Knowing The Enemy The Battle Against Crop Pests – for Sep. 13, 2010

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Know your enemy” is good advice for anyone fighting a battle and that includes the battle against crop pests and diseases. That’s why Alberta Agriculture has established a survey through its new Pest Surveillance Branch, and it’s getting good response from others who want to identify and quantify the threats to crops.

“We’ve been inundated with requests for surveys this year. It will take us a good two months to get all the fieldwork done,” said Ron Howard, the dean of Alberta’s plant pathologists.

Crop disease is a big problem this year because of damp weather everywhere except the Peace. Some diseases seem to have increased dramatically or spread to new areas. Fusarium is the major concern for cereals especially as warm, moist weather during flowering was ideal for infection.

Howard is taking the lead in the surveillance group’s biggest survey of the year, a province-wide study to find how many fields had fusarium infection. The disease has been seen mainly in irrigated fields in the south, so that region will be surveyed more intensively,

“ but Howard’s co-operators will be in fields all over the province.

Ag fieldmen, applied research groups, crop advisers and anybody else Howard can press into service have been walking W patterns through fields, picking wheat heads and searching for signs of fusarium infection. Once crops are combined, surveyors will take stubble samples. Their findings will be verified by lab analyses.

Howard hopes to have results by year-end. Those results will give farmers, specialists and others an idea of the fusarium levels in fields in all regions. Farmers and their crop advisers will use the information to gauge the level of management they need to apply to wheat and other cereals.

Stripe rust overwintering?

Solid information on the spread of fusarium head blight will be the foundation of research plans, funding for research and breeding efforts to develop resistant varieties, as well as grain marketing and fungicide availability.

Cereal fields are also being surveyed to find levels of stripe rust, which seems to have been more common in central Alberta in recent years. Traditionally, stripe rust is mainly found in the south. It was generally thought that rust spores were carried on air currents across the northern states and Western Canada, but spores may persist through mild winters.

Canola fields are also being surveyed. Ralph Lang, of Alberta Innovates, is heading up efforts to assess levels of various diseases, particularly blackleg, and Stephen Strelkov of the University of Alberta is tracking clubroot infection, focusing mainly on central Alberta. Since its first discovery in canola in 2003, clubroot has spread to 17 municipalities, mainly around Edmonton. The disease cuts yields by about half the level of infection, but at 100 per cent infection, losses can be 50 to 80 per cent.

Fieldmen are going to have their hands full working on surveys, but the more samples they can contribute to the surveys, the more information applicable to their region they’ll get back.

Farmer input welcome

That also applies to farmers, so all those involved hope you welcome them to your fields and take the time to answer any questions they may have on management.

“They’re not policing your fields they’re trying to help you protect future crops. Some municipalities have more resources than others,” says Howard. “But, we use private agronomists, ARAs, producer groups, whoever is in the area and will make time to help us out.”

As well as surveys the surveillance group investigates odd findings, says branch head, Paul Laflamme.

“Lately, we looked into an explosion of ground beetles in central Alberta. There were so many, buildings were covered with them. We don’t know why the populations were so high, but there was no apparent damage to crops. If we can keep informed, we can inform farmers so they know what could be coming up as a problem and be prepared,” he said.

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RON HOWARD

We’vebeeninundated withrequestsforsurveys thisyear.Itwilltakeus agoodtwomonthstoget allthefieldworkdone.”

DEAN OF ALBERTA’S PLANT PATHOLOGISTS

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They’renotpolicing yourfields,they’retrying tohelpyouprotectfuture crops.”

Ron howard

dean of alberta ’s plant pathologists

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