Missing Plants. What’s The Cause?

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Many factors can cause a thin canola stand. Proper diagnosis is important for effective management. Here are common factors, with diagnosis tips for each.

Herbicide carryover will be most severe in areas where application rates were the highest – areas of headland overlaps, for example – and in areas that tend to be drier. Hilltops are more susceptible since they can be lower in organic matter, reducing the buffering capacity of those areas, and they remain drier, resulting in less opportunity for breakdown to occur. Check page 79 of the Guide to Crop Protection for a list of residual herbicides and the recropping restrictions for each.

Fertilizer toxicity. High rates of nitrogen, sulphur and even phosphorus placed in the seed row can greatly increase mortality if the seeding equipment has low seed bed utilization (SBU). Low moisture conditions will make damage worse. Toxicity damage often occurs in patterns, being worse in dryer or lighter parts of the field that don’t have the moisture to diffuse fertilizer concentrations beside the seed. You may also notice differences row to row if some openers are worn more than others and not providing required seed/fertilizer separation. Why limit seed-placed fertilizer?

Lack of seedbed moisture. With limited seedbed moisture, canola seeds can just sit there waiting for enough moisture for germination. In some cases, seeds can start to take on moisture, but can’t get enough resulting in desiccation and death of the seed or germinated seedling.

Excess moisture. Flooded soils can stop root function and kill canola seedlings within a matter or days. Bottom leaves will tend to yellow first. This damage will be more common in low spots. Read more.

Frost damage. Frost can cause leaves to turn yellow or brown, then dry up and fall off. Severe frost damage can also cause pinching of the stem up near the growing point, closer to the cotyledon. Disease can also cause pinching of the stem, but disease pinching tends to occur closer to the soil surface or below the surface where the hypocotyl remains white. Regular scouting makes this diagnosis easier, especially if you know the stand looked good the day before a frost.

Wind. This year strong winds sheared off some canola seedlings and blew away the top inch of soil and the seed along with it in some areas, while burying small seedlings in others. This will create patches within a field. If winds have been heavier than usual, consider this possibility. Losses will tend to be worse on hilltops.

Seedling disease. Stem and hypocotyl (the part of the seedling’s stem below the cotyledons and down to the seed) damage near the soil surface and below is likely seedling disease. To make sure, use a magnifying glass to look at the hypocotyl to rule out insect feeding. Seedling diseases can be more common in canola seeded too deep into cool and wet soils. Because the plant takes that much longer to emerge and because the size of the vulnerable hypocotyl area is that much longer than with a shallow seeded plant, the plant is more susceptible to seedling diseases. Read more.

Cracked seed. Seed that is very dry is more prone to cracking as it moves through the drill, which can reduce germination rates. A slower fan speed will help to reduce damage.

Seed rate. If the seed is good but the stand is spotty throughout the field, the seeding rate may have been too low. Large seed (high TKW) seeded at a low seeding rate may provide only a few plants per square foot. Proper calibration is another potential factor, especially with a new drill. Did the drill meter out the seed counts intended?  It is difficult to scout for a “lack” of seeds, but look in the seed row close to plants that have emerged for any ungerminated seeds or signs of seedling mortality, to rule out other causes.

Insect damage. Cutworms and wireworms can wipe out young canola plants before emergence or shortly thereafter. Start scouting for damaged or missing plants on a weekly basis once the crop starts to come up. Cutworm feeding results in notched, wilted, dead, or cut-off plants. With wireworms and sometimes with cutworms, the plants may not emerge at all. Patterns confined to hill tops, side hills, water runs or field edges often suggests environmental, disease or insect problems.

Seeder issues. Repeatable patterns in rows or groups of rows usually suggest a mechanical issue with the drill. Single rows could be plugged. Whole manifolds could have plugged feeder hoses. One wing of the drill could be going deeper. Shanks could be stretched. Openers behind the tractor wheels could be worn more than others and not placing seed properly. The pattern can often tell you where on the machine the problem occurred. Packing pressure, residue management, opener type and seeder type can all influence seed placement and stand establishment. Disk versus knife openers have pros and cons depending on soil type, moisture, residue, and seed bed quality.

Seeding depth. Seeding too deep can also greatly reduce emergence rates

In some cases we can never really know for sure the causes for a thin stand. In those cases, the best action might be to do nothing and hope the crop recovers. There is no sense spending money on a cure when you don’t know the problem.

Source: Canola Watch

Herbicide Resistance

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Weed resistance to herbicides continues to be an issue, as an increasing numbers of weeds are no longer responding to herbicides.

“Most producers are aware of the issue but, unless it affects them directly, they don’t see it as a huge issue,” says Harry Brook, crop specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre.

“For example, resistance to glyphosate – commonly known as RoundUp – is found in other parts of the world and Canada. We also now have glyphosate resistance in kochia in southern Alberta and it continues to spread. In 2017, glyphosate resistant Russian thistle was found in Montana. These should serve as wake-up calls to producers for the importance of rotating different herbicide groups when treating problem weeds. Failure to take this problem seriously will eventually result in the loss of our most popular weed control products.”

Herbicide resistant wild oats are found in many fields in the province. Some biotypes are resistant to more than one herbicide group.

“In Alberta in 2017, 58% of fields sampled had some Group 1 resistant wild oats. The majority of herbicides used for wild oat control are in this group. If wild oats is resistant to a single herbicide in a chemical group, it is pretty well resistant to all the herbicides that use that particular mode of action.”

“Also in 2017, Group 2 resistant wild oats was found in 40% of Alberta fields and 29% had wild oats resistant to both Group 1 and 2. Soil-applied wild oat control is in Group 8, which is older chemistry and has seen a resurgence in use. Cases of resistance to Group 8 herbicides is increasing, despite it not being used much in the last 20 years.”

Brook says that cleavers, kochia, chickweed, spiny annual sow thistle, hemp nettle, green foxtail, wild mustard, smartweed, Russian thistle and stinkweed have all developed resistances to Group 2 herbicides. “That group contain the sulfonylureas, the ‘imis’ and florasulam. Weed surveys from 2014 to 2017 estimate about 7.7 million acres or more in Alberta have some weed resistance issue.”

He says there are a few ways to detect a herbicide resistance issue. “Investigate areas in the field where weed control didn’t occur. Rule out other factors that might have affected herbicide performance including misapplication, spray misses, unfavourable weather conditions, and misapplication of herbicide at wrong leaf stage or late weed flushes.”

“Other warning signs include other weeds listed on the herbicide being controlled adequately, patchy control with no reasonable explanation, a history of herbicide failure in the same area, lack of signs of herbicide injury on plants, and finally, a history of using the same herbicide group on the land, year after year.”

Brooks says that when a producer uses the same herbicide or products using the same mode of action, they are actually helping select for those plants that are either not affected, or affected less, by the active ingredient than other plants.

“By killing off susceptible plants, you are actually setting the stage for the resistant ones to thrive as all their competition is killed off.”

Herbicides that have one specific mode of action are most likely to develop resistant weeds. “Group 1 and Group 2 herbicides fall into this category,” he says. “However, the most important reason for having resistance show up is due to repeated use of the same chemical. Short crop rotations and a lack of crop variety have set up the conditions to encourage weed resistance to emerge.”

Canada has reported resistance issues in weeds to at least six different herbicide groups. “If we ignore the risk of developing resistances, the day may come when we might lose some of our best herbicide tools from the weed management tool box. Pay attention. Scout your fields. Keep field records. Use a good crop and herbicide group rotation to keep this problem at bay. The consequences of not doing so are not cheap or pretty.”

“Most producers are aware of the issue but, unless it affects them directly, they don’t see it as a huge issue,” says Harry Brook, crop specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre.

“For example, resistance to glyphosate – commonly known as RoundUp – is found in other parts of the world and Canada. We also now have glyphosate resistance in kochia in southern Alberta and it continues to spread. In 2017, glyphosate resistant Russian thistle was found in Montana. These should serve as wake-up calls to producers for the importance of rotating different herbicide groups when treating problem weeds. Failure to take this problem seriously will eventually result in the loss of our most popular weed control products.”

Herbicide resistant wild oats are found in many fields in the province. Some biotypes are resistant to more than one herbicide group.

“In Alberta in 2017, 58% of fields sampled had some Group 1 resistant wild oats. The majority of herbicides used for wild oat control are in this group. If wild oats is resistant to a single herbicide in a chemical group, it is pretty well resistant to all the herbicides that use that particular mode of action.”

“Also in 2017, Group 2 resistant wild oats was found in 40% of Alberta fields and 29% had wild oats resistant to both Group 1 and 2. Soil-applied wild oat control is in Group 8, which is older chemistry and has seen a resurgence in use. Cases of resistance to Group 8 herbicides is increasing, despite it not being used much in the last 20 years.”

Brook says that cleavers, kochia, chickweed, spiny annual sow thistle, hemp nettle, green foxtail, wild mustard, smartweed, Russian thistle and stinkweed have all developed resistances to Group 2 herbicides. “That group contain the sulfonylureas, the ‘imis’ and florasulam. Weed surveys from 2014 to 2017 estimate about 7.7 million acres or more in Alberta have some weed resistance issue.”

He says there are a few ways to detect a herbicide resistance issue. “Investigate areas in the field where weed control didn’t occur. Rule out other factors that might have affected herbicide performance including misapplication, spray misses, unfavourable weather conditions, and misapplication of herbicide at wrong leaf stage or late weed flushes.”

“Other warning signs include other weeds listed on the herbicide being controlled adequately, patchy control with no reasonable explanation, a history of herbicide failure in the same area, lack of signs of herbicide injury on plants, and finally, a history of using the same herbicide group on the land, year after year.”

Brooks says that when a producer uses the same herbicide or products using the same mode of action, they are actually helping select for those plants that are either not affected, or affected less, by the active ingredient than other plants.

“By killing off susceptible plants, you are actually setting the stage for the resistant ones to thrive as all their competition is killed off.”

Herbicides that have one specific mode of action are most likely to develop resistant weeds. “Group 1 and Group 2 herbicides fall into this category,” he says. “However, the most important reason for having resistance show up is due to repeated use of the same chemical. Short crop rotations and a lack of crop variety have set up the conditions to encourage weed resistance to emerge.”

Canada has reported resistance issues in weeds to at least six different herbicide groups. “If we ignore the risk of developing resistances, the day may come when we might lose some of our best herbicide tools from the weed management tool box. Pay attention. Scout your fields. Keep field records. Use a good crop and herbicide group rotation to keep this problem at bay. The consequences of not doing so are not cheap or pretty.”

Source: Alberta Agriculture

 

Neonics will Continue to be a Part of Sustainable Ag in Canada: Petelle

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Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) recently released its final decision on the impact of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides, on pollinators in Canada. In its decision, the PMRA confirmed that in the vast majority of cases, neonics can be used effectively by farmers without unnecessary risk to pollinators.

This is good news and something we should all be celebrating – including the farmers who rely on neonics to protect their crops from insects and the consumers at the end of the value chain who enjoy access to the safe, affordable and high quality food our farmers produce.

Neonic seed treatments are an incredible innovation that has improved agricultural sustainability and limited the exposure of pesticides to non-target organisms. Applying an insecticide directly to the seed drastically reduces the amount of product required and limits the exposure of non-target organisms, like pollinators, to it because the seed is coated and then planted directly in the ground.

While the PMRA affirmed the safety of neonics as a seed treatment, they did remove or restrict its use in numerous horticulture crops. In many of these cases, there are no viable alternatives to neonics to control certain insect pests and this could jeopardize the viability of certain types of fruit and vegetable production in Canada.

As Canadians we often tout the importance of buying local. We’re proud to go to the store and buy Ontario apples or peaches, or visit the local farmers’ market to stock up on fresh produce. But without neonics Canadian farmers may no longer be able to grow some of these crops and for consumers that could mean a lot less home-grown fruits and vegetables.

Consumers won’t buy fruit with larvae burrowing through the flesh so farmers simply must protect their crops from an ever-growing number of hungry insects. If farmers don’t have options for controlling these insects they cannot run a viable operation and Canadians will have to depend even more on imported fruits and vegetables from other parts of the world.

And what’s being overlooked in this conversation is the importance of pollinators to the horticulture industry. Many fruits and vegetables rely on insect pollination. Take apples, for example. If insects do not pollinate apple trees those trees won’t produce any fruit. Many apple growers have established strong relationships with local beekeepers and have demonstrated that farmers are able to successfully use neonics to control harmful insects while ensuring their honeybee partners are protected.

Given that the most-affected sectors of the agriculture industry submitted a significant amount of new data to address the concerns raised by PMRA during the 90-day comment period on the proposed re-evaluation, some of the restrictions and limitations on the use of neonics are disappointing. We will work with those partners and the PMRA to determine why the additional scientific data did not appear to change the final outcome.

Unfortunately, there are certain activist groups who do not seem to care about the plight of Canadian farmers and the fate of food production in Canada. These are the groups that have been calling for a wholesale ban on neonics and urging PMRA to rush a decision rather than take the time to review all the available data and make a decision grounded in science.

For activist groups who are unconcerned with science, it’s convenient to praise Health Canada when they make a decision to restrict or ban certain pesticides and criticize them for being ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘incoherent’ when they make a decision that doesn’t fit their agenda.

The same groups who are criticizing the PMRA for concluding that most uses of neonics do not pose a risk to bees are the ones who called into question Health Canada’s decision to continue to support the use of glyphosate in Canada. And let’s remember that Health Canada’s decision on glyphosate was not made in isolation – every major pesticide regulator in the world has come to the same conclusion that glyphosate can be safely used by farmers.

It’s concerning that these groups claim to know better than regulators and scientific bodies around the world whose expertise is in evaluating pesticide risks. While they seem to want to remove all the tools from farmers’ toolboxes and tear down modern agriculture, they fail to bring any real solutions to the table.

Because of innovations in agriculture, Canadian farmers are more sustainable than they’ve ever been. They produce more on the same amount of land all while leaving the land in better shape for the next generation. Agriculture has changed dramatically over the last 50 years due in large part to technological advancements. And the possibilities for the next 50 years are beyond what many of us can even imagine.

With its extensive land base Canada has an obligation to not only produce food for Canadians but to produce food to help feed the world. But to meet this obligation our farmers will need access to the latest tools and innovations that allow them to do their jobs better and more sustainably than they did the day before.

Flipping The Switch

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Thanks to Canadian researcher Igor Kovalchuk, the Canadian Prairies could one day be dotted with fields of medicinal poppies, a major cash crop opportunity. (Photo: University of Lethbridge)

For global researchers studying epigenetics, looking at the surface of the genome could be the key to discovering the next big thing in plant and seed engineering.

Classical genetics has been with us for a long time, ever since Gregor Mendel put forward his laws on the basic mechanisms of heredity in the 19thcentury.

Classical genetics has led to wondrous developments in the area of agriculture, including GM and gene editing technologies. And now, another area of study is on the cusp of changing our ideas about plant function even more.

Epigenetics, although has existed as a concept for nearly eight decades, is becoming a new buzzword that causing lots of chatter in plant breeding and seed circles, and for good reason.

“Epigenetic technologies are on the cusp of being industry-ready. Unlike techniques such as CRISPR, it’s not quite there yet — but very close,” says Michiel Van Lookeren Campagne, head of seeds research at Syngenta.

A field like epigenetics holds great promise for companies like Syngenta, he says, which invests a lot of time and money in dealing with the regulatory hurdles that invariably come with breeding plants that have had their genetic codes altered in some way.

Flipping Switches

Epigenetics comes from the Greek root word epi, meaning “on” or “on top of.”

“Epigenetics essentially sits on top of the layer of classical genetics, which has been the basis of all breeding programs,” says Van Lookeren Campagne.

Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence. Epigenetic changes in plants do not occur as a result of any changes to the plant’s DNA, but as a result of other factors like changes to chromosomes that affect gene activity and expression.

Basically, Van Lookeren Campagne explains, epigenetic changes occur when various “switches” in DNA are flipped on and off, triggering different reactions within the plant. He notes that epigenetics as a field really took off in the 1990s when Dutch and American molecular biologists breeding purple petunias obtained a number of unexpected results that were difficult to explain.

They were trying to increase the color intensity of the petals in petunias by introducing a gene inducing the formation of red pigment in the flowers. But instead of intensifying the color, this treatment led to a complete loss of color and the petals turned white. The mechanism causing these effects remained elusive untilAndrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello discovered the cause, earning them the Nobel Prize in Physiology for Medicine for 2006.

Fire and Mello deduced that double-stranded RNA can silence genes, that this RNA interference is specific for the gene whose code matches that of the injected RNA molecule, and that RNA interference can spread between cells and even be inherited.

In other words, genes can be turned on and off like light switches, producing different reactions within a plant without altering the plant’s genetic code in any way.

New Frontier

Those epigenetic changes are ushering in a new frontier for the seed industry as a result. In March, Epicrop Technologies Inc., a company co-founded by University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and epigenetics pioneer Sally Mackenzie, announced it had secured US$3.2 million in funding. This funding will be used to further develop epigenetic technology with a focus on large increases in yield and stress tolerance in crops.

“We’re very excited to have previous and new investors on board who appreciate the game changing potential of this technology,” said Michael Fromm, chief executive of Epicrop Technologies.

In the company’s field and greenhouse trials, epigenetically improved plants — soybeans, tomatoes, sorghum and Arabidopsis— show increased yields and stress tolerance.

“Increasing yield and stress tolerance are key goals of most seed companies. Epicrop’s method has the potential to provide these traits by adding epigenetic information directly to the seeds of commercial varieties without adding any genetic material. The unique features of this method readily fit into traditional commercial breeding and seed production methods to facilitate company adoption of this system.”

Poppies on the Prairies

In Alberta, University of Lethbridge Department of Biological Sciences researcher Igor Kovalchuk has gained the reputation as a world leader in epigenetics.

His goal: to produce hardier crops that are increasingly resistant to stress and even able to detect pollution. This capability, in turn, will help to improve the efficiency, profitability and overall success of farms.

Thanks to Kovalchuk, in fact, the Canadian Prairies could one day be dotted with fields of medicinal poppies. He is currently working with a Canadian biotech company that plans to develop a market for the high thebaine poppy industry in Canada. A significant cash crop opportunity, high thebaine poppies are used to create valuable medicines, but unlike their traditional counterparts, cannot easily be converted into heroin.

Kovalchuk is also a driving force behind the establishment of the Alberta Epigenetics Network, the first epigenetic network in Canada.

“Plants have an amazing capacity to respond immediately to stress and to propagate this response so future generations can be better prepared,” he says.

One of the ways plants do this, of course, is via epigenetic changes.

For Van Lookeren Campagne, the doors yet to be unlocked by epigenetics are many, and he’s excited as new research initiatives are undertaken to bring epigenetic technologies to market.

“We now understand the machinery that epigenetic changes are related to, and we’re able to tune that machinery. Now we have to find the applications we can deploy this toward. It holds a lot of potential and promise.”

Editor’s Note: This article was produced with files from Marc Airhart (University of Texas at Austin), Justin Raikes (Epicrop Technologies), Dana Yates (University of Lethbridge)

Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture Tracking Survey Results

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The 2018 Environmentally Sustainability Agriculture Tracking Survey Final Report is now available. This survey measures Alberta producers’ awareness of, and their adoption of environmentally sustainable agriculture (ESA) practices with eight agri-environmental risk areas.

In January 2018, 500 farmers and ranchers across Alberta answered a telephone survey about the use of ESA practices on their operations, their awareness and use of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) decision making support tools and resources. For the first time, the survey also asked their perspective and attitudes towards sustainability and industry-led sustainability initiatives.

Every two years AF sponsors a farm-level survey to track changes in adoption of ESA practices in the province. The survey results provide valuable information about its progress in Alberta and helps AF efforts to improve these programs and activities to encourage producers to adopt ESA practices.

Find more information on AF’s Environmental Stewardship webpage.

Source: The Alberta Agriculture and Forestry