Tuesday, 07 March 2017 10:55

No GE – dumb!

Written by  Pam Tipa
Chris Claridge. Chris Claridge.

Locking ourselves out of the world by being GE-free is “just dumb”, Potatoes New Zealand chief executive Chris Claridge says.

“We have to understand as an agricultural nation that we must apply all knowledge and skills available to us worldwide in order to solve our own problems,” he told the recent Agcarm conference.

Claridge put forward a line of thinking to the conference that NZ agriculture is entering a ‘third wave’ in technological development.

“The third wave [in agriculture] is more about looking at things from a systems approach – an ecological perspective, trying to understand the unintended consequences of what happened so when you do intervene, you intervene carefully knowing or trying to understand absolutely what might happen,” Claridge says .” Also there are very complex interrelationships that might occur.

“Putting nitrogen on a paddock, for instance, has these downstream consequences we all have to be aware of.

“We are starting to see the need to understand the epidemiology of diseases. We are getting into precision diagnostics, and we are seeing data mapping and changes in technology and delivery.

“We are trying to manage this complex technological world and give information to the farmers and growers, which enable them to make more money.”

He says around the tomato-potato pest insect psyllid – they saw an unusual set of circumstances which caused a lot of problems downstream through the industry. But they are starting to see technologies applied to this which are unique in the way they are deployed.

The insect injects a bacterium into the plant, but you can’t cultivate it outside of a living plant, making it difficult to study. The bacterium, Liberibacter, causes spoiling of potato products downstream for processors.

Plant and Food, with others, has mapped the genetics of the Liberibacter, which has led to field tests detecting the presence in plants.

“We are starting to use DNA testing methodology which is why our ability to understand genetic engineering is so important because it leads us down to ‘how do we intervene in the system – how to we diagnose it, how do we treat it, how do we reduce the sprays, how to we monitor and control it with more efficacy?’

“Locking ourselves out of that technology means the industry goes backwards.”

It has the unintended consequences of switching off the researchers and students from staying in NZ and working in the industry, Claridge says.

The next question is about sprays and spray registration, he says. It is a long and costly process.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is not particularly quick or efficient in registering new sprays. The EPA will say they must make sure new sprays are environmentally friendly; but there has to be a balance.”


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