This page features a compilation and selection of Australian seed industry news briefs, summaries and leads, with an emphasis on news and events that impact or affect locales and countries in the Commonwealth of Australia, and all of its states and territories (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania).
The news covers trends and events regarding seed regulation, testing, legislation, phytosanitary issues, intellectual property rights, biotechnology (genomics, gene-editing) plant breeding, agronomy and cropping, with original sources linked.
This page will be updated throughout the year, with most recent briefs listed first.
Fairbanks Seeds opens online stores for Australia and New Zealand: December 21: Professional vegetable growers for whom purchase of seeds in wholesale pack sizes is unsuitable can now order pro-quality seeds in the amounts they want from Fairbanks Seeds, exclusive distributor in Australia and New Zealand for Syngenta's Leafy and Brassica varieties. Field trials, said to be exciting, are underway to determine the right timeslots for commercial production with the goal being 5-6 varieties achieving excellent results in all seasons. Read full story here.
Eyre Peninsula project to recover South Australian flowering plants: December 20: A national seed bank containing 13,000 varieties on Eyre Peninsula will ensure more than 80 per cent of South Australia's most-threatened species survive and may further regeneration of species believed lost (as seed pods can lay dormant hundreds of years before germination). Located at Secret Rocks Reserve, the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre has so far regenerated 12 native plants. Present focus is on recovery of the Corunna daisy and the chalky wattle, considered among Eyre Peninsula's rarest plants, with only one population of the former and 50 examples of the latter remaining in the wild. They now grow at Secret Rocks behind a fence, protected from herbivores. Read full story here.
Pacific Seeds funding agricultural scholarships at Queensland U: December 16: The Aus$5,000 grants may be applied to the final year of studies and are aimed at assisting farming families with tertiary education costs while also encouraging young people to enter agriculture. Australia's federal government meanwhile has a target of Aus$100 billion for the farm-gate value of Australian agriculture by 2030 -- which cannot be met unless youth begin selecting agriculture for their career path in greater numbers. Pacific Seeds scholarship students can intern at Pacific Seeds sites across Australia where they are exposed to research and technology, business, supply chain and retail practices. Read full story here.
Floods and unseasonal weather prompt canola seed worries: December 13: Record canola prices are prompting unprecedented seed orders from those wishing to cash-in on high oilseed prices, but floods and inclement weather in the seed production areas of New South Wales and Victoria have led to worries of ensuing dearth. Despite that, early signs are promising and growers say it is too early to confirm damage. Hail wiped out one -- but only one -- seed production lot belonging to Pioneer Seeds. Otherwise, the firm avers crops were yielding well about a third of the way through their harvest, with most production unaffected by weather. Nonetheless, Pioneer is saying they cannot fill all the orders coming in as demand is overwhelming. Read full story here.
DLF consolidation: December 8: Danish farmer’s co-operative DLF is consolidating PGG Wrightson Seeds, Agricom, AusWest Seeds and Stephens Pasture Seeds, brands purchased in 2019, into a single channel called DLF Seeds. Established in 1872, DLF now has 2000 employees in 22 countries, including Australia. The company's new distribution model is simpler and enables customers to source all DLF products and services in one place. The name change takes effect February 1 and will see new branding for staff uniforms, other resources and communications. Read full story here.
eBay weeds out unidentified seeds and live plants entering Australia by mail: November 23: The project is undertaken in cooperation with Australia's Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE), and has interdicted 18,000 doubtful or illegal attempts to introduce seeds from abroad. Biosecurity surveillance measures in international mailrooms have been intensified for the Christmas and New Year's season, as many people use online services to order seeds or live plants without realizing they are sent from abroad -- and are not only illegal but pose environmental threats. Assisting eBay/DAWE operations are sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners. Suspect items when located are destroyed, and, since November 8, the policy includes all unidentified seeds and meat products. For its part, eBay has shut down sellers trying to import seeds illegally. Sellers typically try to skirt interdiction by labelling parcels earrings, toys -- or anything but Seeds. Read full story here.ASF announces date of 2022 Convention: The Australian Seed Federation (ASF) has announced that its 2022 Seed Business Convention will be held 16-18 August, 2022. The annual three-day industry convention, which is usually held in late August in various locations around Australia, was cancelled this year owing to “Covid-related lockdowns and significant border restrictions” Find out more details here.
IP Australia agrees to review approach to EDVs in 'forward agenda': IP Australia – the Australian Government agency that administers intellectual property (IP) rights and legislation relating to patents, trademarks, designs and plant breeder's rights – has confirmed with international seed industry stakeholders that legislators in the Oceanic nation would review its approach to Essentially Derived Varieties (EDVs) as part of its “forward legislative agenda”. In a October 15 letter (download here) addressed to Hélène Khan Niazi Guillot (International Agriculture Manager, International Seed Federation), Matthew Forno (Assistant General Manager, Policy & Stakeholder Group of IP Australia) wrote “Australia considers that the case has been made to review our approach to EDVs and to explore using the approach in the proposed explanatory notes, should they be adopted by UPOV.” The letter was a formal response to a consultation comment submitted on behalf of several international seed trade and plant breeding organizations. Those comments, which underlined rationales for why legislation should align with proposed explanatory note revisions, were outlined in a July 26 letter, co-authored by executives from the ISF, the International Community of Breeders of Asexually Reproduced Horticultural Plants (CIOPORA), Crop Life International, Euroseeds, AFSTA (African Seed Trade Association) and SAA (Seed Association of the Americas) and the Asia and Pacific Seed Alliance (APSA). The letter (download here) was submitted as part of consultation process from 1 July to 6 August 2021, in which IP Australia sought stakeholder’s views in a target consultation on whether Australia should adopt the approach in proposed explanatory notes for EDVs, should they be adopted by UPOV. According to an update published by IP Australia, and outlined in the aforementioned response letter, “Most submissions were in favor of Australia aligning our approach to EDVs with the approach in the proposed explanatory notes and indicated that doing so will incentivise ongoing investment in the plant breeding industry in Australia.”
Additional Background: On June 11, IP Australia circulated a Consultation Paper (download here) amongst plant breeding and seed industry stakeholders. The paper, titled “Proposed changes to Explanatory Notes on Essentially Derived Varieties under the UPOV Convention”, was circulated to provide information and “seek stakeholders’ comments on how Australia’s plant breeding industries could be affected by proposed changes to guidance on the UPOV (International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) Convention, and more specifically, seek “views on whether Australia should consider changing the Australian definition of an Essentially Derived Variety (EDV) to be closer to the proposed changes” in the convention’s guidance in Explanatory Notes on EDVs. The current UPOV 1991 explanatory notes on EDVs were adopted on April 6, 2017 (see here). According to IP Australia’s consultation paper, “the balance between the rights of breeders of the new and initial varieties, and the criteria for EDVs, has been debated in Australia and internationally.” To address this, a Working Group on Essentially Derived Varieties (WG-EDV/4) was formed last year and has met four times since December 2020 to discuss proposed changes to the explanatory notes. The Working Group comprises government and several international trade and plant breeding organizations, including including ISF, APSA, Euroseeds, AFSTA, CLI and CIPORA. In addition to representatives from IP Australia, the group also has public sector representation from the governments of New Zealand, China, Japan in the Asia-Pacific, as well as several governments in Europe, Africa and the Americas. Proposed changes drafted by the UPOV Office at the request of the working group “would change the guidance on the provisions of the UPOV Convention concerning EDVs. The new guidance may not be consistent with the current Australian practice for EDVs,” which was the basis for IP Australia to engage stakeholders through consultation.
Updates from the ASF: The September 2021 Australian Seed Federation newsletter contains a number of important updates, including an address from ASF CEO, Mr. Osman Mewett, covering conclusions from the most recent ASF Board meeting, new ASF Constitutional By-laws, approving the formation of an ASF Native Seeds Industry Working Group, and cancellation of this year’s Seed Business Convention for the second consecutive year. Find the newsletter here.
Weather wreaks havoc on spring crops: September 3: Despite a warm start to spring, a strong cold front in early September has brought heavy rainfall, wind thunderstorms and hail, wreaking havoc to cropland in the southeast and all along the country’s east coast. Affected locales included Victoria’s alpine regions, including the Dandenong and Yarra Ranges, Mt Buller, Mt Baw Baw, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek. More details here.
All the latest Australian seed affairs are covered in the Australian Seed Federation’s monthly newsletter. The August 2021 edition covers everything from Covid-19 impacts, webinars and illegal seeds in the mail, to space seeds research and a ASF members alerts, including one for farmers movement exemption in Victoria, for example. See ASF August newsletter here.
Preserving seeds threatened by ‘Black Summer’ bushfires: Aug 23: A dozen plant species threatened with endangerment by the 2019-2020 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires that engulfed swathes of the Namadgi and Kosciuszko national parks will be protected as part of a new conservation scheme. The project, which is being carried out as a joint-partnership between the Australian Capital Territory government, the Australian National Botanic Gardens and conservation groups, will be initiated with the collection of
seeds of five types of plants - Namadgi tea-tree, the slender parrot pea, dwarf violet, shiny phebalium and the daisy bush - before proceeding with efforts to conserve seven more at-risk species. The seeds will be stored and studied at the Australian National Botanic Gardens. It was estimated that more than 70-100% of plant populations may have been destroyed in the fires. Full details here.
Best rains, evolution spur wildflower seas in Mid West: August 21: A bumper wildflower season in the Mid West region of Western Australia is credited to more than the ‘best wet winter rains in years’. Colorful blooms of Mingenew yellow, white, and pink everlasting daisies are attracting nature lovers to the Coalseam Conservation Park. According to conservationists, such a sight is not only credit to the abundant rains there this year, but millions of years of evolution of diversity, which is related to “ancient landscapes and the long period of isolation that plants have had to adapt and thrive. Read more here.
WA Farmers re-seeding fields with cover crops: August 16: Though a bumper harvest has been forecast for Western Australia in 2021, some farmers on the south coast of the state this August have reseeded crops lost to water damage, almost six months after the growing season commenced -- the farmers fear that if their fields are left bare, there are risks of erosion, moisture loss and weeds, and jeopardise next year's crop. More details here.
Illegally imported seed poses risk to Australian agriculture: 5 August: Biosecurity authorities have warned against ordering online seeds from overseas after detecting vegetable and fruit viruses in a “majority” of seeds imported for testing and research purposes.” According to a news release from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, “cucumber, melon and zucchini seeds that were ordered online from overseas were tested for selected viruses that are a biosecurity and agronomic concern. . . The viruses that were detected in the seeds include Melon necrotic spot virus, cucumber green mottle mosaic virus, Squash mosaic virus and potyviruses. . . One or more of the target viruses were detected in 23 of the 31 seed lots that were tested.” The article goes on to note that last year over 55,000 intercepted mail articles contained seeds, which represented 72% of all interceptions during that period. Responding to the report, CEO of the Australian Seed Federation (ASF) Mr Osman Mewett has urged the public to only purchase seed from reputable sources, and not from unknown online mail-order sources overseas. Citing the aforementioned report, Osman said that “It is important to buy clean, high-quality seed, and only plant and use seed from known and trusted sources, such as ASF members. Seed imported legally by reputable seed companies undergoes rigorous testing to meet Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements before it is distributed through commercial channels,” said Mr Mewett. Read more here.
AI solution to assist in seeding, on-farm decisions: Aug 4: ClimateAI, a climate science startup from San Francisco in the US state of California, has joined forces with Pacific Seeds in Toowoomba and Goanna Ag in Goondiwindi to launch an on-farm decision making tool for Australian growers. A newly designed platform called Skip combines climate analytics with a regional weather network to help growers identify and manage on-farm climate risks, enabling growers to make informed and AI-reinforced decisions on site. See more details here.
Much of Australia back in lockdown: July 22: Restrictions on movement and business have been imposed across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. In NSW, from 18 July, most retailers in Greater Sydney including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour were ordered to close. Exceptions were made for businesses providing essential products and services, including supermarkets, grocery stores, butchers and bakeries, as well as suppliers of fruits and vegetables, landscaping and agricultural materials. See latest order for NSW here. In Victoria, the latest restrictions became effective from July 20, detailed in a comprehensive directive from the Victoria Department of Health, which makes provision for “essential public services” including food production and food retail on a takeaway basis. South Australia on July 20 also announced “Level 5 restrictions”, which impose a number of stringent curbs on activity and movement, including for both interstate and intrastate travel. Though the detailed list of permitted essential workers, goods and services covers the food industry, there is no explicit mention of agriculture. There is, however, a specific provision for “the management and care of critical living resources and the equipment and materials they depend upon (eg. feeding, husbandry, hydrating, routine care and checks of animals, plants, microbes and cell lines in controlled environment)”. As of July 20, the Australian Capital Territory had inter-state travel restrictions and was mulling the imposing of new restrictions for intra-state movement. See here for latest ACT updates. Western Australia, meanwhile, continues to be under a State of Emergency, with its own intra and inter state movement restrictions in place.
Farmers group welcomes reopening plan: July 6: The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed a four-phase plan proposed by the National Cabinet on July 2. The plan, which aimed “at transitioning Australia’s COVID-19 response and reopening international borders,” was described b the NFF as a positive first step, considering that the country’s “farm sector has been severely impacted by the closure of Australia’s international border, with farmers who rely on overseas visitors to help harvest crops unable to secure workers.” Though the plan did not cover vaccination thresholds, it did mention caps and quarantine arrangements for farm workers, as well as plans for offering a dedicated Ag Visa. According to an article, Australian farm output had surpassed a record A$66 billion, and there was a record planting for winter crops this year. In related headlines, late rains in South Australia raised the winter cropping prospects there.
ASF Seed Business Convention 2021 postponed. The Australian Seed Federation has announced that this year’s Seed Business Convention will be postponed, with the new dates scheduled to be 2-4 November 2021. The ASF tweeted “In the best interest of the health and safety of ASF staff and delegates attending, we have postponed the event to November 2021. We look forward to seeing you later in the year! “
Demand for Australian wheat in Asia on the up: July 27: Demand for Australian wheat is on an uptrend as traders anticipate prices to continue to rise in the coming months. Increased demand for Australian grain was reported in China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam and other Southeast Asian countries, citing “weaker competition from other major producers . . . facing unfavorable weather prospects.” News here.
Seed company launches new legume variety in SA: July 24: S&W Seed Company Australia has launched a new variety of vetch or Vicia sativa. The Studenica vetch has been fully commercialised with support from the South Australian Research and Development Institute. It was bred by SARDI with assistance from the Grains Research and Development Corporation. See full details here.
SA scientists experiment with microgravity space crops: July 11: The Waite Institute of University of Adelaide is utilizing a A$80,000 microgravity machine to test transgenic crops for space research, “which could play a vital role in a mission to send people to Mars.” Without gravity, water does not drain in soil and can envelop plants completely. To address such issues that make food production in space challenges scientists in South Australia are working with researchers and space agencies around the world to conduct experiments. Among them, “Crops are being designed using genetic modification technology, where foreign DNA is introduced to a plant, changing its genetic makeup.” Read more details here.
NSW GMO policy welcomed: June 28: An 18-year-old moratorium on genetically modified crops in New South Wales was lifted on July 1. According to an editorial, major farming groups welcomed the move, saying it would lead to better crop yields, solve food shortages and reduce infestations of weeds and pests, while opponents fear other impacts. This editorial looks into the topic in depth.
Joint venture between Pacific Seeds and CSIRO aims to better tailor canola hybrid: May 14: The Winter Canola Research project, a joint-venture between Pacific Seeds and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), aims to develop improved canola hybrids and crop management to match Australia's inconsistent climate. The project aims to increase information sharing on integrated and region-specific Agronomy, Phenology and Extension for Grain-n-Graze canola hybrids. The project recently achieved a record canola yield in Australia of 7.16 tons per hectare using a combination of the Hyola 970CL hybrid canola seed from Pacific Seeds together with science-based agronomic management. By collating, reviewing and organising existing information to find any knowledge gaps across the industry, and carrying out detailed phenology trials at different locations across Australia, the project aims to develop a world-first interactive decision-making tool for canola variety selection and agronomy management that is optimised for local conditions. Original story here
List of the 50 plant species at greatest risk of extinction released: May 13: According to Associate Professor Rod Fensham of the University of Queensland, plants make up 72% of species facing extinction, more than mammals, birds and reptiles combined, with many “right on the brink”. Despite this, plants tend to receive much less attention and conservation effort. A list of the 50 most endangered species was recently released by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub with recommendations on the steps needed to halt and reverse their declines. To compile the list, researchers interviewed more than 120 botanists and land managers across Australia. Australian plants faced a range of threats, including habitat loss, weeds and changes to fire regimes, said Dr Jennifer Silcock, a researcher from the University of Queensland. The Victorian Conservation Seed Bank in Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens stores seeds from more than 1400 native Victorian species, around 50% of the species considered rare or endangered in the state. Seed banks can help to prevent plant species from being lost forever and also allow researchers to learn more about the biology of seeds. Original story here and list of 50 most endangered plants here
New Canberra seed bank quadruple storage capacity: 13 May: A new seed bank to be built at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra will be elemental in the conservation of native plants razed during the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, dubbed the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires. Construction of the A$7.2 million ($5.57mn) budgeted seed bank is planned to expected to commence next year. Its facilities will include a large freezer vault “that will quadruple the existing storage capacity” in addition to a state-of-the-art laboratory. Australian National Botanic Gardens’ existing bank has more than 7,700 seeds from nearly 4000 plant species. Thus far, a team of scientists has collected some 24 species harmed during the Black Summer bushfires. See news here.
Worst rodent outbreak in decades threatens NSW Queensland seeding cropping: May 13: A rodent outbreak, called the worst in decades, is causing an economic and public health crisis in Queensland and New South Wales. The New South Wales government has released USD 39 million in emergency funds to fight the mouse infestation and has requested the use of the normally banned pesticide Bromadiolone. A bountiful growing season after a long drought spell has caused mice populations to explode, devastating rural areas of eastern Australia by reducing crop yields, contaminating harvested crops with animal droppings, and endangering recently sown winter crops. Original story here
Farmers sow GM canola in South Australia: May 12: After 16 years the ban on genetically modified crops has been lifted in South Australia. The ban was initially announced to be lifted in April last year as reported here. Bt cotton and GM canola are the first GM crops approved for farming in the state. Due to a lack of rainfall in the past few months farmers in the state have been forced to dry-sow GM canola crops out of necessity. Original story here.
Charter Towers farmer bounces back: May 12: A family-operated farm enterprise in the northern Queensland town of Charters Tower has successfully planted hundreds of acres of produce this season. Reinforced by the North Queensland Restocking, Replanting and On-Farm Infrastructure co- contribution grant -- administered through the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) -- the successful planting follows the producer losing 800 tonnes of produce in the February 2019 floods that destroyed some 200 acres of watermelons there in February 2019. See news here.
Western Australia planting in 2021 looks bright: May 11: The total crop area planted this year is expected to be slightly higher than the record-sowing in 2020, concludes the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia's May Crop Report. A slight reduction in barley sown area is expected, as canola planting grows . “The switch to hybrids in the last two years has been significant and while seed supply has again been tight.” For more insights and conclusions from the report, see Farm Weekly story here.
Northern Territory partner with Uni of Florida in fruit & crop research: May 11: The Northern Territory of Australia have inked commitment with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) ropical Research and Education Center in Homestead to collaborate on fruit and crop research. The agreement, effective through to July 2, 2022, allows for exchange of UF/IFAS scientists, faculty and students, as well as the sharing of technological knowledge, development of research projects, with a focus on vanilla, passionfruit and mangoes. See news here.
Australian hay latest ‘casualty’ of trade tension: April 20: Australia Hay exports to China halt: Due to trade tensions between China and Australia, China is reportedly looking to bolster its stockpiles of hay by importing from the US and Canada. There are reportedly 25 Australian businesses that supply the bulk of foreign hay to China -- and about a third of overall Chinese consumption -- and since these companies failed to get their permits renewed since the end of February, shrinking stockpiles are causing prices to soar. Though China looks to secure more hay from the US and Canada, “these countries offer timothy hay, not oat, and this is different from Australian hay in terms of quality.” See original story here.
Shortage of farm labor as food inflation looms: April 13: With a serious shortage of migrant workers, farm operators are considering not to plant as usual this year, which could cause the price of fresh produce to surge by a factor of 10. Though last year, the number of farm labourers and fruit pickers -- typically comprising many backpackers and migrant laborers from abroad -- was cited to be 140,000, this year that is estimated to decline to an estimated 40,000 due to travel restrictions. Lacking the needed laborer, many farms in Queensland and Victoria are expected to reduce planting, which could result in the price of tomatoes raising to U$50 per kg, up from $5 currently, though a more conservative estimate cited by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, sees supermarket shoppers paying up to 30 per cent more for their produce, “as farmers struggle to find workers amid the pandemic.” Original news here.
New PEQ facility to expidite seed quarantine, research: April 7: A new $4 million Post-Entry Quarantine (PEQ) facility was opened in Horsham. The PEQ facility, which is part of the Australian Grains Genebank – the national centre for preserving grain crop genetic resources in Australia, was inaugurated by Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas. According to reports, the Australian Grains Genebank is a partnership between the Labor Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), which each invested AU$2 million towards the facility, which consists of a 400-square-metre glasshouse, fitted with LED lighting and a wi-fi enabled irrigation system, which allows “researchers to grow and evaluate more seeds faster, while adhering to Australia’s stringent biosecurity and emerging international quarantine requirements.” Imported seeds must pass through quarantine processes before being distributed to plant breeders and researchers. The required grow-out and testing processes is made more convenient at this facility which features a fully automated glasshouse that “can accommodate 3900 pots and two-and-a-half growth cycles per year”. More details here.
Shifting weather takes toll on peanut cropping: April 7: The once thriving peanut crop in the Queensland town of Kingaroy has been on decline in recent years due to s shifting rainfall pattern in the South Burnett region. According to a second-generation peanut grower there, usually in April farmers would be in the middle of the harvest but now rainfall patterns during the summer growing season had delayed harvest by two months, to May or June. Original story here.
ASF March newsletter updates: The Australian Seed Federation March 2021 Newsletter opens with updates from ASF CEO, Mr Osman Mewett, including outcomes from the ASF Board’s first meeting of 2021; ASF has launched registration for its Seed Business 2021 meeting to take place in Brisbane, 17-19 August. The Federation has also recently welcomed back Alysha Lockley on her return from maternity leave. Alysha will take on the role of Manager – Membership and Events, while Fergus Brown will continue in a newly created role as Manager – Public Affairs and Education. More details and other updates from down under here.
NSW Farmers Hit By Flooding: Mar 21: Devastating floods along the coast of New South Wales have wreaked havoc on roads, property and crops in the area. Farmers have been particularly hard hit by the floods and are now warning of rising food prices due to crop damage and stock losses across all agricultural sectors. Farmers are also reporting that even undamaged crops are not able to be harvested as conditions are too wet and dangerous. “This wet weather combined with labour shortages will contribute to higher food prices including core lines in the supermarkets,” said Paul Shoker, president of the local branch of the NSW Farmers. According to Mr. Shoker, blueberries and bananas could experience a shortage at a national level. Similarly, cattle farmers in NSW are also reeling from the effect of the floods after still struggling to recover from a recent drought. An increase in rainfall was welcomed by cotton growers further inland which had not been affected by the floods, with cotton picking expected to begin around the middle of April. The north of NSW has also been less impacted with farmers preparing to sow crops after the recent rainfall. A positive effect of the flooding could be controlling the mouse population according to Walgett agronomist Simon Logan, "How much rainfall we need to get the numbers to be reduced to a level that's not going to have any impact on our cropping program is yet to be seen". Read original story here and here.
GM Moratorium to be lifted in NSW: Mar 2: New South Wales will lift its 18-year moratorium on GM crops at the beginning of July. The move was welcomed by farming lobby groups but met with concern from organic growers concerned about contamination from windblown seeds and pollen. According to a March 2 announcement by Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall, the Gene Technology Act 2003 would be allowed to expire on 1 July 2021. See announcement on NSW Department of Primary Industries website here. In a news release response, Chief Executive Officer of the ASF, Mr Osman Mewett commended Minister Marshall and the Berejiklian Government for this demonstration of commitment and support for agricultural innovation and the state’s farming sector. “Allowing the moratorium to expire sends a clear signal to technology developers and seed companies that NSW is ‘open for business’ and encourages investment to bring agricultural innovations to the state” Mr Mewett said. See interview by ABC Australia with Mr Mewett here. The announcement from NSW leaves Tasmania as the only state with a moratorium on growing GM crops, which is in place until 2029. According to NSW agriculture minister Adam Marshall, GM technology could generate around USD 3.7 billion in benefits to the state over the next decade. Added benefits of GM include the potential to remove allergens, improve taste, nutrition, drought and frost tolerance. See news story here
Cereal crop world record nearly broken by canola farmer: February 25: A farm in Central Tablelands, New South Wales, has achieved an astonishing crop of 7.16 tonne per hectare of a dual purpose winter canola, just 3 kilograms short of the official world record. Farm manager Peter Brooks said of the achievement, "We've had great conditions in 2020, but achieving this yield didn't happen overnight - it was a culmination of 15 years of working with CSIRO to improve our systems”. Using a conservative price of USD 420 per tonne, the crop yielded USD 3,000 per hectare. Read original story here
Species burnt by bushfires study: February 2021: The bushfires that raged across Australia in 2019 to 2020 were responsible for the destruction of more than 19 million acres, and the burning of 116 plant species According to researchers quoted in an article, most of the affected species are are resilient to fire, though some ecosystems may be susceptible to regeneration failure and landscape-scale decline. Data indicates that 816 vascular plant species in mainland south-eastern Australia were highly impacted by the Black Summer fires … Read more here.
Weed seed terminator cleans 1.6 million hectares: February 2021: Since being used first in 2016, the Australian designed “Seed Terminator”, which attaches to headers, for use at harvest, has helped to clean 1,650,000 hectares of Australian paddocks. The units perform particularly well with fully ripe crops, including peas, legumes, canola, lupin and cereal crops, effectively killing weed seeds, “including those that have escaped or resisted the various stages of herbicide spraying.” The units, which have been tested at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, can reportedly kill 99% of notoriously tough ryegrass seeds. Read more here.
ABARES Outlook 2021 conference to be virtual: The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will be hosting the “ABARES Outlook 2021” conference virtually this year, from 2-55 March. To register, get more details, visit ABARES Outlook page.
ASA 2020 Certified Seed Statistical Reports: The Australian Seeds Authority has published its 2020 ASA Certified Seed Statistical reports. The reports have been made available by the Australian Seed Federation, and include OECD Certified Seed 2010-11 to 2019-20 here; Total Certified Seed Australia 2016-17 to 2019-20 (here) and Area Registered for Certification to 15 Dec 2020 (here)
Import permit requirement for Apiaceous vegetable seeds: Starting 30 March 2021, an import permit will be mandated for several apiaceous seed species imported for sowing and human consumption. These include Anthriscus cerefolium (chervil); Apium graveolens (celery); Foeniculum vulgare (fennel); Pastinaca sativa (parsnip) and Petroselinum crispum (parsley). The requirement was announced by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment back in December. Shipments imported prior to March 30 will not be subject to the requirement. Importers can apply for import permits through BICON.
For more details on above and other Australia seed industry news, see the Australian Seed Federation’s January 2021 newsletter here.
Non-compliant ‘risky’ seeds continue to be intercepted: January 2021:
Officers at Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) in 2020 had reportedly intercepted 45,000 “risky seed parcels” at the country’s international mail centre, and continue to intercept more since the start of the new year. Farm Weekly reports on the issue, citing an interview with acting chief plant protection officer, Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, who revealed that seeds made up 75% of total biosecurity risk interceptions in the mail last year. The department has asked recipients of any suspicious seeds to report online via awe.gov.au/report or call 1800 798 636.
Seed libraries in Victoria, Melbourne and Western Australia: January 2021:
The Moonee Valley Libraries’ Seed Library is among a handful of public libraries that offer the public free seeds, which are collected via donation from people who harvested them at home. Among the seed library programs listed in an article include ones at Eastern Regional Libraries, Castlemaine and Woodend libraries and at sites across the City of Darebin including Jika Jika and Alphington community centres. At Moonee Valley Libraries, members can take up to three seed packets per visit, each with 10 to 15 seeds. “During Melbourne's second COVID-19 lockdown, library staff mailed over 140 envelopes, each containing at least five packets of seeds, to members.” The seeds include those of tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots, chillis, parsley, as well as marigolds and Russian sunflowers. Read more here. Likewise, in Western Australia, the new Denmark Seed Library is making available free vegetable and herb seeds. The library’s collection includes seeds collected from a certified organic garden, including 16 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, pumpkins and beans, in addition to daikon radish, kohlrabi and buckwheat. Since the library was launched last November, more than “130 packets of seed have been borrowed by 60 members.” Read more here.
Nufarm hoping for turnaround: January 2021:
Australia's homegrown farm chemical and seed technology multinational, Nufarm, has big hopes for a turnaround in European crop protection sales following a $456 million loss last year. Farm Weekly reports that the company saw overall revenue rise nearly 50 % in October and November. Read full story here.
Orange capsicum hold key to counter blindness: January 2021:
According to research by the University of Queensland, orange capsicums are among the richest sources of the orange pigment zeaxanthin,which helps to protect against macular degeneration, which is responsible for half of all cases of blindness in Australia. Though the compound is found in other fruits and vegetables, "Orange capsicums are by far and wide the most generous source of zeaxanthin; nonetheless, there is a shortage of the orange capsicums due to expensive germplasm, though efforts are underway to make the capsicums more widely available. Read story in ABC Australia here.
Biosecurity officers continue to intercept, get informed of ‘mystery seeds’: December 2020:
o less than 260 unidentified, unsolicited, or mystery seed parcels have been intercepted in parcels across Australia this year. According to ABC Australia, seeds made up 75 percent of biosecurity interceptions at Australian mail centres. News of such seeds was widely reported around the world in August. The seeds, according to this latest report, were said to be from China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Read original reports from APSA here.
New ‘green jobs’ in Western Australia include seeding, planting: December 2020:
The government of the State of Western Australia has making good of its AU$4 million Green Jobs Plan, which has been initiated in the Marlee Reserve in the Mandurah area. Work will include fencing, seeding, planting, managing environmental threats and improving native vegetation and habitat for wildlife. More projects are set to commence in the Midwest, Wheatbelt, South West and Great Southern regions. More details here.
Despite authorities using detector dogs and x-ray machines to intercept 45,000 "risky" seed parcels at mail centres across the country, the mystery seeds were reported to the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment by concerned community members, prompting fears more seeds could have escaped detection.
City council hires horticulturalist to harvest tree seeds ahead of road construction: December 2020:
Seeds are being harvested from native trees that will be removed to make way for construction of a new road in Orange, New South Wales. The horticulturist was hired to “harvest the seeds and propagate trees into advanced tube stock to be planted nearby once the road is finished.” According to the report, more trees will be planted at other sites around Orange to increase the native tree population in the area. Trees being planted include Apple Box (Eucalyptus bridgesiana) and Ribbon Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis), which are native to the area. More details here.
What’ll happen to Wattle in Australia’s Space Program: December 2020:
The Gorokan Public School (GPS) is one of 150 schools in Australia that was selected to take part in a science experiment to find out ‘What’ll Happen to the Wattle’ under space conditions. Initiated by the One Giant Leap Australia Foundation, with support from the Australian and Japanese Space Agencies, the program aims to investigate the effects that space travel has on plant seeds, with participating schools set to receive a batch of wattle seeds that have spent six months aboard the International Space Station. Read more about the project here.
Myrtle Rust surveillance appeal in NSW: December 2020:
The New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) is renewing appeals for Central Coast residents to be on the lookout for two local species susceptible to myrtle rust. Authorities aim to collect seeds from the threatened species, which both belong to the Myrtaceae family and native rainforest and rainforest margins on the Coast: Rhodamnia rubescens (scrub turpentine) and Rhodomyrtus psidioides (native guava). Read more here.
Breeding white strawberry in Queensland: December 2020:
Strawberry breeding activities by the Queensland Department of Agriculture's Maroochy research centre on the Sunshine Coast, have been focused on increasing shelf life, reducing waste and improving taste. One of the latest projects is a white strawberry. More details by ABC Australia here.
Microbial seed coating promises to sequester more atmospheric CO2
A startup based along the East Coast of Australia is planting seeds coated in microbial fungi and bacteria as a promising technique to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The new microbial technology is based on research from the University of Sydney, which suggests that this technique has the potential to sequester a quarter of total CO2 emissions in the world if applied globally. According to this article: “Adding a blend of microbes to crops on a farm allows plants to store carbon more effectively. In the normal carbon cycle, a plant sucks up CO2 through photosynthesis, and some of the carbon ends up traveling through the plant’s roots into the soil. But some of that carbon is still lost fairly quickly back into the air. The coating of fungi and bacteria helps instead convert the carbon into a form that can last in the soil much longer, potentially hundreds of years…”
North west Queensland potential as new Australian ag hub
Farmers, agriculture industry leaders and researchers are joining forces at the Northern Australian Crop Research Centre of Excellence (CSIRO) in Emerald to exploit and the expand the full potential of farmland in the north west part of Queensland. Thus far, trials with cotton, soybeans, mungbeans and black sesame have yielded promising results using water allocated from the Flinders and Gilbert rivers, near Hughenden and Georgetown. According to the CSIRO, as reported here “there are 16 million hectares of land across northern Australia suitable for intensive agriculture, and 15,000 gigalitres of water - enough to irrigate 1.5 million hectares”
‘Cautiously optimistic’ for record grain, cropping forecast
Australia is forecast to have one of its “biggest ever grain crops”according to many articles, including this one by Grain Central. Citing an ANZ report, it is expected that the national wheat crop this year could reach 26 million tonnes, which would represent a 71% increase from last year’s 15.2 million tonne. Moreover, it is forecast that wheat exports could increase by 90% to 17.5 million tonnes. This is despite a dry start to the year, and credited to timely rains. More details here. Also, in related new, barley and wheat prices have “softened” with the surplus of crop and rains, though prices of sorghum have gone up a bit, according to this report. Fueling optimism in Queensland is a strong winter cropping season, with farming efforts complemented by drones, credited with reducing chemical use, preserving water, and expanding pasture sowing areas, according to this. Though despite such optimism, there is some uncertainty for the rest of the year, especially in Western Australia, which does not report as high soil moisture as NSW, as reported here
Boosting Western Australia winter pasture growth through nitrogen fertiliser
Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's Agriculture and Food division has published an article providing detailed advice on how to increase dry dry matter production of grasses and broadleaf weeds, and thus help reduce feed shortages in winter. The post advises on the application of nitrogen fertiliser in meat and wool enterprise pastures, which, if done properly, could yield an extra of 17 kilograms of dry matter per hectare of pasture for every kilogram of nitrogen applied, on average. Read full post here.
Russian wheat aphid detected for first time in Western Australia
The Russian wheat aphid, which is pest that poses serious threats to the production of wheat, barley and oat crops, has for the first time been detected in Western Australia. According to an August 2020 report by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development the pest was detected in Western Australia’s southern wheat growing area for the first time despite having been detected in South Australia in 2016, and also currently present in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. “The department is asking WA grain growers and agronomists to survey cereal crops and grassy weeds for aphids and report any aphid activity or damage.” More details here.
JUNE & JULY 2020
Northern Territory to release 100,000+ hectares of land for farming
According to ABC Australia, the Northern Territory Land Corporation plans to release three large parcels of land onto the market. The largest of three parcels, dubbed the “Keep Plains Agricultural Development, spans 67,500ha near the Western Australia border. It adjoins WA’s Ord River agricultural developments and “offers the potential to further establish a variety of commercial broadacre crops”. The second parcel is the Wildman Agricultural Precinct, which spans 26,000 ha and is located 135 kilometres east of Darwin. It reportedly “has the capacity to accommodate multiple agricultural and horticultural activities and high yield crops such as bananas, and including rain-fed forestry such as mahogany as well as cattle production”. The third parcel is the Larrimah Agricultural Precinct, covers 5,712ha, about 180km south of Katherine, will be ideal for territory “staples such as mangoes, citrus, and melons, as well as presenting opportunities for a range of dryland and irrigated crops and the development of intensified beef operations”
Tasmania research to look at hemp for sheep grazing, seed yield correlations
The Tasmanian Hemp Association (THA), with Agrifutures, an Australian Government backed organisation that promotes Australian rural industries, will study the potential of hemp as sheep fodder and whether grazing can affect seed yields. The research, revealed by the Hemp Gazette here, will examine five varieties of industrial hemp and assess the effects of genotype, grazing time and environment on the nutritional value. Research will also look at the impact of grazing on the yield of hemp seeds, and whether there is a corelation with yields. According to President of THA, Tasmania currently supplies more than 80 per cent of Australia’s hemp seed used in food applications.
Australia exports first hemp seed shipment to NZ
Hemp Industry Daily reports that Australia has completed its first (legal) export consignment of hemp seeds. Though the quantity and value was not disclosed, the report notes that it is the first such consignment since the Australian government legalized low-THC hemp seeds for food or feed purposes in 2017.
Gravity seed table cleaning diminishes weed seeds: study
A study by the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI), titled “Lessons learnt: crop-seed cleaning reduces weed-seed contamination in Western Australian grain samples” reveals that commercial gravity table seed cleaning can remove nearly all weed seed from crop seed. According to the abstract on the University of Western Australia website here, before commercial seed cleaning, the average number of weed seeds was 184 per kilogram of crop seed; however, gravity table seed cleaning was shown to reduce the weed seed number to only one seed/kg.
Mixed bag of winter weather for southern Australia crops
The North Queensland Register reports on the fickle Australian climate this winter season. While parts of coastal NSW and Queensland have suffered from flooding and excess rain that drenched central and southern coastal regions recently, conditions have been dry in other parts, especially South Australia, which has reportedly experienced one of its driest Julys on record; western Victoria, likewise has also recorded below-average rainfall, posing concern for farmers. In related weather and cropping news, Grain Central reports that “Victoria, eastern South Australia and nearly all of New South Wales are looking at above-average yields provided adequate rain falls in the next few weeks, but prospects are shaky for many crops in Queensland, and most of SA’s central and western growing areas.”
Recycled battery dust as fertilizer trials in WA
Mixed Metal Dust (MMD) extracted from recycled batteries is being explored as a potentially promising new fertilizer supplement. Trials in Western Australia’s wheatbelt region involve using zinc and manganese from recycled batteries as a potential source of ‘micronutrients’ in fertilisers.” reports Stockhead Australia. Initial findings suggest that crops’ uptake of the essential elements from the MMD was slower compared to fertilizer-grade sulphate products but considering the massive amount of lithium batteries that are being produced and eventually disposed of, investment into further research and utilization is only beginning, with plans inked to distribute battery fertilizer in both Australia and New Zealand.
ABARES optimistic about food security despite covid concerns
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has conducted a comprehensive report, entitled, “Analysis of Australia’s food security and the COVID-19 pandemic” in which it emphasizes that Australia is among the most food secure nations in the world, citing figures that the country “produces much more food than it consumes, exporting around 70% of agricultural production,”” while only importing “around 11% of food consumption by value.” Thus, the agency insists that “Australia does not have a food security problem, despite, what it notes as temporary shortages of some food items in supermarkets caused by an unexpected surge in demand. Nonetheless, the report notes that the seasonal outlook for the autumn of 2020 is positive, providing the basis of a recovery in Australian crop production and allowing for rebuilding of sheep flocks and cattle herds.
Gardening, seed supply shops report record demand
The Guardian reports that many seed supply shops and gardening centers across Australia have been selling out of vegetable seeds during the coronavirus pandemic, citing spurred demand fueled by widely-circulating concerns, fears for food security, even though supplies are assured to be sufficient.
Fruit, vegetable supply under threat as travellers stranded
As a result of covid travel restrictions forcing hotels, hostels and caravan parks to close, many work-and-travel holiday makers and seasonal workers have been unable to find accommodations, reports ABC Australia. The temporary workers are crucial to ensuring fruit and vegetable farmers have enough labour to plant and pick crops.The Federal Government said it will allow backpackers to extend their stays in Australia to help meet the agricultural labour demand, but many are being forced to sleep in their cars and camp in forests.
South Australia formally lifts GM Moratorium
ABC Australia reports that the 16-year-old moratorium on GM-crops in South Australia has formally been lifted. Citing negotiations between opposition and the Primary Industries Minister, the article references an estimate that canola farmers have lost out on some $33 million since 2004. Councils who wish to remain GM-free can apply to an advisory council through the next six months. One such area that will continue to ban GM crops is Kangaroo island, citing its export market which depends on GM-free reputation.
Positive outlook as rains spur seeding in WA
Bountiful Australian summer rain resulting in good subsoil moisture across much of Western Australia has lubricated the prospects and optimism for grain crop seeding this season. Farm Weekly on April 27 reported that many farmers have begun planting and preparations early for mainly canola, lupin and long-season wheat crops after pretty much all “regions, except north of Geraldton and down the south coast, had received a lot of useful rain with anywhere from 50 to 100 millimetres or more.”
Human waste biosolids boost food crop productivity by 65%
A research project being carried out by researchers at Federation University is utilizing human waste to boost productivity of grain crops in Victoria. The Grain Research Development Corporation-funded research project involves the application to soil biosolids processed from state sewage using state-of-the-art technology at water amelioration centres, described as “very good organic matter and rich with nutrients — all the minerals that are required for the crop growth,” The human waste is a viable alternative to more expensive lucerne pellets or chicken manure. More on the project from ABC Australia.
Fall armyworm reaches Queensland ‘salad bowl’
ABC Australia reports that farmers in Queensland’s Wide Bay region are bracing for the infestation of the fall armyworm, following reports of detection in the Burdekin, the Northern Territory and in Western Australia, after initially being detected in Queensland in February at Bamaga, at the tip of Cape York and in the Torres Strait. The article notes that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is working with the other government agencies and industry to ensure timely access to products to help manage this new pest, having approved the use of several products in various fruit, vegetable, nut, broadacre crops and nursery stock.
Department of Agriculture publishes advice notice
The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment has published and is regularly updating a notice on its website, which includes up-to-date information about agriculture services in Australia’s States and Territories link here
Vegetable Seed Policy Review
Dept of Agriculture is taking special consideration in evaluating risks in vegetable seed movements across borders, specifically reviewing eleven varieties in four families:
Apiaceae family (carrot, celery, parsley)
Brassicaceae family (cauliflower, cabbage)
Cucurbitaceae family (cucumber, gourd, melon)
Solanaceae family (capsicum, eggplant, tomato).
Farmers upbeat about returned rains, allay covid19 concerns, access to fertilizers, chemicals, etc
Farmers offer nomads option to stay on land, farm ABC Australia
Australia launches IYPH 2020
The International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) 2020 was officially launched in Australia with an event on 6 February at Parliament House in Canberra. Attended by local and international governments, plant health authorities and exponents of the private sectors and industries, the event was presided over by Mr David Littleproud, Federal Minister for Agriculture of Australia, and prefaces a number of events and activities planned in Australia to promote plant health throughout the year. Asian Seed’s V26, Q1 issue, out in March 2020 features an article about initiatives and activities related to IYPH 2020 in the APSA region.
Fall Armyworm invades North Queensland
The fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) has been confirmed detected in Queensland. It had initially been detected in Erub and Saibai islands early in February. According to an official statement from Biosecurity Queensland General Manager Plant Biosecurity and Product Integrity Mike Ashton, “… seven specimens of the pest were found in late January in traps set on the islands,” The pest cant feed on 350 species of crop, and particularly threatens several important cash crops in Queensland such as maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane and wheat. ABC Australia late in February reported that the pest was detected on a trial maize plot near Georgetown, 300km west of Cairns, and about 1,000 kilomters from its initial detction site. The article notes that 100 traps have been set to track the pests’ movements.
Lowest wheat output in 12 (or more) years
Reuters reports that Australian’s wheat harvest for the 2019-2020 season is likely to be the lowest in 12 or more years. Citing data from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), output during the season was pegged at 15.17 million tonnes, which would make it the lowest since 2008, according to the article. One analyst quoted in the article suggests that output could be even lower — at 14.5 million tonnes — citing a shortage of rain in eastern Australia, which makes up a portion of the country’s wheatbelt. .
Trialing paddy on Tasmania
ABC Australia reports on the effort of one Australian farmer and his Borneo wife who are trialing 60 varieties of rice on their property near Port Arthur. While a limited quantity of rice are grown on mainland Australia, climate change and especially drought and soil salinity have hampered output in recent years; however, the farmer is banking on Tasmania’s unique agro-climatic conditions and anticipation for warmer temperatures to allow specific varieties of paddy to thrive on the island. (Editors Note: Time will tell)
DECEMBER 2019 & JANUARY 2020
South Australia govt lifts GM Moratorium
The Government of South Australia has lifted a moratorium on GM-crop cultivation, officially giving the green light for farmers in the state to plant GM seeds for the first time since the ban was introduced in 2004. According to this report, farmers have lost out on millions in income as a result of the ban and stand to lose millions more as other Australian states have been permitted to plant certain GM-crops for a decade. Nonetheless, there is still a possibility that the Federal government of Australia will reverse the decision, and reinstate the moratorium as has happened in the past, according to ABC Australia. This will become clear after Parliament resumes session in February. Nonetheless, the lifting of the moratorium is confirmed on the Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) website, which states that “Changes to regulations under the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004 will enable Genetically Modified (GM) food crops to be grown in South Australia with the exception of Kangaroo Island from 1 January 2020. These regulations will be tabled in Parliament in 2020 and will be subject to Parliamentary processes.” For further information on efforts to encourage the government to lift the moratorium, see this website, which was developed with support from the Australian Seed Federation.
North Queensland breeder develops Australia’s ‘first seedless lychee’
NextShark reports on the fruits of labor of one breeder in Queensland who has begun marketing a seedless lychee variety that he said took him nearly 20 years to breed using strenuous conventional selective breeding and manual cross-pollination techniques. According to the report, which cites a CNA tv news report, the breeder imported a $5,000 lychee tree from China, and over many generations of selective breeding was able to yield a ‘seedless’ variety that reportedly tastes like pineapple.