The first generation of GM crops, with productivity enhancing input traits such as insect resistance and herbicide tolerance, have been rapidly adopted around the globe providing clear agronomic, economic, environmental and social benefits to those 18 million farmers in 28 countries who have accessed the technology.
In Australia, growing GM cotton varieties has seen environmental benefits resulting from improving the sustainable use of insecticides and changes in the type of insecticides and herbicides used. First grown in 1996, almost 100 per cent of Australia’s cotton crop is now grown with GM varieties.
The adoption of GM herbicide tolerant canola varieties in Australia has also resulted in environmental benefits and increased environmental sustainability. For example, just as for those farmers growing GM herbicide tolerant cotton, cultivation of GM herbicide tolerant canola has allowed farmers in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia to use selective, targeted and lower hazard crop protection products.
Herbicide tolerant canola provides farmers with more effective weed control, particularly for those broad leaf weeds that are closely related to canola. The introduction of glyphosate tolerant GM canola merely adds another weed management option to farmers’ weed control toolbox. Both non‑GM and GM herbicide tolerant canola technologies have led the shift to no‑till or conservation tillage systems with associated environmental benefits such as reduced soil erosion and increased soil water and carbon retention.
The agronomic benefits of GM (when compared to non‑GM) herbicide tolerant canola include increasing the options for in‑crop weed control, allowing herbicide rotations that address the risk of herbicide resistant weeds developing and increasing the yield in subsequent cereal crops, which could be adversely affected by herbicide carry over from the herbicides used in non‑GM herbicide tolerant crops.
The control of insect pests and weeds is a significant cost for Australian farmers. Crop biotechnology provides Australian farmers with new tools that can be used as part of Integrated Weed and Pest Management programs to maintain the sustainability and longevity of pest and weed control options in Australia.