a factory in Feilding to build them.

Cross-slot tillage is described as the keyhole surgery of farming. The drill creates two side-by-side pockets as it passes through the soil, depositing seed in one and fertiliser in the other.

Unlike ploughing, it does not disturb the surface of the soil and preserves soil micro-organisms and carbon. . .

 . . . Nomination follows Baker reaching the finals of the World Technology Awards in 2010. Baker said the food prize nomination stemmed from his lift in profile at the technology awards.

“It awakened a lot of people to the fact 90 per cent of the world’s food is annual crops. They all start off as seed and if you don’t sow those seeds correctly, they won’t grow and we all starve.

The drill, sold widely in New Zealand at prices ranging from $200,000 to $600,000, is also being exported to 17 countries . . .  

The inventor of the drill which protects soils and as a result increases yields is a worthy nominee for this prestigious prize.


%d bloggers like this: