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Council to focus on crop health

In 2016, Canada had a blackleg problem.

China was threatening to halt canola imports over concerns that shipments of Canadian canola contained trace amounts of blackleg, a fungal disease that could potentially contaminate the Chinese rapeseed crop.

The two nations came up with a temporary solution to the dispute, which will last until 2020. However, the plant disease was a genuine threat to exports and may disrupt future exports of canola, worth billions annually to Canadian farmers.

Managing plant diseases is crucial for the agriculture industry and it’s one of the drivers behind a new organization — the Canadian Plant Health Council.

“(The council) will address priorities for the plant health sector, working together on preventive approaches and activities to protect forests, agriculture and other plants from pests, diseases and other risks,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in an Oct. 12 release.

The council has 11 members, representing provincial and federal governments, academia and the agriculture and forestry sectors.

The basic idea behind the council is to ensure that various groups — universities, provincial governments and farm organizations — are rowing in the same direction.

“Fruits and vegetables are very sensitive to new pests and disease. The Canadian Plant Health Council’s ability to co-ordinate an effective national response to such threats is extremely relevant to our industry as consumers demand high quality produce,” said Brian Gilroy, president of the Canadian Horticultural Council.

The mandate of the council isn’t set in stone.

Members will identify priorities and focus on what can be achieved through collaboration over the next couple of years.

“Where can a council be most effective, and on what issues?” said Ian Affleck, vice- president of biotechnology with CropLife Canada and a member of the council.

“(It’s) not limited to only emergency management or new pests that have come into the country. It’s also there to co-ordinate a response to pests that already exist.”

Affleck said plant health is bigger than diseases. It includes all pests and other factors that affect plant health.

“Weeds, insects and pathogens, as well as inputs into the plant health sector — seed and fertilizer,” he said.

When it comes to something like blackleg, the council could help with research priorities and will encourage co-operation.

“When you look at what different provincial governments might be doing on that file (blackleg), or universities when it comes to research … or the federal government when it comes to inspection or outreach to international governments, there’s an opportunity here to co-ordinate those activities,” Affleck said.

The new council is not unique, he added. Many countries have similar organizations, including the United States.

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