ST. PAUL - The County of St. Paul has taken an about-turn on an earlier decision made this spring to stop the inspection of canola fields for clubroot. News that a new strain of clubroot was detected last year in a local canola field seeded with a clubroot-resistant variety, coupled with a dire warning that the municipality may be tempting fate if it didn’t remain vigilant on the clubroot front, was enough to change the County’s mind.
During the County’s Public Works meeting May 24, council members heard from Doug Moisey, an agronomist with Pioneer Seeds Canada and County Agricultural Fieldman Keith Kornelsen around the possible implications of losing canola resistance to clubroot as the disease continues to evolve and new strains develop and the impact on local agricultural producers. The information was enough to convince the council to continue with field inspections again this year.
With word that some rural municipalities are potentially pulling back on inspections and not worrying about crop rotations, Moisey said, “I’m here to warn you guys this is not the fire you want to play with because right now in the Edmonton area there are some farms that are not able to seed canola on some quarters for the last three or four years.”
“Companies are running like crazy right now to produce resistance. Our company alone is working on ten different resistance packaging (options). Looking at different strains of resistance from around the world we have probably four or five new hybrids that we’ll be looking at this year in our test plots . . . to get a better idea of what they are and what is happening.”
At an Agricultural Services Board meeting earlier this year, the members felt that since there had been only four fields in the County that tested positive for clubroot out of 500 inspected last year, it would be a cost-saving measure to stop the inspection program going forward. The County’s 2021 clubroot program expenses, including staffing, equipment and sampling amounted to $12,795.
With canola prices hitting record levels in the last year, and local producers hoping to recognize a decent profit on canola crops this year as the world demand continues, Reeve Glen Ockerman said canola is of significant importance to the area. There was some reservation apparent around the council table of implementing stringent measures on seeding canola if clubroot was detected in a field, and where the responsibility of the municipality lay.
“Canola is huge, the opportunity is huge,” Ockerman said, adding “We want to get this right. We don’t want to condemn them from holding back from maybe capitalizing at all, so that’s why we want to talk to professionals.”
Moisey said Pioneer is promoting a two-year break on seeding canola in the same field.
“We do know through research that 90 per cent of those spores will disappear within the first two years.” However, he said the remaining 10 per cent can still be a problem.
While current clubroot-resistant varieties of canola are seen as highly effective, there is increasing concern about the pathogen shifts in clubroot that are making it less controllable and raising some warning signs.
“We were in the mode of let’s try and contain, throw that out the window. We’re not containing this anymore, we need to learn to live with it,” Ockerman said. “With four fields positive out of 500 we’re not that bad, so I don’t know if we want to put something in where I’m ready to stand on the pedestal and say we’re only going to give you a one in three or one in four rotation.”
Moisey said the reality is some producers sometimes don’t watch for things because they don’t want to know. “It’s called bury your head in the sand. I think the County has to maintain the presence to monitor . . . This stuff travels with dust, it travels with machinery, it travels with tires, and it travels with water.”
Coun. Dale Hedrick said there’s not much appetite from producers to have the County tell them what to do when it comes to crop production. However, he does believe the County has a role to play in education.
Coun. Louis Dechaine also questioned if four positive samples in 500 fields was enough to justify the County taking measures.
“I know, coming from a canola guy, there’s many more losses from blackleg than there’s ever been from clubroot . . . and we don’t mandate blackleg.”
There is a variety of clubroot policies in neighbouring municipalities, according to information provided to council by Kornelsen. The MD of Bonnyville checks all canola fields and if clubroot is found they get a pest notice and cannot seed canola for two years in the field. Smoky Lake County does random field checks of about 100 fields annually and if clubroot is found they require a one in three-year crop rotation. The County of Vermilion River has a similar program. For the County of Two Hills, they check between 50 to 200 fields annually. If clubroot is found, they will pull 100 plants for testing and deliver a one in three or one in four no canola pest notices to the landowner. Lac La Biche County’s minimum requirement on a positive field is a one in four-year rotation.
Coun. Maxine Fodness said the cost to have the clubroot program in place outweighed the cost of the potential damage that could result from not having one. “I think it’s imperative we check 100 per cent of the fields, or as much as possible because we don’t want this to happen in the County of St. Paul like it has in Sturgeon (County).”
According to the County’s ASB-11 Clubroot Policy: If a laboratory test comes back positive, an “Incidence Test” shall be completed on the field to determine what rotation restrictions will be applied to the field. The field shall receive a one-in-three-year rotation restriction if found to have a low incidence of clubroot and a one-in-four restriction if found to have a high incidence of clubroot.