Genetically modified ryegrasses developed in NZ head offshore for field testing

AgResearch scientist Greg Bryan works with some of the GM grasses developed at Grasslands in preparation for overseas ...

AgResearch scientist Greg Bryan works with some of the GM grasses developed at Grasslands in preparation for overseas field testing.

Genetically modified grass that could lower farming's environmental footprint will be taken offshore next year for field testing.

Developed by AgResearch at their Grasslands site in Palmerston North, the plants will be shipped to the United States for testing outside because of New Zealand's strict GM laws.

Research on the potted plants was still at the proof of concept stage of development, AgResearch dairy sector manager Shane Devlintold farmers and rural professionals at a presentation in Te Awamutu.

 "If you said to me, what is the most exciting piece of science that is coming that could really have a substantial impact on the industry at some point in the future, it would be this piece of science here."


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The plants produced 50 per cent more yield, between 10-15 per cent more energy and lower methane.

Scientists also discovered by accident two years ago that the plants had heat tolerant properties after an air circulator broke down one weekend, he said.

"Everything else in the glasshouse died except these things." 

The technology still needed to be validated and tested in field trials to see if its benefits transferred from the glasshouse to the paddock.

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The offshore testing would help work out its value for New Zealand.

"Once we have that, we have that value proposition, we can have a grown up conversation about what the possibilities might be for it and obviously, the whole country would have to find it acceptable," Devlin said.

​Devlin's presentation gave a broad overview of some of the projects AgResearch staff and other organisations were working on, ranging from biopesticides, environmental mitigation and on-farm productivity.

​In the environmental area,  AgResearch was working on a $5 million project on methane inhibitors. Although still at a proof of concept stage, one of the inhibitors showed a 20 per cent reduction when fed to a cow.

The project was entering the next stage of research, which was proving it on a farm scale, he said.

"After that, if it stacks up, we'll be looking at commercialisation."

Other elements of this research included developing a methane reduction vaccine and specific crops that lowered animal emissions.

Reducing nitrogen (N) was also a heavy focus and is Pastoral 21 project, undertaken with organisations such as DairyNZ, showed farmers the options available to reduce nitrogen leaching.

Options such as housing barns had the highest N reduction, but were also the most expensive to run.

There were also lower cost options available such as wetland development or using diuretics on cows such as salt. Feeding salt to cows increased their urination and diluted the nitrogen in the urine patch.

That work would be finished this winter, he said.

Pastoral 21's second phase looked at the next generation of dairy systems by investigating four system types across the country to reflect the unique challenge of each catchment.

The work had resulted in big environmental gains while maintaining productivity and profitability, he said.

"They have developed some next generation dairy systems that decrease nitrogen leaching by 20-40 per cent."

Another area of study related to regional plan changes councils were introducing throughout the country. They included an evaluation of sustainable milk plans, managing nutrient loss around shallow peat lakes in Waikato and working to better understand the Waituna Catchment in Southland.

"Out of that work we identified that 5 per cent of the land around the catchment was responsible for the bulk of the loss. That enabled us to target mitigation strategies for that land which will have an appropriate impact."






 - Stuff

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