Alta. seed survey tracks fusarium prevalence

Last month, the Alberta Seed Processors released an interim report that quantifies the incidence of fusarium on seed samples submitted to Alberta seed testing labs. | File photo

Grain growers in Alberta have gained access to a valuable new tool aimed at controlling the spread of Fusarium graminearum.

Last month, the Alberta Seed Processors released an interim report that quantifies the incidence of the pathogen on seed samples submitted to Alberta seed testing labs.

The report, which includes a provincial map showing the incidence of the pathogen on a county-by-county basis, is part of a three-year project spearheaded by the ASP.

Other industry partners that contributed to the project include Alberta Agriculture, the Alberta wheat and barley commissions and three participating seed labs — SGS Canada, 20/20 Seed Labs and Seed Check Technologies in Leduc.

“This is the first time that data has been compiled into one database to allow the crop sector a more complete view of the presence of the fusarium headblight pathogen in Alberta,” said ASP general manager Monica Klaas.

“The project directly aligns with ASP’s goals of supporting agriculture in Alberta by improving the service and capacity of our seed and grain processors” and ensuring the best possible outcomes for farmers, she added.

The ASP project looked at seed samples that were submitted to participating seed labs between Sept. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020.

A total of 5,745 seed samples were submitted by commercial grain producers and pedigreed seed growers.

Samples were analyzed and data was compiled into a single database.

The database includes seed test results from both pedigreed seed crops and non-pedigreed or farm-saved seed. It was assumed that all samples were submitted with the intent that the seed would be used to plant a new crop in the spring of 2021.

Lab results were catalogued by postal code and were grouped geographically, by county or municipal district.

From there, a provincial map was produced showing areas where the Fusarium graminearum pathogen was present.

The map shows the percentage of samples, on a county-by-county basis, that tested positive for the presence of Fusarium graminearum.

It does not provide information about the level of infection, only on the incidence or percentage of positive cases.

A complete copy of the interim report and the Fusarium graminearum incidence map can be viewed at bit.ly/39ztzmu online.

The report’s interim map suggests that the percentage of seed samples that tested positive for some level of Fusarium graminearum was highest in counties and municipal districts on the east side of the province, north of Alberta’s Special Areas.

Greater than 50 percent of the samples submitted from the counties of Provost, Wainwright and Vermilion River tested positive for the pathogen.

Fusarium graminearum is the pathogen that causes fusarium headblight, a costly plant disease that affects cereal grain crops such as spring wheat, durum and barley.

Depending on the level of infection in a crop, FHB can cause significant losses in both yield and grain quality.

Fusarium graminearum comes from two basic sources — wind-blown spores from infected crop residues and infected seed.

The ASP project does not attempt to measure or quantify the risk associated with wind-blown spores from infected crop residues.

Instead, it focuses solely on infected seed as a potential risk.

It is typically assumed, however, that areas producing a high percentage of infected seed samples would also have a greater risk of disease transmission due to wind-blown spores.

In its interim report, ASP says understanding the sources of the Fusarium graminearum pathogen is important to controlling the spread of FHB and developing an integrated pest management strategy.

Despite some assumptions and limitations, the ASP project and the associated Fusarium graminearum map is a helpful guide, ASP said.

“Used in conjunction with other FHB management tools such as the fusarium head blight environmental risk map … the information can help producers evaluate risk and plan appropriate management responses,” the report says.

Management practices aimed at controlling the spread of FHB include using long and diverse crop rotations, choosing seed varieties that have greater genetic resistance to FHB, using approved seed treatments, scouting fields regularly and applying foliar control products when necessary, and using clean seed that is free of Fusarium graminearum or has acceptably low rates of infection.

The ASP seed survey is a three-year project that is funded through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP).

The project was launched in the fall of 2020 and will be completed in 2023.

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