Higher Cereal Seeding Rates Can Provide Many Benefits

-

As seeding season draws near, it’s worth taking another look at seeding rates in cereals.

According to Sheri Strydhorst, agronomy research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF), simply put, higher seeding rates equals higher plant populations. And that, in turn, equals more main heads and less tillers.

“The real benefit is increased uniformity in your plant population across your field,” she says. “When you have more plants, they have fewer tillers and that means all of those heads will be at the same growth stage.”

This increased uniformity leads to everything flowering at the same time, making fungicide applications easier, presenting a shorter window for pests such as wheat midge, and less infection time for diseases such as ergot or Fusarium head blight.

Sheri Strydhorst

“If we have early-season disease or frost or insect damage, having more seeds allows you to make sure if some of those are lost in the spring, you’re not at a critically low plant population,” notes Strydhorst. “The other thing is increased competition with weeds. As we get more and more herbicide-resistant weeds, we need to depend on agronomic tools from the system, not just herbicides. The more plant competition you have from your crop, the better your herbicides are going to work.”

Brian Beres, research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Lethbridge, has conducted scads of seeding rate work on spring and winter wheat. He says besides potential for higher yields, there are secondary benefits that come into the mix. For instance, wheat’s competitive ability.

“We conducted multiple studies on winter wheat and were able to show how important higher seeding rates were in managing weed competition which is significant as you achieve early canopy closure with high plant populations,” he says.

“The result is better control of weeds. Also, a key feature of high seeding rates is replacing those secondary tillers with more main stems per unit area, resulting in a much more uniform crop stage, so you get higher fungicide efficacy. This is also likely to shorten the flowering period as well as days to maturity, so the grower is going to be able to harvest earlier, and as we found last fall, can be an important asset.”

Beres says his emphasis is shifting from the practice of thinking of seeding in terms of a volume or a bulk per unit area, to a spatial density per unit area. So, seeds per square metre or per square foot. “The problem is that the ‘bushels per acre’ rule of thumb resulted in a lot of plant stand variation from one class of wheat to another because kernel size, shape and weight varies considerably and more so now, even within classes, given that kernel visual distinguishability has been phased out as of 2008,” he says.

Brian Beres

“For example, we had many growers back in the old days who, even with winter wheat, went at about 200 seeds per sq. m., or 20 seeds per sq. ft. We were able to show that that needs to be up around 450 seeds per sq. m. We were able to show with those high-yielding classes such as durum or the high-yielding varieties within CWRS, they could withstand the higher density and not lodge.

“As a starting point, the ‘sweet spot’ for winter wheat would be 450 seeds per sq. m.; and for springs across the board, 400 seeds per sq. m., but some high-yielding, strong-strawed spring varieties are definitely going to respond to rates higher than that as well.”

No matter your variety of wheat, Beres stresses the importance of ensuring a good germination rate and good vigour. But equally important is calibration.

“Growers need to think about planting spatially per unit area, such as 40 to 45 seeds per sq. ft., and that they know what their kernel weight is,” he says. “The kernel weight can alter what they think their planting is, it’s pretty significant.”

On The Way To Nitrogen-Fixing Cereals

-

Cereal crops that fix their own nitrogen? Achieving this dream could result in major benefits for agriculture and the environment.

Scientists around the world are pursuing this goal, including a group in Alberta. The Lethbridge-based researchers have already made impressive advances towards developing nitrogen-fixing triticale plants as a first step to creating other nitrogen-fixing cereals.

“The idea of nitrogen-fixing cereals is not new. The discovery in the late 1880s of symbiosis between nitrogen-fixing bacteria and legumes spurred the eventual question of whether it is possible in non-legume plants, including cereals. However, the path from the idea to its successful realization is in this case quite bumpy,” says Dr. Alicja Ziemienowicz, a research biologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and an adjunct professor at the University of Lethbridge. She is co-leading this nitrogen fixation research with her AAFC colleague Dr. François Eudes.

“There are three biotechnological approaches for biological nitrogen fixation in cereals, and all require genetic engineering of bacteria or plants or both,” she explains. “The first one is to create rhizobium-legume-like symbiosis in cereals; in other words, to convince rhizobia and cereals to form an interaction similar to the interaction of rhizobia with legumes. The second approach aims at improving bacteria that live inside cereal plants or in the soil right next to cereal roots so these bacteria can perform nitrogen fixation more efficiently.”

However, these two strategies would rely on the use of bio-fertilizer inoculants, which are not always as effective as crop growers would like and are not as convenient as having the trait in the seed.

“When I joined the team of Dr. François Eudes at AAFC’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre about five years ago, we decided to take the third approach to the biotechnological solutions for the nitrogen fixation problem,” adds Ziemienowicz. “This approach is perhaps the most challenging one but also the most promising. It involves the direct transfer of bacterial nitrogen fixation (nif) genes into the plant.”

Ziemienowicz is an expert in this type of research and has been working on development of better technologies for plant improvement for over 20 years. She is excited to be applying her knowledge and skills to nitrogen fixation in cereals “to achieve practical and applicable outcomes in a research area that is so important for Canadian and global agriculture.”

“Many have labelled nitrogen-fixing cereal crops as the ‘holy grail,’” notes Lauren Comin, research manager with the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC). “Nitrogen-fixing cereals could bring a lot of significant benefits. First of all is the benefit to the farmer’s profit. Obviously producers would save money by reducing input costs, and there could be time savings as well. Those benefits alone are enough for us to get excited.”

Ziemienowicz states, “Nitrogen fertilizers contribute about 20 per cent of cereal crop production costs, not including costs of fertilizer application: fuel, machinery, labour. Cereal crops capable of fixing nitrogen for their own needs will reduce crop dependence on nitrogen fertilizers, and will increase their performance and productivity in nitrogen-deficient soils.”

Both Comin and Ziemienowicz point out that nitrogen-fixing cereals would also contribute to sustainability. “There is an ever-growing interest in sustainability from those on the farm and off the farm. Plants that could fix all or some of their nitrogen would mean fewer synthetic applications, less nitrogen loss to the atmosphere and less leaching into the waterways,” says Comin.

Ziemienowicz explains that not all of the applied fertilizer is actually used by the crop, and the unused portion can cause problems including pollution of water sources for humans, livestock and aquatic species, and emission of nitrous oxide, a very potent greenhouse gas. In addition, production of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers is very energy-intensive and generates carbon dioxide.

“So, although nitrogen fertilizers provide farmers with great tools to increase cereal crop productivity, they come with costs that are a burden both for farmers and the environment,” says Ziemienowicz. “It is generally recognized that the introduction of biological nitrogen fixation into cereals and other major non-legume crops would be one of the most significant contributions that biotechnology could make to agriculture.”

Substantial Progress

Eudes and Ziemienowicz began this research in 2014 with a two-year proof-of-concept study, funded by AWC and Alberta Innovates. Last year’s research was funded by AWC and the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission. Recently, the research was approved for three-year co-funding by all three of these agencies. In this upcoming work, Ziemienowicz and Eudes will be collaborating with AAFC wheat breeders Drs. Robert Graf and Harpinder Randhawa.

“We are open to investing in the full spectrum of available technologies,” notes Comin. “Technology changes really quickly in farming just as in any other industry. So we need to make sure that Alberta producers have every possible tool in their toolbox and that they keep up with technology changes.”

Ziemienowicz and Eudes’ research so far has involved triticale. “Most procedures that we employ in this project work more efficiently in triticale than in wheat,” says Ziemienowicz. “Once we obtain nitrogen-fixing triticale, we will transfer this trait into wheat using interspecies breeding techniques. Moreover, lessons learned from development of this trait in triticale will help us to apply it to other crop species.”

In the initial stage of their research, the research team developed tools needed for this work including an AAFC nifcluster, peptide nanocarriers, DNA delivery technology, microspore culture and regeneration, selectable markers and selection procedures, and a nitrogen-fixation assay for plant cells.

Their creation of the AAFC nifcluster is a good example of the important advances they are making. Ziemienowicz explains the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen is limited to a small number of organisms including certain bacteria. These nitrogen-fixing organisms have about three or four genes responsible for producing the nitrogenase enzyme, which converts atmospheric nitrogen gas into ammonia, and about 10 to 12 genes that produce co-factors needed for nitrogenase activity.

“Prior to our work, biotechnologists were able to deliver only two out of 16 essentialnifgenes into plants. Recently, an Australian group reported delivery of 16 nifgenes, but each gene individually. In addition, both research efforts were done in tobacco as a model plant, and not in cereals,” she says.

“The AAFC nifcluster that we developed contains all 16 essential nifgenes and two selectable marker genes (needed to maintain the nifgenes in the plant genome). The cluster was designed to allow expression of the bacterial genes in triticale and wheat plant cells.”

In the next stage of the work, the researchers used their tools to move the AAFC nifcluster into triticale cells. “We deliver the AAFC nifcluster into triticale cells using a unique nanocarrier developed by Dr. Eudes’ team, in particular by Dr. Trevor MacMillan. The nanocarrier is a group of cell-penetrating peptides that carry DNA cargo into a specific location in a plant cell,” explains Ziemienowicz.

“We chose plant mitochondria as the best delivery place because these plant organelles offer the most optimal environment for nitrogenase production and activity. We use microspore cells (precursors of pollen) because they can be relatively easily regenerated into entire plants.

“Once the cargo-carrier nanocomplexes reach their destination, the DNA is released and integrated into the mitochondrial genomes, and the nifgenes are expressed, which leads to nitrogenase production.”

Recently, the researchers have shown that all the delivered nifgenes are indeed expressed in the triticale microspore mitochondria and that the nitrogenase enzyme is produced. Plus, they have demonstrated that the nif-enriched microspores definitely fix atmospheric nitrogen. The research team is now working on regenerating nif-enriched triticale plantlets.

If all goes as expected, they will produce triticale plants that have all the characteristics of the triticale parent plus the ability to fix nitrogen.

Ziemienowicz thinks it will take at least 10 more years to develop nitrogen-fixing wheat. “We need about three years to produce and test the nitrogen-fixing triticale plants. Then, we need a few years to transfer the trait to wheat. Also, it takes years for commercialization of a plant with a novel trait.”

 Looking Down the Road

Even though it is many years away, the path to commercialization could be as challenging as the scientific path to develop nitrogen-fixing cereals.

One factor will be regulatory requirements for genetically engineered (GE) products. In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) evaluates all plants with novel traits for safety to the environment before they can be grown or fed to livestock. The CFIA website states: “The CFIA defines a plant with a novel trait (PNT) as a new variety of a species that has one or more traits that are novel to that species in Canada. A trait is considered to be novel when it has both of these characteristics: it is new to stable, cultivated populations of the plant species in Canada; and it has the potential to have an environmental effect…. Novel traits can be developed through various techniques, including, but not limited to, genetic engineering. Examples (other than genetic engineering) are mutagenesis, gene editing, cell fusion, and traditional breeding….This product-focused approach means that not all PNTs are developed through genetic engineering, and that not all products of genetic engineering are PNTs.”

“The Canadian ‘plants with novel traits’ approach is different from much of the rest of the world. [In Canada] it doesn’t really matter what process you used [to introduce a trait]; it’s whether it is a new trait that has never appeared before,” explains Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada Inc., a not-for-profit organization that brings together partners from all sectors of the cereals value chain.

“However, there would be some significant regulatory hurdles [for GE nitrogen-fixing wheat] in other markets like the EU or Japan because of the unfounded public perception around recombinant DNA technology.”

From Dahl’s point of view, recombinant DNA technology has provided great benefits, both economic and environmental, in crops like corn, soybeans and canola. But he is uncertain about what the cereals industry could do to change negative public perceptions of the technology. “That’s a question I have been asking for 20 years. I’m not quite sure of the answer, whether it’s an issue around technology in plant breeding or technology in pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Very often public perception does not match up with the science and what science is telling us. The gap between scientific understanding and public perception sometimes can be very large, and that is difficult to cross.”

Dahl notes another consideration in commercialization. “We would have to ensure that, if a new product is commercialized, it would be done in a way that doesn’t jeopardize our current exports.” That would require such steps as obtaining regulatory approvals in importing countries and using identity-preserved systems to keep the GE grain separate from other grain. Another factor would be development of a policy on the low-level presence of GE crop material in grain shipments.

At present, many importing countries have a zero-tolerance policy if GE grain that has not been approved by the importing country is present at low levels in grain shipped to that country. This approach can seriously disrupt trade. Canada has been working with its international partners on alternatives to deal with this issue and has released a policy model to encourage international and domestic discussions on the way forward.

“Canada is a leader on the low-level presence issue,” notes Dahl. “Through the Canada Grains Council, we are very active on pushing forward with some solutions to that issue internationally.”

Despite the challenges, AWC hasn’t shied away from funding Eudes and Ziemienowicz’s work. “Investing in genetic engineering technology today does not mean that we’ll be harvesting a GE crop in August. Developing new varieties is really a long-term game. And depending on which novel traits we’re seeking, the benefits could far outweigh the perceived negatives,” says Comin.

We are very excited about the prospect of nitrogen-fixing wheat. A made-in-Alberta solution would make it all the more exciting, especially a solution that we are part of,” she adds. “When we first invested in the project we did consider it high risk, but the potential benefits are significant. And we also had to consider the potential discoveries that could be made throughout the research that may also have applications that solve other problems that producers encounter. So even if the benefits wouldn’t apply to wheat but maybe another crop, these serendipitous discoveries could have a high value as well.”

Capturing Value, Funding Innovation

-

Accessing superior genetics and seed is one way to ensure that Canada remains competitive in global agriculture. We talk with industry experts about the mechanics of funding innovation in cereals research through the concept of value creation/capture.

Many years of discussion about how to ensure more innovation in cereal seeds is finally coming to fruition.

Historically, cereal seed breeding has been dominated by public institutions, supported by taxes and producer contributions. Because of this, and because Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has indicated it will not be increasing its level of investment in cereal breeding, many industry players have been calling for a way to make sure private breeding firms are enticed to do more cereal breeding — by securing their return on larger investments.

Some time ago, a task forcecalled the Value Creation Working Group was created to look at the issues, and two leading funding models eventually emerged. One is a producer-facilitated royalty collection system of varieties registered after Feb. 27, 2015 (known as an end-point royalty). Royalties generated would be distributed to breeders based on a variety’s market share, possibly using existing collection systems. However, if a royalty is collected on seed, no royalty would be collected on harvested material.

The other contender — the preferred option of the Canadian Seed Trade Association’s Intellectual Property Committee — is a royalty collection system enabled by contracts, where breeders or their representatives use contracts when selling certified seed of varieties registered after Feb. 27, 2015. This system involves the collection of royalties on any farm-saved seed, known as a trailing royalty.

The latter is clearly the winner, reports Lorne Hadley, task force member and executive director at the Canadian Plant Technology Agency. “The seed industry has had long discussions about this over the last eight years and both the CSTA and the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association have endorsed the model of trailing royalties,” he says. “Certain companies want to proceed with this and market this value to producers.”

Hadley notes that producers already decide what seed to buy based on expected value, and those varieties that have value and are priced appropriately will have the market share. “We are trying to put in place a system to start by using pedigreed seeds, and the best varieties among them get the most return.”

For his part, Darcy Pawlikbelieves the trailing contract model is the right one as it’s based on well-understood principles of by existing contract law. The head of the Syngenta Cereals Portfolio for North America and vice-chair of the CSTA’s IP Committee notes the trailing royalty option is ideal for all acres grown of the varieties in question to be tracked, and also provides flexibility for the breeder in terms of the parameters that can be set.

Rod Merryweather, CEO of FP Genetics and a member of several seed organizations, points out that this model could involve existing collection mechanisms already established by licensees of grain varieties, such as single-use contracts. He adds that the existing system for confidentially tracking every grower who uses midge tolerant wheat could be easily be adapted to collect trailing royalties.

“This system would also enable us to also track the use of certified seed, and make sure that a grower is not paying twice for the use of the variety.”

Another benefit of the trailing royalty model, says Merryweather, is that trailing royalties also enable differential royalties on different varieties and crops. He says differential trailing royalties would be competitive in that breeders would be fairly compensated for every use of the variety, with growers deciding to use new varieties where the royalty appears worth the investment.

How it Might Work

While there is much to still be decided on, Hadley notes that an efficient electronic contracting system is envisioned. Similar to how canola is marketed, distributors will decide if payments will be applied per acre or pound of seed. There will be no interference with provincial check-offs.

Pawlik believes the end result will draw on similar situations elsewhere. In his view, an effective system must include the ability to simply and transparently track seed sold and acres planted, and a flexible pricing mechanism associated with the value of individual varieties.

In Merryweather’s view, rollout of a trailing royalty system will be quite simple.

“A database would be developed or modified to fit the collection of purchase information on certified seed for every grower which would then identify every purchase of certified seed,” he says. “This information would be available to the licensee to administer the royalties. Growers would declare each year what crops have been planted and which variety was used to seed. After harvest, they would then declare production on each field.”

Growers would therefore ‘pay on production’ and companies would then invoice them for the trailing royalty after verifying certified seed purchases and deducting such purchases (a pre-determined amount) so there is no possibility of paying twice. “The licensee would have the right to audit a grower if there was any dispute,” he says. “All such audit costs would be charged to the licensee.”

 Hurdles

In Pawlik’s view, one of the largest hurdles would be a transfer of a significant portion of the costs associated with breeding activities to growers. But he believes that “so long as our objective remains truly aligned among the various stakeholders and parties in that we want to encourage greater investment by the private sector into cereal and pulse breeding, as well as the desire to have the strongest and most globally competitive ag sector, these hurdles can be overcome.”

Along with that, Pawlik believes there will be a continued requirement for engagement, transparency, cooperation and foresight. “This will be critical if we are to achieve the vision and reverse the tide of investment that is flowing to other jurisdictions at the expense of Canadian agriculture, farmers and competitiveness.”

As with any significant change, Pawlik notes that this new system will demand the acceptance of “a certain level of ambiguity,” as well as the “patience to ensure the system evolves to best serve the needs of the participating stakeholders.”

Tom Steve, general manager for the Alberta wheat and barley commissions, notes the idea of value creation hasn’t come without controversy.

“I hear from farmers that wheat is a lower margin commodity on their farm, but they don’t want to change anything. There’s a fundamental contradiction there. Of course, no one wants to pay more for seed if they don’t get an immediate return — they have a legitimate concern there,” he says. “But here’s the thing — we need to look longer term at where our competition is coming from, and where the yields and quality of our product need to go to be competitive long term. And the only way to do that is through value creation.”

One of the only hurdles Merryweather can think of is getting agreement on the development of one system to track all aspects of the trailing royalty from seed purchase to future use of the variety.

“However, we have done this with midge tolerant wheatstewardship and on single-use agreements, so it is not that difficult,” he reports. “However, we will need to be very transparent about how the system works so that there is trust in the system by all who use it. [We will also need to get] agreement from all interested parties to ensure that trailing royalties are fair and equitable.”

At this point, Hadley notes the task force is now reaching out to farming organizations such as Grain Famers of Ontario and Alberta Wheat Growers, and meetings and presentations are being scheduled. “Producers need clarity about how it will work,” he says. “The producer groups want to be sure that if they are paying more, they are getting more value…They just want the assurance that this program will actually increase the number of breeders and breeding programs going forward.”

Pawlik is among those who believe that will indeed occur.

“We can expect, over time, an expanded diversity of materials to make their way through the research stages and into new product development,” he says. “We will also see greater utilization of tools like marker assisted selection, double hapolids and, hopefully, new plant breeding innovations such as genome editing, for example.”

Value Creation: What do Farmers Think?

The chairmen of Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley say growers are largely uninformed and unsure about the conversation surrounding value creation in cereals.

Jason Lenz – Chairman, Alberta Barley

On whether growers are very informed on the topic of value creation:

“I don’t think farmers are very informed about any of these discussions about value capture, or furthermore, about the Seed Synergy initiative. Certainly, anyone involved within industry organizations are somewhat aware of it, but I don’t think the general farming public is aware at all.”

On why planned consultations regarding value creation are so important:

“As a commission we’re most concerned about the reasons behind value creation, and further, the details of the preferred collection model of the Canadian Seed Trade Association’s Intellectual Property Committee, that being the trailing royalty model. Right now, there’s not much detail. We suspect there will have to be a lot of administration built into it. What’s the plan for any sort of compliance or enforcement? We don’t have those answers to convey to our stakeholders.”

On what it will take for many growers to accept the idea of value creation in cereals:

“As chairman and a farmer myself, I understand the need to attract more private investment into wheat and barley breeding, but farmers need to see benefit from that. Whether it’s done through checkoffs or a royalty system, wheat and barley farmers need to see increased value come out of it and back into our operations. We need to see either significant yield improvement or improved disease resistance in wheat and barley varieties. I suspect that this will need to be viewed as a long-term investment by farmers.”

Kevin Bender – Chairman, Alberta Wheat

On why the topic of end-point/trailing royalties is controversial among growers:

“There’s a reluctance among farmers to have to pay yet another fee, and that is a historical phenomenon. Some growers are often critical about the high cost of canola seed, but yet most often the highest priced seed is the first to sell out. This is because our potential return on investment is better than it is with lower priced or older varieties. I think the same could be true for wheat. If there is value, growers will invest. By nature, we don’t want to pay more or see another deduction on our grain check unless it’s clear or proven that it will generate more profit.

On why many growers are not informed on the topic of value creation:

“No matter how hard we try to get the message out to stakeholders, it doesn’t always get there, or it doesn’t always get taken up. It’s a hard one.”

Celebrating Modern Agriculture

-

Most farmers are reluctant to talk about modern agriculture. Our own industry advertisements promote the image of a farm with a faded red barn and a few chickens running about in a pastoral setting. That is not modern agriculture and we need to stop letting agriculture be portrayed this way.

It is not hard to understand why modern agriculture shies away from talking about what we do on the farm. Modern agriculture practices are regularly attacked by activists who want to return to the lost golden age of Ol’ McDonald’s farm. One just has to look at the recent flurry of negative media coverage of glyphosate, one of the most studied and reviewed pesticides in history, to see evidence of agriculture practices being questioned.

The truth is that Ol’ McDonald retired a long time ago. We should let him enjoy his dotage. His day was characterized by rural poverty, houses with no running water and no central heat. Rural schooling was in one room that gave those in them little chance of advanced education. The good old days were not very good for those living in them. Modern agriculture has changed that.

Today most agriculture production in Canada takes place on commercial farms that are thriving businesses. Mostly owned and operated by families, they are managed by individuals with advanced degrees and a deep understanding of international markets. The equipment is not rusting pick-ups and open cab tractors but combines, sprayers and tractors that are guided by satellites. Seeds, fertilizers and pesticides used are the result of years of intensive research. These tools are designed to have a minimal environmental footprint and to be safe for farmers and consumers alike.

I am told by professional communicators that talking about modern agriculture in this way does not effectively reach consumers and give them comfort in how their food is produced. Someone is a downtown urban center, shopping for their kids’ lunch, does not care that much about eradicating rural poverty. They just want to know that they will be giving their kids a safe and nutritious lunch.  So what has modern agriculture done for consumers?

Let’s tackle “affordable”.  By February 9th of 2018, the average Canadian household earned enough income to pay for their grocery bill for the entire year, spending about 10 percent of their income on food. Want to compare? Portuguese consumers spend about 17, per cent of their income on food, Russians 28 per cent and Nigerians 56 per cent. Those of us involved in agriculture need to do a better job of communicating how modern farming tools and practices have given Canadians access to some of the cheapest and highest quality food in the world. We also need to be able to relate what happens when ill-conceived regulations take those tools away.

Modern Canadian agriculture is also delivering some of the safest food in the world. A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada ranked food safety performance of Canada and 16 other developed OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations.  Canada’s food safety ranked the highest of all the countries examined.

Modern Canadian agriculture has a very good environmental story to tell. Modern practices such as conservation tillage are increasing the health of soils, reducing the amount of fuel used and reducing soil erosion. Precision agriculture, which uses satellites to precisely steer equipment is maximizing the efficiency of pesticides and fertilizers, further reducing fuel use and protecting water from nutrient run-off.

In the last 40 years, energy use per tonne of wheat produced has reduced by 39 percent. Forty years ago soil organic matter was being depleted with every crop. Modern agriculture has changed this picture dramatically and today organic matter in prairie soils is increasing every year. This means the soil is healthier, it is more productive, less susceptible soil erosion and farms across Canada are sequestering carbon dioxide.

Why are these good news stories about modern agriculture not getting through to average Canadians? One of the reasons is that those who are opposed to modern agriculture are focused on their communication efforts and have spent the time and money to coordinate their work.

Agriculture, on the other hand, does not have united communication efforts. We are all focused on our individual companies and organizations and often communicating with the public is left to “side of the desk” projects. This needs to change. Agriculture needs to give time, money and coordination to our outreach. Modern agriculture has a good story to tell, but if we aren’t telling it then we are letting others speak for us and all consumers will hear are concerns from outside our industry.

Source: Cereals Canada

Cereals Canada Welcomes the U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement

-

Cereals Canada welcomes the announcement of a modernized North American Free Trade Agreement, which will be known as the U.S.-Mexico- Canada Agreement (USMCA).

“Achieving the agreement will ensure ongoing stability in agricultural trade within North America,” stated Cam Dahl, President of Cereals Canada. “Agriculture in all three countries has benefited from freer trade. Preserving these benefits was a key objective in these negotiations”.

USCMA will also modernize the agreement in critical areas, including chapters on biotechnology and new plant breeding techniques and addressing issues of low level presence. These updates will help bring the agreement up-to-date with modern technology.

“USMCA also sets the stage for equal treatment by the Canadian grading system for farmers on both sides of the Canada / U.S. border”, noted Dahl. “Again, this is a modernization that addresses issues that did not exist when the original NAFTA was drafted. The Canadian value chain supports these changes.” Dahl further noted that “there was some concern that the adjustments to the grading system would undermine Canada’s classification system for wheat. This is not the case as the agreement continues to allow both countries the ability to develop national policy.”

Cereals Canada thanks all the Canadian negotiating team who have carried out this work in order to accomplish the agreement. This includes Minister Freeland and Minister MacAulay who have been engaged throughout the negotiations.

Fusarium Head Blight Concerns at Harvest

-

Although producers may have applied important agronomic measures prior to and throughout the growing season to prevent Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) damage to cereal crops, these measures only provide disease suppression. Neil Whatley, crop specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, explains why it is necessary to integrate additional measures at the time of harvest into your disease prevention program. It is important at harvest to prevent fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) from going into storage.

Harvest management of FHB to increase grade includes combine adjustments. Explains Whatley, “Many FDKs – especially in wheat – are smaller, lighter in weight, and more shrunken than normal, healthy kernels. Combine fan speed can be increased to blow out those infected kernels.” Whatley adds that this may not be an option for FHB infected barley and oats where there is less kernel shrivelling.

“Slower combine travel speed, especially in lodged wheat, also aids in separating good kernels from FDKs by avoiding occasional combine overloads. That ensures an increase in air blast time to reduce FDK level in the grain sample.” Using a gravity table after harvest can further help with separating light-weight FDK.

“However, producers in areas where FHB caused by Fusarium graminearum (Fg) is just starting to appear and become established, may want to be cautious about using combine settings to blow out infected wheat kernels,” says Whatley. “The shriveled kernels tend to be the part of the wheat plant that is one of the most prolific producers of the wind-borne spore stage. It would then represent a higher risk to subsequent crops. Producers in areas with a lower risk of FHB may want to look at post-harvest cleaning of grain if they are concerned about removing FDKs to improve grade and reduce the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON).”

Whatley says that additionally, combines should be properly set to thoroughly chop and uniformly spread cereal straw and chaff to encourage better residue decomposition and reduce pathogen survival in a field. “Remove loose crop residue from harvest equipment before leaving an infested field to prevent spreading the disease to non-infected fields.”

Symptoms of FHB can be observed in the harvested grain, especially in wheat. Typically, infected wheat kernels will be shriveled and have a chalky white appearance with some evidence of fungal growth. In contrast, infected barley kernels do not typically exhibit a lot of shriveling. Instead of having a chalky white appearance, they will exhibit a brownish discolouration and may show evidence of fungal growth. The brownish discolouration can be easily confused with infections due to the spot blotch fungus – kernel smudge – while hail damage can also produce similar discolouration in barley.

While infection occurring at early flowering can lead to complete abortion of kernels, fusarium damaged kernels generally result from infection that occurs from the early to mid-flowering stages. Later infections that occur well after flowering and up to the soft dough stage of kernel development may not show visible symptoms. However, kernels may contain the fungus, and more importantly, the mycotoxin it produces.


Fusarium damaged kernels of wheat showing shriveling with a chalky white appearance.
Picture courtesy of Kelly Turkington, AAFC.


Fusarium damaged kernels of wheat showing shriveling with a chalky white appearance.
Picture courtesy of Kelly Turkington, AAFC.


Fusarium damaged kernels of barley with limited to no shriveling and with a brownish discolouration.
Picture courtesy of Kelly Turkington, AAFC.

Even if symptoms are not observed in the growing crop, Whatley says that representative grain samples collected at harvest can be sent to a seed testing lab to determine the level of grain infection by Fusarium graminearum, the most important FHB species, and the concentration of DON. If FDKs are observed in the harvested grain, these can also be tested by commercial labs.

“DON can continue to develop in wet grain, so drying or aerating cereal grains to safe storage moisture contents as soon as possible after combining is important,” explains Whatley. “High DON grain should be segregated and monitored while in storage. Prevent moisture migration or re-wetting of an area of the bin to avoid further DON development.”

Routine testing of harvested grain and seed intended for planting is another way of assessing the presence and extent of Fusarium graminearum, especially if harvested grain is downgraded due to the presence of FDK. Several private seed company labs offer testing services for Fusarium graminearum in cereal seed/grain.

Whatley adds that if grain infested with FHB is intended to be used for livestock feed, grain samples should be tested for DON levels through a lab analysis. “Knowledge of mycotoxin levels will provide guidance as to whether the grain is suitable for feeding, especially for more sensitive animals, such as swine, dairy cattle and horses that tolerate a maximum of 1 PPM. The maximum tolerated DON level for beef cattle, sheep and poultry is 5 PPM. It is important to know the amount of DON present (PPM) and then dilute the contaminated grain with healthy grain or forages to lower the amount of toxins to a safe level for feeding.”

For more information about fusarium head blight concerns at harvest, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry