Agriculture

New PSI lab benefits growers with early warning of yield-robbing pests  

 Dr. Xiaowei Guo, lab director of PSIDr. Xiaowei Guo, lab director of PSI
Do Manitoba canola growers need to worry about clubroot in their crops? The soil-borne disease that has devastated parts of Alberta cropland hardly existed in Manitoba until cases were confirmed in 2013. That’s when the Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA) moved quickly to determine the scope of the issue for their members.
 
With funding from the Growing Actions program, MCGA set up the Pest Surveillance Initiative (PSI) lab. Fitted with cutting-edge DNA technology, PSI can detect very low levels of clubroot spores in growers’ soil, determining the presence of the disease long before the crop shows physical symptoms.
 
Clubroot causes swelling on canola roots, ultimately reducing production or killing the plant entirely. Clubroot spores remain in the soil so maintaining low levels of spores is the only way to reduce crop damage once the disease is present in a field.
 
“Investing money into the PSI lab was a proactive step on the board’s part,” says Bill Ross, executive director at MCGA. “We knew clubroot was a big problem in Alberta and we wanted to start testing to see if the disease was in Manitoba.”
 
PSI produces interactive clubroot map
  
PSI officially opened its doors in October 2014 and performed an extensive grid of soil tests, across southern Manitoba. Their findings - shared through an interactive clubroot map - showed that the disease is present across Manitoba at varying levels of severity. The map is constantly being updated as more soil samples are tested.
 
“The soil testing gives farmers a nice benchmark,” says Ross. “If they have spores in their field but no sign of disease at least they know that it’s there, and they should be managing their risk.”
 
He explained the best way to combat clubroot is to use good crop rotation, preferably growing canola on a field only one year in four. Other mitigation techniques include avoiding disturbing the soil more than necessary and removing visible soil on equipment before moving it from field to field.
 
 Clubroot's effect on canola plants
PSI lab to continue thanks to MCGA
 
Though the PSI lab was founded initially to test for clubroot, it has the capability to do much more. It will continue to operate with support from MCGA even after the funding from Growing Forward 2 ends.
 
“There was really no lab in Manitoba and now there is and we’re going to work really hard to get it to stay here,” says Ross.
 
Ross explained that MCGA is approaching other commodity organizations and discussing partnerships as the lab equipment has the capability to detect a multitude of soil-borne diseases.
 
“The board really sees value in this and that’s why they’re putting growers’ money into it,” he says. “I hope in the future it’s more than one commodity group that owns it. Everyone has soil-borne diseases.”
 
PSI lab gives growers data about local environment
 
A major benefit that PSI brings to Manitoba is the ability for growers to make informed decisions based on cutting-edge scientific data collected from their area.
 
The initial funding was important to get the clubroot benchmarking study done, but the lab has the ability to do DNA evaluations of pathogens to detect many pests in a variety of crops. It already offers glyphosate resistant (GR) kochia testing and other commercial testing. The location of the lab in Manitoba means there is valuable research done every year that benefits local farmers.
 
In 2015, a field inspection in southern Manitoba revealed the presence of the canola pathogen called Verticillium Wilt, which had never been discovered before in North America. PSI has worked with scientists at the University of Manitoba on DNA tests to identify this new pathogen from plant and soil samples and will soon be offering testing to growers for the disease.
 
Early detection, rapid response
 
Anastasia Kubinec, manager of crop industry development with Manitoba Agriculture says the PSI lab provides testing to Manitoba farmers that is not available in other areas of Western Canada. It allows for early detection and rapid responses to what could be potentially serious diseases. 
 
“PSI is able to take techniques from research scientists in Canadian universities and then commercialize them to provide those services to Manitoba farmers,” she says. “It’s very exciting for Manitoba that we can figure out what’s happening to our crops with cutting-edge research done at the universities or with federal scientists.”
 
To learn more about the lab and how it benefits growers, visit PSI’s website or watch its informational video.