Clubroot fails to take root

Clubroot may not prove to be the doom and gloom scenario first predicted for canola producers.

Clubroot may not prove to be the doom and gloom scenario first predicted for canola producers.

Lacombe County manager of environmental and protective services Keith Boras expressed optimism that the blight would be eradicated as his municipality begins an annual survey for the infestation that first appeared in one field in the municipality last year.

Boras said about 30 fields have been randomly inspected since the beginning of the week.

“We haven’t found anything suspicious, so we’ve got no positive results yet.”

About 40 to 60 more fields will be tested in coming weeks and the University of Alberta is dispatching staff to help out.

“We’re going to do the clubroot sampling until it’s no longer an issue,” he said.

At one time, there were fears the disease, first found in an Edmonton field in 2003, could pose a serious threat to the province’s $3-billion-a-year canola industry.

By 2008, about a dozen counties were affected and clubroot was found that summer in Ponoka and Lacombe counties.

Clubroot is a serious soil-borne disease that causes galls to form on canola roots, which ultimately causes premature death of the plant.

Boras said past experience provides optimism that the clubroot problem will eventually disappear.

Years ago, a disease called blackleg threatened crops until it was eliminated by the development of crops resistant to the disease.

There are already similar canola seeds being developed for clubroot.

“That’s the way this disease will likely be dealt with. Because it’s soil-borne, it’s not one that can be dealt with by pesticide or anything. It has to be dealt with by resistance in the plant.

“These things tend to go in cycles. I think back to backleg. When that thing first reared its ugly head we were thinking the world was coming to an end for canola producers. Six or seven years later, blackleg is not even an issue, we don’t see it.”

The plant breeders and the seed supply companies really react to these things quickly. Also, producers well versed in agronomics don’t waste time taking the necessary measures, he said.

“We don’t have huge failures because of disease anymore.”

The development of clubroot-resistant seeds happened much quicker than first anticipated. “When we first noticed clubroot as a problem, plant breeders were telling us we were six to 10 years away from any resistance in the plants. It turns out we were two to three years away.”

Boras is not surprised that clubroot has not spread more quickly in the county. The county got the word out to landowners three years ago and both farmers and oil companies, which access fields, have taken steps to clean equipment as they travel from one area to another.

“Awareness was the best tool we had. And I think we got people aware real quick.”

The fungal disease is easily spread because its spores are distributed by the movement of soil, including the mud that gets stuck on farm or oil and gas vehicles as they move from field to field.

The county is recommending that producers plant canola in four-year cycles to prevent disease growth.

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