31 March 2015. Source: ABC Rural – 

Trials of genetically modified safflower in Western Australia’s Ord irrigation scheme are indicating it has the potential to be a billion dollar industry for the region in the future.

A one hectare trial conducted at the Frank Wise Research Centre near Kununurra has delivered very promising results.

CSIRO’s Craig Wood said the plants were very happy in the tropical environment.

“It turns out the Ord is a really nice place to grow safflower, the plants themselves loved it,” Dr Wood said.

“The oils were the best we have ever seen in terms of their functional properties and the plants themselves were large and very healthy.”

The trial is a collaborative effort between the CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

The plant was also trialled in Narrabri in New South Wales and in Canberra in the ACT, but Dr Wood said the results were most promising for the Ord.

“It’s a little bit early on to say that it’s much better in Kununurra but they were the best and healthiest plants we have grown so far.”

It wasn’t a complete surprise the crops grew so well considering safflower was grown in the region during the 1960s as one of its first crops.

Opportunities of safflower oil in industry

However, the oil content of the genetically modified crop impressed researchers.

Traditionally safflower produces the oil used in vegetable oil and Dr Wood said the genetically modified plant had been altered to make the oil it produces more stable.

“We are the leading edge for genetically modified safflower for this particular type of oil.

“This oil is not grown anywhere else in the world so it’s a unique and an Australian invention, one may say.”

The increased stability in the oil allows it to be used in industrial processes.

“Industrial processes are looking for oils, not necessarily from plants, but any type of oil that is very stable under temperature, it doesn’t go off, it doesn’t form into any fancy polymers.”

Dr Wood said there were a variety of purposes the oil could be used for, including in transformers.

“All of transformer boxes at the end of the street that convert different types of high voltage electricity into different household power supplies each one of those boxes has currently mineral oils that come from petrochemicals.

“It would be very interesting if we could replace those oils with these kind of sustainable safflowers oils,” he said.

Dr Wood said the market for such ‘green’ oils could be worth billions…