Alta. county takes new approach to clubroot

A first-of-its-kind clubroot management plan is going ahead in northeastern Alberta, helping farmers in the region mitigate the spread of the notorious disease.

The Smoky Lake County plan takes a different approach than that of other counties, requiring producers to sit down with a crop adviser and devise an action plan to mitigate clubroot.

“We would be the very first county in Alberta to implement something like this,” said Tori Cherniawsky, an agricultural fieldman with the country. “With this plan, producers would invite us to the field and help them manage it, rather than potentially pushing them underground.”

She said the plan was recently developed to stem the spread of clubroot by getting more farmers on board to implement best management practices.

In many cases, she said, some county clubroot policies cause farmers to shy away from addressing the disease because they come with severe repercussions.

“Basically, most counties give you a notice you can’t grow canola if they find clubroot. It can cause people to hide,” she said.

“With our plan, we’re saying we’re working with you by doing this agreement, and we’re not giving notices as long as people enter into an agreement.”

Once farmers enter into the agreement, the eight-part plan requires them to commit to a number of practices they will undertake to stem the disease.

With the help of a crop adviser in person, producers can select their rotation (at least a two-year minimum break from canola is required), the type of variety (resistant varieties are required in clubroot fields), weed management practices, small patch management and plans to reduce soil movement.

Farmers must also notify occupants, renters, easement holders and contractors that clubroot is present on their land, and they must continue to monitor their spore loads.

“It’s a checklist and it’s really simple,” Cherniawsky said.

“We want to work with people and we want them to work with us. We don’t want them to hide,” she added.

“A lot of farmers are struggling with how to manage it, so knowing and implementing these strategies is crucial.”

Dan Orchard, an agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada who offered recommendations for this plan, said it will likely work because it’s a collaboration with farmers.

“I do believe it’s the first of its kind in Alberta,” said Orchard.

“Some counties are doing minor consultation and discussions when they find clubroot, but to literally sit down one-on-one and go through a checklist and the benefits, I think for sure it’s a new idea and hopefully it will catch on.”

The model is similar to one implemented in Saskatchewan province-wide.

Alberta doesn’t mandate all counties to follow the same plan, largely because of clubroot’s large prevalence in the province.

However, Cherniawsky said Alberta needs to implement a provincial mandate that every county must follow.

“With every county having their own policy, it can often be frustrating for producers to navigate if they farm in different counties,” she said.

“It would be great if we could all be consistent. My hope is that other counties see this plan and adopt something similar.”

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said the province has a provincial strategy, requiring counties to follow a minimum standard, though they can develop their own programs.

He said no changes to the policy need to be made at this time, but the province will continue to monitor the disease and encourage farmers to implement best management practices.

“Ag service people do a good job, but there is going to be different situations,” he said.

“The geography and climate varies in regions of the province, so there has to be some flexibility in the system while at the same time maintaining a standard across the board.”

Orchard said he’s optimistic the disease can be contained as long as more farmers and county officials educate and implement best management practices.

“I think as more counties go to workshops and education sessions, they will by default come up with something that works for the growers so they can grow canola in the presence of clubroot,” he said.

“I think counties are moving along well and I’m optimistic with how things are going to go in the future.”

A provincial clubroot working group continues to meet regularly, and it’s expected to soon update best management practice guidelines on Alberta’s website.

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