There’s no point in sugar-coating it: if you’re a crop producer in Western Canada, this has been a tough season.
Drought. Heat. Wildfires. Insects. Hail. Drought. Drought. Drought. According to Statistics Canada’s Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), crop conditions in Western Canada are about the same, or worse, than when the region was last stricken by severe drought conditions in 2002. Statistics Canada also reports most of the Prairies have received anywhere between 40 and 85 percent of the average rainfall since April 1 (and the interior of British Columbia has received even less than 40 per cent).
Heat stress in crops manifests in different ways, depending on the crop being grown. In canola, heat stress can lead to smaller pods, fewer seeds per pod and lower yields. In cereal crops, heat stress can cause fewer seeds per head, or even blank heads that the plant aborts. As I write this in early August, harvest of fall cereal crops is already underway, with poor yields reported in many areas. And besides the uncertainty surrounding yield, many farmers are also facing the upsetting reality of being unable to feed their livestock, resulting in the sale of many animals across the Prairies.
The repercussions of a season like this one are felt long after the rain finally falls – or after a season ends. A poor yield has enormous impacts on grain markets, the value chain, mental health and a farm’s bottom line – and many of the contributing factors are often out of a farmer’s control. But seasons like this one also push the scientific community to dig deeper and discover new solutions that will, eventually, help farmers and industry combat some of the challenges that are felt at different points of the growing season.
A prime example of this is the work recently completed by Gopalan Selvaraj, a principal research officer with the National Research Council of Canada in Saskatoon. Selvaraj and his colleagues aim to develop molecular markers for drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant durum traits, which will be helpful to plant breeders to screen breeding materials in a lab setting, rather than having to grow the plants and evaluate their traits. You can read the full story written by Carolyn King on page 24. There is still work to be done, but Selvaraj’s work is just one of many promising advancements made toward preventing damage caused by drought and other factors.
If you’re one of the many folks affected by challenging conditions, our thoughts are with you as you prepare for your harvest. While we can’t change the conditions you’re faced with, we hope you’re encouraged by some of the progressive research highlighted in this issue.