News

Dairy Australia committed to GM rye-grass

By Stephen Cooke

The delayed introduction of genetically modified ryegrass continues to frustrate dairy farmers, and the new Managing Director of Dairy Australia, David Nation, is uniquely placed to share these frustrations.
Mr Nation was CEO of the industry research program, Dairy Futures CRC, and was Co-Director of its successor, DairyBio, before being appointed to his new role in July.
He has been intimately involved with the ryegrass research.
“I think I can do a reasonable job of representing the excitement and frustration of farmers on this one,” Dr Nation said.
“I have a long background in this space, and it’s progressing. All things GM have to progress slowly.
“ It’s a highly regulated technology and it’s regulated for all the right reasons, and that means every step of progress has to occur in a highly controlled environment, which means everything happens much more slowly than regular plant breeding you see out in the field.
“For many years now I’ve been seeing these plants first hand and it’s always a challenge to go from seeing them first hand and thinking surely it can’t be far to seeing a commercial variety.”
Dr Nation said he wanted to assure farmers that DA remained “absolutely committed” to the technology.   
“We have a substantial budget to continue to develop both the original GM varieties that continue to progress, as well as brand new technologies which are much more efficient and potentially even higher impact.”
Dr Nation said there was “layer upon layer” of challenge developing the technology.
“All the work until six months ago was done in secure glass houses. There’s a logistical challenge in that you can only grow so many plants in each glasshouse.
“We’re at the point now where you can never get a paddock full of grass if you just grow it in a glasshouse. The challenge was to seek permission for the first time to take plants out of a secure glass house and put them in an appropriate field-contained environment.”
Dr Nation said this was required to grow enough seed to show farmers firsthand what it looks like and the agronomy of it in a paddock, as well as how it performs when fed to animals.
Every step of the process requires permission. 
“No one in Australia has ever created that environment and got permission from regulators to work with something like a rye grass before.
“Every time we do something it’s breaking new ground.”
Dr Nation said DA was still actively working on the technology in Victoria and with partners in South America.
“The next layer after this is what is the market acceptance of this product? That is still an open question for industry, about the acceptability of these plants.”