Canola growers should avoid the temptation to “shoot, shovel and shut up” rather than report suspected cases of verticillium longisporum, says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The yield-robbing disease was detected for the first time in Canada on a Manitoba research farm last November. CFIA is concerned that farmers will not report the disease for fear of having their farm quarantined.
However, not only are farmers obliged by law to report, it is better for them, the grain industry and Canada if they do, CFIA officials say. And while measures have been introduced to prevent the disease from spreading from that one farm, including a prohibition on growing canola, CFIA is allowing the farm to sell its canola with safeguards in place.
Moreover, if a CFIA survey finds verticillium longisporum is already widespread in Manitoba, it might not become a regulated disease, meaning farmers won’t have to report it or be subject to restrictions.
“The message we want to convey is that producers have an obligation under the Plant Protection Act to report any new or quarantined pest as it helps Canada ultimately,” Kanwal Kochhar, national manager of CFIA’s grains and oilseeds section, said in an interview last week. “As for producers, their voluntary actions are in their best interest and also in the best interest of the industry at large.”
Verticillium longisporum, a fungal disease that can be spread through infected soil and plants, can cut canola yields 10 to 60 per cent, added Jason Murphy, a CFIA grains and oilseeds specialist.
“Ignoring the pest and not reporting it is not really of any benefit to a producer,” Murphy said. “And if it is present it’s going to be very hard for a farmer to ignore.”
No control options
Fungicides don’t control verticillium longisporum, also known as verticillium wilt, and right now no canola varieties are resistant to the disease, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development oilseed specialist Anastasia Kubinec told farmers at the Deerwood Soil and Water Association annual meeting here March 5.
“Hopefully there will be some resistance in a few years,” she said, adding clubroot-resistant canolas were developed quickly after that disease grew into a major problem in Alberta. “Hopefully we aren’t going to see a lot of cases of this, but it’s something to watch for.”
The infected farm is essentially under quarantine, pending a CFIA survey later this year to determine if verticillium is restricted to that one farm, is present on other farms, but still relatively rare, or widespread.
If isolated or rare, Canada is obliged to officially control it under the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). Based on measures taken by CFIA to keep the disease from spreading from that one infected farm, other infected farms can expect added work and cost.
But when asked if farmers will be compensated for those costs, Murphy said right now verticillium longisporum is not regulated. He also said farmers enrolled in federal-provincial farm programs are eligible for compensation for reduced yields due to crop diseases.
How verticillium is handled longer term depends on the results of CFIA’s survey.
“At this time it is speculation and it is very difficult to determine if a threshold (defining isolated or widespread infection) will be applied or otherwise,” Kochha said. “We need to complete the survey and compile the results before we can determine our next regulatory action.”
The best outcome is the disease is found only on that one farm and is prevented from spreading. However, there are concerns it might be further afield. It’s possible what Manitoba agronomists in recent years assumed was fusarium wilt, might have been verticillium. This year MAFRD will test suspected fusarium cases to be sure.
Meanwhile, CFIA introduced measures to try and stop the disease from spreading from that one farm.
“It prohibits the production of canola or other host crops on that farm,” Kochha said. “This will be in effect until further notice, but this notice does not prevent the farm from undertaking any agricultural activity. It does require that the farm owner develop and implement a CFIA-approved biosecurity plan.”
CFIA has also issued a domestic movement certificate allowing the infected farm to sell its canola to an approved facility. That can be a crushing plant “that will need to demonstrate that the process will mitigate the risk of the pest associated with the commodity,” Kochhar said. “And the process may include measures such as removal and disposal of potential infested plant debris and further oilseed crushing of the grain itself.”
Verticillium longisporum is not on any other country’s regulated quarantine pest list, CFIA said in an email.
“In order to determine the impact the disease could have on Canadian canola exports, the distribution of the pest has to be determined, which will be done via surveys,” CFIA said.
Still, Canadian canola growers know that some countries use phytosanitary concerns to close borders. It happened a few years ago when China restricted imports of Canadian canola for fear it was infected with blackleg.
While verticillium wilt has been found in parts of the United States in vegetable crops, Manitoba’s case is the first confirmed canola infection in North America.
Verticillium wilt is a common canola disease in Sweden, where it can dramatically reduce yields. CFIA’s website says it’s also “prevalent” in Europe, Russia and Japan.”