Biosecurity in the field

Crop farmers can learn a thing from their hog-farming neighbours about preventing disease from becoming established on their operations, a provincial plant pathologist says.

Holly Derksen has a one-word answer for those who doubt: clubroot.

It spread rapidly in Alberta, from 12 fields in 2003 to over 400 in 2008. It has since appeared in Saskatchewan, and has been reported in Manitoba.

Its movement could have been prevented, or, at the very least, limited had farmers practised better sanitation, Derksen told participants in the annual Crop Diagnostic School in mid-July.

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“I compare it to hog farms. You wouldn’t let just anyone off the street walk into your barn. You don’t know where they’ve been, other barns they’ve visited, etc. They want to protect their commodity,” she said. “Other farmers need to protect their commodities, too.”

Derksen said it’s a relatively new concept for crop farmers, but it’s becoming increasingly important in preventing the spread of disease.

“Always assume something will be carried onto your land. It’s about controlling the borders of your farm,” she said.

It’s believed clubroot travelled above ground, mostly. And it continues to track east.

“We’ve detected it in very low concentrations here in Manitoba. It’s not causing any problems yet; yield loss. But we want to make sure it doesn’t spread,” Derksen said.

Dirt travelling from one field to another, one region to another, on various devices, machines, and items of clothing is the culprit. The solution is easy, but growers need to be proactive. Waiting until after the disease is established is too late.

Farmers have the right to ask people to clean up before coming onto their land. Asking the crop scout to wash his or her ATV before entering your field may seem petty, but it’s important, says Derksen.

Ron Howard, a plant pathologist with Alberta Agriculture said in a phone interview that clubroot is believed to have spread throughout Alberta on tillage equipment.

“A cultivator can have hundreds of kilograms of soil on it,” Howard said. “If there was something producers with infected fields could have done five, 10 years ago, to prevent the spread of clubroot in their fields, they would have.”

He offers some simple advice:

  • Scrape visible clumps from implement;
  •   Use a pressure washer;
  • Disinfect.

“If you’re cleaning your equipment, you’re preventing the spread of weeds, nematodes, soil-borne insects. It’s a good thing to do, a win-win,” Howard said.

It isn’t just about preventing clubroot. Soybean cyst nematode is starting to appear in regions close to Manitoba. It’s been detected in Ontario, North Dakota, Minnesota.

The looming soybean threat is reported to reduce yields by up to 75 per cent through a process involving the female nematode, which becomes a cyst on the bean’s root system, suppressing the plant and stunting its potential. This nematode is known to spread through flood waters, but can also move around in dirt, possibly in the tread of a boot.

Crop scouts and agronomists are becoming more sensitive to the risks they expose to farms by visiting multiple fields on a daily basis. They are now walking instead of riding their ATVs on farmers’ fields. They are wearing booties, and making sure their vehicles are clean. This is a trend that Howard is happy to see, and hopes will seep its way to the producer level.

He recommends wearing booties if boots have been on unknown land and asking custom operators about where they’ve been before. It’s important to spend time cleaning newly purchased equipment.

“Many producers don’t think. If they bought a piece of used equipment from an auction in an area with clubroot, that’s all it would take to introduce the disease to a previously uninfected area,” Howard said.

“It comes down to how risk averse the producer is. Does he or she have all the insurance or just hail insurance?”

Last April, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) released a series of documents on biosecurity geared towards producers: the Grains and Oilseeds Biosecurity Standard, and the Grains and Oilseeds Biosecurity Guidance Document. Both documents are available on CFIA’s website: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/plants/plant-protection/biosecurity/grains-and-oilseeds-sector.

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