AUSTRALIA: January 2017 has yielded a whole lot of seed and agriculture news down under. Here, we cover everything from record grains and rain, mouse plague and grasshopper threats, unstoppable GM crops and herbicide drift damage, to the invention of a promising new antiviral topical spray, seized bear-meat and weed seeds, sun-burnt pineapples and a national maize yield competition.
Record grain deliveries reported at NSW silos
Sydney-listed GrainCorp Ltd has reported record deliveries of grain early this year at 26 of its silos in New South Wales, amounting to 100,000 tons. Many analysts have predicted the 2016-2017 Australian wheat harvest, which will be concluded by June, to be a record bumper crop year of up to 28 tons. Like other cereals on the world market, wheat is currently in oversupply, reflected by low prices, which have been on the decline for four years.
Rains pose mouse plague threat to country’s bread baskets
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has warned of a mouse plague threat in the coming months as the result of record rains that have enabled record crops – factors which are believed to be contributing to a current spike in mice populations. According to the CSIRO, such mouse plagues regularly occur in Australia’s grain belts as well as one unnamed province in north-west China.
Grasshopper swarms reported in the Central Australian outback in the vicinity of Alice Springs, which have also been linked to the unusually wet weather, thus far are not being perceived as a threat to migrate to farms in the east or southern part of the country. Unlike migratory locusts which can decimate grain crops, grasshoppers tend to feed on vegetation and are not migratory.
Wet weather no boon for the olive industry
Many olive farmers in Western Australia are keeping their fingers crossed for a dry start to the year. The wet and wild weather of 2016 may have proved a boon for many livestock and cereal farmers, but not for olive farmers, many of whom were forced to harvest early, which resulted in reduced returns.
Potato prices surge in face of shortage
Some supermarkets are selling potatoes for as much as A$9 a kilo, as the price per tonne went from A$400 to $2,000 as a significant amount of crops were washed away by last year’s deluges.
GM crops ‘unstoppable’
‘There is not much we can do about it,’ Mr Mick Murray, labor party agriculture spokesman was quoted in describing the situation of GM crops in Western Australia, where the government has formally relinquished all efforts to attempt to ban or regulate the technology. Farmers have been permitted to grow GM canola in the state since 2010, but the state’s labor party has, up until recently, vowed to back regulation in the state, where farmers are deeply divided.
Herbicide spray drift blamed for millions in crop damages
It has been estimated that 20% of Australia’s last cotton crop, across 60,000 hectares, suffered “spray drift” damages valued at more than A$20 million ($15.1mn). Drift occurs when a farmer on one plot sprays a pesticide or herbicide, and the chemicals are unintentionally carried to an adjacent plot, where unintended crops suffer damage.
Scientists invent antiviral topical spray for sustainable crop protection
In a groundbreaking development, biotechnology researchers at the University of Queensland have developed a non-invasive solution for farmers to protect their crops from viruses. The spray, which comprises a bond of the target virus’ RNA and nanoparticles of clay, suspended in water, reportedly provided viral protection for a trial tobacco crop for 20 days. Unlike expensive and invasive genetic modification techniques to introduce RNA material into a plant’s genetic code, the application of “BioClay” on the plants reportedly leaves no permanent traces, requiring only 6-8 weeks to degrade naturally.
Customs ramp up foodstuff seizures in name of ‘biosecurity’
Bear-meat sausages from Sweden, edible seeds from India, scorpions from Southeast Asia and Japanese water caltrop (aquatic plant of the the Trapa genus) seeds were among seizures made recently by Cairns International Airport customs officers. Biosecurity threats posed by said items include the potential introduction of exotic pests or diseases that may be preserved in meat or insects, as well as the threat of weeding and infestation of non-native plants from seeds that could still be viable.
Farmers use sunblock to protect pineapples from intense sunrays
Pineapple farmers along the Sunshine Coast have been applying a lime-base sunblock to pineapples at risk of sun damage. As the application can affect the exterior appearance of the fruit, the technique is only recommended for fruits designated for canneries. For fresh market fruits, a polymer protective coating is recommended, but is effective only up to certain temperatures.
Maize yield competition to seek top corn crops
The Maize Association of Australia will stage a national maize yield competition, seeking entries in two categories: irrigated and dry land crops. Australia’s current maize yield record is 21 tonnes per ha, realized in 2004-2005 season using the Pioneer 3335 hybrid variety. Entries will be accepted until July 31, full details available here.