A trial crop of GM canola.Daniel Kruithoff is managing director, Monsanto Australia and New Zealand.

OPINION: AGRICULTURE is once again at the forefront of the national conversation about Australia’s future prosperity. Having ridden the mining boom all the way to shore, sectors such as agriculture are being viewed as the next wave of economic growth.

Improved market access through free trade agreements will undoubtedly help drive demand for Australia’s high quality food and fibre, particularly among the booming middle class of Asia.

What is less certain though is the capacity of Australian agriculture to sustainably increase productivity fast enough to capitalise on the opportunity of becoming a food bowl for Asia.

Australian farmers have historically tackled productivity challenges including rising production costs, climate variability and increasing global competition through adopting the latest science, technology and management practices.

This record has served us well. However, we need to ensure complacency does not set in and that we continue to innovate our agricultural production systems.

Genetically modified (GM) crops are a case in point.

Since the introduction of agricultural biotechnology in 1996, Australian GM cotton and canola growers have generated an extra $760 million in income, according to an international report published by PG Economics.

Agricultural biotechnology has also helped Australia become one of the world’s most sustainable and productive cotton producers by reducing the industry’s insecticide use by more than 90 per cent since 1996. Along with other technological advances and improvements in management techniques, GM technology has contributed to local cotton growers producing yields almost three times the world average.

The rapid adoption of GM canola varieties on the east and west coasts is helping local farmers increase yield and lower their carbon footprint. Last season, canola growers purchased 55pc more GM canola seed than the previous season and we are expecting this strong growth in adoption to continue.

Globally, farmers have turned to GM crops in greater numbers every year since their introduction 19 years ago. About 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted GM crops last year.

Which is why farmers in South Australia and Tasmania would be better off if they at least had the choice to plant the GM crops that a growing number of their counterparts on the east and west coasts benefit from.

All States market their produce as ‘clean and green’. However, farmers in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia have the added benefit of being allowed to use a proven technology now grown, imported and/or used in field research trials in 70 countries.

The world’s most sophisticated regulatory systems, respected universities, international agencies such as the World Health Organisation overwhelmingly conclude that GM crops are safe and environmentally friendly.

Globally, farmers have turned to GM crops in greater numbers every year since their introduction 19 years ago. About 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted GM crops last year to improve their yields, sustainability and incomes.

Now more than ever we need to equip Australian farmers with the innovative tools they need to be able to meet society’s growing expectations about how their food is produced and its impact on the environment.

And we have every reason to be optimistic about the sector’s capacity to meet local and international consumer demands and to feed a rapidly growing global population.

Australia’s long history of being able to use different production systems has improved the success and sustainability of local agriculture. Our advanced agriculture sector has allowed organic, conventional and GM crops to be successfully grown side-by-side in Australia for many years.

Based on this enviable record, farmers and consumers alike can be assured that local agriculture is successfully providing the choice in crops and food they expect.

Our farmers need a wide variety of tools, including GM crops, to produce the high quality food and fibre that they are world renowned for and that we rely upon everyday. The challenge of sustainably producing the food we consume or export will be overcome as it always has – by our farmers embracing agricultural innovation.

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