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A new variety of genetically modified cotton is shaping up to be a game-changer for those looking to grow cotton in northern Australia.
Monsanto’s new Bollgard 3 is currently being trialled on a farm in the Kimberley’s Ord Irrigation Scheme in far north Western Australia.
It was planted in early February during the wet season and is showing positive signs of being resistant to insects, especially when compared to the Bollgard 2 and conventional cotton varieties that have also been planted in the trial.
CSIRO researcher Stephen Yeates said the cotton industry may have finally found a plant that could withstand the insect pressures of northern Australia’s wet season.
“The Bollgard 3 has an additional gene, which will control a key wet season pest called spodoptera,” he told ABC Rural.
“The additional gene is the only difference [to Bollgard 2]. They’re identical in every other way.
“So one of the reasons we’ve put both varieties in this trial, is to confirm there are no differences in the agronomic traits, confirm the similarities, and it’s only that [extra] insect control which is different.”
Dr Yeates said the Bollgard 3 plants at this stage were growing the same as Bollgard 2, but the increased resistance to insects was noticeable.
The Ord trial is expected to be harvested in June.
Still a lot of work ahead for northern cotton
It is not just the Ord Valley showing an interest in cotton, with farmers in the Burdekin and Gulf regions of Queensland also looking into cotton opportunities.
Dr Yeates said the introduction of Bollgard 3 gave farmers in northern Australia the opportunity to plant during the wet season, which had a number of advantages.
“The idea is to plant later in the wet season, from late January onwards, so that the early growth of the cotton is during the wet weather, and then you get the boll filling during that critical stage where you need reliable sunlight, in that April, May period if you plant early,” he said.
“So you plant in the second half of the wet, you probably don’t need to irrigate [initially], then finish the crop with irrigation and harvest in June.
“If you can get a crop off in June, you could then grow a second crop after cotton and in terms of returns, two crops would be a really big bonus.”
However, Mr Yeates said planting in the wet season also presented challenges, and accessing paddocks would be difficult in some years.
The current plan in the Ord Valley, being driven mostly by the company Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI), is to develop more of the region’s sandier, well-draining soils, which would improve the chances of being able to access land during the wet season to plant cotton.
KAI general manager Jim Engelke said the company was willing to invest in a cotton processing plant, but it would need about 10,000 hectares of cotton a year to make it viable.
Bollgard 3 growing commercially in the eastern states
Cotton growers in southern Queensland and New South Wales are growing Bollgard 3 commercially for the first time this year.
Andrew Sevil, from Whyenbah near St George, said despite a bad run of weather in his region, the cotton had performed well.
“From my perspective it hasn’t been too different, but I guess we won’t know until we get the cotton into the gin to see what the end result is,” he said.
“Talking to our agronomist, he’s reasonably optimistic and thinks it’s fared fairly well under difficult conditions.”
Mr Sevil said the new cotton had shown good resistance to the pest heliothis, and he was hopeful of getting 12 bales a hectare.
On its website, Monsanto describes Bollgard 3 as a “major milestone for innovation in cotton”.
“Having three proteins (genes) will increase the longevity of the technology as each protein has a different mode of action, which means each protein kills larvae in a different way,” it said.
-Written by Matt Brann in ABC News. See original article link here.