Agronomy
Tree-based intercropping – growing trees together with crops – is a historical agricultural practice. These days primarily smallholder farmers use it in tropical systems, but researchers are focused on potential applications in the temperate soils of southern Ontario and Quebec.
Published in Other Crops
The Canadian Grain Commission has begun a consultation on its proposal to introduce a new eastern wheat class. Wheat industry stakeholders including grain handlers, processors, marketers, breeders and producers are invited to provide their input. The consultation closes on May 20, 2017.

The Canadian Grain Commission is proposing to develop a Canada Eastern Special Purpose (CESP) class. This class would allow all registered wheat varieties to be assigned to a class and receive a statutory Canadian grain grade. The proposed CESP class would ensure that eastern wheat classes continue to meet the needs of producers and support future market opportunities.

The proposed wheat class would take effect on July 1, 2018. The Canadian Grain Commission will consider all input received, and may make amendments to this proposal based on stakeholder feedback.
Published in Corporate News
Another weed control tool bites the dust. A field in southwest Saskatchewan was confirmed to have Group 4-resistant kochia in the fall of 2015. The durum field had been sprayed with OcTTain herbicide (2,4-D and fluroxypyr; both Group 4 active ingredients) and it had little effect on the kochia population.
Published in Weeds
Flash back to your first lesson in photosynthesis and you may recall stomata, the holes in the leaves of land-based plants through which they take in carbon dioxide and let out oxygen and water vapour. In the 400 million years since plants colonized the land, these holes have remained largely unchanged, save for one major exception: grasses.

Wheat field
Wheat and other edible grasses have developed pores that make them more drought tolerant. Stanford scientists have studied these pores with an eye toward future climate change.

These plants, which make up about 60 percent of the calories people consume worldwide, have a modified stoma that experts believe makes them better able to withstand drought or high temperatures. Stanford University scientists have now confirmed the increased efficiency of grass stomata and gained insight into how they develop. Their findings, reported in the March 17 issue of Science, could help us cultivate crops that can thrive in a changing climate.

“Ultimately, we have to feed people,” said Dominique Bergmann, professor of biology and senior author of the paper. “The climate is changing and, regardless of the cause, we’re still relying on plants to be able to survive whatever climate we do have.”

Adjusting an ancient system
Grasses – which include wheat, corn and rice – developed different stomata, which may have helped them spread during a prehistoric period of increased global dryness. Stomata usually have two so-called “guard cells” with a hole in the middle that opens and closes depending on how a plant needs to balance its gas exchange. If a plant needs more CO2 or wants to cool by releasing water vapour, the stomata open. If it needs to conserve water, they stay closed.

Grass stomata
The protein in yellow moves out of the guard cells into cells on both sides. By recruiting these cells, grass stomata become better suited to hot and dry environments.

Grasses improved on the original structure by recruiting two extra cells on either side of the guard cells, allowing for a little extra give when the stoma opens. They also respond more rapidly and sensitively to changes in light, temperature or humidity that happen during the day. Scientists hope that by knowing more about how grass developed this system, they may be able to create or select for edible plants that can withstand dry and hot environments, which are likely to become more prevalent as our climate changes.

“We take our food and agriculture for granted. It’s not something the ‘first world’ has to deal with, but there are still large areas of the world that suffer from famine and this will increase,” said Michael Raissig, a postdoctoral researcher in the Bergmann lab and lead author of the paper. “The human population is going to explode in the next 20 to 30 years and most of that is in the developing world. That’s also where climate change will have the biggest effect.”

Growing a better mouth
Scientists have assumed grasses’ unusual stomata make these plants more efficient “breathers.” But, spurred by curiosity and a passion for developmental biology, these researchers decided to test that theory.

Thanks to a bit of luck, they found a mutant of the wheat relative Brachypodium distachyon that had two-celled stomata. Partnering with the Berry lab at the Carnegie Institution for Science, the group compared the stomata from the mutant to the normal four-celled stomata. They not only confirmed that the four-celled version opens wider and faster but also identified which gene creates the four-celled stomata – but it wasn’t a gene they expected.

“Because it was a grass-specific cell-type, we thought it would be a grass-specific factor as well,” said Raissig, “but it’s not.”

Instead of relying on a completely new mechanism, the recruitment of the extra cells seems to be controlled by a well-studied factor which is known to switch other genes on and off. In other plants, that factor is present in guard cells, where it is involved in their development. In grasses, the team found that the factor migrated out of guard cells and directly into two surrounding cells, recruiting them to form the four-celled stomata.

Feeding the world
Over evolutionary time, humans have bred and propagated plants that produce the kinds of foods we like and that can survive extreme weather.

“We’re not consciously breeding for stomata but we’re unconsciously selecting for them,” said Bergmann, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “When we want something that’s more drought resistant, or something that can work better in higher temperatures, or something that is just able to take in carbon better, often what we are actually doing is selecting for various properties of stomata.”

The adaptability and productivity of grass makes understanding this plant family critical for human survival, the scientists said. Someday, whether through genetic modification or selective breeding, scientists might be able to use these findings to produce other plants with four-celled stomata. This could also be one of many changes – to chloroplasts or enzymes, for example – that help plants photosynthesize more efficiently to feed a growing population.
Published in Corporate News
Hulless barley, pioneered at Virginia Tech, adds a new dimension to this grain. With a higher starch content and better proteins compared to hulled barley, it’s also a good choice for double-cropping with soybeans since it ripens earlier. | READ MORE
Published in Other Crops
Guelph, ON – Bayer has announced that their ILeVO seed treatment is now approved for use in soybeans with the additional label claim of nematode suppression. Originally released as the first seed treatment available for soybean growers to protect against sudden death syndrome (SDS), the expansion provides growers with another valuable tool in suppressing soybean cyst nematodes (SCN) and root lesion nematodes.

SCN in particular is difficult to see and diagnose, and can reduce soybean yields up to 30 per cent even without visual symptoms. Populations of SCN are on the rise, and even resistant varieties of soybeans are becoming more susceptible. In Ontario, where SCN is more widespread, estimated losses due to SCN range from $10-30 million annually.

In 2015 and 2016, Ontario field trials demonstrated that ILeVO offered an average yield benefit of 3.6 bu/acre in nematode pressure areas. This is further supported by 338 variety locations run by universities from 2011-2016 in the United States and Canada, which showed a yield benefit of 4.7 bu/acre over non ILeVO treatments.

For more information visit cropscience.bayer.ca/ILeVO.
Published in Seed Treatment
Change is never easy. But when it comes to adopting new agricultural practices, some farmers are easier to convince than others.

A group of researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to know which farmers are most likely to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping (MPC) systems – trees, shrubs, or grasses that simultaneously benefit the environment and generate high-value products that can be harvested for a profit.

"We surveyed farmers in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed in Illinois to learn their attitudes about growing MPCs on marginal land. We then looked at their demographic data to classify people into different categories related to their adoption potential," says University of Illinois agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell.

Using statistical clustering techniques, the team discovered that survey respondents fell into six categories. The "educated networkers" and "young innovators" were most likely to adopt MPCs. On the other end of the spectrum, survey respondents classified as "money motivated" and "hands-off" were least likely to adopt the new cropping systems.

The goal of categorizing farmers was to tailor strategies for each group, given their general attitudes. "If they're very unlikely to adopt at all, we probably wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about those groups," Lovell explains.

However, Lovell thinks some low-likelihood adopters could be swayed. "One of the groups--the one we called "money motivated" – was really connected with GPS in their yield monitoring, so we thought we could target that. We could review high-resolution maps of their farms to point out the areas that are unproductive for corn and soybeans. We'd try to make the case that alternative perennial systems could bring in profits," Lovell says.

High-likelihood adopters were motivated by environmental concerns, and were especially interested in converting marginal land to bioenergy crop, hay, or nut production systems. "Farmers were probably most familiar with bioenergy grasses and hay," Lovell explains. But it was important to them that an existing market was in place for MPCs products.

Another major factor was land tenancy. Considering that most MPC crops don't mature for years after planting, rental contracts would need to account for the long-term investment.

"The person leasing the land might be really interested in agroforestry or perennial cropping systems," Lovell says. "The lease arrangement has to be long enough that the farmer will get back their investment in that period. For example, some of the nut crops take a long time to mature. But if you integrate some of the fruit shrubs, they'll become productive in maybe 3-4 years. You could get an earlier return on investment in those cases."

Lovell's graduate students – housed in the crop sciences department at U of I – are now following up with several of the farmers who were interested in MPCs and offering custom designs to establish the new cropping systems on their land.

"That was part of the overall goal for this study. We wondered if the barrier to adoption is a lack of information about design options and the economic potential," Lovell says. "If we overcome that barrier by developing good planting plans, projecting the market economics, and providing them with that information, will that help them implement the change?"
Published in Corporate News
If you can’t measure something you can’t improve it. Since plant breeders want to develop improved crop varieties with bigger, healthier root systems to ensure the plants are well anchored in the soil and can take up plenty of water and nutrients, and agronomic researchers want to know whether different management practices improve crop root systems, they need to be able to measure the roots.

Only three plant species -- rice, wheat, and maize -- account for most of the plant matter that humans consume, partly because of the mutations that made these crops the easiest to harvest. But with CRISPR technology, we don't have to wait for nature to help us domesticate plants, argue researchers.

Published in Genetics/Traits
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.
Published in Weeds
It may be a while before robots and drones are as common as tractors and combine harvesters on farms, but the high-tech tools may soon play a major role in helping feed the world's rapidly growing population.

At the University of Georgia, a team of researchers is developing a robotic system of all-terrain rovers and unmanned aerial drones that can more quickly and accurately gather and analyze data on the physical characteristics of crops, including their growth patterns, stress tolerance and general health. This information is vital for scientists who are working to increase agricultural production in a time of rapid population growth.

While scientists can gather data on plant characteristics now, the process is expensive and painstakingly slow, as researchers must manually record data one plant at a time. But the team of robots developed by Li and his collaborators will one day allow researchers to compile data on entire fields of crops throughout the growing season.

The project addresses a major bottleneck that's holding up plant genetics research, said Andrew Paterson, a co-principal investigator. Paterson, a world leader in the mapping and sequencing of flowering-plant genomes, is a Regents Professor in UGA's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

"The robots offer us not only the means to more efficiently do what we already do, but also the means to gain information that is presently beyond our reach," he said. "For example, by measuring plant height at weekly intervals instead of just once at the end of the season, we can learn about how different genotypes respond to specific environmental parameters, such as rainfall." | READ MORE
Published in Precision Ag
Modern crop production has a lesson or two to learn from the ancient Amazonians, including the benefits of using biochar to enrich infertile agricultural soils.
Published in Soil
Corn producers shouldn’t worry about new disease threats before they strike, advises Albert Tenuta, field crop pathologist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
Published in Diseases
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.
Published in Soybeans
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.
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.
Published in Pulses
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.
Nitrogen inhibitors can dramatically improve productivity and injection is by far the best way to incorporate nitrogen into the soil while minimizing nitrogen loss.
Published in Fertilizer
Canadians can visit any farm or processing plant of their choosing from the comfort of their own home with the newly-launched FarmFood360° (FarmFood360.ca). The website uses 360° cameras and virtual reality technology to bring viewers a unique chance to tour real, working farms and food processing plants. The website is the latest version of the Virtual Farm Tours initiative (first launched in 2007), and features all of the original 23 farms plus three new virtual reality tours, including a dairy farm with a Voluntary Milking System, as well as two individual milk and cheese processing facilities.
Published in Corporate News
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