Ireland- the Best Wheat Yields in the World- OALP Learns More From John Spink of TeagascThu, 23 Feb 2012 00:10:16 CST
Ireland does not have a land grant university like Oklahoma State University, but they do have a governmental entity that coordinates agricultural research with what they called "knowledge transfer" which delivers the outcomes of that research to Irish farmers. That's the job of Teagasc, the Irish Ag and Food Development Authority. According to John Spink, the head of their Crop Science Department for Teagasc, the mission of the organization is to "support science based innovation in the agri- food sector and wider bioeconomy that will underpin profitability, competiveness and sustainability." Spink pointed out that many governments in the EU, including Britain, has almost left out the concept of profitability in their ag research efforts, with fewer and fewer people having any connection to farming and agriculture. He says that is one reason that we have agendas that are driven by fear about modern agricultural production.
Irish agriculture remains a shining star for the tiny country, which is about the size of West Virginia, according to Spink. He pointed out the highest yields per acre or heactare in the world for wheat are found in Ireland, with the nation the second best in barley yields over a multi year average in the world- second only to Belgium. Spink says his group has the task of supporting these segments of Irish agriculture, along with potato production. They have a world renowned breeding program for potatoes, having developed over 41 varieties in recent years.
In the case of wheat, Spink says the high yields for winter wheat come at the cost of lower quality wheat being produced. Protein levels simply are not there for a high quality bread wheat- and the bread wheat they are able to produce comes on the 20% of the nation's wheat acres that are planted to spring wheat. The winter wheat grown is a soft white wheat, and yields have averaged over 9 metric tons per hectare, which equates back to about 135 bushels per acre. Spink told the OALP group visiting the authority that last year was an excellent year, with yields pushed up closer to 10 tons per hectare. Three and sometimes four treatments of fungicides are needed to hold back disease in the dame growing conditions that are a part of life in Ireland, but that pales to the 15 to 16 treatments of fungicide needed to grow a successful potato crop.
When it comes to potatoes, the breeding program began in the 1960s, and their varieties are utlized in the UK, Mediterranean/North Africa and Europe. It's a conventional breeding program, and Spink lays some of the blame for that on what he called the "pushy attititude" of Monsanto when they came to the European arena and said, we can develop a GM potato, we know you want it. Opponents of GM production pushed back- and the fears of the consumers pushed governments to back away from GM technology. Spink told the group that was a shame, as conventional breeding is simply too slow to get ahead of and control "late blight" which seems to be the number one problem for Irish potato farmers. He said if their conventional breeding efforts could get ahead of the blight, it will take years to do so- he believes that GM technology could do it in a matter of months to perhaps a year or so.
He said the lack of understanding of GM technology by consumers is enormous- but he said that consumers also have a fear of too many pesticides, and that may eventually be the argument that trumps the GM angle in this breeding debate. Spink says if you go to consumers and show them two potatoes, and tell them one is GM and one is conventionally bred- they will choose the conventionally bred potato every time. But, if you then tell them, this potato has had no fungicide treatements or perhaps one or even two over the season and this one has had 15 ot 16 treatments- they will choose the one with limited funigicide applications- and then if you tell them that's the one with the GM breeding, consumers will still opt that direction because of the concern of too many chemcials being applied over the growing season.
Teagasc is hopiung to have a tiny GM field trial this growing season- they are applying to the government for permission to do so this week- and hope to begin a slow process of offering some education of how to bring this technology to a crop that is a staple for so many people.
Click here for the Teagasc website for a chance to learn more about their ag research and educational efforts.
Click on the LISTEN BAR below to listen to our visit with John Spink after his presentation to OALP Class XV in Ireland on Wednesday.
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