South East farmers seek chemical free crops

NEW CHANGES: South Australia's Genetically-Modified crop ban lift announced in May has South East farmers sitting either side of the fence.
NEW CHANGES: South Australia's Genetically-Modified crop ban lift announced in May has South East farmers sitting either side of the fence.

A Naracoorte farmer whose land falls either side of the state border is hopeful that future crops grown across mainland SA will be rid of chemical use.

Wayne Hawkins responds to state legislation changes adopted in parliament in mid-May to a lift a Genetically-Modified (GM) crop moratorium which he welcomes with open arms.

Yet in Penola, a farmer who already practices "clean farming" methods shares how he is "dead against" GM cropping.

Their differences fall as the recent move - agreed to both Liberal and Labor governments - is expected to end a ban on GM crops.

"My ultimate aim as a farmer is to have no chemicals used," Mr Hawkins told the Naracoorte Herald.

"I would rather have genes in all the crops so we don't have to spray any insecticides," he added.

With the SA-Victorian border passing through Mr Hawkin's property, the SA ban, he said, continues to challenge his work.

In Victoria, GM cropping has been available for the past 16 years.

"Last year I grew a crop and the seed crop had to be cleaned ... so it had to be put in bags and taken into Victoria," he said.

The cost that incurred was the seed travelling six hours away.

"I could have also kept employment going here for a week or so," he said.

Mr Hawkins added the ban's lifting also runs much deeper with world-wide benefits.

"The population is getting bigger and we need to produce so much more food ... so we have got to get this food job right," he said.

Long-time Penola farmer Simon Gartner, who crops 3000 acres of third-generation land, plus a further 2000 acres in the region, maintains his disapproval of the ban's lifting. His concerns rest on increased uses of insecticides.

"I just really don't think chemicals are the answer to everything," he said.

While the farmer understands there are mixed feelings over the ban's lifting in his region, he believes worry comes from GM cropping meaning dramatic changes to the land and an increase in court cases with chemical over-use.

Mr Gartner shared how his father and son Jack in 2019 reaped 600 tonnes of canola without chemicals and "without an issue".

He said their "old school" principles involve normal cultivation, and cleaning tools for the removal of weeds.

"We crop 3000 acres and we don't get slugs, snails and resistant ryegrass," Mr Gartner said.

The results, he said, speak for itself with his local agronomist labelling his farming methods and outcomes as "fantastic".

They Gartner family also relies on long-term planning.

"We did have issues with weeds, but it is a lot cleaner with the cultivation methods, and especially with hay, but we cut it earlier to stop the ryegrass, instead of using chemicals," he said.

Under the new legislation, councils, including Naracoorte Lucindale and Tatiara, will have six months to apply to remain GM-free.

Councils must consult with primary producers and food manufacturers in their area as well as the broader community.

Both South East farmers have indicated their interest to be involved in the process.