Frustration mounts over clubroot’s spread

RED DEER — With no sign of slowing down, clubroot’s big spread isn’t only hurting yields — it’s got some worrying over canola’s ability to remain productive in the long run if more isn’t done to handle the issue.

The soil-borne disease has grown exponentially since it was first discovered in 2003 near Edmonton. Last year alone, it spread to six counties in Alberta, reappeared in Saskatchewan and remains in Manitoba.

While agronomists say longer crop rotations, clubroot-resistant varieties, less tillage and equipment sanitation are key in managing the disease, others say more effort is needed to keep canola productive.

“We talk about managing clubroot, but we’re not getting serious about it,” said Bill Chapman, a crop business development specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

Chapman made his comments Jan. 10 during the province’s Agronomy Update conference in Red Deer, where agronomists updated producers on the clubroot situation.

With varieties becoming less resistant and with clubroot running rampant, canola’s returns could become less attractive and therefore less viable for some growers, he said.

“My big worry is this is going to affect production, and that could have a serious economic impact. Returns are there for now, but what is the real potential of the field if we don’t get any (returns)?”

Keith Gabert, an agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada, acknowledged that 2017 was a bad year for clubroot. He said more than 2,500 cases of the disease were confirmed in Alberta last year.

As well, new pathogens of clubroot have formed, he added, and resistant varieties may not control these new pathogens as easily.

“We’ve made giant strides, but the problem is that we were too successful with genetic resistance,” he said, noting resistant varieties came on the market fairly quickly after the first cases of clubroot were discovered.

“We thought we had a magic bullet, and we do have more genetic resistance available, but I’ve said in the past, you would need four or five distinct genetic sources of resistance to be able to rotate and not return to for a very long time to have that as a fix.”

More clubroot-resistant varieties are expected to come down the pipe within 10 years, but management practices are crucial in dealing with the disease, Gabert said.

“Awareness only takes us so far,” he said.

“A lot of growers have stayed on tight rotations, ignored good advice and, to be honest, got away with it. They are assuming we can continue the way we are, and I don’t think that’s a reality.”

Still, Chapman said he thinks a better co-ordinated action plan needs to be implemented, where service companies, fertilizer organizations, consultants, farmers, agronomists and government all come together.

John Guelly, a director with the Alberta Canola Producers Commission who farms near Westlock, said he understands people’s concerns, but new research suggests clubroot is manageable.

“There’s a big hurdle to get this message out and into people’s heads,” he said.

“If you talk to people, you’ll be able to find that solutions are out there. It’s not going to be a matter that you can’t grow canola ever again in your fields, unless you stick your head in the sand.”

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