They’ve got your back — meet four new Alberta researchers

Ag Canada’s newest researchers are working on issues that hurting or holding back producers today — or will in the future


Agriculture and Agri-food Canada hired four new scientists in Alberta this past spring. Here’s a quick introduction to the newest additions to the research community:

Nitynanda (Nitya) Khanal

Integrated forage crops management,
Beaverlodge

Nitya Khanal

Nitya Khanal
photo: Supplied

The forage research position at Beaverlodge had been vacant for years following a retirement.

But not any more — although it was an 11,000-kilometre-plus journey that brought Khanal from his homeland to Peace Country.

Now an expert in plant sciences, agricultural systems management, and plant physiology, Khanal began his research career with a two-year agricultural technician course in Nepal, then obtained a bachelor’s degree in Nepal, a master’s in Thailand, and a PhD from the University of Saskatchewan, where he focused on how plants photosynthesize and respire under cold and drought stress conditions.

After several years as a post-doc at Ag Canada’s Swift Current research station, he’s now reviving Beaverlodge’s forage research program, work that includes studying different cropping systems; pinpointing profitable and sustainable crops; integrating forages with annual crops; nutrient management; plant growth regulators; lodging resistance and screening herbicides for minor use registration. He’s also looking for varieties that will meet the needs of seed growers in the Peace Region Forage Seed Association.

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“We receive the requests for testing varieties from different companies and we test those cultivars or breeding lines,” said Khanal. “We are screening for seed production in this region and finding varieties that are more adapted for seed production.

Since taking his position in April, Khanal has conducted 46 field trials with the help of two staff technicians.

Breanne Tidemann (see photo at top)

Field agronomy and weed science,

Lacombe

Most of Tidemann’s research is geared around answering a question that looms large over Prairie grain production: What producers will do when herbicides stop working?

Tidemann, who hails from a grain farm in Saskatchewan, began specializing in weed science while earning a bachelor of science at the University of Alberta. Since then, she’s been working with Linda Hall and Neil Harker and completing her PhD, which focuses on bringing technologies and weed control methods from Australia to Western Canada.

She is also currently taking over John O’Donovan’s work and finishing malt barley trials, but will eventually move into the weed scientist position.

“As researchers, we’re trying to look five to 10 years ahead in terms of what is going to be needed, because you want to have it developed by the time it is needed,” she said. “The research that we’re doing doesn’t always seem immediately applicable. We’re trying to look down the road at what might be needed in the future.”

Thinking long-term is exactly what research advocates say Ag Canada scientists should, in part, be doing because it lays the groundwork that others will require to create products, varieties, or practices that farmers will need in the future.

“Most producers are not that interested in non-chemical weed management because their herbicides are working,” noted Tidemann. “But looking at places like Australia or the States, the chance of that continuing to be the case continually declines every year that we continue to just rely on herbicides.”

Reem Aboukhaddour

Cereal pathologist,
Lethbridge

Reem Aboukhaddour

Reem Aboukhaddour
photo: Supplied

Aboukkadour works on diseases that directly impact producer’s yield. Right now, that’s stripe rust, leafy spot and fusarium head blight.

“Anything that becomes an issue and a disease with cereal could be potential work for me,” she said. “This year we had wheat streak mosaic virus, which drew some of my attention. Anything that impacts yield or causes losses for the grower, we have to work on.”

Aboukhaddour earned a bachelor’s degree in Syria and worked in crop protection services before leaving the country in 2001, earning a master’s in the Netherlands and a PhD at the University of Manitoba, where she focused on leaf and tan spot. She was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Alberta before taking up her new position. There’s a strong western Canadian research community in her field, she said.

“We’re always discussing our potential projects. There is a good network of people, whether they’re agronomists, breeders, or pathologists.”

Aboukhaddour wants to hear from producers in the Lethbridge area about their disease issues.

“We try to build our projects based on the problems that we have,” she said.

She can be contacted at [email protected]

Haley Catton

Cereal crop entomologist,
Lethbridge

Haley Catton

Haley Catton
photo: Supplied

Catton has studied general agriculture, trees, bio-controls, and ground squirrels. Now she’s a research scientist working on cereal crop entomology. She grew up on a hobby farm near Winnipeg, and developed her love of agriculture working on an U-pick organic vegetable farm. She completed her undergraduate degree and master’s at the University of Manitoba, and a PhD at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan location where she studied biocontrol of weeds and using good insects to control bad plants.

“Now in my current position, insects are the bad guys because we want to protect the crops,” she said. “But the concepts are all the same.”

Catton is currently looking at cereal leaf beetles, a fairly new pest in Alberta, and using beneficial insects can control it.

“Cereal leaf beetle has a really effective parasitoid wasp that has been a really good control for it,” she said. “When the grower sprays their field for cereal leaf beetle, they’re also spraying out the beneficial. We’re doing different trials to compare yields when you spray for cereal leaf beetle or when you don’t spray.”

Catton is currently looking for research fields and is hoping to connect with producers having problems with cereal leaf beetles, wireworms, or wheat stem sawfly. She can be reached at [email protected] and would also like to hear from producers who feel there’s a pest that is not being addressed.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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