Last year, fusarium was removed from the Alberta Agriculture Pest Act. This was a clear signal from our provincial government that regulating the disease was not an effective way to prevent or even manage it.
While a paradigm shift, this was a positive development for our industry.
It meant the focus would transition to managing this potentially devastating disease with all the tools we have at our disposal.
Since then, our industry has come together to do just that.
As a network of community-minded businesses, the Alberta Seed Processors came together with key industry partners to help launch a three-year, province-wide study to determine what fusarium infection rates look like across the province. This study, which began last year, is part of the federal government’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership program. It is also supported by several of our regulatory and industry partners, including Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, SGS, Seed Check, and 20/20 Seed Labs.
Already, this survey is proving a useful tool for farmers. We just launched the first take-away in early March, which showed fusarium infection rates in the province based on more than 5,000 grain samples collected from September to December.
The report (available at seedprocessors.ca) aggregates those results according to postal codes (where the lab test results were sent). Although not perfect (some results were sent to Edmonton and Calgary addresses), the data allowed a fusarium head blight risk map to be created.
In more than 20 counties, the number of positive samples was above 11 per cent. In several of them, the number of positive samples was above 30 per cent and three had a positive sample rate of above 50 per cent.
This map is a valuable tool for farmers as they make their pest management plans for the year and also for researchers as they study the evolution of this disease in our province.
But unfortunately, it will take more than this for farmers to effectively manage the disease.
Management options include using long, diverse crop rotations (a two- to three-year break from host crops such as wheat and corn), planting seed with the best varietal resistance to fusarium head blight, using seed with low or no fusarium graminearum infection, using seed treatment with ‘Fusarium’ on the label, regular field scouting, and foliar spray protection when warranted.
The best option for fusarium management right now is an overall program that includes as many control measures as possible.
The good news is, the agricultural community is making progress.
Plant breeders have established some genetic resistance to the disease in new crop varieties. In fact, researchers continue to make advancements. We have also learned and adopted best management practices to combat the disease recognizing various infection and environmental factors that play key roles in disease development.
But the most important focus right now should be on ensuring everyone is taking this issue seriously and managing their levels of fusarium on their own farms. This needs to be done as part of a holistic, integrated pest management plan.
This growing season, I hope everyone in our industry will work together to ensure we are staying on top of this issue. Because we’re all in this together. Let’s manage it!
Monica Klaas is the general manager of Alberta Seed Processors