Sask. to demand clubroot plans

The province shares details of the management plans it will require when surveys find the disease on farmland

First-year results from Saskatchewan’s new and expanded clubroot survey should be available in early 2019, giving the province’s canola growers a more complete view of where the disease is and where it’s most likely to show up in the future.

Errin Willenborg, research manager with the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission (SaskCanola), told growers at a recent field day that the province’s annual clubroot survey will be expanded to 1,800 fields this year, up from 280 in 2017.

Beginning in mid-August, field crews will look for visual symptoms of the disease in harvested and pre-harvested canola fields in the gray and black soil zones, as well as northern portions of the brown soil zone.

Soil samples will also be collected from the same 1,800 fields and analyzed for the presence of soil-borne clubroot spores.

Survey fields will be randomly selected with one field examined per township in provincial crop districts 1B, 5A, 5B, 7B, 8A, 8B, 9A and 9B.

Approximately 60 townships in the northern half of crop district 6B will also be included in the survey.

Landowner permission will not be required.

“Last year, there were some detects of clubroot in crop districts 9a and 9b,” Willenborg told producers attending a July 26 field day at the Conservation Learning Centre south of Prince Albert, Sask.

“Once that information was made public, we heard back from quite a few producers that (they) want to know more about clubroot in the province.”

This year’s survey is designed to provide a more comprehensive picture of the clubroot risk in the province.

When clubroot symptoms are detected in a canola field, the rural municipality will be contacted and the landowner or land manager will be required to develop a clubroot management plan with the help of a licensed agrologist.

Clubroot is included under the province’s Pest Control Act, meaning rural municipalities have the authority to pass bylaws preventing its spread.

RMs also have the authority to appoint municipal pest control officers who can inspect private land for the disease and order landowners to proactively manage the disease, if it is detected.

Barb Ziesman, provincial plant disease specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said Saskatchewan’s approach to managing the disease is science-based and farmer-driven.

In Saskatchewan, the basic elements of an agrologist-approved management plan must include:

  • A commitment to adjust crop rotations so that canola is only produced once every three years.
  • A commitment to use only clubroot resistant canola varieties.
  • Steps outlining how the producer plans to control weeds and volunteers that can also serve as hosts to the disease.
  • Measures that improve sanitation and reduce biosecurity risks, such as a description of how the farmer plans to minimize field-to-field soil transfer and reduce the spread of spores within an infected field.
  • Notification to occupants, renters and easement holder that the disease has been detected and management strategies must be followed.
  • Full disclosure that the disease was detected when an affected parcel of land is sold or rented to a new producer.

“Our definition of a confirmed clubroot case is when you see visible symptoms within the field,” said Ziesman.

“(In surveyed fields), we’ll be pulling plants at the field entrance … to begin with and if we see symptoms — so galls on the roots of the canola plants — that’s going to give us the indication that the disease is present.”

Detection of the clubroot pathogen in soil samples will not be considered a positive detection, but details of spore loads in soil samples will be shared with the producer.

When affected root tissues are observed through visual examinations, a DNA based test will also be used to confirm the findings.

Ziesman said the provincial agriculture ministry will be working closely with RMs to ensure that clubroot management plans are fair and science-based.

However, if clubroot is detected in fields that were not part of the provincial survey, growers may not be legally required to report the disease to provincial or municipal officials.

“If (an) RM has enacted a clubroot specific bylaw, many of those bylaws actually require producers to report clubroot when it has been found,” Ziesman said.

“But if the RM doesn’t have a (clubroot) specific bylaw, there is no legal requirement for reporting under the Pest Control Act.”

There are no plans to amend the provincial Pest Control Act to make reporting mandatory.

Even though some farmers might be reluctant to report a positive clubroot finding, Saskatchewan Agriculture is recommending that all growers report the disease on a voluntary basis.

“Ultimately, it would be in their best interests to (report the disease) … because if they don’t follow a minimum three-year rotation and use (clubroot) resistant varieties, it’s going to be very difficult to manage clubroot on their farms.”

Willenborg said management plans that are developed as a result of the survey will be based on science as well as common sense.

“What we’re going to want to see in the plan is some thought toward keeping the soil in the field where it is,” she said.

“So minimum till, and maybe a note about not working the (infected) field if it’s muddy.”

Another key element of a plan might be a commitment to plant grass at the main entrance to the field, where implements are unfolded and the clubroot pathogen is most likely to be introduced.

Other common sense elements might include sweeping off field implements before transporting them or working fields in a planned sequence so as to ensure that dirt from an infected field is not moved to an unaffected field.

“It’s not about soaking all of your equipment down with bleach and waiting three hours when you’re seeding,” Willenborg told growers.

“That’s not what we’re looking for. They tried that (elsewhere) and no one did it. It didn’t work.”

The 1,800 field survey will begin in mid-August and will be conducted by staff from the provincial agriculture ministry as well as plant health officers employed by the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.

Ziesman said the goal is to have the survey completed in six to seven weeks with the latest fields surveyed in late September or early October, presumably after the canola harvest is finished.

Conducting the surveys after a field has been harvested should not affect the surveyors’ ability to detect the disease because detection protocols are based on examining the roots of plants rather than observing the fields for spots that appear unusual during the crop’s vegetative stages.

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