The quality of cereal seed in Alberta is down — and disease pressure is up — across almost all classes, say players at the front lines of the upcoming growing season’s seed outlook.
“Disease levels are a little higher this year and that’s having an adverse effect on quality,” said Trevor Nysetvold of BioVision, a seed-testing company with offices in Sherwood Park and Grande Prairie.
“Fusarium head blight (FHB) specifically is higher this year. On average, with barley we’re seeing roughly 20 per cent of the samples showing up positive for fusarium. Last year it was nine per cent. We’re finding these types of general trends in seed from all cereal crops classes including barley, durum, oats, and wheat.”
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Nysetvold recommends producers who haven’t secured their seed supply for this spring, talk to their local retailers right away.
“There’s good-quality seed out there so from our standpoint we always suggest growers contact their local seed retailer and talk to them because these issues do become quite regional.”
Alberta is not alone on the Prairies when it comes to heightened FHB content. At BioVision’s Winnipeg branch, 18.5 per cent of samples is testing positive for fusarium. However, Alberta is the only Prairie province with zero-tolerance legislation towards fusarium graminearum — and that’s troublesome news for grain producers.
“If it’s found, it’s deemed not fit for use as seed in Alberta,” said Nysetvold.
The president of Alberta Seed Growers is also recommending that farmers line up their seed ASAP.
“I advise producers to order their seed early to get the quality they want,” said Glenn Logan, who farms near Lomond in southern Alberta. “There’s definitely going to be a reduced supply of good-quality seed.”
Last year’s wet conditions are the main culprit for the high levels of FHB, said Nysetvold.
“If we go back to 2014, following the wet 2013 season, about 16 per cent of the barley seed we tested showed positive for fusarium. It varies year to year mostly due to weather conditions — it was wet last year and there is a direct correlation.”
Historically, southern Alberta has always been most at risk, but this year other regions are seeing high levels, too.
“Northern Alberta has probably seen the larger increase in the amount of fusarium found,” he said.
Germination levels are also an issue — down a full percentage point, said Nysetvold.
“When you consider the number of samples we’ve tested that’s not inconsequential. It is showing that disease levels and other adverse harvest conditions are having a detrimental effect on germination quality, but it’s not extreme.”
So what can producers who find themselves with FHB-infected seed do?
Unfortunately, in Alberta, not much, said Logan.
You shouldn’t plant it and the livestock market may not be as receptive to FHB-infected seed as it has in the past.
“The livestock market has kind of been the dumping ground for fusarium-infected grain,” said Logan. “However, the tolerance level you can feed to livestock safely has been reached. Feedlot operators are fairly discerning now when selecting their grains, leaving farmers with not a lot of alternatives for marketing.”
It’s the same story at many elevators.
“There was a high incidence of fusarium in the cash crop taken off last fall and that means a lot of refusals at the terminals, which to my knowledge hasn’t happened in Alberta in the past,” said Logan.
But producers can — and should — be thinking about fusarium prevention for this year.
“Ensure you get the best seed possible,” said Logan. “Treat your seed to the label suggestions — don’t try to cut corners on it. Watch your rotations carefully. Fungicide applications at the proper time will go a long ways. It’s part of an education process.”