Monsanto to trial GM cotton using new technology
Monsanto a biotechnology giant will trial GM cotton using new technology in the Ord Irrigation Scheme this year, which could prove more resistant to thrips, mirids and caterpillars. They are also in talks with Department of Agriculture Western Australia to secure a “tiny” trial plot at Kununurra Research Station
It plans to grow GM cotton using its pipeline biotechnology Bollgard III, approved for Australian use last year. The new technology is a step up from Bollgard II and includes a new gene, Vip3A, which works with Cry1A and Cry2Ab to produce proteins which kill insects.
Mosanto managing director Tony May said that it was early days for the new variety, designed to target a wider pest spectrum. It’s a very slow process.
Monsanto secured approval to grow the trial plot from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator last year and plans to plant in May.
Ord farmer Matt Gray said that he was keeping a close eye on the viability of cotton in the Ord.
The cucurbit and melon farmer recently planted a 3ha, six-variety GM cotton trial on his property with CSIRO research agronomist Stephen Yeates. The trial will assess how the varieties cope as a wet season crop. He said that while both trials were interesting, without a cotton gin (processing plant) nearby the cost of freight meant cotton was not viable in the Ord long-term.
Chinese-owned Kimberley Agricultural Investment, which farms at the Ord, plans to eventually build a cotton gin in Kununurra. If it can secure relevant approvals, KAI plans to grow up cotton north of Kununurra after paying USD 60 million to acquire Carlton Hill Station from Consolidated Pastoral Company last year.
The sale meant KAI leased back the cattle station side of the company to CPC but retained 15000ha of freehold land to develop irrigated cropping.
KAI managing director Jim Engelke said that the Ord had never had the scale or infrastructure needed. They have always lacked scale for anything and 10000 ha gets you the scale you need. That gives you 100000 bales to put through a cotton gin, which drives all of your logistics.
Almost all Australian-grown cotton is genetically modified with more than 80 % grown using former Monsanto’s GM varieties. For Monsanto, growing GM cotton in the Ord would present a business opportunity.