AgResearch has genetically modified forage crops which scientists say can reduce methane emissions from livestock.
Scientists have estimated the economy could benefit by $300 million from three traits they have isolated in laboratory tests of forage crops by genetic modification (GM).
Dr Chris Jones, the section manager of forage biotechnology with Grasslanz Technology at Palmerston North, said that GM technology was the only way to develop these traits, which reduced methane emissions, improved the nitrogen cycle and therefore led to more efficient and superior performing livestock. The traits could only be created using GM technology and the assumptions discovered in the laboratory were significant, he said, but they had to be.
"If you don't deliver a step change, there is no point in doing it because of the cost of the science and the regulatory environment."
The intention was to deliver the technology through conventional ryegrass and clover pastures, but Dr Jones said scientists needed the support of farmers to take the technology to field trials.
Trials so far show producers and the environment would be the benefactors through more efficient and better performing farm systems. With greenhouse gas emissions becoming an issue and potential cost to farmers, Dr Jones said trials have shown the technology would result in more efficient nitrogen cycling, meaning less nitrous oxide and ammonia being expelled, while modifying lipids resulted in less methane emissions.
But this needed to be tested in the field, through the performance of plants and animals. There was also the issue of whether farmers wanted to go down the GM route.
The work so far has been funded by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology (FRST) and farming bodies, but Dr Jones estimated an extra $5 million was needed to take it to the next stage and that money could come from bodies such as Meat and Wool New Zealand or Dairy NZ.
Should there be an acceptance of the technology and it cleared all the regulatory hurdles, Dr Jones said it could be 2018 before the technology was commercially available.
He presented his findings to a group of leading sheep and beef farmers in Palmerston North last week and said there was little negative sentiment.
By getting farmers and the agriculture community behind it, Grasslanz, part of AgResearch, was taking a different path to get acceptance of specific GM technology.
AgResearch chief executive Andy West said because the pastoral sector had co-funded the work, it was a natural step to seek their support. In June GE-Free New Zealand won a legal case against the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) that it had erred in receiving applications for determination under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act regarding an AgResearch application.
AgResearch had made a suite of applications to obtain all possible approvals it may need for research and animal breeding to supply products to the pharmaceutical industry. Dr West said the transgenic work in animals was for human health.
The forage developments looked promising in the laboratory but needed to be tested in the field.
He said the feed could make meat and milk even healthier for humans by altering the ratio of fatty acids, reduce the environmental impact of farming and make farmers and therefore the country wealthier.
- OTAGO DAILY TIMESBy Neal Wallace