Protection
Researchers have made a significant breakthrough that could make barley more tolerant to waterlogging and wet conditions.

The Western Barley Genetics Alliance announced it had identified new molecular markers to target waterlogging-tolerant genes in barley, while field trials in Western Australia last year showed promising yield results.

The Alliance is a partnership between Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Murdoch University, University of Tasmania and the Zhejiang and Yangzhou universities in China.

Alliance director Chengdao Li said they worked with two universities in China, which were both located in regions prone to flooding and waterlogging. READ MORE
Published in Genetics/Traits
Corn and soybean growers in Canada have a new tool in the fight against tough and resistant weeds. ZIDUA™ SC is a new Group 15 herbicide from BASF that contains the active ingredient pyroxasulfone.

"BASF focuses on providing Canadian growers with tools that support current and emerging resistance challenges," said Deven Esqueda, Crop Manager, Corn and Soybeans for BASF. "ZIDUA SC, backed by ten years of research, allows growers to add residual Group 15 activity to their weed management strategy and become less reliant on glyphosate."

Recently registered by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, ZIDUA SC herbicide will be available for use in the 2018 season. ZIDUA SC is currently labelled for use in herbicide-tolerant soybeans and field corn.

ZIDUA SC is a stand-alone solution and can also be tank-mixed with glyphosate, ERAGON®LQ, MARKSMAN® or ENGENIA™ in Eastern Canada, and HEAT® LQ, ENGENIA™ or ARMEZON® in Western Canada, to provide multiple modes of action for resistance management.

Resistance has been increasing across Canada in pigweed species, including waterhemp and redroot pigweed. A study by the Canadian Journal of Plant Science states glyphosate-resistant waterhemp was first identified in Ontario in 2014. In Alberta, Group 2-resistant redroot pigweed was identied by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 2010.

The residual Group 15 activity in ZIDUA SC helps to inhibit early root and shoot growth in these tough to control weeds, maximizing corn and soybean yield through the critical period for weed control. ZIDUA SC also provides flushing control of barnyard grass, crabgrass, green and yellow foxtail, common waterhemp and redroot pigweed.

For more information on ZIDUA SC herbicide, contact AgSolutions® Customer Care at 1-877-371-BASF (2273), or visit agsolutions.ca. Always read and follow label directions.
Published in Herbicides
Farm Credit Canada (FCC) is offering support to customers in parts of eastern Ontario and western Quebec facing financial hardship as a result of excessive moisture during this year’s growing season.

Many producers in that area are facing a cash shortfall since they were unable to seed or were forced to replant due to extreme rainfall, while others face additional costs from having to purchase feed as a result of reduced yields of corn, soybeans and hay.

“Agriculture is the only industry we serve, so we have a deep understanding of the challenges that come with the business,” said Michael Hoffort, FCC president and CEO, in announcing the Customer Support Program.

“Excessive rainfall has certainly impacted the growing season in parts of Eastern Canada and, in some cases, caused financial challenges for farm operations, as well as personal hardship and stress,” he said. “We want our customers to know we stand by them and will show flexibility to help them through challenging times.”

FCC will work with customers to come up with solutions for their operation to reduce the financial pressure caused by excessive moisture.

Although FCC customer support is being offered in specific locations, Canada’s leading agriculture lender offers flexibility to all customers through challenging business cycles and unpredictable circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Customers in Ontario and western Quebec are encouraged to contact their FCC relationship manager or the FCC Customer Service Centre at 1-888-332-3301 to discuss their individual situation and options.
Published in Corporate News
Jeff Schoenau, a soil scientist with the University of Saskatchewan was involved in a research study conducted in the mid-2000s that compared four tillage treatments that were imposed on no-till fields (longer than 10 years) at Rosthern (Black soil), Tisdale (Gray soil) and Central Butte (Brown soil), Sask.
Published in Tillage
What if we could design a landscape that would provide a variety of nutritious foods, high-quality habitat, and ecosystem services, while also delivering a healthy profit to the landowner? According to University of Illinois researchers, it is not only possible, it should be adopted more widely, now.

“We need to be on the road to figuring things out before we get to tipping points on climate change or food security, or we could be left way behind. In future environments, people might get paid for ecosystem services or carbon credits, or food might become more valuable. If so, these systems become much more attractive for landowners,” says Sarah Taylor Lovell, an agroecologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I.

Lovell believes multifunctional woody polyculture is the way forward. She and several co-authors introduce the concept and discuss their experimental design in a recent paper published in Agroforestry Systems.

Essentially, the idea is to incorporate berry- and nut-bearing shrubs and trees in an alley cropping system with hay or other row crops. The combination is meant to mimic the habitat features, carbon storage, and nutrient-holding capacities of a natural system. “We wanted to capture that aspect, but we also wanted it to be commercially viable,” Lovell says. “The trees and shrubs need to fit in perfect linear rows 30 feet apart, so you can fit equipment. That was a much more practical agronomic consideration.”

Lovell and her colleagues are three years into what they hope will be a long-term experiment on the U of I campus. Their trial consists of seven combinations of species in commercial-scale plots, from simple combinations of two tree species to highly diverse combinations including multiple species of trees, shrubs, and forage crops. “We added increasingly diverse systems so we can get a sense of how much is too much diversity in terms of trying to manage everything in a feasible way,” she says.

The researchers will measure crop productivity, management strategies, and economic potential as the experiment gets established. “We’re keeping track of all the person-hours that go into each of these different combinations, so we’ll capture the labor involved and figure out whether it’s economically viable,” Lovell says.

Farmers accustomed to traditional row crops may be daunted by the long wait associated with nut crops. Lovell says chestnuts and hazelnuts don’t produce worthwhile harvests until 7 to 12 years after planting. But, she says, the other species can bring in profits while farmers wait. Hay or vegetable crops can be harvested from the alleys in year one. And shrubs could start bearing high-value fruit crops, such as currants or aronia berries, within a couple of years.

Lovell points out that the market for some nuts is growing. For example, Nutella lovers may recall headlines about an international hazelnut shortage a couple of years ago. “It would take a while to saturate that market,” she says. But she also points out that some nuts could be used more generically for their starchy or oily products.

Another barrier to adoption may be the cost of specialized equipment needed to harvest tree nuts, berries, and row crops. “There’s a tradeoff in terms of how complex to get and still be able to manage it in a reasonable way,” Lovell says. But she suggests the potential of farming cooperatives with shared equipment as a way to defray costs.

It will be several years before Lovell will have results to share, but other trials have shown that multifunctional woody polyculture could be both economically viable and environmentally beneficial. Lovell’s article details the outcomes of long-standing experimental sites in France and Missouri, but she says those two sites are the only large-scale examples in the temperate region. “That really shows just how little research there is on this so far,” she says. “We need to invest in this research now because it’s going to take so long to get to the solutions.”

The research team is working with regional farmers to replicate small- and large-scale versions of their experimental setup on-farm. Lovell knows it might take some convincing, but points out that many farmers are willing to set aside portions of their land into the Conservation Reserve Program. “If we can provide the same benefits in terms of water quality, habitat, biodiversity, and nutrient cycling as CRP but then also have this harvestable product, why wouldn’t you consider that?”
Published in Seeding/Planting
Parts of southwestern Ontario remain dry, while eastern Ontario continues to have frequent rainfall and saturated soils in many areas. While yields have been good, making dry hay continues to be a struggle for many growers under the later conditions.

Winter wheat harvest has continued this past week in eastern Ontario. Most fields in the area have yielded between 70 to 80 bushels per acre. Quality has generally been better than expected. Spring cereal harvest has just begun on a small number of acres that were able to be planted early this spring.

Insects
Soybean Aphid numbers are generally low, but increasing in some areas in eastern Ontario. Soybean growers should be scouting. Apply foliar insecticide when threshold of 250 aphids per plant with increasing populations has been reached in the R1–R5 stage of soybeans. If aphid populations do not appear to be on the increase above 250 per plant, do not apply insecticide, as it will kill off the beneficial insects that are keeping the aphid population in check. Aphids are then likely to increase quickly in the absence of their predators and could easily reach threshold.

For further information on scouting techniques, thresholds and management options, see OMAFRA Publication 812, Field Crop Protection Guide.

Potato Leafhopper (PLH) continued to be a problem in many alfalfa stands particularly in eastern Ontario. Sweeps collected are showing at and above threshold numbers in many fields that have not been treated. Although PLH are rarely a problem in soybeans they can cause significant yield and quality losses in alfalfa and edible bean stands. New seedling alfalfa stands are particularly vulnerable as the PHL damage can weaken the new seedling alfalfa plant, making them more susceptible to stresses like winterkill.

Economic losses occur before plant symptoms develop, so it is important to identify the presence of large leafhopper populations before the damage occurs. Scouting with a sweep net will help you determine whether early harvest or spraying is needed. Scout at intervals of 5 to 7 days. To determine the number of leafhoppers, including adults and nymphs, take 10 sweeps and divide the number of insect captured by 10. Do this in 5 representative areas of the field and note the height of the alfalfa. Recommended action thresholds are listed in Table 1 below:

Table 1: Thresholds for Potato Leafhoppers in Alfalfa
Stem Height      # of PLH per sweep
9 cm (3.5 in.)     0.2 adults
15 cm (6 in.)      0.5 adults
25 cm (10 in.)    1.0 adults or nymph
36 cm (14 in.)    2.0 adults or nymph

It is important to make decisions to control PLH based on these threshold numbers as spraying insecticides on alfalfa will also kill beneficial insects, the natural enemies of PLH and alfalfa weevil.

Foliar insecticide options are available in Publication 812, Field Crop Protection Guide here.

Western Bean Cutworm (WBC) trap counts are still increasing in most counties north and east of Perth and into eastern Ontario. That means that WBC moth flight has not yet peaked in those areas. This is important because this also means that we have not reached peak egg laying in those areas and that there are a lot of moths flying around looking for somewhere to lay their eggs. Late planted corn fields that are still in the early pollination stages (i.e. silks have not dried down yet) and edible beans are still at risk.

For late planted corn fields, most of what you need to know about scouting and management has already been posted in a previous post here.

For edible beans, it is not as straight forward. Unlike in corn, WBC are nearly impossible to find in dry bean fields until pod feeding begins. Pheromone traps can still help indicate which fields are at greater risk though. Traps at dry bean fields that capture an accumulation of 50 or more moths per trap are likely at greater risk and require scouting for pod feeding.

Pod feeding is expected to begin 10 to 20 days after peak moth flight has occurred, as indicated when trap counts begin to decline after weeks of steady increase. Prior to pods being present on the plants, scouting for egg masses in adjacent cornfields can also help determine what the local WBC populations are like. If any of the corn fields in the immediate area are past early tasseling, the dry bean fields will be more attractive for the moths. If an adjacent corn field reached the corn egg mass threshold and required spraying, the dry bean field is also likely at risk.

Once pods are present, scout 100 plants (10 plants in 10 areas of the field). Look for signs of early surface feeding or holes going directly into the pod. If pod feeding is easily found, a spray application is necessary. Control is still very effective when done as soon as pod feeding is found. WBC exit and enter new pods each night, so insecticides still work at controlling the larvae, as long as the pods are present during the application so that there is residue left on the pod surface.

Spraying too early when pods are not present on the plants will not protect the crop from damage. Spraying too late, when pod feeding has been taking place for some time will not reduce the risk of seed damage and pod disease incidence. The key is to protect the plants when the larvae are feeding on the pods.

Foliar insecticide options are available in Publication 812, Field Crop Protection Guide.
Published in Corporate News
A groundbreaking new method for controlling flea beetle, the pest that causes at least $300 million in damage in North American canola every year, may hit growers’ fields early in the next decade.

RNA interference, or RNAi – a process by which RNA molecules “silence” genes targeted as threats – has already been harnessed by public and private research and development programs against several agricultural pests, including Colorado potato beetle (CPB) and corn rootworm.

According to Jim Baum, Monsanto’s insect control lead in chemistry, the use of RNAi technology against flea beetle “represents a sizable opportunity and need” for canola growers in the U.S. and Canada who have seen incomplete protection from neonicotinoid insecticides and other chemical products in recent years.

Monsanto began work on an RNAi-based product for flea beetle control several years ago, Baum says, as part of a suite of RNAi projects aimed at controlling agricultural pests, including corn rootworm and CPB.

Put simply, RNAi for flea beetle control works by “tricking” the beetle’s natural immune system to self-destruct. Beetles are fed double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules that “turn down” expression of a critical gene in the flea beetle midgut, killing exposed insects within five days.

There are two possible delivery methods for RNAi-based pest control in agriculture: plants can be genetically engineered to express dsRNA in their leaves, or dsRNA can be applied externally to plants as a topical spray. Monsanto has worked with both methods; its corn rootworm product is transgenic.

But the company’s flea beetle project is currently focused on the development of a foliar insecticide that can be applied using its patented BioDirect platform.

Monsanto advanced its CPB BioDirect product to Stage 2 in 2015, and Baum says the company’s experience in RNAi for CPB control has streamlined its approach to new RNAi products.

The company has already run lab bioassays monitoring mortality in insects fed various dsRNAs, as well as seedling assays in which a set number of beetles are exposed to canola seedlings treated with dsRNA at a prescribed field rate.

Last year, Baum says, Monsanto ran successful field trials for its flea beetle RNAi project, and this year the number of trials more than doubled. (The company could not comment on the location of the field trials).

Next up, Monsanto will be analyzing effectiveness of various agronomic practices — basically, what works best in terms of rates and application timing, and how the product will work in combination with other products.

“Compared to previously approved products’ timelines, we’re being conservative with this one, recognizing that topical is a new application of the technology,” Baum says. “But if the project is successful, we’re projecting commercialization sometime on the early side of the next decade.”

Farmer and consumer outreach
Though RNAi-based insect control products won’t reach farmers’ fields for several years, they need to know what’s coming, and farmer and consumer outreach will be more important than ever for companies looking to commercialize the technology.

This is the view of Curtis Rempel, vice-president of crop production for the Canola Council of Canada.

“RNAi provides a tool or a technology that takes us outside of the traditional chemistry realm, so it has the potential for much improved environmental outcomes, but along with new technologies come a new set of regulatory and efficacy evaluations,” he says.

Just how safe is RNAi? According to Baum, RNAi has a built-in specificity that means once dsRNA is targeted to a specific insect pest, even closely related pest species are not harmed when they ingest it. “It’s hard to imagine a chemical insecticide, even Bt, that would be as specific as this RNAi product we’re talking about here,” he says.

Rempel agrees but believes farmers and consumers alike need to feel that regulators and scientists have had the opportunity to evaluate RNAi technologies in terms of environmental and societal norms.

Next year, the Canola Council hopes to include discussions around RNAi in its annual Canola Discovery Forum, and Rempel says the organization is working on developing “supporting material” to help communicate the role of RNAi in pest control to stakeholders – although he is quick to point out that communications outreach about RNAi requires the collaboration of all stakeholders.

In Rempel’s estimate, only 10 per cent of farmers are familiar with RNAi and aware of projects in the pipeline, even though they are the ones who will benefit most from its use.

But consumers shouldn’t be neglected either. After all, it’s consumers who implicitly afford farmers the “social license” to use technologies like RNAi, and they are the ones who will need to be assured of the products’ safety.

“I think we have an opportunity to do a good job of looking at the questions we’re asking, reviewing regulatory procedures and communicating these to the layperson,” Rempel says.

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Published in Insect Pests
Researchers led by Ahmad Fakhoury, associate professor of plant pathology and fungal genetics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale analyzed soil samples from 45 soybean fields in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. They collected samples from symptomatic patches in fields and from adjacent areas where soybean sudden death syndrome (SDS) foliar symptoms did not develop. Fakhoury’s team compared microbial populations in the “healthy” and “diseased” soil to correlate the presence incidence and severity of SDS. 
Published in Diseases
While driving through the Salaberry-de-Valleyfield region in southern Quebec in mid-June, John McCart, president of the Quebec Farmers’ Association, noticed farms in the area were sitting empty, void of the crops that should have been planted the month before. 
Published in Corporate News
The yield potential of hybrid canola continues to push higher, begging the question of whether economic thresholds for lygus bug developed in the 1990s are still valid today. With more vigorously growing crops, higher yield and relatively high canola prices, new research has found the current economic threshold level of approximately one lygus bug per sweep to be too low.

“Economic thresholds for the early pod stage were developed in Manitoba in the mid-1990s and were based on conventional canola varieties like Westar. However, since then a number of new hybrids, including herbicide-tolerant cultivars with superior agronomic traits, have entered the market and been adopted extensively,” says Héctor Cárcamo, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Lethbridge, Alta.

Cárcamo and colleagues at AAFC Lethbridge, Lacombe and Beaverlodge conducted several research studies from 2012 through 2015 to validate economic thresholds for lygus in southern and central Alberta using a hybrid cultivar. They compared the impact of lygus feeding on current hybrids of canola and a conventional cultivar, and obtained baseline information about lygus in fababeans. The research was funded by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Alberta Pulse Growers, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund and AAFC’s Pest Management Centre.

A multi-site cage study was completed near Lethbridge and Lacombe to assess how lygus affects yield in canola for current cultivars and to refine thresholds. The cultivar L150 was planted at both locations. One-meter square cages (1.2 and 1.5 m tall, at Lethbridge and Lacombe, respectively) were used to confine 75 plants. The treatments included an uncaged area, and caged densities of zero, four, 10, 20, 50 (40 in Lacombe) and 80 lygus. In year two in Lacombe, an extra treatment was added in each cultivar to compare two lygus species (L. keltoni and L. lineolaris) at a density of 20 bugs per cage. At Lethbridge, the treatments included additional treatments with seedpod weevils at 10, 20 and 40 per cage, as well as a combination of 10 lygus and 10 weevils per cage, to assess the joint effects of these two insects at moderate densities below threshold.

Economic threshold increased to two to three lygus per sweep
Cárcamo says the insect additions were successful in establishing a gradient of different lygus densities, and allowed an assessment of yield impact and economic thresholds.

“The outcome of the studies suggests that the current economic threshold of one lygus per sweep at the early pod stage is too low. For Lethbridge, the data suggested that canola yield losses to warrant control did not occur until lygus reached around three lygus per sweep. For the Lacombe region, the threshold was around two per sweep,” says Cárcamo.

A second study was conducted at AAFC Beaverlodge from 2012 to 2015 to look at damage and yield comparisons in three canola varieties from bolting to maturity. InVigor and Roundup Ready hybrids were compared to Westar. Lygus adults were collected by sweep-net from local alfalfa fields and sorted by species. The dominant species of lygus was then used to stock cages at the late rosette stage with 20 adults.

The results for Beaverlodge were less conclusive, but a comparable impact of lygus on canola was observed and a similar threshold could be applied for Lacombe. More site-year data are needed to relate weather to lygus damage, but for Lethbridge, the highest number of lygus per cage (more than 1,000) and extreme yield loss (40 per cent) occurred in July 2012, when temperatures were hot (mean of 20 C) and dry (lowest rainfall relative to other years). In a normal year with sufficient rain – meaning a normal mean temperature below 20 C in July and greater than 120 millimeters of rain in June and July – lygus bugs at low populations of one per sweep did not pose a yield risk.

Cárcamo explains that in a field situation, the yield loss could also be lower because lygus in open fields are subjected to higher predation by natural enemies and also suffer more disturbances from rain and wind, unlike the situation in a cage. This means the estimates of lygus bug damage could be exaggerated and the thresholds could be even higher. Another four-year study funded by the Canola Council of Canada’s Canola Agronomic Research Program (CARP) is underway across the three Prairie provinces to attempt to validate these thresholds in actual commercial canola fields.

Cárcamo says using a higher threshold, even if only slightly higher, may result in a large reduction in pesticide use in canola crops and produce significant cost savings for canola growers. Such a reduction may have other positive repercussions, such as increased activity by pollinators and other natural enemies, which provide beneficial ecosystem services.

“On the other hand, if lygus reach or surpass three per sweep in the south, there are significant economic returns to be realized by spraying because our results, despite high local variability, showed that lygus can reduce canola yield by about 15 per cent in most years in southern Alberta and up to 20 per cent in central Alberta,” Cárcamo says.

Fababean thresholds also evaluated
In fababean there are concerns that lygus feeding can increase necrotic spots, reducing quality and marketability in addition to potential yield. At AAFC Lacombe and Vuaxhall, both in Alberta, a study was conducted to assess the species and crop damage that occurs on fababean from lygus bug feeding. In Lacombe, two to 10 fields of tannin cultivars and six to 11 fields of zero tannin fababeans were surveyed from 2013 through 2015 with sweep nets at the bud, flower and pod stages. In total, 43 fields were sampled. Lygus were identified by species and nymphal stage and total numbers were recorded.

Field and plot studies showed a similar species composition of lygus and activity pattern compared to canola. In most fields, lygus were present at less than one per sweep and rarely two or more per sweep at any crop stage. Cárcamo says further studies are needed to make management recommendations, but as a guideline, farmers may take control action if there are more than two lygus per sweep. He adds farmers should attempt to mitigate any impacts on pollinators and natural enemies of lygus.

“Fababean requires pollinators to improve yield, so it is crucial to mitigate insecticide impacts on them or the action could also affect yields negatively,” Cárcamo says. “Planting early is recommended to avoid the peak of damaging lygus populations that occur late in the growing season.”

Top tip: Sweep net sampling for lygus bug
Take 10 180-degree sweeps with a standard insect net measuring 38 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter, and aim to sweep the canola buds, flowers and pods while moving forward. Count the number of lygus in the net. Sampling several locations in the field and taking more sweeps will provide a better assessment of pest populations. Samples can be taken along or near the field margins. Sample the crop for lygus bugs on a sunny day when the temperature is above 20 C and the crop canopy is dry.

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Published in Insect Pests
Swede midge first appeared in canola in Ontario in 2003, and recent extreme populations in northeastern Ontario resulted in the Ontario Canola Growers’ Association (OCGA) strongly recommending in 2015 that producers avoid growing canola for three years across the New Liskeard area in an attempt to suppress swede midge populations.
Published in Insect Pests
At the annual Federal/Provincial Agriculture Minister’s talks (FPT) in St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada’s agriculture ministers reached an agreement on a new five-year investment for the agri-food industry with the recent announcement of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP). The program officially begins on April 1, 2018 and involves a $3 billion investment to strengthen the agri-food sector in Canada.

A key component of the new partnership – that picks up where the last agricultural policy framework Growing Forward 2 wraps up – is a continuation of Business Risk Management (BRM) programs. It is great news for Ontario agriculture that there was consensus among provincial ag ministers on the need for a comprehensive review of the suite of BRM programs. For several months OFA, along with industry partners, have advocated for a review and we’re very pleased to see that this is going to happen as part of the CAP announcement. We commend Minister Leal for his hard work to gain support and agreement with his provincial colleagues to make this happen.

While the review of BRM programming is applauded, another part of the CAP announcement is not good news for farmers. OFA shares the disappointment of other groups, including the Grain Farmers of Ontario, at the unilateral decision by Lawrence MacAuley, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food that a cutback will be made to the annual contribution limit of the AgriInvest program – a key component of the BRM programs. Announcing this change prior to doing the BRM review serves to be counter-productive to the previous announcement. Farming today can be a very unpredictable occupation. As such, farmers need an effective support system that can serve the needs of Canadian farmers’ ability to manage risk, beyond disaster relief funding. We await more details on how much this dollar-matching investment program will be impacted and will be working with Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) and industry partners to remind the federal government that collaborative decisions, not unilateral ones, will serve the best interest of the industry as a whole.

OFA will continue to work closely with Minister Leal and staff, along with industry partners, to ensure the needs of our members are heard and met through the BRM review.

More details on the new Canadian Agricultural Partnership are posted at ofa.on.ca.
Published in Corporate News
Resistant soybean varieties have helped farmers manage soybean cyst nematodes (SCN) for decades. Almost all SCN-resistant soybean varieties possess the same resistance genes, from a soybean breeding line called PI88788.

Recently, Iowa State researchers analyzed 25 years of data, from tens of thousands of four-row variety evaluation research plots, to look for long-term trends. The results, published in the scientific journal Plant Health Progress, showed a breakdown of resistance in SCN-resistant varieties. 

“This is an alarming trend and sets the stage for even greater yield loss from SCN in the future,” Gred Tylka, Iowa State University nematologist said. | READ MORE
Published in Diseases
Just like you inoculate legume seeds with a rhizobial inoculant, one day you might inoculate canola seeds with a plant-growth-promoting fungus. Greenhouse experiments in Alberta are showing that a fungus called Piriformospora indica can boost canola performance, providing benefits like increased yields, reduced fertilizer needs, and increased tolerance to cold and drought. Now the research team is testing this promising inoculant in the field.

Piriformospora indica was discovered relatively recently in northwest India, and since then has been found in other parts of the world,” notes Janusz Zwiazek, a professor of plant physiology at the University of Alberta, who is leading the research. Since Piriformospora indica’s discovery about two decades ago, researchers have been learning more and more about this interesting fungus. Zwiazek expects it will likely be classified as a type of mycorrhizal fungi.

He explains that Mycorrhizal fungi are a group of fungi that colonize plant roots, forming mutually beneficial relationships with their hosts. “Mycorrhizal fungi are very common. Probably more than 90 per cent of plant species are associated with mycorrhizal fungi in nature. Especially in soils that are poor in nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, these fungi can mobilize these nutrients in the soil and make them available to plants. Mycorrhizal fungi can also protect plants against different environmental stresses such as drought, pathogens, and so on,” says Zwiazek.

“But the exception is the family of Brassicaceae, the cabbage family of plants, to which canola belongs. Cabbage family plants typically don’t form mycorrhizal associations. So they don’t have the added benefit that many other plants receive from having these helpful fungi that can do so much good.”

Luckily for canola growers, Piriformospora indica is a bit different from the average mycorrhizal fungus in a couple of ways.

“Researchers have discovered that Piriformospora indica is capable of forming associations with the roots of a number of cabbage family species,” notes Zwiazek.

Also, most mycorrhizal fungi have to be cultured in a plant host, but Piriformospora indica can be grown in a pure culture without a plant host, so it is easier to grow for commercial production of inoculants. And previous research has shown that Piriformospora indica has the ability to provide multiple benefits to host plant species, such as improving nutrient uptake, increasing stress tolerance, improving disease resistance, and enhancing plant performance.

With all those things going for Piriformospora indica, Zwiazek was keen to see how it might work with canola.

The first phase of the project was done in growth rooms where all the environmental conditions, such as temperature, light and moisture, were strictly controlled. The experiments were done under sterile conditions to exclude the possible effects of any other microbes.

“We inoculated canola plants with a fungal culture of Piriformospora indica, and we studied the effects on plant growth under different environmental conditions, which we controlled in the growth rooms,” he says. Zwiazek’s team evaluated the effects of such things as temperature stress, low nitrogen and phosphorus levels, drought and flooding stress, and salinity stress on canola growth characteristics and yields, with and without the fungus.

The biggest challenge in the project’s first phase was to develop a practical way to inoculate canola plants with the living fungus. Zwiazek explains, “In many cases, [commercial] mycorrhizal associations and mycorrhizal technology have failed because it is very difficult to inoculate the plants on a large scale, to maintain the inoculum alive long enough and develop the conditions which could be used on a commercial level and applied in practice.”

After testing various Piriformospora indica inocula and procedures, the project team has developed an innovative inoculum and protocol that are practical for applying the fungus to seeds in commercial operations. They are currently applying for a patent for this technology.

The project’s first phase is largely completed, and the results are very promising.

“The most important findings are that the fungus can colonize canola plants quite easily and quite effectively, and it can be quite effective in increasing the growth and yield of canola, especially under lower phosphorus levels,” says Zwiazek. “Also, the fungus makes the plants more resistant to low soil temperatures and low air temperatures, and to drought stress conditions.”

Now the next step is to see how well Piriformospora indica works under field conditions. So in 2016 the project team started testing the inoculant in field trials.

In these trials, Zwiazek’s team will be looking at the effects of different soil amendments (including different soil organic matter and growth-promoting bacteria) on canola growth and yield, with and without the inoculant. As well, they are doing some tests in collaboration with Mary Ruth McDonald from the University of Guelph and Habibur Rahman from the University of Alberta to see how the fungus affects the canola plant’s ability to resist clubroot and possibly other canola pathogens.

“The results of the greenhouse studies are very exciting. But everything has to be really tested in the field – this is the ultimate test. Hopefully in two or three years we’ll have a pretty good idea of how the fungus performs under field conditions, and how much farmers can actually benefit from it.”

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Funders for this research include the Agriculture Funding Consortium (AFC), Alberta and Saskatchewan canola producer groups, Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions, and Western Grains Research Foundation.
Published in Other Crops
Agri-food stakeholders from across the value chain are invited to attend the second annual National Environmental Farm Plan (NEFP) Summit in Ottawa, November 1-2, 2017. As Co-Chair of the NEFP steering committee, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) encourages producers and farm groups to be part of this initiative that seeks to harmonize the many different environmental farm plan programs in Canada.

An Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a voluntary, whole-farm, self-assessment tool that helps farmers and ranchers identify and build on environmental strengths, as well as mitigate risks on their operations. A National EFP (NEFP) would not be a replacement program, but rather a harmonization effort across the existing EFP programs nation wide.

Building on an inaugural event held last year, summit attendees will further develop a national standard designed to connect environmentally sustainable practices at the farm level with global food buyers' growing need to source sustainable ingredients.

The NEFP program is well into development, led by a steering committee comprised of participants from across the agri-food value chain. Four sub-committees are working toward developing a national protocol as it relates to data collection, standards and verification, all of which will be supported through comprehensive communications and stakeholder outreach. Summit attendees will hear from each committee, along with subject matter experts, about the progress to-date - information that will further guide steps toward this national standard.

Learn more and register for the 2017 National EFP Summit by visiting nationalefp.ca. The NEFP is always seeking to add to its list of stakeholders involved in shaping this made-in-Canada solution. Interested organizations should contact co-chairs Drew Black or Paul Watson.
Published in Business Management
New PowerCore from Dow AgroSciences offers control of a number of key, above-ground corn insect pests Canadian corn growers battle, including black cutworm.
Published in Corporate News
Wheat is an important crop in Canada, representing nine per cent of total farm cash receipts in 2015, and averaging 16 per cent of crop receipts in Canada from 2011 to 2015, according to Statistics Canada. And Fusarium head blight caused by Fusarium graminearum is the most important wheat disease. Fusarium head blight also infects barley and is a problem in malt barley production. With increasing corn acreage in Manitoba, there is a greater incidence of ear rot caused by F. graminearum as well.

The first and worst epidemic in Manitoba was in 1993. Since then, Fusarium has slowly spread to new areas across the Prairies, and by 2008, it was commonly found in the Dark Brown and Black soil zones in all three Prairie provinces.

There has been an emergence of new Fusarium populations and shifts in existing populations since 2000. A possible cause is the accidental introduction of isolates from one area to another, or one country to another.

Fusarium head blight is a concern because of the mycotoxins that can be produced by the pathogens. Fusarium graminearum produces two toxicologically relevant groups of mycotoxins. These mycotoxins have major impacts on swine feeding, resulting in poor feed intake and poor growth. Swine feed intake is reduced 7.5 per cent for every one part per million (ppm) of deoxynivalenol (DON) found in the diet.

The first mycotoxin group is the Trichothercens, which includes DON and the acetylated derivatives such as 15-ADON and 3-ADON. The DON mycotoxin is very stable during storage, milling, processing and cooking and doesn’t degrade at high temperatures. The other mycotoxin group in the Trichothercens is Nivalenol (NIV) caused by F. cerealis. It is not a virulent but is 10 times more toxic than DON. This group could become a concern and we don’t have a good monitoring system for NIV.

The second major mycotoxin group is Zearalenone and its derivatives.

The current issues with Fusarium mycotoxins in the Canadian feed supply is that Fusarium pressure in Canada is widespread and may be increasing because of wet seasons that promote the disease. There is also the additional risk of mycotoxin exposure from new feed ingredients such as distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) that are corn or wheat based. There is an increased risk in livestock feed with DDGS, since DON concentrates in in DDGS by approximately three times.

There appears to be a shift in the pathogen population with 3-ADON becoming more prevalent. This is a concern since 3-ADON makes significantly more toxin that is also more toxic. The LD50 for swine with 15-ADON is 113 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) while it is 49 mg/kg for 3-ADON. Analysis conducted by Ward et al in 2008 found that 3-ADON was found in six per cent of Alberta samples tested, 11 per cent of Saskatchewan samples, and 39 per cent of Manitoba samples.

We have looked at genetic chemotyping of DON isolates. On winter wheat, we found 3-ADON accounted for 82.4 per cent of F. graminearum isolates in Winnipeg and 84.6 per cent in Carman, Man. At Melfort, Sask., 3-ADON accounted for 100 per cent of the DON population. Canadian Grain Commission samples of CWRS wheat in 2015 indicated a shift to 3-ADON in the Black and Dark Brown soils zones.

This shift to a greater prevalence of 3-ADON brings new issues in managing the disease because of the increased virulence of 3-ADON. And because of the higher toxin production, there will be new issues at the elevator, in DDGS feeding and at the trade level because of potential downgrading.

The accidental discovery of NIV producing isolates in winter wheat at Carman by Chami Amarasinghe at the University of Manitoba is also a concern. Five of 132 Fusarium isolates were found to be NIV. In these isolates, 65 per cent were identified as 3-ADON, 31 per cent 15-ADON, and four per cent NIV. The presence of NIV is a concern, since it is 10 times more toxic to livestock than DON.

The identification of NIV is a concern because F. cerealis and F. graminearum are very similar and difficult to distinguish from each other. Until 2012, NIV had only been detected in a few barley samples in Canadian grain. However, testing for NIV in Canada is not routinely conducted at grain mills or elevators.

Amarasinghe also investigated the possibility of masked mycotoxins in our grains. These mycotoxins are masked because their structure has been changed in the plant. This process occurs when plants detoxify DON by converting it to DON-3-Glucosides (D3G). Masked mycotoxins are also known as modified mycotoxins and can’t be detected by conventional chemical analysis. However the danger is that gut microbes in livestock digestive systems may be able to convert D3G back to DON.

Findings from Amarasinghe’s research showed Canadian spring wheat cultivars produced D3G upon Fusarium infection, and there were significant differences among wheat cultivars. The susceptible cultivars showed a lower D3G to DON ratio (less D3G content) compared to the moderately resistant/intermediate cultivars. She found the level of resistance might have an effect on the production of D3G during the infection.

Looking into the future, Canadian wheat production may be at greater risk of Fusarium infections. An increase of 3-ADON, the potential for NIV to establish, and masked mycotoxins in our grain may be food safety issues. Additionally, with climate change, there is a possible threat of an increase in mycotoxins or having new mycotoxins such as the new NX-2 population establish.

Historically, in Canada we have seen shifts in the past. In the Great Lakes area, we saw a shift from ZEN to DON in the mid-70s, similar to the shift from 15-ADON to 3-ADON on the Prairies in the 2000s.

There are now some wheat varieties that have resistance to Fusarium in winter wheat and Canadian Spring wheat. Other classes also have varieties that are moderately resistant to Fusarium as well. These are important and should be considered as management tools.

This article is a summary of the presentation "War of the titans: The battle for supremacy in wheat-fusarium interactions," delivered by Dr. Dilantha Fernando, University of Manitoba, at the Field Crop Disease Summit, Feb. 21-22 in Saskatoon. Click here to download the full presentation.

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Published in Diseases
Worker and queen honeybees exposed to field realistic levels of neonicotinoids die sooner, reducing the health of the entire colony, a new study led by York University (Your U) biologists has found.
Published in Corporate News
I work in Manitoba and we’ve been dealing with Fusarium head blight (FHB) for the last 25 years. In the 1990s, Manitoba started seeing severe infections. Those of you who are from Saskatchewan and Alberta, over the last two to three years, have definitely seen what it can be like when conditions are correct for Fusarium head blight infection.
Published in Diseases
In 2016, we conducted field surveys for root rot of pea and lentil in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In Alberta we surveyed 27 lentil and 89 pea fields during flowering, and 67 lentil and 68 pea fields in Saskatchewan.
Published in Diseases
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