Sansor congress `08

The South African National Seed Organisation (Sansor) recently held their annual congress, aimed at addressing the need for alternatives to commercial grass and forage species. These are some of the topics the speakers addressed.

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Mines decimate land The University of Pretoria’s Dr Wayne Truter said only 4% of local land is classified as high potential.

This is decreasing due to pressure from land reform, urbanisation and mining. With mining currently covering 80 000ha of land and increasing, and with only 40 000ha reclaimed, he highlighted the critical need for the right species of grass to be used in the reclamation of mine dumps. ?This would mean evaluating genetic material in South Africa for suitability before it’s used, and makes more local research funding critical.

Still no minor-use crop registration Dr André Schreuder, MD of Villa Crop Protection, which provides a comprehensive range of crop solutions, said that for South Africa to become a global player, a minor-use crop registration system is critical, as the current system is too time-intensive and costly.

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Minor use is defined as either the use of a minor crop (such as most horticultural crops) or limited use of a major crop where it’s not financially viable for a prospective registrant to develop and register a product for minor use.

However, the Department of Agriculture reportedly doesn’t agree that minor-use crop protection registration is needed, as it says that the current registration system is sufficient. The department has also rejected a proposal made to the registrar in this regard.

Dr Schreuder pointed out the severe consequences of not having minor-use crop protection registration, with companies such as CapeSpan standing to lose export contracts as farmers can’t produce what is required using only legalised products.
Out of necessity, some farmers use non-registered products, but are then limited in the markets they are able to access.

Decline in veggie growers The number of commercial vegetable growers in South Africa continued to drop over the past season, confirmed Gerrie Reitsma, chairperson of Sansor’s horticulture division.

This was due to narrowing margins as input costs increased, and to pressure from consumers who resisted price increases. Smaller growers without economies of scale in the their favour were feeling the most pressure.

GM crops go strong Douw Steyn, the chairperson of Sansor’s agronomy division, said the area planted to genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa continues to increase. Currently 62% and 51% of white and yellow maize respectively is GM maize, a total of 1,6 million hectares. Steyn feels there’s potential for 80% to 85% of South Africa’s total maize crop to be planted from GM seed in the future. In the past season, of the 10 000ha of cotton planted, 90% is GM, while Round-up Ready (RR) soya beans account for over 80% of total soya bean area.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) claimed South Africa is the only country in Africa to commercialise biotech crops for both commercial and resource-poor farmers. South Africa is ranked number eight in the world for acceptance of GM crops.

The ISAAA also said the country plays a critical role as an African and global hub for the sharing of knowledge and experience of biotech crops. South Africa has the potential to help improve crop productivity in many food-insecure African countries.

Food price predictions
“People are realising that food doesn’t only come from the supermarket,” said Professor Johann Kirsten from the University of Pretoria, commenting on the media coverage of increasing food prices. He also pointed out that South Africa has got off lightly with 14,1% consumer price inflation over the past year to February 2008, while the global food price index has soared 51% in dollar terms.

South African consumers could, however, be in for a tough time going forward with farm numbers dwindling, farm employment falling and little growth occurring in the agricultural sector. In addition, for the first time in this country, our agricultural trade was negative in 2007. This meant that South Africa had imported more agricultural products than it had exported. – Sharon Götte