Breakthrough made in shatterproof canola

In trials that the New South Wales primary industries department conducted at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, some varieties of canola showed signs of pod shatter, top, while Ethiopian mustard pods remained intact, below. The crops were seeded at the same time last year and experienced a tough season with extreme frosts and a dry winter.  | Bernadette York photos

Australian researchers say they have made a major breakthrough in the effort to develop shatterproof canola.

Researchers at the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries have mapped shatter-resistant genes in Ethiopian mustard plants, also known as brassica carinata.

“We investigated the level of pod shatter resistance in Ethiopian mustard and identified sources, which were 10 times more shatter-tolerant than canola,” canola project leader Harsh Raman said in a news release.

Pod shatter is a big problem in Australia due to its hot, dry conditions.

Raman has identified five pod-shatter-resistant genes in carinata and has created molecular markers for those genes to trace their presence in crosses he has made between canola and carinata.

“Several elite lines with pod shatter resistance were selected and we plan to deliver them to Australian canola breeders within the next two to three months,” said Raman.

That is music to the ears of Jack Froese, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association.

He believes the more sources of shatter resistance the better, even though it is unclear whether this new source will make it into Canadian germplasm.

Froese started growing Bayer’s InVigor pod-shatter-reduction lines of canola on his farm in Winkler, Man., three years ago.

“Initially, when I started growing it, I thought, ‘big deal, but I’ll try it.’ But wow, what a difference one trait can make,” he said.

“For a single trait, the value that it has actually brought to western Canadian agriculture is just phenomenal.”

Froese still swaths his canola because of harvest time pressure. But now his workers can swath during daytime instead of the middle of the night when they used to do it to take advantage of the evening dew softening the dry and crispy pods.

That has reduced fatigue among his workforce, eliminating one big health and safety risk.

He is also able to let his canola plants mature longer before swathing, resulting in better quality, bigger seeds and improved yield.

And there is less seed loss when he combines the swaths. The extra one to two bushels per acre on his 1,500 acres of canola can put another $30,000 in his bank account.

“We wouldn’t grow anything else,” said Froese.

Raman also pointed out some benefits of building shatter resistance into canola plants that go beyond improved yields.

“Pod-shatter-resistant canola varieties would reduce the cost of chemical applications to seal pods and manage unwanted canola plants, which are weeds in subsequent crops,” he said.

Chris Holzapfel, research manager with the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation, has extensive experience working with carinata.

“It has very good resistance to pod shatter. We’ve rarely ever seen it. It’s fair to say that swathing that crop is pretty much a waste of time (as opposed to straight combining),” he said.

The pods are rigid compared to canola pods and the plant is generally sturdier.

“You feel it when you put it through the combine,” said Holzapfel.

He doesn’t know if the carinata-based resistance will prove to be better than the lines Bayer and Pioneer already have on the market.

“I suppose it’s another option for getting that trait into the plant, which certainly isn’t a bad thing,” he said.

Bayer forecasts that 40 to 50 percent of Western Canada’s canola crop will be straight cut by 2020, up from 20 to 30 percent last year.

Holzapfel said that is a reasonable estimate.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot of uptake just over the past two growing seasons,” he said.

So, there is going to be a growing need for shatter-resistant lines.

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