Brenda Shanahan, Member of Parliament for Châteauguay—Lacolle, on behalf of Minister of Agriculture and Agri Food Lawrence MacAulay, has announced a repayable contribution of $470,000 to help a Quebec company, Logiag Inc., commercialize a laser-based soil analysis system that replaces the more traditional chemical analyses.This funding will allow the company to introduce to the market laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), a technology that allows for faster and more accurate data at lower cost. The goal is to provide producers with the exact amount of fertilizer needed and thereby avoid the overuse of chemicals.The technology was developed by Logiag in 2015, in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the support of its Industrial Research Assistance Program. This investment from the AgriInnovation program, a $698-million initiative under the policy framework, will help Logiag create 45 jobs over five years.
Soil microbes provide billions and billions of teeny helping hands to your crops. Those helping hands are key to sustainable, profitable crop production. Crop growers can choose practices that promote healthy soil microbial communities, and researchers like Bobbi Helgason are developing ways to further enhance agriculture’s ability to tap into the remarkable capacity contained in soil microbial life.
Conducting regular soil tests is one of the simplest, fastest and least expensive ways to optimize one’s fertilizer program and maximize crop yield. Yet many producers still underuse this vital tool.
Members of the Canadian 4R Research Network gathered in Ottawa on Dec. 1 to share important agronomic data that may assist the federal government in meeting sustainable development goals and greenhouse gas mitigation targets.
Researchers at the University of Guelph are looking at the connection between soil biodiversity and soil health using new research, along with data collected from a long-term cover crop trial dating back to 2008.“We are looking specifically at soil health,” explains research lead Kari Dunfield, an associate professor at the University of Guelph and a Canada research chair in environmental microbiology of agro-ecosystems.Attention to soil health has increased in recent years as producers look for ways to decrease inputs and increase quality and yields.“We’re talking about soil health a lot in agriculture, and farmers often ask me ‘Is my soil healthy?’ ‘What can I do to keep my soil healthy?’ ” Dunfield says. “However, it’s hard to measure that so what we need to do is measure indicators. If there’s less erosion or more fertility, can we say that’s a healthy soil?”And, while the researchers know soil microbes are important, they don’t know if greater soil diversity is actually healthier.“Healthy soil does better under certain conditions like drought and disease pressures, but the science linking soil health to soil microbes is not there,” Dunfield says. “We don’t know if a more diverse soil is a healthier soil.”So, the researchers are looking at that in conjunction with research Laura van Eerd, an associate professor at the University of Guelph who specializes in nitrogen fertility and cover crops, is doing in Ridgetown involving the impact cover crops have on soil health.“In Ontario, we are not entirely clear what cover crops are actually doing for the system,” Dunfield says. “They might help with erosion but we don’t see a huge spike in microorganisms. We’re adding on to Laura’s research and looking at the bacterial and fungal community of those systems.”The projectFunded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the project began in 2015 and involves planting rotation vegetable crops at Ridgetown during the growing season. “The cash crop this year is tomatoes,” Dunfield says. “At the end of the year, we’ll put in five cover crops.”Then, five or six times throughout the year, the researchers take soil from the system and graduate student John Drummelsmith extracts the DNA to look at the soil bacterial and fungal communities and quantify them. This data, Dunfield says, will tell them if fungal and bacterial communities are going up or down depending on the cover crop.“Some people suggest in healthy bacterial-fungal ratios, fungi should be higher,” she says. “We’re going to look at that using DNA, next generation sequencing. This tells us what bacteria and fungi are there.”Or, in other words, what the diversity of the system is. Because of van Eerd’s project, Dunfield and Drummelsmith have yield and soil measurements as well, so they will be able to see if the communities are shifting and if there is indeed a link to the soil.“So we can say yes, more soil diversity is related to cropping systems that produce higher yields,” Dunfield says. Preliminary findingsDunfield and her team began sampling in October 2015. This year, they took samples in May, June and August and plan to take a couple more this fall. Early findings show there is indeed some difference in microbial communities under different cover crops.“We saw an increase in bacterial population with the radish and rye combination cover crop,” Dunfield says. She adds that a couple – oat cover crop and radish and rye cover crop – increased fungal populations. “That’s compared to a no cover crop situation.”She points out the cash crop had already been harvested for the October 2015 sampling event. More recent sampling should answer the question, “Do we see the same changes when the cash crop is there or is it transient with crop gone?”More research to comeThe researchers recently received additional funding from the Grain Farmers of Ontario to expand the project to more than one site.“We started in one soil system and this will allow us to expand into other systems to see if we find the same results,” Dunfield says. “We are planning, in next field season, to expand to multiple field sites to expand the analysis.” For sustainabilityResearch into soil biodiversity and health is vital as the agriculture sector works to create agriculture systems that are sustainable by maintaining yields with the least inputs and that also help the environment. The ever-increasing demand on Ontario’s agricultural sector to provide plant biomass in the form of crops for food, animal grain and even biofuels makes this challenging, but producers are interested in trying cover crops and changing microbial communities in soil.The researchers believe information on soil biodiversity will show the importance of selected management options such as cover crops, reduced tillage and crop rotations in improving soil health and in sustaining crop productivity.“We understand this is a farm and people need to maintain their yield,” Dunfield says. “We’re looking for the most sustainable, environmentally ultimate good to achieve that.“But, right now, there is no tool to measure biological indicators,” she adds. “No one knows what part of biology is important. We need a good way to measure biology in soil and determine what we need there to have healthy soil. We need the research and data to show if a farmer grows this cover crop, this is what it does to the soil.”
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are among the most common and ubiquitous soil microorganisms in almost all soil systems. They contribute to nitrogen and phosphorus absorption and translocation, alleviation of water stress, resistance to soil-borne pathogens and improvement of soil structure. Several studies have reported organic farming systems tend to have more diverse AMF communities.
Nesson Valley has been hosting an eight-year study that involves different cropping systems and tillage practices directed by Bart Stevens, a research agronomist in irrigated cropping systems stationed with the Sidney USDA-ARS unit. “Research has shown there is a five to 10-year transition period, during which the soil ecosystem adjusts to no-till management,” Stevens said. “During that time, no-till fields may require higher inputs and/or produce lower yields compared to conventional practices.” In the Nesson Valley study results, yields for corn, soybean, sugar beet and barley have not been substantially reduced by no-till systems so far, but some inputs like fertilizer and labor have been lowered. In the short-term, however, there is a learning curve and there are substantive management issues to sort out. | READ MORE
Does no-till increase the concentration of phosphorus in tile drainage water? That’s the question researchers set out to answer with plots on three farms in southern Ontario.Despite efforts to reduce phosphorus levels in freshwater lakes in North America, phosphorus loads to lakes such as Lake Erie are still increasing, resulting in harmful algal blooms. This has led to increased pressure to reduce phosphorus from non-point sources such as agriculture. While no-till has long been touted for its ability to reduce phosphorus (P) losses in field run-off by minimizing the amount of phosphorus leaving farm fields attached to soil particles, recent research raised concerns that phosphorus levels in tile drainage from no-till fields were higher than from conventionally tilled fields.A group of long-time no-till farmers, called the ANSWERS group, wanted to see if this was the case on their own farms under their management practices. The farmers approached the government and researchers in order to set up a scientific study. Funding came from Environment Canada’s Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Agricultural Adaptation Council’s Farm Innovation Fund and the Grain Farmers of Ontario. “It was a collaboration between researchers, farmers and government,” says Merrin Macrae, a researcher from the University of Waterloo. Macrae was involved in the project, along with Ivan O’Halloran, University of Guelph (Ridgetown), and Mike English, Wilfrid Laurier University.The results were good news for farmers who have adopted no-till. There were no significant differences in the P losses between any of the tillage treatments, Macrae says. The multiple-site, multiple-year project took place from 2011 to 2014 on farm fields near St. Marys and Innisfil under a corn-soybean-wheat rotation. A modified no-till system had been in place at both locations for several years prior to the study. This system is a predominantly no-till system but with some shallow tillage at one point during the three-year crop rotation, for example, following winter wheat. This tillage system is referred to in the study as reduced till (RT); the other two tillage systems in the comparison were strict no-till (NT) and annual disk till (AT) treatments.Tile water was monitored for three years for each of the tillage treatments. The tile drains were intercepted at the field edge (below ground) to capture edge-of-field losses at each study plot. Discrete water samples were collected from each tile using automated water samplers triggered by tile run-off. The weather was also monitored.Tillage type did not affect either the dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) or total phosphorus (TP) concentrations or loads in tile drainage. Both run-off and phosphorus export were episodic across all plots and most annual losses occurred during a few key events under heavy precipitation and snow melt events during the fall, winter and early spring, Macrae explains. The study shows the importance of crop management practices, especially during the non-growing season, she says.Both tile drainage flow and phosphorus losses were lower than the researchers expected, Macrae says. Previous studies suggested about 40 per cent of precipitation leaves cropland in tile lines but in this study that proportion was significantly lower.Macrae admits the researchers were surprised there wasn’t more dissolved phosphorus in the tile drainage water from the NT and RT sites due to the increased presence of macropores and worm holes. However, she points out that these farmers also use best management practices (BMPs) for phosphorus application in addition to using a reduced tillage system. For example, the farmers apply only the amount of phosphorus that the crop will remove. The phosphorus fertilizer is also banded below the surface instead of being surface-applied. Macrae believes soil type also plays a role in the amount of dissolved phosphorus leaving farm fields in tile lines. “These sites were not on clay soils,” she says. “Clay soils are more prone to cracking, which could lead to higher phosphorus concentrations in tile lines.”The research highlights the importance of bundling BMPs, Macrae emphasizes. “It’s not just tillage. Farmers should adopt a 4R’s approach: right source, right rate, right time, right place.”Macrae also says farmers should do what they can to ensure nutrients stay in place, such as maintaining good soil health, using grassed waterways, riparian buffer strips and water and sediment control basins (WASCoBs) where needed, and carefully choosing when and how to apply nutrients. “Since most of the water movement occurred during the non-growing season, the study showed the importance of how fields are left in winter and why it is important to not spread manure in winter,” she says.The variability of rainfall intensity, duration and timing will also impact phosphorus losses, she adds.In future, Macrae hopes to study the impact of tillage on phosphorus losses from clay soils as well as the impact of other management practices such as manure application and cover crops.
Growing corn in Ontario comes with a special set of challenges. Most Ontario growers rely on conventional tillage to ensure timely planting in the spring, but the practice has left fields increasingly vulnerable to erosion.Ben Rosser, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) corn industry program lead, has a few ideas for changing that. Rosser just wrapped up a two-year project developing a simple one-pass spring strip-tillage system with the ultimate goal of maintaining corn yields while reducing erosion in Ontario fields.“Strip tillage offers a middle ground between conventional tillage and no-till,” he says. “Some guys don’t like no-till, because it might take too long to get out in the fields in a wet spring and plant. Strip tillage only works the part of the field that you’re going to plant. It leaves everything else untouched.”Some early commercial designs became available in the 1980s, but interest has been relatively limited in Ontario until lately.Rosser took over from former corn industry lead Greg Stewart last October. He says the project was a long-time interest of Stewart’s, who believed once a few barriers had been eliminated, more growers might be attracted to strip tillage.Modern technology has made strip tillage more attractive. With GPS guidance systems, the planter can stay on the strips, and with the potential to deliver full season nitrogen (N) fertility with newer, physically protected forms of N such as Environmentally Smart Nitrogen (ESN), strip tillage may increase efficiency relative to having to return to sidedress, Rosser says. The study utilized a six-row Dawn Pluribus Strip Tiller mounted to a Yetter caddy cart with a Gandy Orbit-Air dry fertilizer box. In 2014, fertilizer was mixed between the coulters, but in 2015 Rosser included side band tubes, which delivered one-third of the fertilizer in a band to the outside edge of the coulter.In 2015, six separate trials were performed at farms in Arthur, Belwood, Bornholm, Elora, Paris and Woodstock. A seventh looked at contour strip tillage near Belwood to develop guidance lines that would precisely follow the variations in the field.Rosser’s key research concerns were evaluating the yield response of strip tillage versus conventional tillage or zero tillage and the yield impact of moving phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertility treatments off the planter and on to the strip tiller. He also examined the safety of using urea or ESN blends through the strip tiller as a way to meet full-season N requirements. Benefits and drawbacksAfter two years the study showed strip tillage did not offer a yield benefit on any of the six sites, although data suggests there might be a yield benefit for medium to heavy soil types. But neither did the strip tillage yields show a decrease compared to those of no-till or conventional systems. The 2014 Field Crop Report for OMAFRA on the study offers an economical reading of the data from the trial, compared with conventional systems, which Rosser carried into the 2015 report. “One might argue that the elimination of other tillage practices is made possible ($35/acre); one broadcast application of fertilizer is eliminated ($12/acre), and a sidedress application of N may also be eliminated ($15/acre),” it reads. In addition, it continues, the planter does not require any special conservation tillage modifications and does not need to apply fertilizer, which could represent savings of $5/acre. The strip tillage operation, if applying fertilizer, can be estimated to cost $25/acre, so potential, overall cost reductions are estimated at $42/acre.But the biggest benefit, says Rosser, is the reduction in erosion — with strip tillage, only a third of the field is disturbed.Wes Hart, who grows corn, soy and wheat just north of Woodstock, was a farmer co-operator for both years of the study.“I joined the study because I’d been interested in strip tillage for a while, and I’d just come into running our farm,” he says. “One of the main things I was interested in with Ben’s system is that I wanted him to use my fertilizer in his strip till. We used my package in the strips, and we didn’t lose anything. The main difference is that there’s another pass on the field with a separate machine, but sometimes that’s worth it.”The chief benefit of the system, for Hart, was the ability to put fertilizer down through the strip tiller. “That’s one of the holdups of my current setup,” he says. Inspired by the study, Hart built a fertilizer banding rig that is “virtually a strip till piece of equipment.”Rosser says a key benefit for the producer of using a strip tillage system — beyond erosion control — is the reduced number of passes over the field. But strip tillage is still more management intensive than conventional tillage, he says, because producers have to carefully plan when to hit their strips. “You have to match up strip and planter pass closely,” he says. “If you wait too long to plant, the ground may get too hard. This means more management, which might hold a farmer back relative to costs.“If you feel you can manage that, our data suggests that strip tillage can be fairly competitive to conventional tillage.”
Is vertical tillage a good choice for managing your corn residues? A Manitoba project is generating new information that will help growers decide which corn residue management technologies and practices would be best for their own farm.Yvonne Lawley, a professor of agronomy and cropping systems at the University of Manitoba, is leading the project. She initiated this research in part because many growers have been asking about vertical tillage but very little research information is available on the technology under Prairie conditions.Another factor driving her interest in the project is the potential for expanding the corn acres in Manitoba. “A lot of the seed companies are actively working on early season corn,” she says. “I think residue management is one of the biggest challenges potentially hindering new adopters of corn. So it seemed very timely to have a project focused on the new tools available to manage corn residue in Manitoba.”Lawley describes some of the difficulties that Prairie growers can face in managing corn residues. “In a short-season area, farmers are concerned about colder [spring] soil temperatures and wetter soils when they have lots of residue covering the soil surface. Those concerns may not be unique to corn residue, but may be aggravated by the amount of residue that you get from corn. “Corn residue has a very high carbon to nitrogen ratio [so] it is very slow to decompose, and corn crops generate twice the amount of residue [compared to crops like soybean and wheat], especially with higher yielding corn varieties. Growers also have to deal with the shape and nature of the root balls that come with corn stalks.” She adds, “In Manitoba, corn is often harvested at a time of year when there could be snow in the fields. Then after harvest, there’s the work of incorporating that residue, when your field may be frozen and it will likely be wet. So there are all kinds of challenges to doing residue management at that time of the year.”According to Lawley, Manitoba growers commonly manage their corn residues using a double disc in the fall, with two or three passes to chop up and incorporate the residues. “That is expensive in terms of time and fuel. Given the very late window for corn harvest in Manitoba, time is probably more limiting than the fuel,” she says. “I think that everyone is looking for a residue management option where they can cover more land quickly, and that is the appeal of vertical tillage – you can drive the tillage equipment fast.” Comparing tillage treatmentsThe project, which started in fall 2014, is comparing four tillage treatments for managing corn residues: vertical till-low disturbance, vertical till-high disturbance, strip till and double discing, the conventional treatment as a control. The term vertical tillage can sometimes mean different things to different people. For the purposes of this project, Lawley defines a vertical tillage unit as: “tillage equipment that has cutting discs to create vertical cuts into the soil. Those discs can run perfectly vertical or they can be angled to create more disruptive tillage. Also, at the end of the unit, there’s a smoothing or finishing component, such as rolling baskets or heavier tines, that then smooths out the seedbed.” “In the project, we distinguish between two vertical till treatments,” explains Patrick Walther, Lawley’s graduate student who is working on this project. “In the vertical till-low disturbance treatment, the discs are at a zero-degree angle. In the vertical till-high disturbance treatment, the discs are at a slight angle, around six degrees, or we have used a unit with a slightly concave shape to the disc.” The high-disturbance treatment may also be known as a high-speed disc. The low-disturbance treatment leaves a lot of residue on the soil surface, so it offers soil conservation advantages. The high-disturbance treatment results in a black seedbed similar to that produced by a double disc. In Manitoba, high-disturbance vertical till is more common than low disturbance. Lawley says, “Very few Manitoba farmers are using vertical tillage in a soil conservation sense. Most people are using this equipment as a high-speed disc, as an alternative to a double disc, especially with corn residue.” The strip tillage treatment involves tilling only the strips where the seed rows will be planted. Walther notes, “With strip tillage, usually less than 30 per cent of the field gets worked, so about two-thirds of the field is undisturbed like no-till.” Although strip till is not widely used in Manitoba, he says it is common just south of the border in Minnesota and North Dakota.“The vertical tillage and double disc treatments are more similar to each other, while strip tillage is almost like an entirely different type of tillage system,” explains Lawley. “Many farmers think strip tillage is very slow. But I think strip tillage offers some interesting comparisons in terms of giving you the best of both worlds from a soil conservation standpoint. Much of the field is protected from erosion by the crop residue cover, but early in the season, the worked strip where you’ll be planting the seed will be blacker, fluffier, drier and warmer, and all those things we’re trying to do by working the entire field.”Equipment evaluationOne component of the project involves evaluating the performance of the tillage equipment used in the project. For this component, Lawley and Walther collaborated with the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) in Portage la Prairie. They measured fuel consumption, horsepower requirements, draft force (the force required to pull the implement through the soil) and the time it takes to complete the tillage.A key factor in the comparison is the number of tillage passes that growers typically use. “For strip tillage, we’re assuming the strips are created in one pass. For the vertical till, most farmers that we’ve talked to are using two or even three passes. With the double disc, they are usually using two passes,” Lawley notes.For example, the tests showed that one pass with a vertical till unit takes much less time than one pass with a double disc or one pass with a strip tillage unit. However, when you consider a complete tillage operation, strip tillage takes the least amount of time because it involves only one pass. The next fastest is vertical tillage with two fast passes, and then the double disc with two slower passes. Similarly, strip tillage has the lowest fuel consumption. “If we look at a complete tillage system, then strip till uses about three times less fuel than a vertical till system, mainly because vertical till is a two-pass system and strip till is a one-pass system,” Walther says.Walther also took slow motion videos of the different pieces of equipment moving through a field. He and Lawley examined the videos to get a better understanding of how each tillage tool works.“In the vertical till-low disturbance, we don’t have a lot of incorporation of crop residue. It is mainly chopping up the residue into smaller pieces. In the vertical till-high disturbance, the soil gets thrown up and mixes with the residue. In the low disturbance, there’s limited horizontal soil movement,” explains Walther.  “The project’s strip till unit tends to push the residue away from the strip and then work the soil. So it doesn’t actually incorporate a whole lot of residue,” he notes. Lawley adds, “The strip tillage is really the most intensive tillage; it is just concentrated in a very small band.” The different tillage implements run at different soil depths. “Usually, for the vertical till-low disturbance treatment, we set the equipment to about 2.75 inches, or seven centimetres, deep. The vertical till-high disturbance unit would be about the same or a little shallower, maybe two to 2.5 inches [five or six centimetres], depending a bit on the farmer’s preferences,” says Walther. “The disc treatment is about four inches (10 centimetres) deep. For the strip till, it’s just one shank that goes into the soil, and it goes about seven to eight inches (or 20 centimetres) deep.” Field trials, results so farThe project’s other component involves on-farm field trials in Manitoba to assess how the tillage treatments affect the following soybean crop. In 2014-15, there were two sites, one at Winkler and the other at MacGregor. In 2015-16, one site is again at MacGregor, and one is at Haywood. The plots are field-length strips. The tillage treatments are carried out in the fall, if possible, or in the spring. Depending on the farmer’s preferences, the soybean plots may be land rolled. “Farmers in Manitoba are doing land rolling when they plant soybeans, usually just after planting, to aid in harvesting where they might have uneven ground or stones that could get caught in the combine at harvest,” Lawley says.Walther is collecting data on soybean emergence, timing of flowering, plant height, pod height and crop yield. He is also monitoring soil temperature and soil moisture at five and 30 centimetres deep in the soybean plots throughout the growing season. As well, he will be calculating the economic costs and benefits of the different treatments.Walther has already analyzed much of the data collected in the soybean plots in 2015. The results showed that factors like crop yield and emergence varied little between the different tillage treatments.The average soil temperatures were very similar for all the tillage treatments. However, the temperature range from day to night varied with the treatment; the strip till plots had the warmest daytime temperatures and the coldest night temperatures. But after the land rolling operation, that diurnal fluctuation was reduced. “We think that one of the reasons why strip till is able to warm the soil faster is due to the shape of the soil surface. A berm is created in that strip, and we think the rapid warming is driven by the ability of that berm to catch solar radiation. Then when we roll the strip, we flatten out that berm so less warming occurs,” Lawley says. Lawley and Walther are hoping to further evaluate the effect of land rolling during the project, but that will depend on whether any of the co-operating farmers decide to do land rolling.Walther is also collecting data for his economic analysis. He explains that an overall economic analysis will likely be challenging because there is not a lot of western Canadian data for vertical till units and strip till units regarding purchase costs, maintenance costs, depreciation and so on. Lawley adds, “People tell us that vertical till units are more expensive to maintain; the units just have a lot more bearings and moving parts.”   View the embedded image gallery online at: Better information for growersRather than trying to come up with one perfect system for managing corn residue, the project aims to provide data about equipment performance, crop growth, yield, soil temperature and soil moisture that will help growers make their own decisions about which tillage tool would be best for their own situation.“Tillage is very farm-specific; it comes down to things like how people want to spread their work loads, what kind of seedbed they want to create, what kind of planting equipment they have, and what crops are in their rotation. I think this project will help farmers in Manitoba because it will give them some data by which they can weigh their options,” explains Lawley.“Certainly the work we did with PAMI will help growers. I don’t think that type of data really exists [anywhere else] in Western Canada right now. The information about fuel consumption and travel time could help growers evaluate their own operations and different investments that they are thinking about making.” Given that the soybean yields in 2015 were about the same no matter which tillage treatment was applied, Walther speculates that the project might also generate information that would support reducing the number of tillage passes used to manage corn residues, as long as farmers have seeding equipment that can handle planting into residue. Fewer tillage passes would reduce the time and money spent on tillage, while improving soil conservation. He points out that Manitoba has had some serious incidents with blowing soil in recent years, especially in years with dry springs. This project is being funded by the Manitoba Corn Growers Association, Western Grains Research Foundation, and under Growing Forward 2, through Manitoba’s Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative. Lawley and Walther also thank the collaborating farmers: the Toews family at MacGregor and Haywood, Randy Froese in Winkler, and Brent Wiebe in MacGregor.Lawley and Walther are looking for more farmers to take part in the final year of the field trials, which starts in fall 2016. If you’re interested in participating, contact Walther ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; 204-891-1649; or @Pat_Wath) for more information.
Data collected during long-term research trials at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Elora and Ridgetown research facilities continues to provide researchers with invaluable information about the complexities of crop rotations and their impact on crops. The long-term trials, conducted between 1982 and 2012, focused on increasing the efficiency of production and reducing the environmental impact of corn and soybean production in Ontario. They revealed that long-term corn-soybean rotations, the most widely used rotations in the province, are vulnerable to moisture extremes and are associated with reduced soil organic matter leading to poor soil quality and the lowest average yields. A new four-year study at the University of Guelph, initiated in June 2014, is building on those results to look deeper into the effect weather has on crop system resilience over time. Using yield and weather data obtained from the long-term rotation and tillage trial in Elora, the researchers tested whether crop rotation diversity is associated with greater yield stability when abnormal weather conditions occur. “The use of more diversified rotations has been advocated as a solution to sustainably increase the long-term resilience and productivity of Ontario field cropping systems,” says Bill Deen, the research lead and an associate professor with the department of plant agriculture at the university. Using parametric and non-parametric approaches, Deen, along with Dave Hooker from the Ridgetown campus and Amelie Gaudin from the University of California, Davis, is examining how rotation complexity in tillage and no-tillage systems alters the amount of soil water available to plants, the ability of the corn and soybean to use the water resources and the effect imposed drought stress has on yields. Preliminary results indicate that crop diversity increases corn and soybean yields over time, lowers the risk of crop failure and mitigates yield loss due to hot and dry conditions. They also show that yield benefits of crop diversity are less pronounced in wet and cool weather and that rotation diversity decreases soybean yield variability in abnormal years with hot-dry or cool-wet conditions. “Our preliminary conclusions reveal that diverse crop rotations do indeed add diversity to a system and that by adding some diversity, such as wheat to a corn-soybean rotation, we can reduce drought effects induced by climate change, poor soil quality and high yield potential,” Deen says. He explains the research will help identify management practices instrumental to adapting Ontario’s most abundant cropping system to changes in climate. “It will also improve productivity and water use efficiencies under an increasingly challenging environment.” The study is attempting to further understand how including winter wheat in a corn-soybean rotation, with or without red clover, impacts water availability in tilled and no-till systems. This understanding will lead to better predictions of the future value of rotation diversification. The researchers also believe that the value of rotation diversity is currently underestimated and that its value could increase in the future. Under a changing climate where higher frequency of excess moisture or drought is predicted, water availability could be a larger constraint on the system in the future. Independent of climate change, as average corn yield increases, demand for water by the plant will increase and the role of rotation diversity in enhancing water supply could also increase. Finally, residue removal from simple rotations could accentuate drought responses in simple rotations and increase the value of rotation diversity. Increasing understanding of rotation diversity should lead producers to reassess the use of simple corn-soybean rotations. This can increase average per acre corn and soybean yields, stabilize corn and soybean yields when weather extremes occur and increase soil carbon and quality. In addition to improvements in average yields and stabilization of yield, previous studies using these long-term trials have demonstrated that rotation diversity increases soil carbon and quality and also results in increased nutrient and energy use efficiency of corn and soybean production. While not yet measured, it is probable that rotation diversity will also reduce offsite movement of nutrients from corn and soybean fields by improving water and soil retention in the system. Many producers believe that a corn-soybean rotation is still more profitable than rotations that include wheat with or without red clover. Deen and Hooker’s research provides evidence that suggests the contrary is true. “Adding wheat into a corn-soybean rotation increased corn yield two to six per cent and soybean yield nine to 14 per cent,” Deen says. “There is also a substantial reduction in a producer’s nitrogen requirements.” Although the magnitude of rotation benefits varied with crops, weather patterns and tillage, yield stability significantly increased when corn and soybean were integrated into more diverse rotations. Introducing small grains into short corn-soybean rotation was enough to provide substantial benefits on long-term soybean yields and their stability while the effects on corn were mostly associated with the temporal niche provided by small grains for under-seeded red clover or alfalfa. Crop diversification strategies also increased the probability of harnessing favourable growing conditions while decreasing the risk of crop failure. In hot and dry years, diversification of corn-soybean rotations and reduced tillage increased yield by seven per cent and 22 per cent for corn and soybean respectively. “Simple rotations have a lower probability of high yields, a higher probability of low yields and are particularly susceptible to low yields under hot dry conditions,” Deen says. This research supports the practice of using more diversified rotations as a solution to sustainably increase the long-term resilience and productivity of corn-soybean cropping systems. Moving forward Deen says over the next two years, the researchers hope to look at the effect moisture has over the span of a year by imposing three different moisture regimes – ambient, moisture replete and drought. In this way, they will exclude rainfall and irrigate so they can compare their results to ambient conditions within one year. “We are applying these moisture treatments to continuous corn, corn-soybean, corn-soybean-wheat (red clover) and corn-alfalfa rotations,” Deen says. “From these treatments, we will measure soil properties, soil moisture, plant response using various measurements and, obviously, yield. “This will conclusively demonstrate the effect of rotation under different moisture regimes.” 
May 16, 2016 - Seeding in Manitoba is estimated at 61 per cent complete, with cooler temperatures and precipitation in the form of snow and rain slowing progress over the past week. Temperatures below 0 C were recorded throughout the weekend. Frost injury symptoms are evident on emerged crops such as canola, soybeans and corn. However, in some areas minimal crop injury is reported, largely in part due to very little crop emergence. Crops continue to emerge; however, slow emergence and growth was noted due to the cooler air and soil temperatures, as well as drier soil conditions in some areas. READ MORE.  
While drones have a foothold in the game of precision agriculture, some researchers are toying with the idea of using them as pollinators as well. Researchers ordered a small drone online and souped it up with a strip of fuzz made from a horsehair paintbrush covered in a sticky gel. The device is about the size of a hummingbird, and has four spinning blades to keep it soaring. With enough practice, the scientists were able to maneuver the remote-controlled bot so that only the bristles, and not the bulky body or blades, brushed gently against a flower’s stamen to collect pollen – in this case, a wild lily (Lilium japonicum). To ensure the hairs collect pollen efficiently, the researchers covered them with ionic liquid gel (ILG), a sticky substance with a long-lasting “lift-and-stick-again” adhesive quality – perfect for taking pollen from one flower to the next. What’s more, the ILG mixture has another quality: When light hits it, it blends in with the color of its surroundings, potentially camouflaging the bot from would-be predators. | READ MORE
Improving fertilizer use efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon footprints, thereby improving sustainability is becoming increasingly important to the agriculture industry and its markets. For agriculture, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a very powerful GHG, so reducing losses and intensity not only improves the GHG footprint of cropping systems, but also benefits growers directly by improving economics and efficiency.
Try this exercise. Take five $20 bills, scatter them on the ground, then light one on fire and watch it go up in smoke. That’s what researchers at Montana State University (MSU) found could happen if you broadcast urea fertilizer in the late fall or winter without incorporation. Previously, it was commonly thought that broadcast urea on cold soils would not result in very large urea losses.
Peter Johnson has a theory: if you don’t invest dollars in spring barley breeding, you won’t get the results you want.
As recently as four to five years ago, Ontario corn producers were still applying 85 per cent of their nitrogen (N) fertilizer pre-plant, according to Ian McDonald, the crop innovations specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). But natural pools of nitrogen have plenty to offer, and McDonald believes if producers don’t wait to soil test or judge the impact of weather on the crop’s early development, they might be missing an opportunity for improved N management. Back in 2001, McDonald and OMAFRA’s then-corn specialist Greg Stewart decided to evaluate levels of organic N across Ontario’s soil zones. “Most N went down as urea or urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) applied on bare ground before the corn was planted. We wanted to raise awareness of how much organic N was available from the natural pool across Ontario,” he says. OMAFRA’s corn N soil survey was born, in which Stewart and colleagues annually sampled between 75 and 100 different sites, evaluating available organic N in natural pools by soil type, geography and cropping history. “We did that on an annual basis in the hopes of better understanding how the natural pool was mineralized, and to give people other options than throwing all the N up front. Pre-plant N application works from a time perspective but doesn’t give producers much opportunity to use management thinking to customize the rates based on a sound knowledge of the year’s yield potential,” McDonald says. In 2016, the survey morphed into the “N Sentinel Project,” a three-year Grain Farmers of Ontario and Growing Forward 2 sponsored effort designed to improve current tools for estimating N fertilizer requirements. Instead of visiting dozens of sites the team focused their analyses on 23 dedicated sites across clay-loam, loam and sandy soil zones. “In the past, we were just haphazardly going out and sampling fields across the province and it wasn’t a very organized or targeted process,” McDonald says. “It was a one shot-in-the-dark per year analysis, and we felt that although it was giving us generalities, it wasn’t able to answer the important questions that needed to be answered on an annual basis.” What are those questions? The researchers are mostly interested in discovering the impact of weather patterns on the mineralization of the natural N pool each year, as well as the effects of previous cropping practices, temperature, moisture and soil type on background N levels.Targeted analysisThree sites are located in eastern Ontario, two in central Ontario, and eight between London and Guelph; the rest are scattered to the west, with the furthest located at Dresden. Eight of the sites are maintained by the University of Guelph as part of a number of the Ontario Corn Performance Trials. The other sites are maintained by farmer co-operators. Sites are established with zero N (max 30 pounds of N per acre) in a starter band and a full-rate non-yield limiting commercial N rate. Each site is sampled four times per year between May 1 and July 1, and has its own weather station installed by Weather Innovations Network, which processes local weather data and hosts results on a dedicated website.  All sites, McDonald says, will have two replicates of the zero and full N treatments harvested for yield at maturity. “This will allow a calculation of the delta yield for each location that measures yield response to N rate,” he says. “This will also provide a [maximum economic rate of nitrogen] MERN for each site and a calibration of the [pre-sidedress nitrogen test] PSNT taken at the mid-June sample timing.”  In the previous soil N survey, he notes, there was no correlation to crop yield and thus no way of determining whether the PSNT taken to generate the survey was in the ballpark of predicting what the crop needed for economic yield. “We know more of the background on these sites — previous management, previous rotations, etcetera, that might influence soil nitrogen levels,” says Ben Rosser, OMAFRA’s corn specialist. “We have more info being generated on each site than in the past,” McDonald agrees. In 2015, the corn survey generated surprising results: soil N levels were “considerably higher” than previous years’ data, due to an unusually dry spring. “The higher-than-usual average soil nitrate levels observed in this year’s survey suggest that fertilizer N requirements in 2015 may be less than the rates generally needed in most years,” the team’s field crop report suggested, while cautioning that producers should confirm fertilizer N requirements on a field-by-field basis. “In 2016, the results were closer to normal, or maybe just above,” Rosser says. While the season began with cooler than normal temperatures, it warmed up by June. “With an overall average of 11.2 [parts per million] ppm in 2016, soil nitrate levels tended to be average or slightly above average relative to the five previous survey years (2011-2015), while slightly lower than 2015 values, which were well above normal,” states the team’s 2016 field crop report, before recommending normal N application practices. But recommendations should never be taken as holy writ, the authors again caution: “Soil nitrate values are highly influenced by the environment and agronomic practices. For instance, if you are in an area which has received significantly more rainfall than other parts of the province, you may have also experienced more loss than is reflected in these results.  “The only way to know soil nitrate concentrations on your own farm is to pull soil nitrates from your own fields.” McDonald believes producers are beginning to realize the value of managing N application more tightly, thanks to their use of Internet and social media resources promoting the practice — and the genetics they’re employing. “The biggest change that’s occurred is that the genetic potential of new hybrids has really increased, and with that, producers are understanding how important nitrogen management is to achieving that yield potential,” he says.A previous version of this article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of Top Crop Manager East.
What would the late John Harapiak think of this: Nitrogen (N) losses with banded N that are greater than broadcast N. Harapiak championed deep banding N as a way to improve N-use efficiency and crop yield back in the late 1970s and 1980s, based on many years of research at Western Co-operative Fertilizers (later Westco), the former fertilizer arm of the three Wheat Pool grain companies. His “Fertilizer Forums” promoted the benefits of deep banding over broadcast N. However, new research is starting to show shallow banding less than two inches deep may incur some volatilization loss.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) celebrates Canada’s first national Agriculture Day (February 16th, 2017) with the launch of its Better Seed, Better Life program. Seed is the start of it all, the entire agriculture and agri-food value chain. Through Better Seed, Better Life, CSTA plans to engage with Canadians on the role of seed as the foundation for the foods and drinks we enjoy, the clothes we wear and the fuel in our cars. This program is based on materials created by the American Seed Trade Association and is a collaborative effort between the two associations.  CSTA’s Better Seed, Better Life program starts with the launch of the fact sheet, “The A to Z of Garden Seeds.” This is the first of a series of fact sheets to be released over the next months, connecting the seeds produced by CSTA members and the crops grown from those seeds to the products used in everyday life. The fact sheets are available at Profiles of CSTA members and a video will be added over the year to complement the fact sheets.
Generally researchers try to stay ahead of farming practices, but lately they find themselves chasing an explanation for an emerging one.
One of the key challenges for winter canola production is very basic: crop survival into the spring. So a project with multiple sites in Eastern Canada has been evaluating the overwintering success of today’s winter canola cultivars, as well as testing several factors that might improve the crop’s survival and yield. “I knew researchers had worked on winter canola in the past and found that it could work but didn’t work often enough. I wanted to see if there had been improvement enough in the genotypes that we might be looking at a better situation now,” says Don Smith, a professor in the plant science department at McGill University, who is leading the study. The project started in 2013 and ran through two winters at five sites, for a total of 10 site years. All analyses and reporting are now nearly completed. The project is part of the canola and soybean research being conducted under the Eastern Canada Oilseeds Development Alliance (ECODA), jointly funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and industry. Smith is the scientific director of ECODA’s research network, involving more than 20 research agencies across Eastern Canada. His winter canola project was funded through AAFC’s Growing Forward 1 and Growing Forward 2 programs. “A number of things came together in terms of increased interest in spring and winter canola in Eastern Canada,” Smith says. “The cash value of some of the small grain cereals that producers grow sometimes has been pretty low, so they were looking for cash crops that might pay better and they were interested in canola. Also, a few years ago a major oilseed crushing plant opened at Becancour, Que., providing easier access of oilseeds produced in Quebec and the Maritimes to crushing facilities; before that, the nearest crushing facilities were in southern Ontario. Also the St. Lawrence River at Becancour doesn’t freeze so you can bring in oilseeds by boat year-round, which is much less expensive. So that changed the economic landscape for oilseed production around here.” ECODA focuses mainly on spring canola, with only a small amount of research on winter canola. “Winter canola is always a higher risk, with Canadian winters being what they are,” Smith explains. Although winter canola is not as winter-hardy as crops like winter wheat, it does have some potential benefits for growers. “When winter canola survives the winter, it can yield quite well. Also, it provides ground cover through fall, winter and spring, protecting the soil from erosion,” Smith notes. “And winter canola starts to grow much earlier in the season [than spring-seeded canola].” Earlier growth means earlier maturity, which can be an advantage, for example, if fall frosts come very early or if the summer turns hot. He says, “Canola is a temperate zone crop so when temperatures get above about 25 C, the crop starts to get into problems caused by heat stress, such as floral abortion.” One component of Smith’s winter canola project compared four varieties to see which ones performed best at each site. The five sites included one in Ontario (Ottawa), two in Quebec (west end of Montreal Island and south-east of Montreal), one in Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown) and one in Nova Scotia (Truro). Researchers in the ECODA initiative managed the sites. There were small differences in variety performance from site to site, but no variety was dramatically better than another. “We found that we don’t yet have the genotypes that can survive our winters very well. We had survival in about one year in three or four, which is just not enough,” Smith says. “We only had good winter survival when there was enough snow cover. A good snow cover will insulate the plant against the more extreme weather conditions in the atmosphere. So you could have plunging air temperatures of -25 C or -30 C, and – although it depends [on the snow pack’s characteristics] – the temperature might only be a few degrees below 0 C at the soil surface under a thick covering of snow. Without a snow cover, it can be much colder for the plant and that can be a challenge.” He adds, “Winter survival can be tough, but spring survival can also be difficult. With the transition from winter to spring, you get transitions back and forth across 0 C. So you get melting snow and pooling of water in low spots because the water can’t trickle down into the frozen soil, and then the puddles freeze into ice. That is very hard on the plants.” The project’s sites included a range of conditions, so overwintering success varied from site to site and from year to year. The site at McGill’s Agronomy Research Centre near Montreal had some of the best winter survival. Smith explains, “At the McGill site, the winter canola plots were in a small field ringed by fairly tall trees so the snow catch was generally good. The message that comes out of this is that it’s about snow catch.” All of the five sites used conventional tillage systems. So a possible next step in this research would be to try no-till canola because the standing stubble from the previous crop has the potential to increase snow trapping. The project’s results also confirmed that winter survival is affected by seeding date. Seeding has to be early enough for the plants to become sufficiently established before the first killing frost. The recommendation from Ontario’s agriculture department is that winter canola plants should have about four to six leaves and a root system large enough to withstand some frost heaving and drying winds. If you seed too late, then the plant might be too small to make it through the winter. However, if you seed too early, the plant might bolt in the fall and would not survive the winter. For the study sites in Smith’s project, seeding dates in the first 10 or 15 days of September were usually the best. He notes, “That can vary, of course, from year to year. In 2015, warm weather persisted and persisted, so in a year like that you might be able to plant into the first week of October and it would still be okay.” The project also compared several fertilizer treatments, including different rates and timings for sulphur and different rates for boron. Smith explains that canola has higher requirements for these two nutrients than many other commonly grown field crops. However, none of the fertilizer treatments produced clear differences in winter canola performance. Another component of the project assessed the suitability of winter-seeded spring canola. Smith explains, “You can seed spring canola just before freeze-up in the fall or just before spring melt so the seeds don’t germinate immediately because the weather is too cold. When the snow melts in the spring, they’ll germinate right away. So the crop starts growing much earlier than spring-seeded canola.” So, like winter canola, winter-seeded spring canola would have potential advantages over spring-seeded canola due to earlier maturity. “However, in our trials, very late seeded or very early seeded (onto frozen soil in both cases) spring canola had reasonable survival one year of the two when it was evaluated, which is not really good enough,” he says. Canola’s growing point is at or above the soil surface as the plant emerges, which makes it very vulnerable to early spring frost damage if the plant starts to grow during a warm spell and then gets hit by a cold snap. Cereals like wheat and barley protect their growing points by keeping them below the soil surface during their early growth stages. Smith also experimented with applying microbial compounds to winter canola to see whether these compounds would help the plants survive winter stresses. In previous research, Smith found that these compounds promote growth in several other crop species; in particular, the compounds can help plants withstand various stress conditions. But with winter canola, the benefits weren’t as strong. Smith says, “Across years, when the plants were treated with these compounds, survival was numerically higher most of the time but not statistically higher most of the time.” Overall, Smith concludes, “We’ve learned that winter survival of winter canola is not there yet. But I think sooner or later breeders will develop winter canola varieties that have the right stuff and we’ll get there.”   
July 4, 2016 - The month of June saw highly variable amounts of precipitation fall in Alberta, from near excessive amounts of 150-250 per cent of normal in the Peace region, to above average quantities of 100-200 per cent in the northwest to below average of 50-100 per cent in the northeast, and dry conditions to the central and south regions at 35-50 per cent of normal.According to the June 28 Alberta Crop report, regional crop condition ratings reflect these moisture differences. Crop ratings declined in the south and central regions due to the continuing dry conditions, were unchanged in the northeast, and are reflecting the effects of the wet soil conditions on growth in the northwest and Peace regions.As at June 28, crops provincially are rated 79 per cent in good or excellent condition, compared to last year at 30 per cent, the five year average of 73 per cent and the long term average of 70 per cent.READ MORE.
July 4, 2016 - Warmer and drier weather conditions were welcomed by Manitoba producers over the past week. According to the Manitoba crop report, all crop types, particularly the warm season crops including grain corn and soybeans, are benefiting from the warmer weather.The more favourable weather conditions are allowing some acres impacted by excess moisture to recover. However, continuing wet field conditions and symptoms of excess moisture continue to be noted across most regions. As fields continue to dry, the impact of the excessive moisture to yield potentials become more evident.READ MORE.
June 22, 2016 - Over the past week, widespread thunderstorm activity has provided adequate moisture to most of Alberta, although some western parts of south and central regions have received less than 60 mm of moisture since the start of growing season. While these areas have received enough moisture to sustain growth in recent days, they are still in need of more moisture.Provincially, crop growing conditions across the province improved by two per cent and are now 82 per cent good to excellent, compared with the five-year average (2011-2015) of 73 per cent. About 83 per cent of spring wheat, 79 per cent of barley, 90 per cent of oats, 82 per cent of canola and 81 per cent of dry peas are in good to excellent condition. In terms of crop development, most cereals across the province are in the stem elongation stage.READ MORE.
Soybean aphids have become well established throughout the northern Midwest United States and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, causing significant damage in some years. Because of the potential for ongoing problems from this yield robber in the future, there have been significant funding efforts from research programs: One management strategy has been to develop soybean varieties that are resistant to soybean aphids. “The checkoff in Ohio as well as the North Central region states have put in a lot of investment in developing soybean plants that are resistant to the aphids, but now we have aphids that have overcome that resistance,” said Andy Michel, field crops entomologist at Ohio State University. To address this challenge, researchers took on the extensive process of sequencing the entire soybean aphid genome to help develop strategies that prevent the spread and increase of aphids capable of breaking aphid resistance. Michel led the effort. “My laboratory at Ohio State focuses on understanding how soybean aphids are able to overcome aphid resistance in soybean. Through this research, we hope to develop strategies that prevent the spread and increase of aphids capable of breaking aphid resistance. In the course of generating DNA sequences…we were able to sequence the entire soybean aphid genome,” he said. “We now have a really good roadmap for the soybean aphid and understanding all of the genes that are involved that make the aphid such a bad pest for soybean farmers in the north central region.” The soybean aphid is now the fourth aphid species with a completely described genome and this new information will be a valuable tool moving forward with soybean aphid management. | READ MORE
“The pea leaf weevil has been a traditional pest for many years, and there is a lot of these pests in Canada,” says Gadi V.P. Reddy, entomologist of Montana State University’s Western Triangle Agricultural Research Center (WTARC). “The pea leaf weevil spread across the pulse growing regions in 2012, increasing problems caused by the pest.” Reddy spoke at WTARC field days about his pheromone research project. Reddy has grant funding under the Montana Specialty Block Grant program, in cooperation with the Montana Department of Agriculture and USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), for the pea leaf weevil pheromone project to attract the pea leaf weevil. There are two generations of pea leaf weevil per year, but the second generation of adults don’t cause damage like the first generation. During winter, the weevil hibernates under debris leaves and emerges in the spring, usually around May. When the pest emerges in spring, the adults feed on pollen and nectar on leaves; then they mate and the females lay eggs on the seedlings of peas and lentils that emerge as larvae. The larvae or grubs burrow deep in the soil and feed on roots and root nodules, causing damage. Plants fix less or no nitrogen when the roots are damaged, and sometimes the plant itself dies. Reddy experimented using baited aggregation pheromone traps in the field to help monitor and mass trap weevil populations. He found that the pitfall traps worked the best at catching pea leaf weevils. These traps are a container that is sunk into the ground so that its rim is flush with the soil surface. Insects simply fall into the trap. Reddy used a liquid aggregation pheromone to lure them. Another pheromone lure type is a bubble wrap, placed in pea or lentil fields. In these traps, growers use a small quantity of soap or detergent water so that the trapped weevil gets killed. “We found a lot of pea leaf weevils in our pheromone traps in 2016. Next summer, we will determine how many pheromone-baited traps we need per acre to trap the weevils,” Reddy says. In addition, WTARC will be developing biodegradable pheromone lures so that growers won’t have to take them out of the field after each season. Reddy is also looking at bio-based insecticides to control pea leaf weevils.
The wheat midge forecast for 2017 shows an overall lower level of wheat midge across Alberta. There has been a slight bounce back from the collapse of the extreme populations in the eastern Peace region. Although wheat midge has not followed the forecasts very well in the Peace region, it's important to note that there are likely sufficient populations of midge in the eastern Peace to fuel a resurgence if conditions are in the insects favor (specifically delayed crops and higher than normal rainfall). Central Alberta has some areas of east of Edmonton with high numbers of wheat midge. The population has remained low in much of southern Alberta with the exception of some irrigated fields. Producers should pay attention to midge downgrading in their wheat samples and use this as a further indication of midge risk in their fields. Over the past several years the field to field variation has been very considerable throughout the province, especially in those areas with higher counts. Individual fields throughout Alberta may still have economic levels of midge. Each producer also needs to assess their risk based on indicators specific to their farm. | READ MORE
A new study is helping Quebec researchers understand how to better control soybean aphid in the province.
Sometimes it’s a good thing to come second. Dry beans are the second choice for western bean cutworm moths looking for a place to lay their eggs. They prefer corn at the pre-tassel stage, but if they can’t find that, then they’ll go to dry bean fields. So far in Ontario, this invasive pest is causing the biggest problems in corn, but western bean cutworm has the potential to be a serious pest in dry beans, as Michigan growers have found.
Strip cropping is a method of cultivation in which a variety of crops are sown in alternating strips in a single field. It is a type of intercropping that involves planting crops in distinct rows that can be separately managed.
Invisible to the naked eye, cyst nematodes are a major threat to agriculture, causing billions of dollars in global crop losses every year. A group of plant scientists, led by University of Missouri researchers, recently found one of the mechanisms cyst nematodes use to invade and drain life-sustaining nutrients from soybean plants. Understanding the molecular basis of interactions between plants and nematodes could lead to the development of new strategies to control these major agricultural pests and help feed a growing global population.Soybeans are a major component for two-thirds of the world’s animal feed and more than half the edible oil consumed in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Cyst nematodes jeopardize the healthy production of this critical global food source by “hijacking” the soybean plants’ biology.“Cyst nematodes are one of the most economically devastating groups of plant-parasitic nematodes worldwide,” said Melissa Goellner Mitchum, a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center and an associate professor in the Division of Plant Sciences at MU. “These parasites damage root systems by creating a unique feeding cell within the roots of their hosts and leeching nutrients out of the soybean plant. This can lead to stunting, wilting and yield loss for the plant. We wanted to explore the pathways and mechanisms cyst nematodes use to commandeer soybean plants.”About 15 years ago, Mitchum and colleagues unlocked clues into how nematodes use small chains of amino acids, or peptides, to feed on soybean roots.Using next-generation sequencing technologies that were previously unavailable, Michael Gardner, a graduate research assistant, and Jianying Wang, a senior research associate in Mitchum’s lab, made a remarkable new discovery – nematodes possess the ability to produce a second type of peptide that can effectively “take over” plant stem cells that are used to create vital pathways for the delivery of nutrients throughout the plant. Researchers compared these peptides with those produced by plants and found that they were identical to the ones the plants use to maintain vascular stem cells, known as CLE-B peptides.“Plants send out these chemical signals to its stem cells to begin various functions of growth, including the vascular pathway that plants use to transport nutrients,” Mitchum said. “Advanced sequencing showed us that nematodes use identical peptides to activate the same process. This ‘molecular mimicry’ helps nematodes produce the feeding sites from which they drain plant nutrients.” | READ MORE
New genes – showing resistance to the yield-robbing blackleg in canola crops – have been identified in trials. New South Wales (Australia) Department of Primary Industries senior principal research scientist, Harsh Raman, said the study has unlocked the genetic make-up of canola to characterize major and minor genes resistant to the fungal pathogen Leptosphaeria maculans, which causes blackleg disease. “Finding new sources of resistance, particularly resistance which is controlled by minor genes, is extremely important to the canola industry,” Dr Raman said. “Blackleg disease can cause up to 80 per cent yield loss in canola - in Australia, France and Canada resistance has been broken down in some canola varieties due to the emergence of new races of the blackleg pathogen.” | READ MORE
Stripe rust could show up with a vengence in Ontario again this year, but that doesn’t mean we’re lacking the tools to control the problem. Last year was one of the worst stripe rust years that Albert Tenuta, field crop extension plant pathologist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), has seen. Tenuta addressed the latest on where, when, and how often to apply fungicides to a room of farmers and agronomists at the Southwest Agriculture Conference, which took place Jan. 4 and 5 in Ridgetown, Ont. One of the diseases of focus was stripe rust and whether we can expect to see the same levels of the disease as last year. Stripe rust typically thrives when temperatures sit around 16 C. But last year rust was exploding and multiplying in elevated nighttime temperatures sitting around 21 to 23 C. This may mean that the pathogen is changing in stripe rust. “We’re seeing more and more races developing, becoming more heat tolerant,” Tenuta says. “They are living organisms that adapt and change, so nothing stays static over time.” Since stripe rust is an obligate parasite (the disease needs a host to survive), the rust retreats back to the south in the U.S. in the winter, where there is greenery. With the milder winter last year, it’s likely spores are overwintering closer to Ontario, meaning the spores don’t need to travel as far and making it easier for them to reproduce. As millions and millions of spores are created, there are mutants that can develop and bypass resistance (from temperatures, for example) leading to an increase in cases of the disease. If stripe rust had overwintered in the province, farmers would have seen it much earlier than the first reports in early May. This year, if conditions are right, we could potentially see the disease back in the province; it depends on the direction of wind as well as temperatures. If the disease shows up again this year, there are two main ways for farmers to protect their crops. The first is well-timed application of fungicide. According to Martin Chilvers, assistant professor at Michigan State University and co-speaker at the session, in 2016 the most successful applications were the T2, or prior to flowering, applications. With applications at this stage, researchers were able to protect 20 bushels. Strobilurins and triazole compounds are best if applied as a preventative measure for stripe rust, although triazole also shows some post-infection functions as well. Choosing a stripe-resistant variety is also important – even if it’s a moderately resistant variety. “Although you still see some disease developing, those lesions are often smaller, so they don’t produce as many spores,” Tenuta says. Therefore, spore production is reduced and successive generations decrease substantially. But, Tenuta cautions, it’s still important to choose a variety that protects against Fusarium first and foremost. “Remember, Fusarium head blight is a risk you have every year. Stripe rust may occur – it may not.” Keep a lookout for stripe rust in your crops starting in May.
Kansas State University researchers recently announced a significant breakthrough in controlling the spread of the soybean cyst nematode, a parasitic roundworm that has caused anywhere from five to 100 per cent yield losses in Ontario.Plant geneticist Harold Trick said the university has received a patent for the technology that “silences” specific genes in the nematode, causing it to die or, at the least, lose the ability to reproduce.“We have created genetically engineered vectors [or DNA molecules], and put those into soybeans so that when the nematodes feed on the roots of the soybeans, they ingest these small molecules,” said Trick, who has worked closely with plant pathologist Tim Todd on this project.So far, the scientists have found the technology has reduced the nematode population in greenhouse studies by as much as 85 percent. | READ MORE
A team of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists has developed a sensitive new assay method for detecting the fungus that causes wheat blast, a disease of wheat in South America and, most recently, Bangladesh.
"Ug99” might not mean much to the world outside agriculture, but few wheat diseases have so much potential to devastate production – and ultimately, consumer access to a basic staple – around the world.
The key to controlling tufted vetch in soybeans is to try to maximize control in all crops in the rotation and in all kinds of windows. That’s the advice of Mike Cowbrough, weed management specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). He has been investigating options for tufted vetch control for about 14 years so he knows just how difficult this weed is to conquer.
Researchers writing in the latest issue of the journal Weed Science provide important insights on the control of herbicide-resistant giant ragweed - a plant shown to produce significant yield losses in Midwest corn and soybean crops.  Since giant ragweed is resistant to multiple herbicide sites of action, researchers at the University of Minnesota set out to determine the impact of alternative control strategies on both the emergence of giant ragweed and the number of giant ragweed seeds in the weed seedbank. They evaluated six, three-year crop rotation systems, including continuous corn, soybean-corn-corn, corn-soybean-corn, soybean-wheat-corn, soybean-alfalfa-corn and alfalfa-alfalfa-corn.  Researchers found that corn and soybean rotations were more conducive to giant ragweed emergence. Thirty-eight percent fewer giant ragweed plants emerged when the crop rotation system included wheat or alfalfa.  They also found that adopting a zero-weed threshold can be a viable approach to depleting the weed seedbank, regardless of the crop rotation system used. When a zero-weed threshold was maintained, 96 percent of the giant ragweed seedbank was depleted within just two years.  "Since the ragweed seedbank is short-lived, our research shows it is possible to manage fields infested with giant ragweed by simply eliminating weeds that emerge before they go to seed," says Jared Goplen, a member of the research team.  Herbicide-resistant giant ragweed is rapidly becoming a major threat to corn and soybean production in the Midwest and elsewhere. This research will help growers utilize crop rotation as a much-needed additional strategy for managing this weed.
A new factsheet from the Weed Science Society of America is now available for free download, exploring research of weed seed longevity. It highlights the unique ways weed seeds can travel (earthworms can collect and move them into their burrows), their viability (moth mullein seeds buried in 1879 were able to germinate more than 130 years later), ways they can be eliminated (carabid beetles can consume large quantities of weed seeds that drop to the soil) and more. Download the factsheet here and visit for more information.
When it comes to controlling weeds in emerged winter wheat during the fall, 2,4 D is not recommended. Joanna Follings, the cereals specialist at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, breaks down the reasoning behind this on | READ MORE
The year 2017 will mark the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the first known herbicide-resistant weeds in 1957 — a spreading dayflower found in a Hawaiian sugarcane field and a wild carrot variety found in Ontario, both which showed resistance to up to five times the normal usage dosage of synthetic auxin herbicides.In the past six decades since these discoveries, weed scientists have documented more than 250 weed species with some form of herbicide resistance. These span 23 of the known 26 herbicide modes of action and impact 86 different crops across 66 different countries. As a result, the cost of weed control across the nation’s crop fields has tripled in recent years as growers are being forced to employ more herbicides per season, increase application frequency, and spend more on fuel costs to achieve some measure of control. | READ MORE
What’s your worst weed? Pigweed? Canada fleabane? Field horsetail? Ontario farmers recently had the opportunity to vote on which weeds are the most troublesome. The results provide an intriguing glimpse into changing weed challenges in the province.“Back in 2007, we decided to ask people what their worst weeds were, just to see what their concerns were. Then in 2016 we followed up with another survey,” says Dave Bilyea, a research associate in weed management at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus. “Things are always evolving in agriculture, so we thought it would be interesting to see how things have changed given the almost 10-year span between the two surveys.”Bilyea worked on the 2016 online survey with his Ridgetown colleagues Kristen McNaughton and Christy Shropshire. More than 300 people from 31 counties participated in the survey, which was publicized by various agricultural and government agencies. Respondents were asked to identify and rank their five worst weeds from a given list. If their own worst weeds weren’t on that list, they could add their choices. They weren’t asked to give reasons for their choices. From all the votes, Bilyea determined the top 10 weed problems for Ontario-east, Ontario-west and Ontario-wide (see tables). Since more of the respondents were from the southwest than the east, the Ontario-wide results are tipped slightly toward weed concerns in the southwest.Bilyea emphasizes that the survey results are just for people’s interest, providing a way to create conversations about weed issues. Although the collected data are not comprehensive enough to draw any definitive conclusions, it’s interesting to speculate on what lies behind the results. In the 2016 survey, the Ontario-wide five worst weeds were, in order: lamb’s-quarters, Canada fleabane, common ragweed, eastern black nightshade and pigweeds. All five of these are broadleaf annual weeds with at least some herbicide-resistant populations. Lamb’s-quarters Chenopodium album, which was in fourth place in the 2007 survey, is a very common weed that can grow up to 200 centimetres tall. “We can only surmise why people think certain weeds are the worst. In the case of lamb’s-quarters, it is probably one weed that touches all types of operations across Ontario whether they are horticulture or field crops, or even orchards and things like that,” Bilyea says. “It’s so pervasive; it’s everywhere.” He thinks herbicide resistance might be an additional factor contributing to this weed’s top ranking, but it’s likely not the major reason. Ontario’s 2016 maps of herbicide-resistant weeds show lamb’s-quarters populations with resistance to Group 5 herbicides (e.g. Aatrex, Sencor) or Group 2 herbicides (e.g. Pursuit, Pinnacle) have been found in 36 counties. But Bilyea points out that just because some populations of a weed species in a county are resistant, that doesn’t mean all populations are. In the top 10 list, lamb’s-quarters was followed very closely by Canada fleabane Conyza canadensis. Canada fleabane is a winter or summer annual and can be up to 180 cm tall. “Canada fleabane is obviously a major problem now in Ontario, but in 2007 it wasn’t even on the list,” Bilyea says. “Canada fleabane is not a new weed; it has always been around. It’s a problem particularly for growers who have no-till because it likes undisturbed ground. And now we have a certain part of the population that is resistant to glyphosate [Group 9 herbicide].”  Glyphosate-resistant Canada fleabane populations have been spreading rapidly in the province. Glyphosate-resistant biotypes were first identified in Essex County in 2010. By 2012, they were found in eight counties, and now they’re in 30 counties. Some counties have populations with multiple resistance to both Group 9 and Group 2 herbicides. Bilyea thinks glyphosate resistance is very likely the key issue that earned Canada fleabane such a high ranking. In fact, in the survey column where respondents could add their own weeds, many respondents specifically stated resistant Canada fleabane was a concern, rather than ordinary Canada fleabane. “Glyphosate resistance makes Canada fleabane control very challenging for a lot of growers because glyphosate – the Roundups, the Touchdowns and herbicides in that group – are the major keystone for weed control across Ontario in corn and soybeans.”Respondents indicated glyphosate-resistant populations were the issue for common ragweed Ambrosia artemisiifolia, the third-place weed in 2016, and giant ragweed Ambrosia trifida, in eighth place. “Not all giant ragweed is resistant and not all common ragweed is resistant, but there are significant numbers of fields with glyphosate resistance,” Bilyea says. He adds, “In the 2007 survey when I mentioned ‘ragweed,’ we were just thinking of common ragweed. But now Ontario has giant ragweed, as well as common ragweed, which has always been in fields.” Common ragweed can be up to 150 cm high; giant ragweed can be up to about four metres high.Fourth-place eastern black nightshade Solanum ptycanthum is another weed that can grow in many types of habitats. “Eastern black nightshade is especially an issue for growers who have beans. You can’t have nightshade in your bean crop for export for food-grade beans,” he notes. The juice from the nightshade berries can result in a discoloured coating on the beans, which is very difficult to clean off. “Also, after some of the early herbicide sprays have stopped doing their job, spots of nightshade will come up. I think the weed’s high ranking is also because nightshade goes right across the province, so it’s a very common, problematic weed for soybean and edible bean growers.”The survey didn’t distinguish between different pigweed species (Amaranthus genus). Bilyea explains, “Green, redroot and smooth pigweeds are nearly impossible for most growers to tell apart. Also, for the most part, the control measures for them are similar.” These troublesome weeds can grow to between 150 and 200 cm tall. Redroot and green pigweeds are often in the same field. Many of the counties that have herbicide-resistant redroot pigweed also have herbicide-resistant green pigweed; resistances are to Groups 2, 5, 6 or 7. Bilyea suspects better weed identification has influenced the changes in some weed rankings from 2007 to 2016. “People now have cell phones and they can look up online on their cell phones in the field and identify a weed or at least send a picture to somebody to have it identified.” He thinks misidentification of grass species might have contributed to the very high ranking of quackgrass in 2007, with some people identifying any grassy weed as quackgrass. “Quackgrass has completely disappeared off the [Ontario-wide] top 10 list in 2016, and some of the answers about the kinds of grasses that people have are a little more definitive, at least in the east.”For people who would like to improve their weed identification skills, Bilyea maintains the Weed Identification Garden at the Ridgetown campus. “It’s a self-touring garden of common weeds, not just for rural people but for urbanites too. It has 208 pots set up in four rows, including lawn weeds, wild flowers, problem weeds, poisonous weeds, and a lot of weeds that people don’t even realize are in the area.” This year is the garden’s 40th anniversary. It is open to the public from May to October so people can examine the specimens and learn more about the weeds’ properties. Some people may be disappointed that their own particular weed nemesis didn’t make it into the top 10. “Each grower has their own concern,” Bilyea says. “Just as an example, someone from the east was saying that they have a lot of bedstraw. Bedstraw is not a widespread problem, but for those growers in eastern Ontario who have the weed, it’s a huge problem. So that would be their number one problem, but there just aren’t enough of them across the region to put bedstraw into the top 10.”
If you want to – or have to – store your grain into the summer, what are the best practices to prevent spoilage? Recently completed Prairie research gives a straightforward answer to that question.
August 31, 2016 - Harvest is underway, and storage bins are filling up fast. Keep these methods in mind to protect the quality of your stored grain from insect infestations and mould. Keep grain cool. Check your temperature probes every two weeks while grain is in storage. For best results, the temperature of grain should be less than 15 C. Aerating or turning grain helps keep grain cool and dry. Monitor moisture levels. Keep your grain at the appropriate moisture content to reduce the risk of spoilage. Moisture levels should be checked every two weeks. Spot and identify insects. When you check grain moisture and temperature, take samples from the core of your grain to monitor for insect populations. If you find insects, determine what type they are to find the best control method. Watch out for mould. Under warm, moist conditions, moulds can grow quickly and some fungi may produce poisonous mycotoxins, such as ochratoxin A. Mould may not be visible in dark grain bins or may form inside the grain bulk. A musty smell or grain clumping or caking may be signs of mould. Quick tips Clean away old debris to ensure bins and storage sites are clean and free from grain residues that can harbour insects Treat your empty storage bins with a registered contact insecticide such as malathion, pyrethrin or a diatomaceous earth-based product if required - make sure you treat floor-wall joints, aeration plenums or floors and access points thoroughly Do not use malathion in bins intended for canola storage Monitor stored grain regularly for hot spots and insect populations: insects are likely to be found in pockets of warm or moist grain. Sample the grain from the core at a depth of 30 to 50 centimetres (12 to 18 inches) from the surface. Sieve the samples or examine small portions carefully. Stored product insects are typically very small beetles (less than 3 millimetres or 1/8 inch) that may not be moving, so a magnifying glass can be helpful Identify insects in your grain to determine the right control method - insects in your grain could be grain feeders, fungal feeders, or predators of these insects For advice on controlling grain-feeding insects, visit the Canadian Grain Commission's website Associated links: Manage stored grain: maintain quality and manage insect infestations Moisture determination for Canadian grains Prevent ochratoxin A in stored grain
Dec. 7, 2015 - Alberta soils could store significantly more carbon if trees and grassland are integrated into cropland areas, new research from University of Alberta reveals. Scientists looked at the influence of shelterbelts, hedgerows and silvopastures to evaluate the role of trees and different land uses across the agricultural landscape in mitigating climate change, and to see which system is more conducive to carbon storage. They found that soils under trees stored 36 per cent more carbon. "Trees had the greatest benefit in raising soil carbon levels in agroforestry systems where they were combined with neighbouring annual cropland subject to cultivation, while perennial grassland maintained soil carbon levels similar to that of the natural forest," said Edward Bork, a rangeland researcher. READ MORE.  
Aeration. Chilled aeration. Natural air drying. Near-ambient air drying. Low temperature air drying. High temperature air drying. Dryeration. When did using forced air through a grain bin become so complicated? Dr. Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international) and distinguished professor at the University of Manitoba, outlined how forced air ventilation can be used during a presentation made to the Brazilian Postharvest Conference in Maringa, Brazil in 2014. The results (Singh, C.B., D.S. Jayas and R. Larson. 2015. Assessment of fan control strategies for in-bin natural air drying of wheat in Western Canada. Canadian Biosystems Engineering, 56:3.25-3.36) are summarized here. “Considerable research related to cooling and/or drying of grains by forcing air through bulk grains has been reported and continues to be reported in published literature. Although the process is simple and works well when properly designed and implemented, this simplicity also leads to a lot of misunderstandings about the process,” Jayas says. “Therefore, many systems get designed to force less than optimum amounts of air to complete the task.” The definitionsAeration is the forcing of small amounts of air (1 to 3 L/s per m3 of grain) to typically cool grains after harvest using ambient air at temperatures below grain temperature during cooler hours of the day. The aeration can also be used to eliminate temperature gradients within bulk grains and thus to reduce moisture migration, remove spoilage odours from grains, remove fumigants from grains and remove small amounts of moisture from warm grains such as during dryeration (defined below). In colder climates such as in Canada, aeration could also be used to reduce grain temperature to below 10 C to reduce insect activity and population growth. Under Canadian conditions, aeration during winters (when temperatures are below -20 C) can be used to kill all life stages of insects in stored grain. Chilled aeration is the forcing of chilled air (1 to 5 L/s per m3 of grain), conditioned using a chilling device (air conditioning unit), through bulk grains. The purpose of chilled aeration is to reduce the temperature of the grain below 10 C for slowing insect activity and population growth. Chilled aeration can also be used to store wet grain without deterioration for two to three weeks during which it can be dried to safe moisture contents for storage. Natural air drying is the forcing of ambient air (10 to 25 L/s per m3 of grain) to decrease the moisture of grain to safe storage levels. The amount of air required increases if the initial moisture content or ambient relative humidity are high, or if ambient air temperature is low. The latter two are dependent on weather conditions following grain harvest. Near-ambient air drying is similar to natural air drying but air temperature is a few degrees (up to 5 C) above ambient conditions which can be caused by frictional losses from the fan motor assembly when air is pulled over these. Low-temperature air drying is similar to natural air drying but air temperature is 5 C to 10 C above ambient conditions which can be caused by adding supplemental heat from any source such as electricity, propane, natural gas, wood or solar panels. High-temperature air drying is the forcing of air (15 to 30 L/s per m3 of grain) at 50 C to 250 C to remove moisture content from grain to safe storage levels. The air temperature and amount of airflow depend on mechanisms of dryers (e.g., concurrent, countercurrent, cross and mixed flow) as well as the initial moisture content of grain and grain type. Dryeration, also known as combination drying, is the cooling of hot grain after high-temperature air drying by aeration and the removal of one to two percentage points of moisture. Thus, grain is dried to about two percentage points above desired safe moisture content using high-temperature drying, tempered for eight to 10 hours for redistribution of moisture within grain kernels and then cooled by aeration using ambient air. The main advantages of dryeration over high-temperature drying include increased drying capacity, use of higher air temperatures, energy savings, elimination of the cooling section in high-temperature dryers and reduced stress cracks in grains. The equipmentThe main components of the forced air systems are: a flat-bottom storage bin containing a deep layer (more than one metre deep) of grain, a plenum to introduce air into the grain bulk, a fan and duct arrangement to force air through the bulk grain, and vents to exhaust the air once it has passed through the grain. A plenum with a fully perforated floor over concrete (or solid) foundation and levelled grain surface provides most uniform airflow distribution in the grain mass. Thus, fully perforated floors are commonly used but several partially perforated floors are also used in flat-bottom bins. (See Fig. 1 below.) Many farms also have hopper-bottom bins, which are equipped with different configurations of perforated plenums to introduce air into the grain. The area of partially perforated flooring through which air can be introduced into the bulk grain should be sufficient to avoid formation of stagnant zones in the bulk grain. The size of perforations in the floors should be small enough to support the smallest-seeded grains to be stored in the bin and the number of perforations should be enough (equivalent to >10 per cent of the perforated floor area) to cause minimum pressure drop across the floor. The fan should be sized properly to ensure sufficient airflow through grain at its maximum depth and for a grain which offers maximum static pressure at that airflow rate while taking into consideration a thorough understanding of type of fan and its characteristics, i.e., relationship between the airflow rate (L/s) supplied by the fan against different static pressures. The amount of airflow from the fan decreases as the static pressure increases. Thus, a fan sized for shorter depth may not dry grain in the expected time if grain depth is increased. Similarly, a fan sized to provide a certain airflow rate, say for wheat, will not provide the same airflow rate for canola because pressure drop per unit length of canola is 2 to 2.5 times more than for wheat, and fan output would be lowered considerably at the increased pressure offered by grain for all fan types. The vents should be enough in number and size to avoid stagnation of air in the bin and thus cause minimal back-pressure to be overcome by the fan. The appropriate amount of airflow through grain ensures proper drying in the specified period. The excess amount of airflow will dry grain sooner but may also result in more non-uniformity in grain moisture content with continuous airflow. Grain mixed with fines (particles smaller in size than grains) offers more pressure drop per unit length than clean grain, and the moisture content of grain also affects pressure drop (Moses et al., 2013). Therefore, a good estimate of static pressure in order to properly size the fan should consider all of the factors that affect pressure drop across grain. Also, measured fan characteristics, if available, should be used in sizing the fans because at times the values reported by the manufacturers give higher air flow rates than the measured on-site values for the same static pressure. If the difference between measured and reported values is large, then a fan sized using manufacturer’s data will be undersized for actual drying conditions.     Drying zonesIn a system with air moving vertically upwards, the bottom layer dries first while the top layer stays close to initial moisture content. As drying progresses, more layers from bottom to top dry, but sometimes re-wet if air relative humidity of incoming air is greater than the equilibrium relative humidity of grain moisture in the layer. Drying could be stopped based on many criteria, such as: top layer is at the target moisture content, but this may cause severe over-drying in the bottom layers; average grain moisture content is at the target moisture content but this may require grain mixing after drying is stopped; or, moisture in all layers is within certain percentage point of the target – producing the most uniform drying. These criteria could be applied using measured data or using mathematical models. Control strategiesThere are many control strategies which can be used for turning the fan on or off during drying, but the best strategy should be the one that requires the least energy for both the operation of fan and the supplemental energy if used; results in most uniform drying; minimizes over-drying and spoilage of grain; and, completes drying within the specified period. The examples of different fan control strategies are: Fan running during certain number of hours (e.g., six hours on and six hours off cycle, fan running during daytime only or fan running during night time only, fan running continuously) Fan on when temperature of ambient air is above certain set point (thermostat) Fan on when humidity is below certain set point (humdistat) Fan on when there is a set temperature difference between grain temperature and ambient temperature Fan on when there is a set relative humidity difference between grain equilibrium relative humidity and ambient relative humidity Fan on when there is a set difference between grain moisture content and equilibrium moisture content based on air conditions Fan on when plenum EMC (equilibrium moisture content) and temperature are within a set target range (natural air drying - NAD) Fan and/or heater on using self-adapting variable heat (SAVH) with NAD control The best strategy can be selected by running simulations using historical weather data for multiple years (> 25 years) for several locations based on different climatic zones of a region, with different initial harvest moisture contents, different harvest dates, different amounts of airflow rates through different grains, and for different control strategies. *Concepts are synthesized from many documents and authors of those documents (too numerous to mention by name) are gratefully acknowledged. This paper also summarizes the work of many graduate students who were supervised by Dr. Jayas and were supported by research grants held by him from many funding agencies including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Many students received funding as part of the University of Manitoba Graduate Fellowship.  
Long, sausage-like rows of white grain bags have become common across the Prairies as not only a way to deal with bumper crops, but as a way to conveniently store grain in the field. However, little Canadian research has been done to look at the safety of storing canola at different moisture levels, and determining how long canola can be stored in the bags without losing grade. “Silo bag storage is probably a cost-effective method compared to other temporary storage systems, but there are some concerns over seed spoilage, insect and mould damage, moisture migration and quality losses,” says Digvir Jayas, project leader and grain storage expert in Biosystems Engineering at the University of Manitoba. In addition to Jayas, the team included Chelladurai Vellaichamy, a graduate student, and Fuji Jian, a research engineer, both in biosystems engineering at the University of Manitoba; and Noel White and Paul Fields of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Winnipeg. They conducted two studies looking at grain bag storage in canola. The results of these studies have been submitted as two papers (full versions are available from Jayas) to the Journal of Stored Products Research for publication. Canola best stored if dryThe research covered two periods. The first project looked at canola at three different moisture contents 8.9, 10.5 and 14.4 per cent (wet basis), representing dry, straight and damp grades, stored in silo bags for 40 weeks (from autumn 2010 to summer 2011) at Winnipeg, Man. For each moisture content, each bag was loaded with approximately 20 tonne canola seeds with greater than 90 per cent initial germination. Germination, free fatty acid value (FAV), and moisture content of canola seeds at seven locations of each silo bag were analyzed every two weeks along with carbon dioxide concentration of air and temperature between canola seeds. For dry grade canola, the germination was maintained above 90 per cent, and FAV also stayed at safe storage level during the 40-week storage. The germination of straight grade canola maintained its initial value in most parts of the silo bags except at top layer. Damp grade canola lost germination, dropping below 80 per cent, and FAV doubled within eight weeks of storage. Moisture migration was evident with the top layer showing significantly higher moisture content than the middle and bottom layers over the first 28 weeks of storage of dry canola. By the end of the storage period, the middle and bottom layers had higher moisture content than the top layer for dry and straight moisture bags. Damp moisture bags experienced larger moisture gradients, especially after 28 weeks of storage. “This trend shows the accumulation of moisture due to condensation at the periphery of bags caused by temperature and moisture gradients during autumn and winter seasons, and in the summer the top layer grain was dried due to the hot ambient temperature,” Jayas reports. Temperature and CO2 concentrations were also measured. Temperatures fluctuated depending on season, and sampling location. In dry and straight grade canola bags, the bottom layers had higher temperatures during autumn and winter. In the spring and summer, temperature was hotter near the top. Jayas says the temperature of the top layer of the seeds followed the ambient temperature changes. For damp canola, temperature gradients were completely different. “Hot spots developing inside the damp grade canola bags could be the reason for this change in temperature pattern. Even in mid-winter, the temperature of top layer of the damp grade canola bags stayed above freezing, and the middle layer of the canola seeds followed the ambient temperature during winter time,” Jayas says. High levels of CO2 concentration in damp grade canola seeds indicated higher amounts of biological activity in high moisture seeds. Localized hot spots were also observed in the high moisture bags. While the dry, straight and damp canola all graded Canada No. 1 when loading the bags at the start of the trial, there was degradation for the straight and damp canola after 40 weeks. The dry canola still graded No. 1, but small amounts of heated seeds in the top layer of straight canola bags reduced the grade to No. 2. After 40 weeks, the damp grade canola was caked and, because of the high moisture, the grain bag extractor could not unload the canola seeds from the bag. The damp canola graded Feed.    Refining storage time for damp canolaWhile the first project found that dry canola could be safely stored up to 40 weeks without loss of grade, the researchers wanted to find out if damp canola could be stored for shorter periods of time without losing grade. They conducted additional research for two storage years (2011-2012 and 2013-2014) to determine the changes in grain quality while storing 12.1 and 12.4 per cent moisture content canola in grain bags. The temperature during loading was 15.5 C and 16.2 C, respectively. Once again, canola was stored in grain bags in the fall, but in these years, the bags were unloaded at three different times at 20 weeks (middle of winter), 28 weeks, (end of winter) and 40 weeks (summer). Again, germination, FAV, moisture content, temperature and CO2 levels were monitored. The results of both storage years showed that there were significant changes in moisture content with an accumulation of moisture in the top layer of grain. In both the years the FAV values remained at safe levels until 20 weeks of storage, but increased at 28 weeks and was more than double at 40 weeks. This was an indication of quality loss. (See Fig. 1.) In 2011-2012, after 20 weeks of storage, the canola still graded No. 1. At 28 weeks, it had dropped to No. 2, and by 40 weeks was downgraded to Feed. In the second year, grade remained at No. 1 in the first two unloading periods, and dropped to No. 2 at 40 weeks. “Canola seeds with 12 per cent moisture content could be stored up to five months, into the late winter, without any quality deterioration under the western Canadian conditions,” Jayas says. The results of the two projects indicated that dry canola loaded into grain bags at ambient temperatures of around 15 C could be stored up to 40 weeks without loss of grade. Canola at 12 per cent might be safely stored up to 20 weeks. If canola is above 12 per cent moisture, growers should consider drying the grain first before storing in grain bags, or only use grain bags for temporary storage of a few weeks.  
Oct. 19, 2015 - Due to the speed at which damage can occur, producers need to watch for potential canola storage problems as fall transitions into early winter. "Canola seed's high oil content makes it very susceptible to deterioration in storage. As such, canola is stored at a lower seed moisture level to prevent spoilage," says Neil Whatley, crop specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. "Safe, long-term canola storage is at or below eight per cent moisture content and cooler than 15 degrees Celsius., Declining outside air temperatures also need to be properly dealt with to ensure safe storage." Canola respires or goes through a "sweat" period for up to six weeks after being binned. "Even if it's initially binned dry, canola should continue to be monitored. Respiring canola generates additional heat and moisture, creating an unstable condition. This instability can potentially result in hot spots or mould growth, and when mould begins to form, it creates more heat that accelerates the spread of more mould growth. Therefore, aerating stored canola during its respiration period is important. Spoilage can be eliminated if the canola is sufficiently conditioned to the point where the aeration cooling front moves entirely through to the top of the grain mass." Changing outside air temperatures in the spring and fall causes repeated moisture cycles in a bin, permitting moisture to concentrate in certain bin areas, and potentially leading to spoilage and heating. As outside air temperatures decline during October and November, the grain nearest to the outside bin edges cools first. This cooling system then migrates downward along the bin edge, and then upward through the central core. "As this cooling system migrates, it gathers moisture and warmth that creates a pocket of humid and warmer air at the top of the central grain core where spoilage and heating can begin," says Whatley. "So, as outside air temperatures decline, aeration fans should be operated again until canola at the top of the bin is cooled to the average daily temperature. Due to continuously declining outside air temperatures, it is wise to aerate repeatedly until the whole bin of canola is between zero and five degrees C. November is an important month to check canola bins again to see if they are stable going into winter as temperatures drop below zero degrees C and stay there." Producers may also consider turning one third of the canola bulk out of a full bin by truck in November. "This would be the method used if aeration is not possible, but may be an important task to complete in November even if aeration isn't used. Moving the grain disrupts the moisture cycle created by declining outside temperatures, cooling the grain mass and reducing the risk of spoilage. Even if bin temperature is being monitored with sensors, this may not provide a complete reading of the whole bin as problems may emerge in pockets away from the sensors. So, turning the grain ensures cooling as well as allowing producers to smell the grain as they are moving it to let them know if any grain is in the first stages of spoilage. If green counts, moisture, weeds or dockage are high, turning the whole bin may be safest." Extra caution is required in unique circumstances, adds Whatley. "Canola that was stored with a higher green seed count has higher moisture content than your average mature canola seed, potentially increasing spoilage risk. Such canola should be delivered as soon as possible to prevent spoilage, which could result in further price reduction. Extra attentiveness is also required when canola is stored in large bins, especially tall and narrow bin types that can reduce aeration air flow due to increased compaction."  
Is it practical for farmers on the southern Canadian Prairies to harvest two crops on the same field in the same growing season? It’s an intriguing idea that Jamie Larsen thinks just might work – especially in warmer areas that have irrigation and if one of the two crops is a winter cereal that can be taken off for silage.
With the continued difficulties in getting the crop harvested this fall, an Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) specialist is recommending producers get their crops any way they can, as long as it goes through the combine. “This year’s harvest has been a long, drawn out affair, filled with frustration and disappointment,” said Harry Brook, crop specialist, AF, in a press release. “Many producers still have crop left to be harvested or are taking it off wet, with grain being binned or bagged or piled at unheard of moisture levels. These crops cannot be left out in the cold for extended periods of time unattended.” Once the crop is harvested and in storage, the excess moisture must be dealt with as soon as possible. “If you don’t have ready access to a grain dryer or have aeration for your bins, you must closely monitor the grain or oilseed for signs of heating. If you see signs that there is heating, you will need to cool the grain by circulating the grain out of and back into the bin. Depending on bin or pile size, this may have to be done fairly frequently.” Brook has a caution for producers who are using grain bags for short term storage. “Remember that very damp or wet grain in a bag will start to mould. Some moulds will grow at cold temperatures and losses can be high. If bags are used for wet grain storage it should only be short term until crop drying occurs and close monitoring can again begin.” When drying grain, there are maximum temperatures that should be used on the various crops. “There are tables that outline the maximum temperatures to be used to dry grain. Don’t exceed those maximum drying temperatures to avoid quality losses. With a large amount of moisture to be removed or a big seed, multiple passes of drying and cooling will be needed. In large seed like fababeans, drying might take three or four cycles to bring it down to safe storage levels. The cooling is required to let the moisture content in the seed equalize.” If there is aeration, some supplemental heat can be used to help dry down the crop. However, Brook said, in this case smaller bins will be more useful than large bins. “To make this work, the fan has to have sufficient air flow to provide at least 0.5 cfm/bushel before adding the supplemental heat. Success will depend on the cleanliness of the grain and, even then, a load or two will have to be circulated out of the bin and back in to help equalize moistures and prevent dry and wet channels in the grain.” Brook recommends restricting the air temperature increase to 10 C or less as higher temperatures can reduce efficiency and increase the chances of over-drying. For every 10 C increase in air temperature, the relative humidity is halved. “If you have crop that is damp or wet, monitor it closely for signs of heating and, if it occurs, take the appropriate measures to retain the value of the crop. It is too costly to do otherwise.”
Unseasonably warm weather has given some Prairie farmers a second chance to finish a harvest that was delayed because of snow. Producers in Alberta and Saskatchewan are noting a big change from October, when fields were saturated and combines were halted across Saskatchewan and Alberta because of rain and snow. | READ MORE
After a disastrous season for farmers, Brazeau County, in Alberta, has declared a state of agricultural disaster for the second time in just over two years. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Wet fields in Western Canada are turning what was supposed to be a stellar crop of durum wheat into a soggy mess. The Calgary Herald reports. | READ MORE
What was shaping up to be a good yield for Alberta farmers came, at least temporarily, to an abrupt halt when snow blanketed the province over the Thanksgiving weekend. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
A new breakthrough in soybean breeding could be a game-changer for the industry, and it comes at a time when soybeans are on Canadian producers’ minds more than ever before.
A recently discovered group of endophytes – organisms that live within plants – is on the path to commercialization. Laboratory and field tests are showing the remarkable potential of these endophytes to provide diverse benefits, such as increased germination, greater tolerance of drought and higher yields, in many crops on the Prairies and around the world.
Fushan Liu never expected the sight that greeted him last year in his lab at the University of Guelph: arabidopsis plants grown two and a half times their normal size. As a postdoc at the University of Guelph’s College of Biological Science, Liu had been working on a project transforming starch branching enzymes (SBEs) from maize into arabidopsis plants. For weeks, he’d been analyzing the interesting effects of the maize SBEs on the arabidopsis plants’ starch pathways. Then one day he realized the plants he’d been working on had grown much larger than the control plants. Not only that, but there were also far more seedpods, and their leaf and root systems were bigger, too. “That was the beginning – I saw a really big arabidopsis plant and thought, let’s take a picture. Something has happened biologically,” Liu says. He showed the photo to his supervisors, Guelph professors Michael Emes and Ian Tetlow.  “We’d found some interesting effects on the starch, and had done all sorts of measurements,” Emes echoes. “And then one day we stood back and looked at the plants, and we finally saw the wood for the trees. We saw these plants were really different.” A healthy plant from a typical arabidopsis line normally bears about 11,000 seeds; the new plants bore 50,000 seeds per plant – a more than 400-per-cent increase in seed production.  “The plants were bigger, the leaves were bigger, there were more stems, there was more flowering and more seed,” Emes says. “It’s not just that there were a lot more seeds, there was a lot more of everything.  “It was one of those serendipitous events in science. If you’d asked me to produce a plant with more seeds I would have said you couldn’t get there from here,” he adds. Liu’s focus had been on trying to analyze how the SBEs’ functions changed in arabidopsis leaves, but after this discovery his focus changed to studying the impact on seed yield and biomass, comparing transformed plants with wild-type arabidopsis plants. Importantly, the quality of the oil remained the same as for the non-transgenic plants. The team published their findings this spring in the Arabidopsis is not a starch crop, but an oilseed genetically similar to canola, so the obvious application of the finding is in breeding higher-yielding oilseed crops for biofuels. Emes and Tetlow have already begun preliminary work with canola, but also foresee potential applications in camelina, soybeans and other crops. While the dramatic increase in seed production might not occur as easily in canola as in arabidopsis, Liu says even a tenth of the effect would still mean an increase of 40 per cent – a substantial impact on yield. “This is orders of magnitude different than conventional breeding,” Emes says. But what, exactly, is going on in the plants?The good times are hereEmes has a theory that the starch metabolism in the transformants has improved the plants’ ability to grow and reproduce.  The team is working on two lines using two starch genes from maize. In one of the new lines, there is a massive increase of starch in the leaves, which the plant breaks down overnight. In the other line, there is a bigger impact on yield; there is still an increase in starch in the leaves, but it doesn’t all break down at night, leaving a carbohydrate reserve. “We know that carbohydrates, during seed development, come from the leaf through the vascular system and into the reproductive system. These are important to flower development and what’s called embryo abortion – the plant makes a kind of ‘decision’ on whether or not to produce seeds,” Emes explains. “Flower and seed production is limited by the supply of carbohydrates. So these plants are now saying, ‘The good times are here, let’s go for it.’ ” Emes suspects that the wild type arabidopsis plant has an endogenous mechanism that constrains growth because it’s genetically evolved to always keep something in reserve. But in the transgenic plants, the brakes have been taken off.  If the scientists can crack the code on the maize SBEs’ effect on oilseeds, Emes sees potential applications for feedstock and oil for human consumption, as well as biofuels. He is currently seeking public and private funding to continue the project in canola. Liu, now a regulatory scientist for the J.R. Simplot Company, says much more work is required to improve seed quality as well as yield in future breeding projects. “If you want to improve quality, if you want to improve omega-3 fatty acid or other special fatty acid content, for now I don’t have any insight on how you can improve those things, from this study,” he says. “At least, from the analysis of the arabidopsis you don’t see a change in these properties – you just get higher yields.” But Liu is optimistic about the future applications of his work. “Genes are so powerful,” he says. “One small change could be a potential opportunity for dramatically improving crops.”
Gene editing, a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is added, “deleted,” or replaced in a target genome, is revolutionizing plant breeding across the world. In 2015, the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system was called “breakthrough of the year” by Science magazine. This spring, all of Canada’s prestigious Gairdner International Awards went to five scientists involved in developing CRISPR-Cas9 as a genome editing system for eukaryotic cells.
Apr. 27, 2016 - The Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) and the University of Alberta's Faculty of Agricultural, life & Environmental Sciences (ALES) announced that they have renewed their partnership in wheat breeding. WGRF will invest $811,587 into the wheat breeding program at the University of Alberta over the next five years. "The wheat breeding program at the U of A's Faculty of ALES is an important piece of the western Canadian wheat breeding network," said Dave Sefton, WGRF Board Chair. "WGRF has been investing in wheat research at the U of A since 2005 and, over this time we have seen the program take some significant strides towards the development of new wheat varieties and germplasm for the parkland zone." "WGRF's support has been integral to the success we've enjoyed," said Dean Spaner, wheat breeder and professor. "This continued long-term investment demonstrates the value the wheat producers of western Canada place on our work, and is the base that attracts other investors. This announcement is a tremendous boost in confidence and responsibility, for which we are deeply grateful." "This investment over the next five years more than doubles the previous five year commitment by WGRF," says Garth Patterson, WGRF Executive Director. "Over the last five years alone, the U of A Wheat Breeding Program has registered five improved CWRS varieties, released one germplasm line, and graduated five PhD and four MSc students. This exemplifies the great work being done at the U of A." "We are very proud of our wheat breeding program that helps western Canadian wheat growers grow healthier, higher-yielding crops," said Dr. Stanford F. Blade, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences. "We're also very grateful for the confidence shown by WGRF, whose support plays a pivotal role in the success we've had with our program." The U of A breeding program focuses on Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS), Canada Prairie Spring Red (CPS-R) and the Canada Western General Purpose (CWGP) class. The goal of the program is to develop and select germplasm that will result in higher yielding varieties that are earlier maturing, have increased straw strength and protect the quality characteristics of the CPS and CWRS wheat.  
Is there a single gene allele (or gene form) responsible for high yields in dry beans? Ten years ago, this might have been an impossible question to answer; today, the answer isn’t far off. In fact, researchers at the University of Guelph recently discovered a gene in canola that influences yield, and preliminary studies show the same gene exists in dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). “Most breeders would say you can’t find a yield gene, because so many things contribute to yield in the end,” says Karl Peter Pauls, a professor in the University of Guelph’s department of plant agriculture. “Yield is not generally considered to be simply an inherited trait, but rather a lot of things correspond ultimately to give you a higher yielding plant.” However, it is possible to discover quantitative trait loci (QTL) – or sections of DNA that correlate with a particular set of characteristics – and an underlying set of genes contributes to those QTLs, Pauls says. In other words, many things contribute to high yields, and one of those factors is undeniably genetics. In this case, the gene under investigation for its effects on yield is called BnMicEmUp. Pauls is heading a joint Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and University of Guelph three-year study examining yield/anti-yield gene alleles in dry bean, with the goal of streamlining breeding projects focused on introducing varieties with improved resource use efficiencies. He says BnMicEmUp was discovered almost by accident, when John Chan, a PhD student, discovered the gene in embryonic cells for canola. “Since it wasn’t identified, we had no idea what its gene function might be,” Pauls says. Another PhD student, Fariba Shahmir, took the gene and implanted it in a model plant, Arabidopsis – a close relative of canola – using transgenic tools to “upregulate” or over-express the gene in some materials, and “turn it down,” or under-express it, in other materials. “So we had Arabidopsis plants where the gene was turned down and plants where it was upregulated,” Pauls explains. “Once you had that spread between it being over- and under-expressed, some of the effects on vegetative growth and seed production became obvious. “If you turned the gene down you increased seed yield, and if you turned it up you inhibited seed production.” Because the gene had an observable impact on Arabidopsis seed numbers, and this can be translated into a rough estimate of yield, Pauls’ team decided to look for the gene in dry beans – a crop they’d been working on for years. “We thought, well, let’s take a look,” he says. Using the recently released genome sequence for dry beans, the team was able to quickly zero in on BnMicEmUp because they knew what they were looking for. How it worksBnMicEmUp is part of a class of genes that occurs in many plant species; according to Pauls, it appears to mimic a gene type that is involved in plant stress response. “This is how I try to explain the ‘anti-yield’ gene. I think it’s related to a brake on a car – when the conditions are not good for vegetative growth, the plant doesn’t invest in vegetative growth in its response to stress,” he says. “It’s not actively growing; it’s protecting whatever physiological processes it needs for survival. And some plants turn on the brakes early – say, in a period of drought – and are not willing to take a risk.” In the first phase of Pauls’ study, a masters student, Yanzhou Qi, measured the activity of the gene in a range of materials that vary significantly in terms of yield potential – a small set of 20 dry bean varieties – and found what they expected: a negative but not statistically significant correlation between gene expression and yield. In 2015, Pauls’ research associate, Yarmilla Reinprecht, bean breeding technician Tom Smith, and Annie Cheng, a summer student in Pauls’ program, conducted a field trial with an expanded set of 100 varieties. Now, Reinprecht and Erika Cintora, an exchange student from Mexico, are analyzing gene activity within samples from the large field trial, looking for correlations between gene activity and yields. The work can also be applied to soybeans, Pauls says, as dry beans and soybeans are closely related. “We can find the locations of that gene in the genomes, and it corresponds with yield QTLs both in beans and soybeans. And then we can begin to look at polymorphisms between different forms of this gene so that in the end we have markers for an allele from a high-yielding versus an allele from a low-yielding bean,” he says. The next step is to get markers in the gene, which can be used to screen germplasm for positive alleles for a high-yield trait. “If we can prescreen germplasm that we use for making crosses for the genes that we think contribute to the traits we’re interested in, then we are a step ahead in breeding superior varieties,” Pauls says. “Conventional breeding adds about one per cent per year in terms of yield potential to bean varieties. What we hope is that we’ll be able to do an even better job in terms of breeding varieties with higher yield potential.” Yield isn’t the only desirable ingredient in new bean varieties: Pauls’ team is also working on common bacterial blight and anthracnose disease resistance, cooking qualities, folate content and nitrogen fixation. It might be 10 years before Canadian bean growers can benefit directly from the yield/anti-yield gene research, but new high yielding and disease resistant varieties, like OAC Inferno and Mist, developed by the Guelph bean breeding program, are already making an impact.  
A new analysis is raising questions about whether farmers in Canada and the United States have seen real benefits resulting from their widespread adoption of genetically modified crops. The Toronto Star reports. | READ MORE
A new, high-yield alfalfa variety developed in the Maritimes will go to market in February when Agriculture Agri-Food Canada puts the results of 28 years of research to tender. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Researchers at Rice University in Houston are leading an effort to build tools that can detect, quantify and track the dispersal of genetically modified crops and animals, as well as their byproducts, in the environment.
Allen Good believes there’s a difference between the “gold standard” of field trials and the ways some producers run their operations.
An international research team has identified two genes which could help protect barley against powdery mildew attack.Led by the University of Adelaide in Australia and the Leibniz-Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Germany, the research will give plant-breeders new targets for developing lines of barley with resistance to powdery mildew.The two genes, HvGsl6 and HvCslD2, were shown to be associated with accumulation of callose and cellulose respectively. These two polysaccharides play an important role in blocking the penetration of the plant cell wall by the powdery mildew fungus.Published in two separate papers in the journal New Phytologist, the researchers showed that by "silencing" these genes, there was lower accumulation of callose and cellulose in the plant cell walls, and higher susceptibility of barley plants to the fungus. Conversely, over-expressing HvCslD2 enhanced the resistance in barley."Powdery mildew is a significant disease of barley wherever it is grown around the world, and resistance to the fungicide most commonly used to control it has been recently observed," said Alan Little, a senior research scientist at the University of Adelaide, with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, in a press release."If we can develop barley with improved resistance to powdery mildew, it will help barley producers increase yields and maintain high quality."In the plant and pathogen co-evolutionary battleground, host plants have evolved a wide range of defence strategies against attacking pathogens.One of the earliest observed defence responses is the formation of cell-wall thickenings called papillae at the site of fungal infection. They physically block the fungus from penetrating the plant cells.In barley, the papillae contain callose and cellulose as well as other polysaccharides, but the genes involved in accumulation of these carbohydrates in the cell wall have not been identified."Our results show that these novel genes are interesting targets for improving cell-wall penetration resistance in barley and maybe other cereals against fungal intruders," said Patrick Schweizer, head of the Pathogen-Stress Genomics Laboratory at IPK."Now we can use these genes to identify molecular markers for breeding enhanced resistance into modern barley."The two papers can be read online here and here. 
According to new research from University of Virginia economist Federico Ciliberto, widespread adoption of genetically modified crops has decreased the use of insecticides, but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides as weeds become more resistant.
Leaving corn unharvested over winter poses a new set of problems. Photo courtesy of David Hooker.   There are years when it can be extremely difficult for farmers to harvest some of their corn acres. Excessive rainfall during the harvest period may result in fields that are too wet to be combined. In other years, cooler-than-normal weather during the growing season can result in high grain corn moisture levels and prohibitively high drying costs. In this case, farmers may opt to harvest the corn in spring, leaving it to dry down naturally to reduce drying costs. However, leaving the corn unharvested over winter comes with another set of challenges. There is an increased risk of lodging over winter, impacting crop harvestability and grain yield, explains David Hooker from the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus. Hooker and his associates set out to identify potential management strategies that farmers could use to improve crop yield and quality in spring-harvested corn. There has been limited research into how to manage corn with the explicit intent of overwintering for a spring harvest, Hooker says. One trial in Wisconsin during 2000 and 2001 comparing fall- and spring-harvested corn plots showed yield losses could vary considerably. For example, with heavy snow cover, losses were 38 to 65 per cent, compared to a winter with little snow when yield losses were only seven to 10 per cent. However, newer hybrids with the Bt trait and genetics for improved stalk strength may have the potential to improve standability over the winter, Hooker says. In southern Ontario, the standard management practices for corn production consist of planting at a relatively high plant population (80,000 plants per hectare), applying a foliar fungicide only if there is justifiable disease potential, harvesting in the autumn when grain moisture is approximately 25 per cent or less, and drying grain down to 15.5 per cent using on-farm grain dryers or through commercial elevators. A review of the literature revealed some possible strategies for reducing yield losses associated with overwintering corn. These included selecting a hybrid with superior stalk strength, selecting later maturing hybrids, planting at a reduced population (i.e. 60,000 plants per hectare or 24,000 plants per acre). Another possible management strategy is to apply a foliar fungicide around tasseling time, which has been shown to delay leaf senescence and improve stalk strength, which can contribute to improved standability. Field experiments were initiated to compare the effects of hybrid maturity, plant population, foliar fungicide application and harvest timing on grain yield and standability. Field experiments were initiated in 2009 and 2010 at five separate locations in southern Ontario near Belmont, Ridgetown and Lucan. Of the three locations, Lucan usually receives more snow because it is in the snowbelt region of southwestern Ontario, leeward of Lake Huron. Researchers compared spring versus fall harvest, plant populations (60,000 or 80,000 plants per hectare), with and without an application of Quilt foliar fungicide, and three corn hybrids with differing maturities. The parameters observed were stay-green in the autumn, lodging in spring, and grain yield, moisture and test weight of corn harvested in autumn and spring. The results point to an overwintering management strategy for corn, which consists of planting at a reduced plant population (24,000 plants per acre) and spraying the crop with a foliar fungicide around tasseling. This strategy minimized yield losses across all hybrids by between 3.5 per cent and 13.2 per cent at four out of five field locations through improvements in corn standability, compared to when the crop overwintered using a standard population and no fungicide application. While lower plant populations resulted in better standability, it was usually at the expense of some grain yield, Hooker says. An economic analysis of the yield data in this study would be of value to growers, he adds. Unfortunately, while the overwintering management strategy was an improvement over previous reports of yield losses, lodging was still at unacceptable levels at most locations. High winds, heavy snowfall and other adverse weather conditions can overwhelm any management strategy geared to help mitigate the risks associated with overwintering corn, Hooker says. “At the Lucan location, 100 per cent of the corn was lodged in the spring.” The study did not look at the effect of overwintering corn on grain vomitoxin levels. Hooker would like to see this addressed in future research. “Overwintering corn should be considered on a year- and field-specific basis,” he concludes. For example, overwintering may be considered if grain moisture is extremely high (greater than 34 per cent) in November, if drying costs are high, the corn is of inferior quality (the grade of corn can improve with a spring harvest) and if root and stalk strength are excellent. “The practice of harvesting corn in the spring carries significant risk, mainly due to root and stalk lodging and reduced harvestability,” Hooker says. In areas where the winters are typically harsh, overwintering corn is a risky practice regardless of the management strategy deployed, he cautions.   
Feb. 3, 2016 - Monsanto is commercializing its dicamba-tolerant Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans in Canada in time for the 2016 growing season, after the company received import approval from China's Ministry of Agriculture. Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans are the industry's first biotech-stacked trait in soybeans to combine the yield potential of the Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean trait, along with tolerance to both glyphosate and dicamba. According to Monsanto, field trial results and large scale farmer demonstration trials have shown that the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Crop System is an effective and sustainable weed management tool for tough-to-control and glyphosate-resistant weeds. To complement the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean trait launch in Canada, Monsanto is also launching XtendiMax herbicide with VaporGrip Technology, a low-volatility liquid dicamba formulation developed for use in the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System. In the United States, the use of dicamba herbicide over the top of Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans remains in late stage of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review and is not currently approved by the EPA. "Managing glyphosate-resistant weeds in soybeans is a growing challenge for many Canadian farmers, particularly in Eastern Canada and they have been looking forward to this important new tool," said Dan Wright, trait launch lead with Monsanto Canada. "The ability to use dicamba, in addition to glyphosate, provides multiple modes of action on every acre and is important to promote long-term sustainability on the farm." In Canada, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans are expected to be available in more than 30 varieties, covering the key soybean growing regions of Southwest Ontario; Eastern Ontario and Quebec; and Western Canada. Growers who have not yet placed pre-orders for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean seed may still have that opportunity pending available supply and should check with their local seed retailer. For more information, farmers can contact their seed dealer or visit    
Jan. 28, 2016 - Canadian growers now have a new, improved version of herbicide, SOLO WG that has been used to help control tough grassy and broadleaf weeds in Clearfield crops. BASF Canada has received registration from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency for SOLO ADV herbicide for use on Clearfield lentils, Clearfield canola, Clearfield sunflowers and soybeans for the 2016 season. Post-emergence broadleaf and grass herbicide SOLO ADV offers maximum re-cropping flexibility and easy handling because of its unique liquid formulation with the adjuvant built in. SOLO ADV controls weeds growing at the time of application and offers exceptional follow-crop safety. In addition, SOLO ADV offers broad-spectrum weed control for Clearfield lentils and Clearfield sunflowers. The new SOLO ADV liquid formulation will replace the current SOLO WG dry formulation and will be available for sale in the 2016 season. READ MORE.  
Glyphosate-resistant weeds are not a new problem in Canada, but producers must be proactive to keep these weeds from getting out of control. There are now five glyphosate-resistant weeds found in Canada: giant ragweed, common ragweed, water-hemp, Canada fleabane and kochia (which is currently the only glyphosate-resistant weed not found in Ontario). Giant ragweed, the first glyphosate-resistant weed found in Canada, is an aggressive weed that can cause substantial yield losses in field crops if left unchecked. Although it’s not a new problem – giant ragweed was first discovered in Canada in 2008 in Essex County, at the tip of southwestern Ontario – it’s a growing issue, according to Peter Sikkema, a researcher at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus. He notes glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed has so far been confined to the six most southerly counties of the province. However, the weed is becoming increasingly prevalent in corn and soybean fields, and growers need to be vigilant in order to protect their fields. Sikkema warns that if no action is taken to control giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida L.), the potential yield loss is very high. His research has shown yield losses in corn from giant ragweed ranged from 63 to 82 per cent, with an average of 72 per cent. In soybean, the yield losses ranged from 19 to 96 per cent, with an average of 73 per cent. In the past, giant ragweed was mainly found along roadsides and creeks, but a shift to no-till soybean production has allowed giant ragweed to gain a foothold in southwestern Ontario, according to Sikkema. The annual weed reproduces by seed and grows up to four metres in height. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Publication 505: Weeds, “It is distinguished by its very tall stature, its large, lobed but not divided leaves, its long, slender spikes of pollen-producing flower heads and its large, angular seeds with spines around the upper shoulder.” For allergy sufferers, its pollen is a common allergen from August to September in southwestern Ontario. When it comes to controlling glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed in corn, soybean and winter wheat fields, Sikkema says farmers have options. The first line of defense is to use good crop husbandry practices that keep weed populations in check. Using a diverse crop rotation of three or more crops and using herbicides with multiple modes of action is fundamental, Sikkema advises. Other good practices include seeding a cover crop after winter wheat harvest and using practices that give the crop a competitive advantage, such as seeding at higher populations, using narrower row spacing, and controlling insects and diseases, he adds. Aggressive tillage in spring might be able to control giant ragweed, but Sikkema has doubts about this method of control, particularly the negative effects of aggressive tillage on soil structure and soil health. “I’m not sure that’s a practice that’s sustainable long-term,” he says. When it comes to control of glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed with alternate herbicides, the options vary by crop. “We have good solutions in corn,” Sikkema says. “Marksman, Banvel and Distinct can be used post-emergence in corn.” In winter wheat crops, 2,4-D, along with Target, Estaprop, Lontrel and Trophy give good control. In soybean crops, he has found Roundup plus 2,4-D tank-mixed applied pre-plant, seven days before seeding soybean, is very effective. “It’s important to have that seven-day interval to prevent injury to the soybean.” With soybean, Sikkema notes it’s important to control glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed before the soybean comes up. There are no herbicides applied post-emergent that provide acceptable control of glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed in soybean, he says. Giant ragweed seedlings initially emerge in early spring. They can be identified by their spatulate (spoon-shaped) cotyledons, which unfold from a hairless hypocotyl and an indentation at the base of the cotyledons. The first true leaves are entire and ovate with deep lobes. Farmers are doing a good job of managing glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed, Sikkema says. However, he cautions that some giant ragweed biotypes have multiple resistances to both glyphosate and Group 2 herbicides. In the future, Sikkema says the Roundup Ready Xtend soybean, which are resistant to both Roundup and dicamba, will give farmers another tool for managing glyphosate-resistant weeds.        
Nov. 27, 2015 - The Canadian Weed Science Society / Société canadienne de malherbologie (CWSS-SCM) honored several individuals for their extraordinary contributions to the field of weed science. The awards were presented during the organization's 69th annual meeting, held Nov 22-26, 2015 in Edmonton, Alta. Excellence in Weed Science Award (sponsored by Dow AgroSciences): CWSS-SCM honored Stephen Darbyshire, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa, Ont. Stephen's research focuses on developing new information on the taxonomy, phylogeny, and distribution of weeds and invasive plants. He has collected approximately 10,000 specimens of plant, bryophyte, and fungal specimens, primarily from Canada. Darbyshire has served on the board of directors for CWSS-SCM and has held numerous leadership positions within the society, including publications director. He has published more than 95 peer-reviewed manuscripts, 50 monographs or book chapters, supervised and co-supervised several graduate students, and presented over 30 papers at scientific conferences. Excellence in Weed Extension Award (sponsored by Valent): CWSS-SCM honored Danielle Bernier, a weed scientist and extension specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture in the Province of Quebec. Bernier has developed great expertise locally, and is well known across the country for her tireless efforts in extending weed science to growers and industry personnel. Bernier has made dozens of presentations each year to producers and at scientific meetings, has produced over 65 extension bulletins for the province of Quebec, as well as serving in various capacities within the CWSS-SCM. Outstanding Industry Member Award (sponsored by CWSS-SCM): CWSS-SCM honored Mark Lawton, technology development lead with Monsanto, based in Guelph, Ont. Lawton is responsible for the team that provides technical support for current products and the development of new products within Monsanto. In addition to serving in this technical capacity, he has published 18 peer-reviewed manuscripts, given over 25 papers at scientific conferences, and has served on the committee of numerous graduate students at the University of Guelph. Meritorious Service Award (sponsored by CWSS-SCM): CWSS-SCM honoured Ken Sapsford, an independent consultant from Kaleden, BC. Sapsford was formerly a research assistant at the University of Saskatchewan. Sapsford has been very active within the CWSS-SCM, serving on three local arrangements committees, and as a member of the board of directors for six years. Beyond his dedication to the society, he has been very active in extension to agronomists and growers throughout his career. Sapsford's research contributions include authoring or co-authoring five peer-reviewed manuscripts, 66 conference and workshop proceedings, 20 technical reports to industry, 106 extensions presentations, and over 65 media interviews. Student Scholarships and Travel Awards 1st Place Award for a Ph.D. student (sponsored by Monsanto) was presented to Breanne Tidemann, from the University of Alberta. Tidemann's research focuses on the potential impact of collecting weed seeds at crop harvest on the contribution to subsequent populations. She is supervised by Drs. Linda Hall (University of Alberta) and K. Neil Harker (AAFC Lacombe, Alta.). 2nd Place Award for a Ph.D. student (sponsored by Syngenta) was presented to Charles Geddes from the University of Manitoba. Research by Geddes covers optimization methods to reduce populations of volunteer canola in subsequent soybean crops. He is supervised by Dr. Rob Gulden. 3rd Place Award for a Ph.D. student (sponsored by CWSS-SCM) was presented to Holly Byker from the University of Guelph. The work of Byker focuses on the biology and management of glyphosate-resistant common ragweed. Drs. Peter Sikkema and Darren Robinson are her supervisors. 1st Place Award for a M.Sc. student (sponsored by Monsanto) was presented to Katherine Stanley from the University of Saskatchewan. Stanley's work focuses on the potential of mechanical weed control in organic pulse crop production. She is supervised by Dr. Steve Shirtliffe. 2nd Place Award for a M.Sc. student (sponsored by Dow AgroSciences) was presented to Christopher Budd from the University of Guelph. Budd's work focuses on the control of glyphosate-resistant Canada fleabane in soybean. He is supervised by Dr. Peter Sikkema. 3rd Place Award for a M.Sc. student (sponsored by CWSS-SCM) was presented to Amy Mangin from the University of Alberta. The work of Mangin focuses on optimizing the efficacy of pyroxasulfone on wild oat. Dr. Linda Hall is her supervisor.  
New canola hybrids are being introduced in commercial quantities for the 2016 growing season. Photo by Janet Kanters. Top Crop Manager has assembled a list of new canola hybrids that are being introduced in commercial quantities for the 2016 growing season. The respective seed companies provide the information, and growers are encouraged to look at third party trials, such as the Canola Council of Canada’s Canola Performance Trials, for further performance and agronomic information. Talk to local seed suppliers to see how new varieties also performed in local trials. Bayer CropScienceInVigor L241C is the newest LibertyLink, clubroot-resistant hybrid with outstanding yield potential, strong standability and a mid maturity suited for all clubroot affected regions of Western Canada. InVigor L241C yielded two per cent higher than InVigor L135C and 102 per cent of the checks (InVigor 5440 and Pioneer 45H29) in 2012-2013 Western Canadian Canola/Rapeseed Recommending Committee (WCC/RRC) co-op trials. InVigor L157H is the newest LibertyLink, specialty oil hybrid in the InVigor Health hybrid offering. It matures a day earlier than InVigor L156H and offers growers higher yield potential plus the security of a contract premium. InVigor L157H yielded 97 per cent of the checks (InVigor 5440 and Pioneer 45H29) in 2013-2014 WCC/RRC co-op trials. BrettYoung6074 RR is the first of the next wave of high-yielding canola hybrids from BrettYoung. 6074RR was the highest yielding Genuity Roundup Ready hybrid in the 2014 Canola Performance trials (109 per cent of check overall). 6074 RR performed well in all zones but is best suited to the mid- and long-season canola zones. It matures 1.4 days later than the checks, is resistant to blackleg and has an excellent rating for harvestability. 6080 RR is BrettYoung’s newest Genuity Round Ready hybrid. In 2014 trials it was very similar to 6074 RR in yield (108 per cent of checks in co-op trials), harvestability and about one day earlier in maturity. 6080 RR is resistant to blackleg, matures 0.86 days later than the checks and is adapted to all canola production zones. 6076 CR is a new high yielding hybrid, resistant to clubroot (pathotypes 2, 3, 5, 6, 8) and has intermediate resistance to the 5X pathotype. Yields in 2014 were equal to the checks. It is a large plant with excellent harvestability. It is also resistant to blackleg, and matures 2.4 days later than the checks. Canterra SeedsCS2100 is a high yielding GENRR hybrid with multigenic blackleg resistance for the long season zone. CS2100 is off to a strong start, yielding 115.5 per cent of 74-44 BL at Etzikom, Alta. in its first trial in 2015. This full-season hybrid possesses multigenic resistance to blackleg that provides more durable defense making it less prone to breakdown by new races of the disease. CS2100 has also been observed to have a higher degree of pod shatter tolerance compared to checks, potentially making it a good straight cut option. CS2100 is available at Canterra Seeds shareholders businesses, independent crop input dealers and through UFA. CS2200 CL is a new high-yielding Clearfield hybrid with full season maturity, great standability and a solid resistant rating to blackleg. As a Clearfield, it could qualify for non-GMO crush programs. CS2200 CL is available at Canterra Seeds shareholders businesses, independent crop input dealers and through UFA. CargillVictory V12-3 Hybrid: High yields with clubroot resistance, Victory V12-3 is a Roundup Ready hybrid with a yield potential of 103 per cent of 45H29. Along with clubroot resistance, it has an industry-leading, multigenic blackleg resistance package delivering a resistant rating for blackleg and is also resistant for Fusarium wilt. V12-3 has very good early season vigour and great yield potential with excellent standability. V12-3 is part of the Cargill Specialty Canola Program delivering higher returns for growers. Dow AgroSciencesNexera 1020 RR: New generation of Nexera canola Roundup Ready hybrid offering improved disease resistance. 1020 RR is the first Nexera hybrid to offer clubroot resistance with a very strong resistant rating in recent public co-op trials. Maturity is one day earlier than 1012 RR and the hybrid has demonstrated strong yield in performance trials. This hybrid is suitable to the mid- and long-season growing zones in Western Canada. Nexera 1022 RR: New generation of Nexera canola Roundup Ready hybrid offering improved disease resistance. 1022 RR offers improved, multigene blackleg resistance with a very strong resistant rating in recent public co-op trials. 1022 RR matures one day earlier than 1012 RR and has demonstrated strong yield performance in trials. This hybrid fits well in the mid- and long-season growing zones in Western Canada. Nexera 2022 CL: New generation of Nexera canola CL hybrid offering improved disease resistance. 2022 CL offers improved, multigene blackleg resistance with a very strong resistant rating in recent public co-op trials. 2022 CL has similar maturity to 2012 CL and has demonstrated very strong yield in performance trials. This hybrid fits well in the mid- and long-season growing zones in Western Canada. DuPont Pioneer46M34 is the first Genuity Roundup Ready canola hybrid that contains the built-in Pioneer Protector HarvestMax trait with a yield potential of 103 per cent of Pioneer hybrid 45H29 in large-scale straight cutting trials across Western Canada in 2014. It has moderately resistant rating for Blackleg and a resistant rating for Fusarium wilt. Pioneer Protector HarvestMax 46M34 reduces the risk of harvest losses from pod shatter and pod drop. Available at all local Pioneer Hi-bred sales representatives across Western Canada. DuPont Pioneer is also launching the first Genuity Roundup Ready hybrid that contains both built-in Pioneer Protector clubroot resistance and sclerotinia resistance traits. The name has not yet been determined. It has a yield potential of 100 per cent of Pioneer hybrid 45H29 in DuPont Pioneer research trials across Western Canada in 2014 along with a resistant rating for blackleg and Fusarium wilt. This new canola hybrid with the Pioneer Protector Plus traits has excellent early growth, improved standability and high yield potential. Available at all local Pioneer Hi-bred sales representatives across Western Canada. DEKALB75-65 RR is a Genuity Roundup Ready hybrid that has a strong agronomic foundation and improved pod integrity that offers the option for straight cutting. It has a dark seed coat and is taller and slightly later maturing than 74-44 BL. Standability is comparable to 74-44 BL and it is rated resistant to both blackleg and Fusarium wilt. Yield potential is strong at 99 per cent of L252 and 103 per cent of 45S54 in Monsanto’s 2014 field scale trials (does not include straight cut trials). 75-65 RR fits broadly across Western Canada and should be a consideration for anyone interested in straight cutting. 75-45 RR is a Genuity Roundup Ready hybrid that offers a unique combination of early maturity and high yield potential. It is earlier than 74-44 BL with similar height and standability, and has a resistant rating to both blackleg and Fusarium wilt. Yield potential is very good at 100 per cent of L130 and 107 per cent of 45S54 in Monsanto’s 2014 breeding trials. 75-45 RR fits particularly well in the short season zones of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and more broadly as an early maturing complement to other products such as 75-65 RR and 74-44 BL to help spread out swathing and harvest operations. 75-57 CR is a Genuity Roundup Ready hybrid that offers clubroot protection as part of a well-rounded agronomic package. It is resistant to a broad range of clubroot pathotypes and has a resistant rating to both blackleg and Fusarium wilt. It is later maturing than 74-44 BL with similar height, good standability, and strong yield potential at 102 per cent of 74-54 RR in Monsanto’s 2014 breeding trials. 75-57 CR provides an excellent solution for growers concerned about clubroot, particularly in central Alberta. Proven SeedsPV 200 CL is the newest high-yielding Clearfield hybrid from Proven Seed and has the added benefit of a world-class standability rating. PV 200 CL offers strong resistance to blackleg and Fusarium wilt while bringing in high yields and profits for canola growers. Available exclusively at Crop Production Services. PV 533 G is a new, high-yielding mid-season Genuity Roundup Ready canola hybrid from the Proven Seed signature lineup, with a yield potential of 104 per cent of DEKALB 74-44 BL. PV 533 G provides growers excellent standability plus a blackleg resistance package that is exhibiting high resistance, even by resistant rating standards. Available exclusively at Crop Production Services. SyngentaSY4105 is the first Genuity, Roundup Ready canola hybrid from Syngenta to incorporate clubroot resistance, making it an exceptional seed choice in areas where clubroot is a major concern. SY4105 fits well across mid-season growing zones in Western Canada, and delivers excellent early-season vigour with strong yield performance. SY4105 is currently available for 2016 seeding and can be purchased through a Syngenta seed dealer. SY4166 is the latest Genuity Roundup Ready canola hybrid from Syngenta. This hybrid is best suited for the mid-to-long season growing zones in Western Canada and includes an excellent agronomic package with multigenic blackleg resistance, good early season vigour and high-end yield potential. SY4166 also boasts excellent standability, which will deliver time savings at swathing and harvest. In a series of 2014 small plot trials, SY4166 reached full maturity, on average, 1.5 days later than SY4135, and 1 to 1.5 days earlier than SY4157. SY4166 will be available for sale starting in fall 2015 for 2016 seeding, and can be purchased through a Syngenta seed dealer. Company NewsIn summer 2015, Cargill opened its new state-of-the-art canola processing facility in Camrose, Alta., which has the capacity to process over one million metric tonnes of canola per year, bringing the company’s total crush capacity to 2.5 million metric tonnes. Cargill said 100 jobs were created during the construction phase of the refinery, and 30 new permanent positions were created to operate the plant. Shortly after, Cargill opened its first canola refinery in Clavet, Sask. The new facility has the capacity to refine one billion pounds of canola oil annually, making it the largest Cargill refinery in North America. On Aug. 6, 2015, Cargill Specialty Seeds and Oils in Fort Collins, Colo. held a ribbon cutting ceremony showcasing their newly completed seed innovation facility while celebrating the 150th anniversary of Cargill.  
Optimal fall planting conditions in 2015 resulted in approximately 1 million acres of winter wheat being seeded.  Excellent weather conditions through to November provided an opportunity for wheat to be well tillered before winter.
According to Joanna Follings, cereals specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) based in Stratford, Ont., stand establishment problems in winter wheat tend to happen depending on the year.In 2015, Ontario producers saw excellent fall conditions for planting, and most got their crop in early, so plants were well established going into the winter.In 2014, producers weren’t so lucky: a wet fall meant delayed planting, and to make matters worse it was followed by a cold winter. Many producers experienced problems with winter survival.“It can be a challenge for growers to get out in to the field in a timely manner,” Follings says.Peter Johnson, an agronomist with Real Agriculture, is currently working on studies examining the impact of soil type, seeding rates and seeding dates on stand establishment.“Typically here in Ontario we get about 70 per cent stand establishment,” Johnson says. “We get higher levels if we seed earlier into excellent conditions. Last year we were getting fields with 85 per cent stand establishment, but typically we seed under less than ideal conditions.”There’s a growing body of research pointing to agronomic methods that can improve stand establishment in winter wheat even in bad years, Johnson says. This year, he and technician Shane McClure wrapped up a three-year “seeding rate by seeding date” interaction study, and the data should be available soon.But Johnson says it’s clear that the earlier producers seed, the lower their seeding rate can be. The later they seed, the higher the seeding rate should be in order to maximize sunlight interception.“We seed ultra early, two weeks prior to the recommended date, and at that stage we recommend decreasing seeding rate by 25 per cent,” Johnson says. “Our normal target is about 1.5 million seeds per acre, and when we seed two weeks ahead of optimum date, we can drop that to 1.2 million seeds quite easily, with no impact on yield.” On heavy clay soils, he recommends starting at 1.8 million seeds per acre and adjusting seeding rates according to date from there.“Once you’ve moved past optimum seeding date, my standard recommendation is to increase seeding populations 100,000 plants per acre for every five days past that optimum date.”In areas prone to heavy snow loads, snow mould infestations are much more severe with early seeding dates and high seeding rates. “Lodging concerns increase when growers seed heavy seeding rates early,” Johnson says. “But with highest wheat yields coming from early seeding dates, seeding early at lower seeding rates just makes sense.”Seed treatments?This year, Kelly Turkington, a pathologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Lacombe Research and Development Centre in Lacombe, Alta., and Brian Beres, an agronomist with AAFC’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre in Lethbridge, Alta., published new research pointing to the effectiveness of seed treatments used in tandem with appropriate sowing density to overcome poor stand establishment in winter wheat.In one study, Beres and Turkington argue seed treatments are best used to offset weak, low-yielding systems.If producers are starting with high quality seed with good germination rates, good vigour and low levels of pathogen infection, and they’re putting seed into a system with good seed-to-soil contact and using appropriate seeding rates, Turkington says the impact of seed treatments will be limited.“Where we’ve seen seed treatments are a real benefit is when seed-borne disease, diseases that will impact germination, seedling growth or stand establishment, or diseases like smuts, are present in a field,” he says.Turkington’s work was all done in Western Canada, but Johnson says similar results have been seen in Eastern Canada. “If you’re seeding into ideal conditions from a stand establishment point of view with no disease pressure, you may not see the benefit of seed treatments,” he echoes. “But if you get bunt in your wheat crop, that’s 100 per cent crop loss. For $3 per acre of seed treatment, or even $5 per acre, whatever that premium is, we can’t afford to take that risk.”Johnson recommends every producer use a good fungicide seed treatment. Insecticide on the seed isn’t needed everywhere, but is more regionally isolated according to soil type and insect pressure. But he feels fungicide seed treatments are essential, even though they don’t always increase yield. “If I get dwarf bunt or common bunt in the crop, the grain comes out of the field smelling like rotten fish. The industry simply won’t accept it. That risk is simply too high,” he says.“In terms of stand establishment, we see a benefit in stand establishment if you apply a fungicidal seed treatment under adverse conditions.”
Malting barley is a higher-value cereal crop that could be a good option for Eastern Canadian growers. A key factor in the successful adoption of this crop is the availability of varieties suited to the region’s growing conditions. Now a project is underway to identify which of the existing malting lines would be best for the east and to develop improved germplasm for further breeding work.Thin-Meiw (Alek) Choo, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Ottawa, is leading the project. He notes, “Before we started this research project, we had already identified two good malting barley varieties for Eastern Canada: Cerveza and AAC Synergy. Cerveza is on the list of recommended varieties for Quebec and the Maritimes. AAC Synergy is now being tested in the registration and recommendation tests in Quebec and the Maritimes. These two varieties have performed well in Quebec, the Maritimes and New York State. They were developed by Bill Legge at AAFC’s Brandon Research and Development Centre [in Manitoba].” Now Choo’s project is helping to identify more and better malting varieties for Eastern Canada. Called the Eastern Canada Malting Barley Test, it runs from April 2013 to March 2018. It involves screening hundreds of advanced breeding lines and varieties from other regions to find ones with three essential traits: resistance to Fusarium head blight, resistance to lodging, and high yields under Eastern Canadian conditions. “Resistance to Fusarium head blight is a must for successful malting barley production in Eastern Canada,” Choo says. The region’s warm, humid growing conditions favour this serious fungal disease. Fusarium head blight reduces grain yield, but more importantly it can produce mycotoxins on the grain. He notes, “The maltsters and brewers do not accept any barley grain contaminated with mycotoxins.” The often rainy and stormy conditions in Eastern Canada increase the risk of lodging, which can result in lower yields and poorer grain and malting quality. So Choo is looking for malting lines with shorter and stronger straw that are better able to resist lodging.And, of course, yield is a top consideration. “Any malting barley varieties must yield well in Eastern Canada. Otherwise, producers will not grow them,” he says.Choo’s project team is testing malting barley lines from the Prairies, where most of Canada’s malting barley is grown, and some cultivars from other countries. “Every year, we have evaluated 23 lines from the Field Crop Development Centre of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, 38 lines from the University of Saskatchewan, and 36 lines from the Brandon Research and Development Centre. We have also tested seven barley varieties from Argentina, seven varieties from Australia, and 21 varieties from Brazil,” he says. The evaluation process involves several steps. “[First] we plant these barley lines at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and compare them with our standard varieties such as Leader [a recommended feed barley variety] and AAC Synergy. Last year, we identified 26 of these lines as high yielding. Therefore, in 2016, we have planted these 26 lines at three locations across Eastern Canada: Charlottetown, Normandin, [Que.] and Ottawa.” This fall, they will be analyzing the results from the 2016 growing season, and they’ll continue the testing work in 2017. In the years ahead, very promising lines that have not yet been registered in Canada could be entered into the variety registration tests for Eastern Canada. The project is only testing two-row barley lines. Choo explains, “Six-row barley is more susceptible to Fusarium head blight than two-row barley. Therefore, we do not encourage our producers to grow six-row barley for malting in Eastern Canada.”Choo is collaborating on this research with Bill Legge, Aaron Beattie at the University of Saskatchewan, Patricia Juskiw at the Field Crop Development Centre, Denis Pageau at AAFC’s Normandin Research Farm, and Marta Izydorczyk at the Canadian Grain Commission. The project is funded by AAFC, the Alberta Barley Commission and the Atlantic Grains Council.The project’s results will give eastern growers more varietal choices for malting barley production. As well, Choo will be using the superior lines identified through the testing work as parents for crossing in his barley breeding program. Promising malting barley lines from his program will be sent to the Canadian Grain Commission for malting quality analysis. Eastern growers can look forward to possible further improvements in malting varieties down the road.If growers can achieve malting quality with barley produced in Eastern Canada, it could potentially be a very good opportunity. “Malting barley typically has a higher value than barley grown for livestock, for example. So it would be a value-added proposition for growers,” says Neil Campbell, general manager of the PEI Grain Elevators Corporation. “I’m not sure what the potential is for malting barley production in Atlantic Canada, but it could be quite substantial because the [craft malt and brewery] business has exploded here in the Maritimes in the last three or four years. Nova Scotia alone has 40 different local breweries that use malting barley and other grains,” Campbell says. He also points out that, in addition to Choo’s work, other malting barley research is underway in the Maritimes. For example, Aaron Mills at AAFC in Charlottetown is developing recommendations for malting barley agronomic practices and is testing modern and heritage malting varieties in Eastern Canadian conditions. Campbell also notes the combined sales of Canadian malting barley and malt are worth about $1 billion per year. “So if the Atlantic provinces could even get one per cent of that, it’s a nice little number!”
With increasing frequency and vehemence, fingers are being pointed at farmers over the issue of nutrient runoff into key bodies of water, like Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Until now, the gap between agricultural producers and those who blame those producers for eutrophication has seemed unbridgeable. Farmers argue they have a right to earn a livelihood from their land. Environmentalists – and, increasingly, politicians and laypeople too – argue water quality and the good of all must override farmers’ land use needs. Now, plant breeders are working on developing new perennial cereal crops that may meet the requirements of both sides.“There are limited options for a cash crop grower who is concerned about nutrient runoff into watersheds. They might think about planting something like grass for a considerable distance around a water body, but that might mean that they give up a considerable amount of revenue,” says Jamie Larsen, a researcher with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge, Alta., and lead plant breeder on a new perennial rye study. “In the future, an option would be to plant a perennial grain crop that would [be] productive, but also provide significant environmental benefits.”  “Perennial grains require a change in mentality about how cropping is done. They’re different, no doubt about it. But times have changed. Perennial grains offer the potential for economic benefit, while also considering sustainability priorities,” adds Doug Cattani, a researcher at the University of Manitoba who is currently developing a perennial wheatgrass to suit Canadian growing conditions.Though cereal grains have been treated as annuals for decades, many cereals are willing to function as perennials if given the chance. Rye, for example, is a robust and surprisingly hard to kill plant. Each plant in some varieties of rye can produce productively for three or four years. Other cereals are even longer-lived: Cattani says intermediate wheatgrass can live at least eight to 10 years, and may produce grain productively beyond the four years he has tested them for. In addition to producing a harvestable cereal crop each year, perennial cereals also offer grazeable forage each fall, erosion control and the absence of yearly seeding-time pressure on the producer. Most importantly for those concerned about healthy water systems, perennial cereals have the potential to slow nutrient runoff in a host of ways. “If you can have something in the ground all year round and actively growing every day of the growing season, you’ll have much less nutrient runoff than if you plant a seed in spring and pull that plant out of the ground 95 or 100 days later,” Cattani says.First and most obviously, perennial plants capture and remove nutrients from the soil each and every day of their growing season. In addition to the number of days they are able to capture nutrients each year, perennials also easily surpass annuals regarding the depth of soil from which they can capture nutrients and the total volume of nutrient capture. At between two and three metres in length, perennial cereal roots reach twice as deeply into the soil as do annual cereals. The longer, denser root biomass serves to capture nutrients more efficiently and more deeply in the soil, decreasing nutrient movement through the soil and limiting the need for additional fertilizer application.Actively growing perennial cereals also help to use up water that would otherwise sit on the land in early spring, decreasing the likelihood of leaching.  And there’s more: perennial crops’ strong roots, taller plant height and early spring start mean they are more competitive than their annual counterparts. As such, they often require far less weed management. Wheatgrass’ many tillers take competitive advantage a step forward, forming a tight, almost sod-like layer that is highly effective at limiting weeds. Perennials excel on the disease resistance front too. The fact that they are long-lived typically means they have accrued a superior disease resistance profile that allows them to survive, resulting in fewer fungicide requirements.  Larsen’s perennial rye study has barely begun, but already he is hopeful perennials may have a real place in tomorrow’s agricultural reality.“The more I work with perennial grains, the more applications I see for them, from the perspective of limiting nutrient runoff to conserving soil, to saving producers input dollars and planting time. This is the next step in cropping efficiency,” he says.For all of perennial cereals’ benefits, one fairly serious drawback remains: because a perennial plant must put some energy into its root reserves, it cannot yield as much as its annual cousin. Currently, perennial cereal crop yields are significantly lower than annual cereal crops. Cattani’s intermediate wheatgrass, for example, yields between 10 and 20 bushels per acre. That said, breeders are already making significant leaps forward in perennials’ yield potential. And, because there is increasing market demand for more sustainable agriculture, farmers might capture better prices for perennial grains compared to conventional annual grains. “Perennial grains are not going to be as productive as annual cereals. That’s the truth. But it could be a high-value grain that some companies might be willing to pay a little extra for. That’s the potential,” Larsen says. “There is certainly interest in perennial grains. Quite a number of producers would probably be willing to grow a perennial cereal if we could provide them with a variety that is adapted to their growth area, that offers good yield potential for at least three or four years, and that has a good agronomic package ready when we release the variety,” Cattani says. Cattani expects perennial cereals are likely still a good number of years from commercialization. “I’m excited. I see the potential,” he says. “But having said that, I think we’re 10 to 15 years away from releasing an intermediate wheatgrass for our regions. We can’t say ‘plant it’ when we don’t yet know how best to grow it. I think perennial cereals are an area of research you’ll see explored relatively significantly over the next 10 years.For naysayers who are pessimistic about the potential for a lower-yield crop to find success in Canada, Cattani says: “Before we had canola as a major human-use oil, a lot of people said it had too many issues. But canola is a good example of what is possible when we apply resources to a potential crop to help solve key issues.  “What makes the concept of perennial cereals interesting is – even as it is now – it is a much more productive option than simply planting a forage grass, and it’s really sustainable. It has the potential to make a lot of people with conflicting priorities happy.”
When the title of “bread basket of the world” was coined, settlers were breaking up long established prairie and plowing down the perennial grasses that made the soil rich. Today, researchers in Canada and the United States are looking to re-establish perennial wheatgrass as a means for soil recovery and food production. Collected from Siberia, perennial wheatgrass could, when adapted and bred for consistent North American production values, be the next grain crop to sweep across the land. Of numerous iterations of wheatgrass, the most promising and the closest to field production is Kernza, developed by The Land Institute in Kansas. Now under examination in Western Canada for adaptation to this climate and growing conditions, Kernza is a new class of grain that will eventually spawn varieties for all growing regions in Canada. But growers need patience because it could be a decade before the first variety is perfected and seed is available. “We are narrowing down our germplasm and will be harvesting plots this year,” says Doug Cattani, the lead researcher working with Kernza in Canada. The University of Manitoba plant scientist adds there is a lot to learn about Kernza production besides developing varieties adapted to the Canadian growing system. Ideally, a perennial grain would be left in the field similar to forage for a number of years. The heads would be harvested annually, but the crop would continue to grow. It’s not known how many crops can be harvested before production decreases when the field can be turned into forage for a year or two.  “Perennial wheat has deep roots that can reach deep moisture,” explains Jamie Larsen of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge, Alta. “It might work well in less productive areas to reduce erosion and build up the soil. Or it could be planted along a stream to protect the area, but there would be a crop as well. Typically, it is also disease resistant and it will compete strongly with weeds.” While it is in the field, it will be useful to break up weed and disease cycles while also replenishing the soil. “From a seed industry perspective, I think this could look like a model similar to forage crops,” suggests Ellen Sparry, genetics and general manager for C & M Seeds in Palmerston, Ont. “I can see this potentially having a fit for soil recovery and for drier areas.” From a seed standpoint, she says, end use and production would have to match the annual wheat varieties that growers currently rely on. This is where Cattani is focusing his attention. He is selecting and crossing to get Kernza varieties that are well-adapted to Canada’s growing areas, that have consistent quality and yield year after year, and which offer all the benefits promised by annual crops. “We need to work out the system,” Cattani admits. “What do we need to do to get it ready for the following year? We can harvest it and cut it back, but what happens if we cut it right to the ground? We need to look at post-harvest management to see if we can get a consistent second and third crop.” Larsen says perennial grain crops will mine moisture and nutrients lower in the soil strata because they put down a long root system. However, he adds, there may still be a need to add nutrients. But how much? “You will get better drainage, better soil health, access to nutrients that are below the access of annual crops,” Cattani continues. “There’s a host of benefits that could accrue for future crops when perennial grains are included in the rotation and we want to be able to maximize the yield every year. But we’re still in the initial stages of development and we are at least 10 to 15 years away from a variety with a known production package to give producers.” Nevertheless, Sparry believes it is good for growers to know about Kernza and to begin thinking about how it could fit in their operations. “From a seed standpoint, it would market similar to forage,” she suggests. “Certainly, this will fit in any operation,” Larsen adds. There are also many potential uses for Kernza, he says, from basic livestock feed to bread-making. A company in the United States has also incorporated Kernza into beer production. Unlike current crops that have been tweaked over time and continue to be improved, Kernza and other perennial grain crops need to be perfected before they enter the field, from production recommendations to management advice to end use requirements. Cattani reports there is an issue with kernel shattering in some Kernza varieties and he is working on selections to minimize that while also looking at yield potential and field readiness. As Cattani prepared to harvest his plots of Kernza in August, he considered the best methods to accomplish the task and how to prepare the plots for production in 2017.  “We’d like to get three seed yields per crop no matter what the growing conditions are each year,” Cattani says. For his part, Larsen would like growers to learn about Kernza and other wheatgrass prospects. He suggests they need to consider how and where these new grain crops could fit into their operations. Those with experience with forage will have a good idea how Kernza can be managed, but there will still be some adjustments they will have to make to ensure continued success for both human consumption and possible grazing for livestock. The researchers believe it would be ideal if the two could be accomplished simultaneously each year, but, again, that possibility still needs to be examined. When something as promising as Kernza comes along, it’s difficult to wait until there is seed and a complete set of recommendations to ensure success in the field. Research in both the United States and Canada suggests Kernza is the closest to field readiness of the perennial grains. In the near future, when perennial grain is in a rotation, it could be possible to recover soil to the standard early settlers flocked to the untouched prairie to get. It may have taken 100 years to undo the value in those untouched soils across Canada, but within a decade a solution to revisit those heady days of early crop production could be field-ready.
Peter Johnson has a theory: if you don’t invest dollars in spring barley breeding, you won’t get the results you want. In Ontario, 110,000 acres were seeded to barley in 2014, with a farm value per bushel rated at $4.16, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Even if barley has yet to catch up to higher-value crops in Ontario, Johnson — OMAFRA’s former provincial wheat specialist — hopes to increase the value of the crop for growers by updating nitrogen (N) recommendations. Along with Shane McClure, a research lead for the Middlesex Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Johnson has just begun the third year of a three-year trial looking at potential synergies between nitrogen response and fungicide interactions in spring barley in Ontario.“What we’re hoping to find are ways to increase yields on spring cereals to make them more competitive economically and keep them in farmers’ rotations,” Johnson says. “Spring cereals have a fit in Ontario agriculture, but the yield increases have not kept pace with corn, so acres continue to drop. We were hoping to find a good synergy between N and fungicides in barley, oats and spring wheat, so that we can find ways to increase yields and make them more profitable for growers.”The nitrogen-fungicide synergy in winter wheat was “virtually proven” by 2010 in Ontario, says Johnson, following research he began in 2008 with colleagues David Hooker and Jonathan Brinkman. Since then, they’ve performed multiple studies to try to finish the response curve with and without fungicides. For the spring barley study, four field scale trials were established across southern Ontario in spring 2014, followed by six in 2015, each using two replicate, randomized N rates, both with and without fungicides. Plots were also set up at New Liskeard and Winchester. The studies hoped to show — as in winter wheat — a strong synergy between nitrogen and fungicide applications.This year, the funding dried up, but Johnson and McClure are continuing the study regardless. “We’re essentially doing it for free. We thought it was important enough to do the third year,” Johnson says.One plus one equals twoThe results were different than expected: in most plots, the researchers did not observe a strong synergy between N and fungicide applications.“In southern Ontario we saw a clear yield response to N, and we saw a clear yield bump to the fungicide, but with the synergy, it’s one plus one doesn’t equal two,” Johnson says. “In winter wheat on our best varieties we’ve seen one plus one can equal 3.5. In spring barley, one plus one equals two. Full stop.”There are two potential reasons for this, Johnson believes: climate and genetics. The heat in southwestern Ontario tends to be a limiting factor. But genetics are even more telling.“If you look at the trend lines in Ontario, winter wheat has gone up at about a bushel per acre per year over the past 35 years, while spring barley has only gone up at 0.2 bushels per acre per year,” he says. “The genetics aren’t there yet to show that synergy.“We have AAFC breeders who are supposed to breed for all of Eastern Canada, but the barley breeder at the University of Guelph was rolled into the winter wheat breeder position. In terms of private interests, the one company doing that barley breeding has stopped doing it. The dollars invested in barley breeding in Ontario — there’s no comparison, compared to wheat.”But the study’s results are not all negative. In New Liskeard, where the climate is much more suited to spring crops, a small synergy was observed between N and fungicide in spring barley. The New Liskeard data set was small, but much higher final yields (115 bushels per acre) were observed there, along with evidence of a small synergy between N and fungicides. “That’s very hopeful, so now what we should be doing is looking at that synergy across varieties,” Johnson says.“Based on the average data 80 pounds of N with fungicide was the most economical treatment in southwestern Ontario, while 50 pounds of N with fungicide had the highest rate of return at Winchester (eastern Ontario),” concludes Johnson and McClure’s Crop Advances Field Crop Report for the study. “New Liskeard had the highest response to N with 127 pounds of N and fungicide being the most economical treatment.”The report concludes N response was significantly greater than recommendations in the Agronomy Guide in both the southwestern and New Liskeard regions, and so the recommendations require further assessment.The data from this study will be brought to the Ontario Soil Management Research and Services Committee (OSMRSC), which makes fertility recommendations for the province, in hopes they’ll update the rates.“Growers are certainly looking at this data and asking if it can work for them — they’re experimenting with higher rates than the official recommendations,” he says. “The recommendations are based on old varieties and the climate from the 1970s and 1980s.”McClure says he was surprised by the high yields — and the high maximum economic rate of nitrogen — in the two years of the trial. “I didn’t expect the maximum economic rate of nitrogen to be as high as it was. I think it might have something to do with how high the yields were in general over those two years. They were fairly cool summers. I’m interested to see what happens if we see the same results as we did the last two years in a hot, dry year,” he says.
Researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have received a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, to design a low-cost, integrated system that can identify and screen for high-yielding, deeper-rooted crops. The interdisciplinary team, led by Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant nutrition, will combine a suite of technologies designed to identify phenotypes and genes related to desirable root traits, with the goal of enhancing the breeding of crop varieties better adapted for nitrogen and water acquisition and carbon sequestration. The project is part of ARPA-E's Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration, or ROOTS, program, which is aimed at developing crops that enable a 50 percent increase in carbon deposition depth and accumulation, while also reducing nitrous oxide emissions by 50 percent and increasing water productivity by 25 percent. The ROOTS program website explains that while advances in technology have resulted in a tenfold increase in crop productivity over the past century, soil quality has declined, leading to a soil carbon debt equivalent to 65 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This soil carbon debt increases the need for costly nitrogen fertilizer, which has become the primary source of emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. The soil carbon debt also impacts crop water use, increasing susceptibility to drought stress, which threatens future productivity. Given the scale of domestic and global agriculture, there is tremendous potential to reverse these trends by harnessing the photosynthetic bridge between atmospheric carbon, plants, microbes and soil. Advanced root systems that increase soil organic matter can improve soil structure, fertilizer use efficiency, water productivity, crop yield and climate resilience, while mitigating topsoil erosion – all of which provide near-term and sustained economic value. | READ MORE
Douglas Cook at New York University and colleagues from the University of Nebraska are using special microphones to listen to corn plants in order to determine what leads to wind-induced corn stalk failure. It turns out, the sounds stalks make just before failure are very similar to the sounds made when breaking. "We now think that plant growth involves millions of tiny breakage events, and that these breakage events trigger the plant to rush to 'repair' the broken regions. By continuously breaking and repairing, the plant is able to grow taller and taller," says Cook. It's an idea that mimics the science behind how human muslces are built: Muscles are strengthened when tiny microtears are repaired after lifting weights. Although most of the work is still in the early stages, this marriage of mechanical engineering and plant science and the information gathered so far can help plant breeders design optimal, strong plants. | READ MORE 
Cool but dry conditions prevailed for the start of the corn growing season as May transitioned from a cooler than average April. May remained dry, with few precipitation events to delay planting. A few localized pockets in southern Ontario were the exception, which received regular rainfall during the first half of the month. Planting started in earnest in many areas during the middle to end of the first week of May and progressed quickly once started. Planting conditions were generally good, although some growers on heavier textured soils reported that slow drying of subsoils were holding off early planting until ground conditions were more fit. Planting was nearing completion in many areas by the end of the following week (May 14), but continued on some heavier textured soils as well as those areas that had been receiving rainfall. Statistics Canada estimated that 2.0 million acres of grain corn and 0.250 million acres of silage corn were planted in Ontario in 2016. While lingering cool soil temperatures slowed development of the earliest planted corn, emergence was generally good for most fields. With the lack of rainfall in May, corn that had been planted when parts of fields were not quite fit or had not been fully planted into moisture may have struggled to emerge or emerged late. While generally minor overall, this resulted in variability in some fields. Some growers on heavier soils reported emergence issues following the cool weather and rainfall of May 14-15th. A small amount of replanting was reported to have occurred. The annual OMAFRA Pre-Sidedress-Nitrate-Test (PSNT) survey was conducted at the V3-V4 stage on June 6-7th. With an overall average soil nitrate concentration of 11.2 ppm, levels were average to slightly higher than average. Given the lack of rainfall and low potential for soil saturation during May and June, nitrate losses from leaching or denitrification were unlikely. Below average precipitation in June maintained a wide window for weed control and sidedress nitrogen applications. With the exception of some moisture stress appearing on soils with poor water holding capacity in the drier parts of the province, the corn crop generally looked good and uniform through the end of June. While some parts of the province received rain in July, many areas continued to be below normal, particularly the Bruce-Grey, Niagara and Central Ontario regions. Fields or parts of fields in these regions were beginning to show signs of moisture stress as corn leaves would wrap. There were some concerns as corn entered the moisture-sensitive tassel and pollination stages during the hot and dry conditions around the week of July 18. Some localized areas received thunderstorm related precipitation around this period. During grain fill, there were reports of “tip-back” where several rows on the cob tips failed to pollinate and silks remained green. Warm temperatures continued to push crop development. As corn continued the grain filling process, significant rainfall events started to occur during August, with monthly precipitation totals ranging between 100-200 per cent of normal for large portions of the province. Despite this, leaf diseases, where present, typically remained at low levels. Between timely planting and above average heat unit accumulation, there were few concerns about crop maturity as August came to a close. Silage harvest started in earnest in many areas during the week of September 12, with the exception of some early harvesting of moisture stressed crops. September remained generally dry, which resulted in good silage harvest conditions. Some reported whole plant moisture being drier than what had been anticipated at the start of harvest. Yields were reported to be below average in areas with little rainfall and on soils with poor water holding capacity, while yields in other areas were reported to be average. Lab analysis results suggested vomitoxin levels in silage were higher than normal.  The annual OMAFRA grain corn vomitoxin survey was conducted from September 23 to 30th. The survey indicated elevated vomitoxin levels with 26 per cent of samples testing above two ppm. Long-term averages for this category run between five and 10 per cent, suggesting some extra monitoring for grain management and feeding may have been required in 2016. Risks may have been elevated from the wet and humid conditions that persisted from August to early September. Poorer pollination of ear tips which resulted in silks remaining green and husk tips that tended to remain tight may have also contributed to this. Western bean cutworm feeding that opened husks for mould establishment was prevalent in many areas as well. The incidence of samples testing higher for vomitoxin decreased east of Toronto. As the growing season came to a close, heat unit accumulation ranged from average to 100-200 Crop Heat Units (CHU) higher than normal. Coupled with dry weather, corn harvest started early with some combining beginning as early as the last week of September. Harvest started in earnest around October 15, and progressed quickly as dry conditions prevailed for most of the province, resulting in a wide harvest window. Most growers reported moisture levels lower than what was typical for the time of year, and excellent test weights. With the exception of some localized pockets where soybean harvest was delayed, harvest was wrapping up in most areas by the end of the first week of November. Many growers reported yields that were above expectations considering the hot, dry growing season, with the exception of those on soils with poor water holding capacity, or regions which received well below average precipitation. As of December 14, Agricorp corn yields have been reported on 78 per cent of insured acres with an average yield of 167 bu/ac. This compares well to the 10 year average yield of 167 bu/ac for those reported acres.
Researchers at the University of Missouri have determined the mechanisms corn plants use to combat the western corn rootworm.
The Ontario Corn Committee has released results from the 2016 Hybrid Corn Performance Trials. | READ MORE
Bt corn has been on the market in Canada for over a decade; last year, Bt corn hybrids were planted on 3.1 million acres across the country.  The technology is incredibly, and increasingly, valuable to Eastern Canadian growers, where 2,035,000 of the total 2,295,000 acres of corn were planted to Bt hybrids in 2015. But the ever-present risk of the development of insect resistance to the technology is keeping the industry on its toes. While resistance hasn’t yet developed in European corn borer (ECB) populations in North America, reduced susceptibility has been noted in some populations of corn rootworm, according to Jocelyn Smith, a research associate in field crop pest management at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus. But resistance can be delayed with proper management. In Canada, stewardship of Bt technology takes the form of insect resistance management (IRM) plans, which chiefly involve maintaining refuges to delay the development of resistant insect populations.  Stewardship also entails rotation of traits in the field, as well as the use of stacked traits. “The most important thing we can do with this issue is educate growers more about the risks they’re taking if they continuously use traits for rootworm,” Smith says. “Their sheer numbers and biology give them advantage.” This is a message familiar to Eastern Canadian corn producers, and they’ve taken it to heart. The Canadian Corn Pest Coalition (CCPC) – made up of academics (such as University of Guelph researchers), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the provincial ministries of agriculture, and industry representatives – has been conducting surveys on insect resistance management compliance since the late 1990s.  Until 2012, those surveys were conducted in alternating years with CFIA IRM compliance surveys, but that year, stewardship compliance rates were so high CFIA discontinued them unless “in future, industry practice shifts from using blended refuge.” But the CCPC’s bi-annual survey continues. “The increase in compliance with refuge area requirements from 2013 to 2015 occurred in all three provinces and now stands at 91 per cent in Ontario, 90 per cent in Quebec and 91 per cent in Manitoba,” the 2015 report concluded. According to the same report, compliance tended to be higher in the 35 to 44 age category, but lower among producers who believed stewardship requirements to be “only somewhat important.” In addition, the report indicates awareness of stewardship requirements has declined since 2013, particularly in Ontario; compliance was also lower among those who believed they did not understand requirements. More education neededCindy Pearson, national manager of the CFIA’s Plant Biosafety Office, says the onus is on companies marketing Bt products to educate producers regarding the need for delaying resistance and how refuges work. “IRM plans are the responsibility of the company to whom the Bt corn product has been authorized, and CFIA receives specific reports from companies that detail their various activities on that front,” Pearson says. The survey notes refuge-in-a-bag (RIB) hybrids, which contain the required percentage of refuge seed, resulted in significantly higher compliance rates after their market introduction several years ago. The market has also changed with the introduction of stacked hybrids with multiple Bt traits or modes of action against the insect pests. “There are currently three traits available for corn rootworm control,” she says. “Where we have growers with long-term use of two of those traits on their own (not in a stacked product), we’ve started to notice some shifts in susceptibility when we test those populations in the lab.” This doesn’t necessarily mean producers can see resistance developing in the field, but it’s still a red flag. “We need to focus on informing continuous corn growers that the three-year limit is important,” Smith says. “We may have had a situation where a grower has used a single trait for years and it’s compromised, so then when they use the stack there’s only one viable trait remaining against the pest.” Smith also emphasizes monitoring as a key aspect of stewardship. “If you are growing corn on corn, scout your corn late in the season and if there’s less than one beetle per plant you might be able to get away without using transgenics,” she says. “You might be able to hold off on using some of the technology in the following year.” Smith also recommends rotating management options — in other words, soil insecticides and Bt traits. “And again in season, keep an eye on the pest situation in the crop. For ECB and rootworm, you need to monitor whether they are being controlled by the Bt hybrids or not. If they are not, you need to notify the CCPC and the trait provider,” she says. As long as they use Bt technology, producers are on notice to use it well. Resistance is in nobody’s interest except the insects.
Soybean production has rapidly expanded in Manitoba in the past few years and there is increasing interest in Saskatchewan and Alberta. If you can successfully grow soybean, it is a great crop to include in your rotation and farm management program.
Stephanie Kowalski, an independent agronomist for Agronomy Advantage, says that because of the drought this past growing season, many agronomists had to help their customers mitigate further stress in soybeans, whether that was from pests, fungus-related diseases or building base fertility. Kowalski recently spoke at the 2017 Southwest Ag Conference in Ridgetown, Ont., where she was asked to share her three key lessons from 2016. Besides the lack of rain in Ontario, one of the major players for soybean stress was the presence of spider mites. The most important factor to keep in mind for mites is to scout for them, since drought-stress holes can look very similar to spider mite damage. Once farmers notice stippling and discoloured patches, it’s important to take care of them as soon as possible. “Spider mites are not an aphid pest, where you would wait for the threshold to build and then you take action,” Kowalski says. “You have to continually assess it and make an action decision because they won’t go away.” She also says many agronomists thought aphids would be the big problem for growers due to the hot and dry year, which just goes to show that it can be difficult to predict pest problems from year to year. With spider mites, Kowalski says it’s important to spray a dimethoate like Cygon or Lagon, and avoid a pyrethroid (like Matador) since it will also take out the predatory mites, increasing the spider mite pressure. The second factor that came into soybean management this year had to do with fungicides. “Weather is only one factor of the fungicide decision,” Kowalski says. “Just because it’s a dry year, I wouldn’t write out a fungicide [prescription].” Growers and agronomists should be looking at history (of white mould for example), row spacing and emergent population. Again, getting out and seeing what’s already in the field is important, since every year brings a different challenge. “Proactively scouting and managing the crop throughout the growing season is never a bad idea,” Kowalski says. “Even if the growing conditions are ideal, scouting can be a very useful tool to identify ways to maximize yields economically.” Don’t forget about the disease history of your fields either: If a field had soybeans or even canola previously, there is a likelihood that sclerotinia (the hard black bodies created by the white mould fungi) will be present following a diseased year and cause infection in that subsequent soybean crop. Base fertility and soil health also play a role in mitigating stress in soybeans, especially in a drought year. The more soil organic matter available, the better the water retention, which helps limit drought stress due to the availability of moisture to those crops. Good fertility also means strong early season root growth and adequate nutrient levels in the root zones, resulting in more efficient water use, better nutrient uptake and less of a chance of deficiencies and stress. Early data shows managing phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) levels in soil at higher background levels has led to a good response in crops versus the current recommendations (sufficiency approach) that were established more than 30 years ago, when yields were lower. Every year brings a different challenge for soybeans and other crops: 2014 was a terrible white mould year, 2015 had significant spring frost events and aphids and 2016 was a droughty year, so proactively scouting and managing the crop throughout the growing season is never a bad idea, Kowalski says. “Even if the growing conditions are ideal, scouting can be a very useful tool to identify ways to maximize yields economically.”
Soybean breeders continue to focus on early maturing soybean hybrids and bring myriad stacked traits to Western Canadian growers. Seed companies have supplied Top Crop Manager with the following information on the new soybean hybrids for 2017. Growers are advised to check local performance trials to help with their variety selections. Listing is by crop heat unit (CHU)/maturity rating.
Yield 2016 was a year of extremes for Ontario soybean growers. Incredibly dry conditions in some regions resulted in poor yields or total crop failures in the most extreme cases. In contrast, a dry spring with few diseases, followed by timely rainfall in August resulted in amazingly high yields in parts of southwestern Ontario. Soybean yields are notoriously difficult to predict before harvest so much of the industry was pleasantly surprised at these good yields considering the growing season. Field averages of over 70 bu/ac were reported and yield monitors pushed over 100 bu/ac in the best part of some fields. Current estimates have the provincial average for 2016 at 44.8 bu/ac (with 56 per cent of the reports in from insured growers). This is slightly above the 10 year average of 43.9 bu/ac for those growers. The five year average for the province is 46.6 bu/ac. Soybeans are by far the largest field crop grown in the province with 2.715 million acres seeded in 2016. This was the third largest soybean crop in history. 2014 was the largest at 3.06 million and 2015 had 2.90 million acres.  Fertility Higher yields result in greater nutrient removal. Although soybeans take up almost twice as much potassium (K) as phosphorus, both nutrients are essential for soybeans. Factors that limit root growth such as dry conditions and sidewall compaction will reduce uptake. Under dry conditions, roots are unable to take up K from the soil even if soil K levels are sufficient. A soil test is the only reliable way to know if a field is truly low in K or just showing stress-induced potash deficiencies. It’s also important to note that K deficiency symptoms may be an indication of soybean cyst nematode (SCN) feeding on the roots. When taking soil samples, ask the lab to also test for SCN. A spring or fall application with incorporation work equally well to feed soybeans if soil tests warrant fertilizer. The micronutrient manganese (Mn) is also critical for soybeans. Large parts of Ontario’s main soybean growing areas are deficient in Mn. Symptoms of Mn deficiency is interveinal chlorosis (yellowing). One of the most significant factors affecting the availability of Mn is the soil pH. As soil pH increases, less Mn is available to the plant. Deficiencies may occur on eroded knolls where the pH is higher than the rest of the field. The deficiency is most common on poorly-drained soils, especially on clays and silt loams. High organic matter also ties up Mn. Since only small amounts of Mn are required by the plant, a foliar application of Mn works well to rectify the deficiency. In severe cases, a spray application can provide a five or more bu/ac yield response. Seedcorn maggot Seedcorn maggot was more of a problem this spring than usual. Seedcorn maggots feed on germinating corn and soybean seeds and young seedlings. Damage can range from minor feeding which delays emergence to seed death. Seedlings that do survive are often severely weakened and may not fully recover. Seedcorn maggot numbers are impossible to predict but a mild winter likely increased populations in the spring of 2016. Maggot feeding results in hallowed out seed with small dark channeling. Flies are attracted to the odour of decaying organic matter that has recently been incorporated, such as freshly tilled soils, decaying plant residue, lightly tilled cover crops, and manured fields. The eggs are laid in moist soil and once hatched begin to feed on germinating seeds. For growers that consistently experience seedcorn maggot damage, an insecticide seed treatment is the only reliable control option. It’s also important to note that treated seed may not give complete protection under extreme insect pressure so higher seeding rates should also be used. Spider mites In dry years, some pests proliferate quickly. Spider mite damage was widespread this August. Mites feed on individual plant cells from the underside of leaves leaving stipples. Severe stippling causes yellowing, curling and bronzing of leaves. Spider mites usually start on the edge of the field but wind can carry them to any part of the field. From the road these pockets may look like moisture stress. Fields that are close to neighboring winter wheat stubble, hay fields and no-till fields are more at risk. Foliar insecticide applications were necessary on significant aces this year. Double cropped soybeans A number of growers were able to achieve 35 to 40 bu/ac this year, when seeding after winter wheat harvest. One of the reasons double copping is becoming more successful now than 20 years ago is due to higher yielding short season varieties. Plant breeding efforts for northern climates, especially western Canada have resulted in better short season varieties that can be seeded later in the growing season.  Fields planted after July 15th or fields that remained extremely dry throughout the growing season were generally not successful.  Variety selection Soybean variety selection continues to be one of the most important management decisions a grower can make to achieve high yield. The Ontario Soybean and Canola committee conducts performance trials each year across the province. Results from these trials can be found at Within a single test yield differences of over 10 bu/ac between varieties are not uncommon. Longer maturing varieties yield significantly more than shorter maturing varieties in most regions. Generally, longer maturing varieties yield 0.4 to 1.0 bu/ac more for each day they take longer to mature in the fall. For fields not intended for winter wheat seeding selecting a longer season variety is a cost effective way to increase yields.
In 2016, soybean production in Manitoba reached a high of 1.6 million acres. This significant increase is partly due to the introduction of early-maturing soybean varieties that have expanded production to “non-traditional” growing areas. However, frost and near-freezing temperatures in spring and fall still remain a risk for soybean growers in Manitoba.
A University of Manitoba study is generating some surprising results about soil temperatures and soybean planting dates.
Canada's producers of peas and lentils are preparing for the possibility that their largest market may soon shut down imports because of a purported problem with pests. For more than a decade, India has allowed Canada to treat pulse shipments for pests after shipping rather than before. But that may come to an end next month. The fumigation of pulse pests requires the use of methyl bromide, a pesticide that Canada is trying to phase out because of concerns it depletes the ozone layer. It also doesn't work well in Canada's colder temperatures, leaving pulse producers with few options. The stakes for the country's estimated 12,000 pulse farms are high. Canada shipped $1.5 billion worth of peas and lentils to India in 2015, accounting for about a third of all pulse exports. "That's why we're very concerned," said Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada. Bacon said the federal government submitted documents to India in December pressing its case that the risks of Canadian pulse crops carrying pests is minimal because of the winter climate. "India's message has become much more firm in terms of what their intention is at the end of March, which is why we're much more concerned now," he said. Pulse producers are now eagerly waiting for a response, with an answer possibly coming in days. But shipments are already being disrupted, Bacon said, with at least one shipping firm refusing to take pulses this past Monday because of the uncertainty. "It's hugely problematic for the industry when there's no clarity on what the policy will be," said Bacon. The Indian government could not be reached for comment. But a notice issued by the India Pulses and Grains Association summarized a presentation that the Indian government made last month. According to the notice, an Indian government official said methyl bromide is the only effective treatment against pulse pests, Indian exporters follow requirements of other countries and importers should do the same, and India shouldn't bear the risks to the ozone layer alone. The association's notice said the government official also outlined potential alternatives, including the possibility of countries submitting data proving that other treatments are equally effective, a system-wide preventative approach assessed by Indian officials, or cargo pre-inspection. | READ MORE
Pulse crops in rotation provide a range of ongoing benefits to subsequent crops, such as reducing fertilizer costs, providing a break in pest cycles and increasing yield. Estimating the nitrogen (N) benefits or credits to the system can be challenging, and researchers continue to improve methods that provide a more accurate assessment of N and carbon (C) in cropping systems.
When Meghan Moran, the canola and edible bean specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), is out at an event, soybean growers usually outnumber edible bean growers. “Sometimes the soybean growers will ask if small seeded dry beans, or edible beans, are more profitable,” she says. “And the truth is that they are!” 
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs reports dry edible bean acres were lower in 2016 than they were in 2015.
The Canadian Grain Commission has announced grading changes to Canadian fababeans, chickpeas and wheat. As of July 1, 2017, all grades of fababeans will have an ergot tolerance of 0.05 per cent in Eastern Canada. In Western Canada, all grades of fababeans and chickpeas will have an ergot tolerance of 0.05 per cent as of August 1, 2017. Ergot is a cereal disease that is toxic to people and animals. Ergot does not occur in these crops, but cross-contamination can occur during handling. Adding a tolerance for ergot in fababeans and chickpeas will help guarantee the safety of Canadian grain. A tolerance of 0.05 per cent is consistent with the other pulses in the Official Grain Grading Guide. The tolerance for grasshopper and army worm damage in No. 3 Canada Western Red Spring, No. 3 Canada Western Hard White Spring and No. 3 Canada Northern Hard Red wheat will be tightened from eight per cent to six per cent, effective August 1, 2017. The tolerance for grasshopper and army worm damage was tightened after research showed that eight per cent grasshopper and army worm damage can impact end-use functionality. These changes are based on recommendations made to the Canadian Grain Commission by the Eastern Standards Committee and the Western Standards Committee at their meetings in November. The Canadian Grain Commission also reiterated its commitment to continuing to evaluate new technologies for objectively assessing grain for factors such as deoxynivalenol (DON).
Prince Edward Island producers are experimenting with pulse crops, growing fababean and pea trials across the Island. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Farmers in P.E.I. have the warm fall weather to thank for the extended seeding season of winter wheat and other cover crops. One farmer said he was able to plant more than 1,600 acres of cover crops to help with his crop rotation in the spring. | READ MORE
It’s been a bad year for flax in Canada. “Markets are suffering a bit across Canada,” says Brian Johnson, chair and director-at-large of the Flax Council of Canada. Statistics Canada puts seeded acres for 2016 to 2017 at just over 900,000 acres across the country.Johnson believes the reason for the drop in acreage is the huge increase in acreage in Eastern Europe over the last seven or eight years. “Flax is volatile – when the prices go up, we over-seed a bit. We have a much bigger carryover this July than last July, because prices were better last year,” Johnson says.In Western Canada, acreage is down 40 per cent. Johnson says a big reason for the decrease is the explosion in lentil and pulse crops in Western Canada due to the shortfall in pulse production in India. “Lentils and flax are grown in the same area and basically a lot of farmers switched from flax to lentils,” he says. But the picture in Ontario, where flax is hardly grown at all, is relatively unchanged from the last few years. Flax acreage in the province is down to fewer than 5,000 acres, though at its peak acreage was up to 75,000 acres, according to Mike Cowbrough, weed management field crops program lead for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Cowbrough is also the organization’s de facto “flax guy” due to the fact that he grew flax on his hobby farm for a decade.Why the lack of flax in Ontario? Conditions in the province for growing flax are good, particularly in cooler regions such as Grey and Bruce County in central Ontario, and Verner and New Liskeard in the northeast.Cowbrough believes there are two main reasons keeping producers from planting more acres. The first is economics. “If you look at the gross revenue potential in flax and compare it to other field crop staples, there’s anywhere from a 100 to 400 per cent difference in gross margin.“The other potential knock against flax is that it’s never been an easy crop to harvest and the straw is a bit of an issue,” Cowbrough says. “It’s tough, it doesn’t break down, it’s difficult to spread out. It’s beautiful to grow and wonderful to look at but a pain to combine.”From a production standpoint, the crop performs well in terms of disease and weed concerns, Cowbrough says. The main problems Ontario producers have with flax are price stability and harvesting ease. “It’s a great crop in Ontario for harvesting earlier than soybean, and wonderful to have in a rotation with winter wheat,” he says. “If we grew more flax, our winter wheat yields would benefit from that. But it’s agribusiness, and the economics aren’t there for flax.”Potential for growthTroy Snobelen, owner of Snobelen Farms, a private grain producing, processing and trading company in Lucknow, Ont., says the company hasn’t processed flax in over a decade. “We got out of it because we didn’t have the volumes,” he says. “We used to bring in quite a bit of it from Western Canada, but it was hard to take a western product and add value and try to ship it to a U.S. market. It was inefficient.”This sentiment is echoed by Steve Murray, a manager at Parrish and Heimbecker – but Murray still deals in flax, primarily for Ontario’s feed market.“Most of our flax comes from the west, although in Ontario in the last couple of years the amount has increased,” he says. “Right now, our flax is probably 95 per cent Western Canadian, five per cent Ontario. Those numbers might change but they won’t change substantially. I can’t envision a 50-50 or anything like that.”But there are positive indications for growth in local flax production. Formerly, producers couldn’t get crop insurance on flax, so they avoided the risk, but as of a few years ago, crop insurance is available on flax across the province. Murray believes this might make a difference. John Gleeson, a private grain processor and trader near Moorefield, Ont., says increased local production would be of major benefit to his business. “We have big problems getting flax out west,” he says. “The railway is a joke. You can’t get rail cars for love nor money. We send our own trucks out to get flax, and we’re loading those new B-trains.”Cowbrough says new research out of the University of Saskatchewan, funded by the Western Grains Research Foundation, will have little application in an eastern context and is unlikely to stimulate flax production in Ontario.But the Flax Council of Canada is heavily invested in research to improve flax for food, feed and other markets – and to promote its excellent nutritional profile to stakeholders across the country. “There’s getting to be a better and better understanding of the health benefits of flax. That information is getting out there and that part of the industry is growing,” Johnson says. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but flax has a lot of potential.”
Following a three-year research project at the University of Guelph, researchers now have evidence Ontario farmers can consistently produce high yielding, good quality, double-cropped cereal forages following wheat harvests. In 2012, to address forage shortages caused by a dry summer, many farmers turned to double-cropped forages following winter wheat, the practice of planting two forage crops in the same season. Overall, the experience was positive but questions remained, according to Bill Deen, an associate professor at the University of Guelph and the lead of the project. So began a research project to look more closely at the agronomics and nutritional aspects of double-cropped forages following a winter wheat harvest.The project was co-funded by the Beef Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Forage Council via the Farm Innovation Program, the Agricultural Adaptation Council, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and the University of Guelph and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs partnership. The project was initiated following the 2012 season, when drought caused a shortage of forage.FindingsThe trials were planted at the Elora and Woodstock research stations and 12 farm sites throughout southern Ontario in no-till, dry soils in early August during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. Over the three seasons, the researchers collected data on yield, moisture, nutrient (phosphorus and potassium) and nutritional quality and had approximately 400 samples analyzed by using wet chemistry to determine a complete range of nutritional parameters and nutrient removal rates.The results indicate oats forage (or an oat-and-pea mixture, if higher protein forage is required) were the best crops for fall-harvested cereal forage. “Good establishment and growth occurred more consistently for oats resulting in higher and less variable forage yields compared to either barley or triticale,” Deen says. “However, from a forage quality perspective, there was little difference between oat, barley and triticale forages.”  The researchers also found double-cropped spring cereal forages harvested in the fall have consistently good nutritional quality. “Total digestible nutrient concentrations were similar for barley, oats and an oat-and-pea mixture forages,” Deen says. He adds, with the 2014 trials that included triticale, total digestible nutrient concentrations for triticale were similar to oats or barley.  Another finding was that including peas as a mixture with a cereal will increase forage crude protein, although adding peas does not significantly affect yield or total digestible nutrient concentration of cereal forages.“Crude protein concentrations for an oat-and-pea mixture forage averaged 2.7 per cent higher than pure oat forage,” Deen says. “Including peas in a spring cereal forage is of benefit only if a forage with higher crude protein is required.”In 2012, the trials were planted in early August in no-till, dry soils with rainfall occurring about one week following planting. These trials indicate high fall cereal forage yields are possible even when the spring and early summer are unusually dry.Advice to producersTimely planting with appropriate management and inputs is essential for successful crop production and Deen says this also applies for producing higher-yielding, good quality, double-cropped cereal forages.“Plant the cereal forage as soon as possible following wheat harvest,” he says. “Cereal forage yields are increased by additional August growing days, which cannot be made up for by delaying fall harvest dates. Plant even if the soil is dry because the forage crop will get off to an earlier start when the rains finally arrive. Yield is based on timely planting following winter wheat.”Dean advises planting cereal forages in no-till to preserve soil moisture, and keeping stubble heights low and straw baled to reduce the amount of straw in the cereal forage. If applying liquid manure, Deen says producers should consider applying the manure, incorporating it into the soil and then planting their cereal forage as soon as possible.“The moisture provided by the liquid manure, if the cereal forage is planted soon after application, may assist in quick emergence when planted into drier soils,” he says.As for inputs, the research shows it is best to top dress 50 to 70 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare (kg N/ha) after successful emergence of the cereal crop has occurred. This is because the previous wheat crop depletes the soil nitrogen and additional nitrogen will be needed to ensure high cereal forage yields. Applying 50 to 70 kg N/ha increased oat forage yields, on average, by 70 per cent and crude protein by 0.6 per cent. Even when planted with peas, oats still require additional nitrogen, so Deen recommends applying nitrogen if planting oat and pea mixtures.“On average, applying nitrogen increased oat and pea forage yields by 30 per cent and crude protein by 1.2 per cent,” he says. “If manure is applied, fertilizer nitrogen rates should be adjusted to account for the available nitrogen provided by the manure.”Once established and growing, foliar disease, particularly rust, could become an issue so Deen recommends, if possible, planting oat varieties with high resistance to rust. Producers should also scout their crops and consider applying fungicide if they see rust.As for harvest, cereal forage should be harvested by mid to late October.“Forage yield gains by delaying harvests much beyond mid-October are small and the drying opportunities needed to make good quality silage or hay diminish quickly after mid-October,” Deen says. “Moisture content of flag to boot stage cereals is about 80 per cent and some in-field dry-down period will be required to reduce moisture content.”“If you’re going to sell double-crop forages off farm, you need to consider nutrient removal, since double-crop forage contains one to two cents per pound of nutrients,” Deen says.  Added valueDouble-cropped forages add further value to inclusion of wheat in the rotation – something that really appeals to Deen.“A lot of farmers think if they grow wheat, they should not bale the straw, but a corn-soybean-wheat rotation with the straw removed is still better for the soil than just a corn-soybean rotation,” he says. “Remove the straw, plant double-cropped forage and farmers can be confident soil quality is being improved.“If they put in a cover crop and don’t harvest it, it’s good for the soil, but if they do [harvest it], it’s still good. It adds more value to the wheat system.”
Forage production in 2016 was challenging as the cool spring delayed early growth and was followed by a hot, dry summer before rains returned in August. While hay inventories are below average, most of the hay harvested was high quality. This year has seen an increase use of cover crops for emergency forage and fall grazing. More corn has been harvested for silage than originally planned. Farms that can utilize straw or corn stover are doing so in order to extend stored feed. Alfalfa winterkill and stand vigourIn 2016, there was very little winterkill observed across the province, mainly due to a very mild winter. The cool weather in March, April and into May reduced alfalfa growth and delayed first cut by approximately seven to 10 days. This fall saw a lot of fields cut during the critical fall rest period. Depending on when the killing frost comes, fields that were harvested up to six weeks prior are at an increased risk of winterkil. Other risk factors such as three-year-old (or older) stands, low potassium or pH, poor soil drainage, fields that had disease or insect issues, weather, ponding, and lack of snow cover, can increase the risk of winterkill and fields with multiple risk factors should be monitored in the spring.  FertilityFertility levels on many fields continue to cause yield drag. Phosphorus levels less than 12ppm and potassium levels less than 120ppm can significantly lower yields. Sulphur has continued to show up in plant tissue tests as a yield limiting nutrient. If plant tissue tests were completed when the alfalfa was at normal mowing height and at the late bud stage, sulphur levels under 0.22 per cent, indicate a deficiency. A soil sampling program should be implemented to monitor soil fertility levels. Fall applications of fertilizer or manure can take place up until the ground freezes or there is snow cover, but are most beneficial if applied directly after the final cut of forage.New seedingsA dry spring provided the opportunity for new seedings to be planted into good soil conditions. However, lack of rainfall resulted in variable establishment, especially where packing for good seed-to-soil contact was insufficient. Summer seedings completed during optimum seeding dates in August appear to have been very successful as there was adequate moisture. Summer seedings do not have the yield drag associated with first year forages and will produce to their potential next year.  First-cut yields and qualityFirst-cut yields were fairly average across southern Ontario. Due to the cool dry weather in April and May, alfalfa maturity was delayed by seven to 10 days. First-cut quality was excellent. The dry weather provided the opportunity to cut at the proper maturity and the majority of the first cut was harvested without rain and at the correct moisture levels.Second, third and fourth cutsAcross most of southern Ontario, second- and third-cut yields were extremely variable depending upon precipitation which varied widely across the province but were typically below average or non-existent. Quality of hay was excellent, as rainfall did not impact harvest timing and the hay was taken off at the correct moisture. When alfalfa was allowed to go to full bloom, quality declined and yield did not significantly increase from 10 per cent bloom. After the rains returned in August, there were a lot of fields harvested one more time, and many of these were harvested during the critical fall harvest period as the need for high quality forage outweighed the risk. This cut had excellent yields for the time of year and made high-quality forage. GrazingThis spring saw farmers having winter rye for grazing, and animals were out on those fields up to two weeks before their permanent pastures were ready for grazing. Pasture regrowth was slow this year due to the hot and dry weather and the benefits of rotational grazing were very visible as they managed to graze longer before the pastures dried out. Pastures where the growth left behind was still seven to 10 cm (three to four inches) when animals were moved after one to three days saw more regrowth over the course of the year and less hay fed. In order to accomplish this, the rest period during the summer was 45 days or more. Farms on permanent pastures were supplementing feed for up to 12 weeks while intensively managed rotationally grazed pasture were supplementing hay for two to three weeks. During July, there were reports of water holes drying up and cattle on pasture requiring additional water. Cover crops are being utilized to extend the grazing system into the fall and corn stalks are providing a forage source for a growing number of producers who prefer to graze. Grazing animals on corn stubble reduces feed costs, breaks down the stover and reduces the amount of hay required over the winter. Corn stalks can provide an excellent fibre source for non-lactating animals.Corn silageCorn silage production was very variable across the province, from very low to average yields. The grain content of the corn silage was also variable; with starch levels running from five per cent to 35 per cent (28 per cent is normal). Silage with low starch levels has low grain content and will require additional supplementation. Silage with high starch levels is typically associated with lower yields or a high grain:stover ratio and needs to be managed to avoid acidosis. In areas short of hay, additional acres of corn were harvested for silage rather than grain. Cover cropsWith the reduced forage yields, there has been an increased interest in the use of cover crops for emergency forage as haylage, balage and grazing. The most popular cover crops are small grains (generally oats, but also barley and triticale) or a small grain and pea mixture. Peas increase the protein and energy content of the feed. Italian ryegrass was also used as it produces a higher quality feed than small grains and can be harvested once in the fall and again in the spring. Turnips and brassicas were added to mixtures of cover cops that were destined to be grazed in the fall.   Fall rye and winter triticale are also seeing a boost in acres this fall as producers are looking for an early season forage. Fall rye and winter triticale can be planted following corn silage, grain corn or soybeans. They can be pastured in mid-to-late April if they are planted on dry ground, or cut for hay around mid-May.
Researchers at the University of Guelph are tapping into some ancient grains to see if their endophytes – microbes that live inside plants without causing disease – can help our modern crops. Manish Raizada and his lab have already found several endophytes that can control the fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum in laboratory and greenhouse trials. Now they are testing these endophytes in field trials as a step toward possibly developing commercial biocontrol products. Raizada is an associate professor in the university’s department of plant agriculture, and his research group has been studying endophytes since about 2007. They are adding to the growing body of endophyte research going on around the world, which is finding certain endophytes are able to promote plant growth by performing such functions as controlling plant pathogens, producing plant hormones and making nutrients available to the plant. Two of Raizada’s PhD students have built a large collection of endophytes as a foundation for the lab’s further research, including the current anti-Fusarium endophyte work. To isolate endophytes from a plant, researchers sterilize the surface of the seeds, roots or shoots, and then culture the microbes from within the samples. The two students sampled mainly grain species and lines that have had to fight off pathogens without help from commercial fungicides. “A former PhD student in my lab, David Johnston-Monje, isolated endophytes from 14 genotypes of corn from Central America, Mexico, Canada and the U.S. Those genotypes included three groups of corn: wild relatives of corn; Mexican landraces [traditional varieties] and a Canadian First Nations landrace from Quebec; and modern inbreds and hybrids,” Raizada explains. “The wild species obviously don’t grow with the use of fungicides, and farmers who are growing the traditional varieties are not usually using pesticides and fungicides. So we thought we might be able to capture endophytes that help combat fungal pathogens from those lines.” PhD student Walaa Mousa isolated endophytes from finger millet. “Finger millet is an ancient Ethiopian crop. It is widely grown in Africa and South Asia. It is really valued by subsistence farmers because it is reported to be very resistant to a lot of pathogens,” Raizada says. As a result of the work by Johnston-Monje and Mousa, Raizada’s lab now has a collection of over 250 cereal endophytes. Most are bacteria and a few are fungi. Raizada and Mousa suspected finger millet might have anti-Fusarium endophytes. “Unlike a lot of cereal crops, finger millet is not susceptible to Fusarium graminearum. That is surprising given there is some evidence that Fusarium  pathogens evolved in Africa,” Raizada notes. “So we hypothesized: what if finger millet and its endophytes co-evolved with Fusarium, so there was a three-way co-evolution, and finger millet selected for endophytes that could combat Fusarium?” Fusarium graminearum and its sexual stage, Gibberella zeae, cause tough-to-control diseases in many cereals, including Fusarium head blight in wheat and Gibberella ear rot in corn. These costly diseases reduce grain yield, grade and quality, and can produce mycotoxins, such as deoxynivalenol (DON), that limit the grain’s end-use. Mousa tested all the endophytes in the lab’s collection by putting each one in a Petri dish with Fusarium graminearum. She found a handful of endophytes that could suppress the pathogen; some were from corn and some from finger millet, and most were bacteria. Then she and Charles Shearer, who is now a Master’s student in Raizada’s lab, conducted greenhouse trials with five of the endophytes that controlled the pathogen in the lab. They applied the endophytes to wheat and corn as a seed coating or as a spray. The spray was applied on the corn silks at silking time and on the wheat heads at heading time. They used an Ontario corn hybrid and an Ontario wheat variety that are moderately susceptible to Fusarium graminearum. After the endophytes were applied, the plants were exposed to the pathogen. In these replicated greenhouse trials, each of the five endophytes was able to control the pathogen, and one of the endophytes worked so well the treated plants didn’t show any symptoms at all of a Fusarium graminearum infection. For Raizada, the most exciting results from the greenhouse trials were the endophytes’ remarkable effectiveness in reducing DON levels, which were analyzed by Victor Limay-Rios, a research associate at the university’s Ridgetown Campus. “At harvest, for whatever reason, all the samples had low DON levels, even the ones that hadn’t been treated with endophytes. Then Walaa stored the seeds for 14 months at room temperature; under those conditions, Fusarium is still active,” Raizada explains. “When Victor tested those stored seeds, he found that the DON mycotoxin levels were extremely high in the corn and wheat samples that had been exposed to Fusarium, but not treated with the endophytes. In contrast, the seeds that had been exposed to Fusarium and treated with the endophytes had very low DON levels, well below the acceptable level of DON mycotoxins, which is about 1 to 3 ppm, depending on which regulations and which conditions are involved.” In corn, all five endophytes reduced the amount of DON to well below 0.1 ppm. In wheat, two of the endophytes reduced the DON levels to below 0.1 ppm; the other three significantly decreased DON levels but not to such a low level. Field trials underwayIn June 2015, Raizada’s lab received approval from the Canadian government to do field trials with the five endophytes. Shearer is heading up these two-year trials, which are taking place at the Ridgetown Campus. He is collaborating with Limay-Rios and Art Schaafsma, a professor at Ridgetown who is a leading expert in Fusarium. In a field setting, endophyte applications face a couple of key challenges. One is that they may be outcompeted by microbes in the environment, so they might not even be able to colonize the plant. The other issue is how varying weather conditions might affect the endophytes. The field trials are comparing the five endophytes in seed treatments and in-crop sprays on corn and wheat. Although a seed treatment would likely be the easiest for growers, Raizada thinks it might not be the most effective option because the endophytes might be outcompeted by soil microbes. However, the researchers are trying various ways to try to get around that problem. Shearer is comparing different timings for the spray applications: at the same time as another product, like nitrogen fertilizer, is applied; or at the time of silking or heading. In addition, he’s testing the endophytes individually and as a cocktail of all the endophytes together. The trials are comparing moderately susceptible and very susceptible cultivars of corn and wheat. The researchers will be assessing Fusarium graminearum symptoms on the ears and heads and measuring DON levels in the seeds. They will also be sampling different tissues from the treated plants to determine which tissues in the plant are being colonized by the endophytes. And they’ll be watching to see if perhaps the endophytes have other growth-promoting effects on the plants, such as controlling other pathogens or enhancing root growth. In 2016, the researchers will complete the field trials and analyze the results. Down the roadOnce they’ve analyzed the field trial data, the researchers will decide on their next steps. For instance, they might investigate whether the endophytes work well in combination with a fungicide. “Of course, we’re hoping an endophyte alone will work really well, but let’s say that either a fungicide alone or an endophyte alone does not provide effective control of the pathogen. Maybe the two together might,” Raizada says. If one or more of the endophytes seem to have commercial potential for controlling Fusarium graminearum, then Raizada’s lab will collaborate with a company, and that company will undertake the necessary tests regarding human and ecosystem safety and so on, to develop commercial biocontrol products. Looking at the bigger picture, Raizada sees exciting times ahead for endophytes in agriculture. According to Raizada, when his lab first started working on endophytes, agricultural input companies were showing only moderate interest in such research. But since then, companies like Monsanto and Syngenta have been investing more and more into microbial products like biocontrol products and biofertilizers. “The large seed companies are now looking at endophytes and other microbes as a new frontier. Within a few years, I think growers will increasingly see microbe-based products coated onto their seeds or available as sprays.” He adds, “Where I see the best opportunity is with microbes that have multiple functions. Perhaps a microbe that has anti-Fusarium activity is also able to combat other pathogens and also has some other activity. For example, we are intensively studying microbes that can stimulate root growth when the soil is waterlogged in the spring. If the soil is waterlogged in the spring, the roots don’t grow, and then if you have a hot period, the plants don’t do well because they never developed a good root system.” Multi-functional endophytes are a key research area for Raizada’s lab. The researchers have screened the endophytes in their collection for several functions such as phosphorus solubilization and root growth stimulation, in addition to Fusarium control, and they’ve already found some with multiple functions. Raizada is also looking forward to many interesting discoveries about the intriguing world of endophytes. For example, his lab has studied in great detail the relationship between a fungal endophyte species and yew trees, and has developed a step-by-step picture of how this endophyte helps the tree fight pathogens. “When a tree branches, it creates cracks, and yew trees hyperbranch; they are always branching and always creating bark cracks. This endophyte swarms to the crack, that wound site, and then it releases a fungicide in fatty bodies. So it’s no different than if you have a cut and you apply a Band-Aid with antibiotics in it. The fatty barrier is similar to a plastic Band-Aid barrier, and it’s laced with a fungicide. It is amazing.” He adds, “I think every endophyte has a fascinating story. And any individual plant has hundreds of species of endophytes. So I think there will be many years ahead of interesting discoveries to be made and some really fascinating biotech applications."  
June 23, 2016 - The later hail occurs, the higher the chance of yield loss in canola, given that the plants have less time to recover. Plants with a broken main stem will likely die. Plants at the 6-leaf stage that lose most of the leaf area on the main stem can still live, but these leaves will not regrow. The plant will be delayed, and more of the yield potential — which will be lower than before the hail — will come from side branches.Steps to consider:Fertilizer top up. If a lot of leaf mass has been knocked off the plant, the nutrients in these leaves are unlikely to mineralize this crop year. So if crop recovery is strong, an in-crop nitrogen application can replace the nitrogen already taken up in this lost leaf mass. Results will be better if nitrogen supply was already low to moderate. Keep in mind that added nitrogen can also extend maturity, so consider the calendar date and crop stage with an eye on fall frost risk.Fungicide if blackleg risk is high. Canola hailed at the 4- to 6-leaf stage can get more blackleg infection through damaged tissue. Fungicide might help, but only if you were considering using it in the first place. If the field was already at high risk of blackleg, hail damage increases that risk. If blackleg was not a major risk, fungicide probably won’t help much. NOTE that the ideal time to apply fungicide for blackleg is at the 2- to 4-leaf stage. Read more on blackleg risks and the spray decision.As with any “new to you” in-crop application, leave a check strip or better yet leave a few untreated check strips. This will allow you to assess the benefit of your rescue treatment at harvest time.An important step with hail damage at any time of the season is to call your hail insurance provider and keep them in the loop.
Variable rate irrigation is a challenging new topic for both producers and researchers, so we’re excited to be working on it and seeing what we can learn and share with producers,” says Alison Nelson, an agronomist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Manitoba. She is leading a three-year project, which began in 2015, to look into some of the key questions around variable rate irrigation (VRI) in potato production.
Saskatchewan’s growing conditions aren’t exactly ideal for corn, a crop that loves heat and water. But with the development of shorter-season hybrids, an increasing number of Saskatchewan growers are trying corn for silage, grazing or even grain. Irrigation can play a key part in making corn production more successful.
What are the key environmental parameters that impact pea yield? On the surface, the easy answer is temperature and moisture. Get them right and you get a top-yielding crop. But what is the right combination? That’s what Rosalind Bueckert, a professor in the plant sciences department at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) wanted to find out in an effort to better understand pea growth habits and to help improve pea breeding at the U of S Crop Development Centre (CDC). “Pea cultivars are heat-sensitive so our goal was to investigate how weather impacted growth and yield for a dryland and an irrigated location,” explains Bueckert, who published the research in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science in 2015. “We explored relationships between days to maturity, days spent in reproductive growth – flowering to maturity – yield and various weather factors.” Research in other countries had identified that high yield was related to early flowering, a large number of reproductive nodes and soil moisture availability during flowering. The longer the plant remained in the reproductive growth period, the higher the yield. Research had found that high daily maximum temperatures (31 C to > 34 C) during flowering for at least two to four days reduced yield due to abortion of buds and flowers, aborted young seed and potentially smaller seed. In Canada, though, the relationship between daily high temperatures, precipitation, and yield had not been explored. Bueckert, along with colleagues Stacey Wagenhoffer and Tom Warkentin at CDC and Garry Hnatowich at Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Outlook, Sask., utilized the nine years of Co-op variety registration trials at the dryland Saskatoon site and the irrigated Outlook site to look at environmental effects on yield. They measured days to flowering when 50 per cent of the plants in a plot had an open flower, days to maturity, disease rating and seed size. The nine years covered the range of weather patterns with some hot and dry, warm, or cool and wet. Check varieties in each year were utilized and represented current popular varieties. For example, in 2009 the five varieties were Eclipse, Cutlass, CDC Striker, CDC Cooper and CDC Golden. Peas were grown using recommended production practices. At Saskatoon, pea was not sprayed with a fungicide except in 2005 and 2009 when disease pressure was observed. At Outlook, pea was sprayed every year with a fungicide at flowering followed by a second application 10 to 14 days later. Critical maximum daily temperatureBueckert says the length of reproductive growth was an important factor in yield, and that heat stress or lack of moisture caused flower and reproductive node abortion. Conversely, the longer the pea spent in the reproductive growth phase, the higher the yield. “Pea was sensitive to heat but heat units did not satisfactorily describe growth and yield in all environments,” reports Bueckert. “Strong relationships were observed between crop growth and mean maximum daily temperature experienced during reproductive growth, and between crop growth and mean minimum temperature.” The researchers found that when the mean maximum temperature was greater than 25.5 C at the dryland site, the number of days in reproductive growth was reduced to less than 35 days. More than 20 days above 28 C meant less time in the reproductive phase and lower yield for dryland pea. “The threshold maximum temperature for yield reduction in the field was closer to 28 C than 32 C from [other] published studies, and above the 17.5 C mean seasonal daily temperature,” Bueckert explains. At Outlook, irrigation helped to buffer the effect of heat, and the pea remained in reproductive growth for 35 to 40 days in a wider temperature range of 24.5 C to 27 C. To put those temperatures into perspective, average climate data shows that from June to August, Saskatoon experiences 11.5 days above 30 C and Outlook 12.3 days. “Clearly, mean daily maximum temperatures exceeding 25 C were associated with shortened reproductive phases of less than 35 days at both Saskatoon and Outlook,” Bueckert says. Plant breeding implicationsOn the Prairies, late-maturing varieties take about 94 days to mature, with medium maturity varieties around 90 days and the earliest at 86 days. Yet the normal frost-free period for Outlook is 123 days and 117 days for Saskatoon. Bueckert says plant breeders could lengthen maturity in pea by at least seven days without frost risk. If plant breeders could get the pea to flower earlier and longer (more indeterminate growth), yield potential could be increased.  
Nov. 2, 2015, Ontario – Climate change is making Ontario’s farmers look carefully at water conservation and efficient use. Agriculture is a significant water user in the province, and after experiencing drought-like growing conditions in 2012 and watching regions in the United States deal with severe water restrictions, Ontario agricultural researchers are working to find new cropping methods to use water as efficiently as possible. In Ontario, crop irrigation systems are most commonly used on fruit and vegetable crops; fewer than 5,000 acres of field corn are currently irrigated. However, irrigation is essential to producing maximum corn yields in parts of Ontario, leading researchers and irrigation experts to team up to find new ways to irrigate crops in a more water conscious and efficient manner. The result is a new-to-Ontario below ground crop watering system, Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI). Since 2013, University of Guelph Plant Agriculture professor Rene Van Acker has led a research team studying this low-pressure, high-efficiency irrigation method that uses buried polyethylene drip lines to bring water and nutrients to crops. The team has been testing the system in corn fields, since corn requires more inputs like water and nutrients than other Ontario-grown field crops. “Traditional crop irrigation methods are very labour intensive with inefficient water and energy use,” says John O’Sullivan, also a professor in the University of Guelph’s Plant Agriculture department and the on-site project manager of the SDI research. O’Sullivan explains customary irrigation systems use aluminum pipes laid above ground and across fields, using overhead water sprinklers to deliver water to crops. Mobile sprinklers are also popular, but use a lot of energy and of the irrigation water applied, as little as 50 per cent is actually used by the crop. “SDI can deliver water with an efficiency of 95 per cent or higher and keep corn root zones closer to optimum soil moisture and maximize fertilizer utilization,” says O’Sullivan.The team has proven SDI is the most efficient system with water savings of 25-50 per cent when compared to traditional overhead water irrigation.   Burying the SDI water lines instead of sprinkling water onto the crops immediately boosts water use efficiency by eliminating water evaporation from above ground sun and air exposure. Unlike other drip irrigation systems where water lines lay flat on the ground surface, SDI drip tapes are buried 14” in the ground. Doubling the efficiency of the new irrigation system, crop nutrients, or fertilizer, can also be added to the water pumping through the sub surface irrigation lines. This allows farmers to deliver exact amounts of fertilizer to the crop throughout its growing stages. And since nutrients are applied right at the plant’s root level, very little is left unused, which reduces the chance of fertilizers leaching into the environment.   “It’s like spoon feeding our plants,” says Gary Csoff, technology development representative with Monsanto Canada Inc., who points out the ability to apply nutrients through the SDI system also maximizes the crop’s yield, quality and the farmer’s economic investment in costly crop nutrients. “This new crop production technology will maximize productivity per acre while protecting our environment,” says O’Sullivan, adding that a one per cent adoption rate of SDI by Ontario farmers would generate an additional $10 million in farm gate sales through increased yields and more efficient nutrient management. SDI research has been funded by Farm and Food Care Ontario’s Water Adaptation Management and Quality Initiative. The research team has also been awarded funding through the University of Guelph’s Gryphon’s LAAIR (Leading to Accelerated Adoption of Innovative Research) program to continue testing and conducting demonstrations to farmers interested in adopting this new technology. The Gryphon’s LAAIR is supported through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. “This is an out of the box approach to irrigation that has stimulated a lot of thought and discussion,” says Csoff. The SDI research team also received input support from Peter White, Irrigation Research Associate at Simcoe Research Station, Todd Boughner of Judge Farms in Simcoe, and Vanden Bussche Irrigation of Delhi.    
Dry conditions can significantly reduce soybean yields, so a five-year project is underway in Ottawa to add drought tolerance into Canadian soybean varieties. “Drought stress is the major abiotic constraint to high stable soybean yields in Eastern Canada. From 2000 to 2012, Ontario had five summers that were drier than the long-term average. That is one year in three with drought,” notes Malcolm Morrison, the project’s principal investigator. He is a plant physiologist at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre (ECORC) of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). Morrison explains the project isn’t about prolonged periods of extreme drought like the Dirty ’30s. Instead it’s about short periods of dry weather within a growing season. “This is called ‘periodic drought,’ and it can be quite dangerous for soybean yield, especially if the dry weather occurs during sensitive growth stages,” he says. “We’ve found that the first three or four weeks after the beginning of first flower is about the most sensitive stage to changes in precipitation. If you get precipitation at that time, you will be rewarded with a higher yield. But if you get drought, you will get fewer flowers producing pods and fewer seeds in those pods, and that will affect yield.” Along with yield reductions, dry conditions can also influence seed quality. As rainfall decreases, protein content decreases and oil concentration generally increases slightly. In addition, the seeds tend to be smaller and may be misshapen or wrinkled. Morrison points out the ability to tolerate periodic drought is particularly important for reliable soybean production in Canada. With our relatively short growing season, a soybean plant will have little time later in the season to compensate for a reduction in seeds that has occurred due to dry weather. Screening for multiple mechanismsThe project, which runs from 2013 to 2018, is screening non-GMO soybean lines from AAFC and Sevita International for drought tolerance. The selected lines go to the breeders for development of new and improved Canadian soybean varieties. Many characteristics can influence how well a soybean plant does under dry conditions; some examples include a deeper root providing access to deeper soil moisture, or early vigour so the plant shades the soil surface sooner, or more efficient water use, or earlier closure of leaf pores, called stomata, to stop water loss from the plant. “There are lots of different drought-tolerance mechanisms that can be brought into play in a plant, but those mechanisms can be detrimental to yield in a year with a lot of moisture,” Morrison explains. He gives the example of earlier stomata closure. When the stomata are open, they allow water vapour and oxygen to escape from the leaf, and carbon dioxide to enter. So, earlier stomata closure does more than stop water loss. “If a plant closed the stomata early, then it wouldn’t have enough carbon dioxide for photosynthesis even when the drought conditions aren’t that bad. If we bred a plant like that, it would be really good in dry conditions, but not in wet conditions.” One key drought-response issue for soybeans is that dry conditions can halt nitrogen fixation. Morrison says, “Nitrogen fixation is a symbiotic relationship between a bacterium and the plant that produces the root nodule. The bacteria that live in the nodules receive carbon from the plant and in return supply the plant with nitrogen. But as the plant responds to a dry condition, the stomata close and it stops actively photosynthesizing, it stops producing carbon, and it stops moving that carbon down to the nodules and giving the bacteria food.” Given the complexity of drought-response traits, Morrison isn’t screening for just one or two specific traits. Instead, he is using a method that identifies the plants that “can capitalize on several drought-tolerance mechanisms to produce high yields under dry conditions and high-moisture conditions.” For this method, Morrison supplies field-grown soybean plants with water every day and then compares the yields of those irrigated plants to the yields of the same soybean lines grown in adjacent plots that have received only natural rainfall. “This is called the Delta Yield concept because it is based on the difference between the yields of the well-watered plants and the yields of the natural-watered ones.” “Delta” refers to the Greek letter delta, an abbreviation used in science for “the difference between.” The researchers want to find soybean lines with very little yield difference between the irrigated and rain-fed plants. “The cultivar with the lowest Delta Yield is the most drought-tolerant, yet won’t suffer a yield drag when there is no drought,” Morrison explains. “This method has been used in the United States to develop a water-use-efficient corn hybrid that yields 7.4 per cent higher in drought and 3.4 per cent higher in normal water situations.” For the irrigated plots, Morrison uses a product called Drip Tape made by Toro. “It is a plastic tape that is buried at five inches deep. Every 30 centimetres, there is a small slit in the tape, and that leaks at a certain amount when you put water into it. On a daily basis, I give the plants between two and three millimetres extra precipitation.” This subsurface irrigation method has a lot of advantages. Morrison says, “It saves on water; we don’t have to apply a huge amount of water to the surface. It also allows us access to the field to take measurements because the soil isn’t mucky. And it allows a fairly precise application of water; we know how much we’re putting on per area.” From previous research, Morrison knows soybean plants respond well to extra moisture, as long as it doesn’t come all at once and flood the plants. “We’ve done experiments showing that you can get an increase in yield with up to 650 to 700 millimetres of precipitation during a growing season, if the precipitation is evenly distributed.” That amount of rainfall is quite a bit higher than the average growing season rainfall in Ontario’s soybean growing areas. For example, Ottawa’s 30-year average growing season precipitation is 466 mm. According to Morrison, the Delta Yield approach works very well in most years, although the differences between the irrigated and non-irrigated yields are not as noticeable when precipitation is abundant, as it was in 2014 in the Ottawa region. But he adds, “Even in 2014, we still had periodic drought in the first two weeks of August. That is always going to occur, and that is why we are doing the research – we’re aiming for a plant that has the capacity to kick-start mechanisms that get it through those rough points in the growing season.” Even though drought-tolerance traits can be doubled-edged in wet years, some drought tolerance is almost always better than none, as shown in research led by Thomas Sinclair of the University of Florida. The researchers modelled the response of soybeans with different drought-tolerance traits using 50 years of weather data for 2655 U.S. locations. “They found that, in the vast majority of times, incorporating any drought-tolerance mechanism is actually beneficial because at some point in time during the growing season you are going to have a periodic drought, even in years of abundant moisture,” Morrison says. When he first started experimenting with the Delta Yield approach, he tested it on some old soybean varieties. “One of those was Maple Arrow, released in 1976. Maple Arrow is a watershed variety because it was the first short-season variety. It is the progenitor of all the short-season soybean varieties in Canada. Interestingly, we found that Maple Arrow had quite a low Delta Yield in a dry year, so it is inherent in its capabilities for drought tolerance.” Morrison is making good progress in the current project. “Every year, we test 20 Sevita experimental lines and 12 Ag Canada experimental lines to try to find drought tolerance. We have found some lines that have great performance under irrigation but not very good performance under normal conditions. And we’ve found some with very low Delta Yields, which is what we’re looking for.” He notes, “In the first year of the project, we tested a lot of foreign soybean material, lots of Chinese lines and a couple of Indian lines.” However, most of the drought-tolerance genetics they are testing originally came from U.S. soybean breeding programs, which have identified lines with various strategies for dealing with dry conditions. The breeding programs at ECORC and Sevita have been and are breeding those genetics into Canadian-adapted backgrounds for testing by Morrison. For example, Elroy Cober, the soybean breeder at ECORC, is currently incorporating genes for drought-tolerant nitrogen fixation, and Morrison will be screening those lines in the future. Overall, this project aims to contribute to the development of Canadian soybean cultivars that have greater yield stability across all years – whether the conditions are dry, normal or wet. “This will result in greater average yields and higher profits for Canadian soybean growers,” Morrison says.
August 24, 2015 - A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) engineer in Fort Collins, Colorado, is making it easier for growers to determine if their crops are water-stressed. Agricultural engineer Kendall DeJonge is trying to conserve irrigation water by using infrared radiometric thermometers (IRT)—sensors that can determine crop canopy temperatures and subsequently detect crop water stress.Scientists interpret IRT data by using one of several indices, including the commonly used Crop Water Stress Index (CWSI). Developed in the early 1980s, the CWSI requires knowing the air temperatures and humidity levels and involves a fairly technical process. DeJonge and his colleagues compared the CWSI with five other indices, or formulas, for interpreting IRT data to see how well they could detect crop water stress over 2 years in a corn-sunflower rotation. Two of the indices developed for the study, the Degrees Above Non-Stressed (DANS) index and the Degrees Above Critical Temperature (DACT) index, were simpler than CWSI. DANS is calculated by comparing a stressed plant's temperature to the temperature of a non-stressed plant in the same environment. DACT is based on an established crop temperature threshold, and plant water stress is determined by how many degrees the plant temperature reaches above that threshold.In the study, crop canopy temperatures were taken each day around the clock but focused on 2 p.m., when water stress levels were usually the highest. The researchers also monitored soil water levels and crop water use, and fully irrigated part of the field, while intentionally stressing other areas. The findings showed that the DANS and DACT indices were just as effective as CWSI at determining water stress even though they require much simpler measurements - a once-a-day reading of only crop canopy temperatures. DeJonge plans to develop "crop water coefficients" that establish water needs of specific crops under different scenarios. With that data, IRTs could soon be more widely used by farmers. DeJonge foresees farmers using handheld IRTs in the near future—and eventually using IRTs with drones to calculate water needs over extensive areas.

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