EDMONTON — When canola crops begin to bloom and the summer heat cranks up to around 30 C, there is nothing growers can do to protect their crops from heat-induced flower and fruit abortion.
But that may change as Jocelyn Ozga’s plant auxin research advances at the University of Alberta.
Auxins are a class of plant hormones that play a crucial role in co-ordinating growth and behavioural process in a plant’s life cycle.
“We’re using types of those auxins to see if we can apply on the plant and see if we can stimulate seed yield. Auxins do lots of different things to plants, and one of them is to take the nutrients and transport them from the vegetative parts of the plants to the reproductive parts and seeds,” Ozga said during Murray Hartman’s Science-O-Rama in Edmonton.
Growers would apply the auxins with a one-time foliar application at early reproductive development, when the floral buds are visible but in a tight cluster and the floral axis has not started to bulge.
“In the field we’ve seen a kick up in yield anywhere from, where we have seen it, it’s been five to 30 percent but that’s dependent on conditions,” Ozga said.
Her goal for the auxins goes beyond producing a crop protection product, and she’s examining whether the auxins can consistently produce increased yields regardless of environmental conditions.
“It would be good if it would help under all conditions or normal conditions as well as abiotic stress, so we’re testing them in both. In some of our studies we actually do get increases in yield under both conditions, but it is genotype dependent,” she said.
So far Ozga has experimented with self-pollinating cultivars of canola as well some hybrid varieties, in both the greenhouse and in field trials.
“Where we see the kick up in the field is when we’ve got a little bit warmer temperature. But we’ve got only two years worth of studies on only a couple different cultivars,” she said.
Further research into which cultivars are responsive to the auxins, and the specific traits that make them responsive, is needed to potentially help in a breeding effort.
“If you could breed specific cultivars that are auxin responsive that could give the producers the option to, you know if they plant that cultivar then if it’s going to be hot that year, or they feel that they need a kick up in yield, then they could apply it,” she said.
She is also fine-tuning which surfactant to put the hormone on to give a consistent effect.
The auxin product Ozga is working on is eight to 10 years away from getting registered, but she said because it’s an auxin registration will be made easier.
“Of the (auxins) we’ve tried we found that two are so far the most effective. One is a naturally occurring one and one is an auxin analogue. But auxin analogues are used commonly in horticulture crops,” she said.
Auxin is the only category plant hormones that are not grouped based on an actual chemical structure, but instead on how the effect plants—they are considered an auxin if they cause an auxin like response, Ozga said.