Australia Seed Industry News 2020

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. 

May 2020

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. 

April 2020

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. 

March 2020

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

Seedlings, seeds selling out at nurseries nationwide: ABC Australia

February 2020

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.