A Spornado system in a field. The Spornado catches spores in the air which can then be tested for traces of fusarium. Photo: 20/20 Seed Labs
Maps and forecasts are one thing, but there’s no substitute to absolutely knowing if the risk of fusarium head blight (Fusarium graminearum) is present in your field. That’s where new technology comes in. In 2018, 20/20 Seed Labs began offering pathogen testing for the Spornado, which is a passive spore catcher which was first successfully deployed by potato growers in Ontario to detect late blight spores.
It’s really not “new” technology per say, as spore catchers have been around for a while. However, they were expensive and mainly used by researchers. We are now able to bring spore catchers to the producer and to be fully utilized to their maximum potential.
20/20 Seed Labs uses pathogen testing from the Spornado cassettes to detect sclerotinia stem rot of canola (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) and fusarium head blight in cereals. The device, which resembles a futuristic weathervane, is placed in a field from late June to early August and a cassette inserted into it traps any airborne spores that blow through. The cassette is removed and shipped to our Nisku lab for analysis.
A research project underway in Alberta spearheaded by AAFC plant pathologists is looking at tools to measure Sclerotinia spore load in canola fields, the Spornado being one of them. Research is showing we can assess disease risk in a field with this easy-to-use device.
When it comes to fusarium head blight, you no longer have to guess and purchase fungicide to spray “just in case” the disease might be present. Pathogen test results are available online within 24 hours from the time the cassette is processed in the lab. You’ll know definitively whether or not there are Fusarium graminearumspores in the field and if there are, you can act immediately to assess your disease risk by taking into account the weather conditions and host crop. Using the Spornado and getting results quickly is an effective way of properly timing fungicide application to manage fusarium head blight and sclerotinia stem rot.
Uptake of the Spornado is increasing as growers discover value in the technology, especially in areas where we’re seeing a huge increase in Fusarium graminearum infected seed around central-east Alberta. The Spornado is an early warning system which could be extremely useful in this region.
Fusarium graminearum levels are indeed a concern in Alberta, especially in production areas where there are new cases of infected seed, or where infection has increased. The Alberta Seed Processors recently released an interim report showing the County of Vermillion River, MD of Wainwright a MD of Provost were the hot spots in Alberta in 2020 with over half of seed samples testing positive for Fusarium graminearum.
In all of Alberta, 16.5 per cent of seed samples are testing positive for Fusarium graminearum in our lab. This is the third-highest historical percentage since we started collecting data in 2007. The distribution across the province thus far is similar to 2019 with the highest percentage in counties east of Edmonton along the Saskatchewan border, as the Alberta Seed processors map shows.