Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman said the New Genes for New Environments (NGNE) facility in Katanning would complement the work already being done at NGNE facility in Merredin and enable the Australian grains industry to remain internationally competitive through access to the latest global advances in crop technology.KATANNING’S New Genes for New Environments (NGNE) facility – for the exploration of genetically modified traits to improve crop varieties – was opened last week.
Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman officially opened the Department of Agriculture and Food’s (DAFWA) new compound which he claimed would complement DAFWA’s existing NGNE operation at Merredin, which opened on October 4 last year.
Mr Redman said the State Government’s recent $9 million investment in the two sites would enable WA’s grains industry to compete on the international stage with countries like Canada, the USA and South America which had reaped the benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops and global advances in crop technology for a large number of years.
He said the facilities, operated by DAFWA, would also help to deliver productivity gains to WA growers and meet the requirements of international end users.
In speaking at the opening, Mr Redman acknowledged the controversy surrounding the local GM debate but said the NGNE investment was about the reinforcement of choice for farmers and reiterated that nobody would be forced to take up the technology.
“GM crops have increased global farm profits by $62 billion and decreased the impact of herbicides by 17 per cent,” he said.
“The use of the technology has provided a $200 million benefit to the Australian farming sector so far and helped to reduce the impact of carbon emissions.”
Mr Redman said about 70,000 hectares of GM crops were grown in WA in 2011/12 which had so far provided a benefit of $5m to the State and the NGNE facility at Katanning would only create further advancements.
“Potential benefits include improvements to grower viability, more sustainable regional communities and a reduction in environmental impact from agricultural production systems,” Mr Redman said.
“The New Genes for New Environments facilities meet the stringent national standards of the Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and enable research partners to work with DAFWA to evaluate the performance of trial GM crops in a safe and controlled environment.
“Future commercialisation of any GM crop will require approval of the OGTR, market acceptance of the GM crop and approval under WA’s GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003.
“This approval process provides the checks and balances necessary to ensure there is confidence the technology is being applied safely.”
He also said the Katanning and Merredin facilities were part of a long-term investment by the State Government to support the productivity and resilience of WA’s grains industry with a science-based approach.
The two sites were selected because of their contrasting weather – Merredin had low rainfall and high temperatures while Katanning often experienced frosts and winter waterlogging.
Already at the Merredin site, CSIRO GM wheat and barley nitrogen and yield trials had uncovered early results of 26-29 per cent increases in crop yields.
Mr Redman said DAFWA was currently in negotiations with a number of other partners keen to complete trials at the new Katanning facility.
“It takes 150 days for the regulator to approve trials to be grown so things will start to progress from here,” he said.
The Katanning facility boasts restricted access, dedicated manipulation space for scientists working with genetic material, industrial freezers and driers, laboratory space, seed storage facilities, an autoclave for the destruction of small seed samples and a hammer mill for the destruction of larger quantities of plant material.
Within the five hectare netted compound is also a regulated wash down area with air and water facilities.
The dedicated growing facility is positioned at least 400 metres from the nearest canola-growing site, the entire compound is surrounded by a two-metre tall fence with rabbit netting and will be scattered with mouse baits once operational.
p The CSIRO continues to examine the characteristics and genetic potential of several lines of GM wheat and barley at the Merredin NGNE facility.
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