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GM spotlight, GrainCorp dip, high-yield wheat, barley UK boom

By Nicola Cottam

- Last updated on GMT

ADM is suing Syngenta AG over selling GM corn prior to official approval
ADM is suing Syngenta AG over selling GM corn prior to official approval
Syngenta and Monsanto face GM woes, GrainCorp production and revenue down, high-yield wheat launched in India, and wheat down but barley booming in the UK.

Syngenta in court and Monsanto ‘pays-out’

US agri-business giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is suing Basel-based Syngenta AG over the sale of GM corn seed prior to its official approval in major export markets, including China.

The move allegedly created estimated losses of around $2.9m to the US industry last year.

ADM alleges Syngenta knowingly sold the corn seed without approval from major export markets and did not take ‘reasonable stewardship practices’​ to prevent the GM grains from contaminating neighbouring non-GM crops.

“ADM believes Syngenta’s actions were irresponsible and is seeking monetary damages,”​ confirmed ADM spokesman Jackie Anderson.

Syngenta has denied the allegations and said “the lawsuit is without merit” ​and that it “strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability.”

This court action follows similar proceedings brought against Syngenta last September by grain exporter Cargill where the grain major sought damages for the negligent ‘commercialization’​ of Agrisure Viptera and subsequent losses.

Meanwhile, Monsanto has agreed to pay nearly US$2.4m to farmers in the Pacific Northwest to settle a dispute over GM wheat.

The altercation began in 2013 when Monsanto’s trials of GM wheat in Oregon contaminated non-GM crops, prompting temporary import suspensions in Japan and South Korea.

A settlement fund of approximately US$2.1m will be paid to farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho and a further $250,000 is earmarked for wheat growers' associations, including the National Wheat Foundation, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the Oregon Wheat Growers' League.

GrainCorp faces a challenging 2015

Australian grain handler GrainCorp is bracing itself for its ‘most challenging year in recent times’​ with exports expected to fall as a result of dry weather in the east of the country.

GrainCorp concedes it is operating on a ‘below normal’​ harvest of barley, canola, sorghum and wheat with a combined crop of 16.2mt - 3.2mt below its bumper season between 2012 and 2013.

The Australian market demands 10mt of grain per year, which leaves minimal grain available for export and represents a fall of 24% year on year.

In addition, ‘carry-over’​ stocks are also down - by 17% to 1.9mt - and GrainCorp has said it is therefore “expecting lower grain export volumes”.

Chairman, Don Taylor said: "Competition for grain in eastern Australia continues to intensify,"​ with increasing competition from rivals in bulk grain exports in at least four ports.

The company has revealed a 64% slump in earnings of Aus$50.3m to the end of September, with revenues down 8.2% at Aus$4.09bn.

Resilient, high yielding wheat for Indian farmers

Scientists from India’s Chandra Shekhar Azad Agriculture University in Kanpur have developed a new high yielding wheat variety suitable for cultivation in the region’s North East, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam.

K-1006 is disease-resistant as well as being the only wheat variety in Uttar Pradesh to contain high levels of zinc and iron, according to research director Dr NB. Singh.

He said the new variety could yield 55-60 quintals per hectare and confirmed zinc levels of 49.4 parts per million (ppm), iron concentrations of 45.2ppm and protein at 12.2ppm.

“The concentration of zinc, iron and protein are the highest in the state. K-1006 was certified by the Central Variety Release Committee (CVRC) in 2013 and recently made available to farmers for production,"​ he commented.
Its resistance to certain diseases also means farmers can operate without using pesticides and fungicides, in many cases.

Singh added: "Brown rust, yellow rust and black rust are most common diseases that are found in wheat crop. This variety is free of pesticides. It makes wheat healthy for consumption."

UK wheat production to fall

Wheat, oats and spring barley will be in shorter supply in the UK in 2015 as producers reduce planting acreage, according to the Home Grown Cereals Authority’s (HGCA) Early Bird Survey of UK tillage farmers’ planting intentions.

This annual autumn survey offers a snapshot of national planting decisions, with in excess of 250,000 hectares (ha) of arable land assessed by a team of agronomists.

Key results suggest total wheat area will fall by 5% compared with 2014, to 1.8 million hectares, although the biggest percentage reduction is forecast for oats, with plantings down by 13% to 118,000ha.

“For next year’s harvest, we are looking at a reduced wheat area, following a reasonably strong, but not record, area for harvest 2014. Lower areas for wheat could well be driven by a response to upcoming new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regulations, a greater need for cultural control of key weeds such as black-grass and lower grain prices, which change the economics of crop rotations,”​ explained Brenda Mullan, an analyst at the Authority.

In contrast, areas of winter and spring barley are predicted to increase by 12% and 9% respectively, to 476,000ha and 713,000ha, as a result of the EU’s three-crop rule (where farmers with more than 74 acres of arable land need to include three crops in their rotations).

“The total figures for both winter and spring barley are tentative at this stage, given the large contribution that spring barley makes to the total area. It is likely that the area sown to barley, particularly the spring varieties will increase as a result of the three-crop rule.

“This season’s Early Bird Survey results show that the industry already appears to have factored in the new EU regulations in advance of their implementation in January 2015,”​ she said.

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