A Fungal Disease That A Farmer Can Love

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When farmers think of fungal diseases, it’s usually not too favourably, especially if they’ve just shelled out the money to spray for leaf disease or sclerotinia.

But researchers at Agriculture Canada in Saskatoon have come up with a fungus that farmers can love – one that kills Canada thistle, dandelions, white clover, chamomile, wild mustard and volunteer canola.

If that last one has you worried, it’s only effective in the year of application.

Research scientist Dr. Karen Bailey told the recent GO Organic conference in Lethbridge that there are already several types of biopesticides used in Canada. Fungi, viruses and bacteria can all be used in the place of traditional pesticides. They are used mostly in forestry, urban areas and greenhouses, but are in development for many traditional agricultural operations, said Bailey.

The first biopesticide was developed in the 1970s for mosquito control. Canada currently has nine types of bioinsecticides, along with 10 biofungicides and five bioherbicides.

Bailey said research and product development of a biopesticide may take up to 15 years from discovery until the product is available on the commercial market.

The Saskatoon research station has been conducting several studies on biopesticides, including phoma, a fungus that can be used to combat Canada thistle. Phoma invades the vascular system of Canada thistle and causes the weed to turn white and die.

Bailey and the research team suspect phoma will be useful on turf grass in urban centres, and should be available as a commercial product in about two years. Phoma may also be used in the production of field crops and agro-forestry, but more research and appropriate industry partnerships are needed.

Testing revealed that phoma also causes dandelions, white clover, certain types of chamomile, volunteer canola and wild mustard to turn white. Cereal crops, wild grasses and trees were not susceptible to the fungus.

“Basically what we’re seeing is that we can control a number of broadleaf weeds by using this fungus but we will not have any effect on anything in the monocot or the grass family,” said Bailey.

Phoma is grown on grains, dried and run through a mill to create flour. The flour is then made into long noodles and eventually into balls, which results in a dry granular form of the fungus which can be applied to the soil. Phoma works by positioning itself beside a vascular system of the plant. As the phoma grows, it produces the fungus which causes the plant to turn white and die.

Phoma can be applied as a pre-or post-emergent. Post-emergent application requires more fungi and the process takes longer, said Bailey.

“With different formulations and different rates, we’re able to get the same kind of control as a traditional chemical,” she said.

Bailey said phoma will live in the soil for about a year, and then will no longer be detectable. It does not leave any type of residue and will not grow or spread through the soil.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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