* Technology may help lift Australia farm output 70 pct by
* Competition with mining an issue
* Genetically modified crops likely to increase
By Bruce Hextall
SYDNEY, July 20 Australian farmers could lift
output 70 percent by 2050 using new technologies including
genetically modified (GM) crops, officials told a farming
conference on Wednesday, though increasing pressure on land from
mining stands in the way.
Australia is the world's fourth-largest wheat exporter,
second-largest beef exporter and third-largest cotton and sugar
shipper. New South Wales state is a top grain and cotton
"The real issue that Australia has to deal with is that
state governments are more focused on the mining industry than
agriculture," said Mick Keogh, executive director of the
Australian Farm Institute.
"That's a short-term gain instead of solving the issue of
food security which is necessary for the long term," Keogh told
the annual conference of the NSW Farmers' Association, a leading
Australia's agricultural capacity is also attracting
investment from countries such as China and Qatar, keen to tie
up supplies in the interest of food security.
But farmers are concerned that some of Australia's most
productive grain growing areas, including the north-west of New
South Wales, are being swallowed up by companies wanting to
access billions of tonnes of coal that lies below farmland.
Their major concern is that mining may adversely impact the
quality of water aquifers.
The development of the coal seam gas industry where water,
sand and chemicals are injected into wells under high pressure
to release gas, is also a concern as farmers believe it will
also hurt water quality.
"There is a real dearth of knowledge about our aquifers and
the impact of mining -- there is a long way to go in getting the
balance right," said Keogh.
The government's chief commodities forecaster, Australian
Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences
(ABARES), says there is a strong case for more farmers to adopt
"While Australian farmers are renowned for being innovative,
those with a higher capacity for innovation are undertaking a
greater number of innovative activities and are achieving higher
productivity through the process," said Kim Ritman, ABARES
acting deputy executive, said in statement.
Ritman's report noted innovative capacity was largely
determined by a grower's characteristics, such as education,
farm size, business acumen and financial resources, policies and
Paul Luxton, Australian general manager of crop protection
company Syngenta , said there was still an opportunity
to maximise farm production in Australia through technology.
"Australian farmers are quick to pick up new technology so
they can grow more on less land," said Luxton.
"GM crops will be part of the new technologies that will
boost production. It has also already proved extremely valuable
in cotton and now we're seeing that too with canola," he said.
In January, 2011, the Australian government
authorised the growing of GM canola, otherwise known as
rapeseed, after trials were carried out. This year about 12
percent of a total area of 1.83 million hectares were planted
with GM canola.
In 1996, insect resistant GM cotton was grown commercially
for the first time in Australia after six years of field trials,
saving farmers about A$50 million in insecticide costs.
Still, GM crops face health and safety concerns
from a number of groups including Greenpeace.
Swiss-based Syngenta spent $7 million on research and
development in Australia last year out of an annual budget of
around $1 billion.
(Editing by Ed Davies)