Teagasc: Blight-resistant GM spuds to save growers €450/ha
Published 01/08/2012 | 06:00
Potato growers could achieve potential savings of more than €450/ha if they used a blight-resistant genetically modified (GM) potato variety instead of a conventional variety.
Teagasc researcher John Spink said the biggest advantage of a GM blight-resistant potato variety would be a massive saving in the cost of blight control.
Dr Spink is one of the lead researchers on the EPA-approved Teagasc trial on GM potatoes, due to commence this autumn.
Blight chemicals cost farmers around €350/ha in a normal year, while the application of the spray costs from €150 to 200/ha.
However, in a year like this, where crops are under serious blight pressure, the cost of chemicals alone rises to €550/ha.
By comparison, blight-resistant GM potato varieties require far less spraying and the cost of chemicals could fall to €75/ha, with applications costs of €30/ha.
Annual losses due to the blight fungus in Ireland are estimated at €15m, requiring as many as 15 fungicide applications during the growing season.
While potato farmers struggling to cope with high levels of blight in the 2012 crop have welcomed EPA approval for the Teagasc project, other groups greeted the decision with dismay.
An Taisce insisted that Ireland should remain GM-free to preserve the country's image as a 'green and pure country'.
The heritage trust said it was concerned that field trials on GM potatoes in an open-air environment could allow cross-pollination with other non-GM potatoes.
It added that research on GM crops in Britain had shown a worrying decline in farmland biodiversity, where numbers of bees and butterflies were found to be 68pc lower in GM fields.
Gillian Westbrook, manager of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA), said the EPA decision to allow the Teagasc GM trial would have serious ramifications for Irish food producers.
"We cannot on the one hand be marketing our green image and on the other hand growing GM crops," she insisted.
"European consumers will not be fooled by this duality."
Sinn Féin's agriculture spokesman, Michael Colreavy, insisted that GM food did not make environmental or economic sense for Ireland.
"The European Commission Special Eurobarometer indicated that 66pc of consumers in the EU consider genetically modified organisms as a worry," he said.
"GM-free food labelling has massive popular demand in Europe and is also the fastest growing food label in the US."
Teagasc researcher Dr Spink said the trials of GM blight-resistant potatoes would not result in the commercialisation of any GM potatoes by Teagasc.
However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently considering an application from BASF for authorisation of a GM potato resistant to late blight disease.