Researchers target little-known canola disease

LACOMBE, Alta. — A new project that aims to better understand a little-known canola disease may soon be underway on the Prairies.

Researchers behind the project, which is awaiting funding but likely going forward, hope they will be able determine whether verticillium stripe negatively affect yields, said Clint Jurke, agronomy director with the Canola Council of Canada.

“We’re really hopeful this disease won’t cause any yield loss, but there are still lots of questions and not many answers,” he said during the canolaPALOOZA event in Lacombe, Alta., in late June.

Verticillium stripe is relatively new to Western Canada. It was initially found in Manitoba in 2014 and later located in Saskatchewan, Alberta and northeastern British Columbia.

The disease causes canola stems to look shredded. As well, other symptoms include leaf chlorosis, early ripening and stunting. The disease spreads quickly and lingers in the soil for years.

There are no registered fungicides or resistant varieties available for control. Farmers can combat it by using long rotations, improving soil fertility, practising better weed management, and growing nitrogen-rich plants.

Jurke said the disease causes yield loss in winter canola varieties grown in Europe.

In Canada, however, he’s optimistic it won’t cause significant yield loss because farmers here don’t use winter varieties and the crop is grown in a shorter length of time.

“Maybe our crop matures more quickly so the pathogen doesn’t actually have time to cause significant yield loss, but we will still need to do that basic research work to find that out,” he said.

If the project goes ahead, researchers will also try to figure out what growing conditions encourage the disease, as well as what can be done to control it, whether that’s through genetic resistance or other methods.

Jurke said the canola council is working with other grower groups and the federal government to finalize the project. He said it will likely take three or four years before researchers can determine if the disease will become a problem.

John Guelly, who farms near Westlock, Alta., and is vice-chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, said while the disease may not yet be on farmers’ radar, it’s important researchers learn more about it to avoid potential issues.

“It’s probably going to be more prevalent, but we’re not sure when,” he said. “We want to help our funding partners to figure out how to deal with it, as well as avoid getting it and grow with it once we get it.”

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