Clubroot not so scary anymore, says CCC agronomist

Better scouting and earlier detection are key to avoiding an ugly, Alberta-style epidemic in Manitoba

Man holding canola samples in jar.

Clubroot isn’t as scary as it used to be.

At the CanoLAB event a couple years ago, there was only one example of an infected root — and it was securely encased in a kind of translucent hockey puck.

But this year, there were trays of clubroot-infected canola seedlings set out on tables that could be uprooted and inspected by any of the over 200 participants in the educational event hosted by the Canola Council of Canada.

Rubber gloves were de rigueur, of course, at the cordoned-off exhibit guarded by a disinfectant-treated exit mat, but the open nature of the display showed that paranoia has turned to cautious optimism that through education, the disease can be kept in check in Manitoba.

“We understand this disease way better than we did when it first appeared,” said Clinton Jurke, an agronomy specialist with the CCC.

After spending $4 million to $5 million studying Plasmodiophora brassicae since it first appeared in Alberta in 2003, the CCC and provincial associations have learned that early detection is the best way to keep it in check, he said.

“We want people to be able to identify this disease more effectively. That was one of the problems in Alberta — the disease was always being found too late,” said Jurke, who encouraged participants to get “up close and personal” with the infected roots.

Ten years ago, Alberta was where Manitoba is now in terms of clubroot-infected fields, with about a dozen infected fields.

From the Grainews website: Getting to the root of rot

But back then, nobody realized just how much of a risk field machinery posed for spreading clubroot spores, resistant canola varieties hadn’t been developed, and the result has been thousands of infected fields, especially in the Edmonton area.

Manitoba, on the other hand, stands a good chance of keeping clubroot at bay if it avoids making the same mistakes as Alberta did, said Jurke.

By planting canola no more than one year out of four, scouting for the telltale signs in crops, and planting clubroot-resistant canola varieties, the numbers of spores in the soil can be kept at the “thousands instead of billions” in a gram of soil, he said.

“Resistance works fantastic,” said Jurke, adding that resistant canola varieties can maintain respectable yields in infected fields, and drastically reduce the number of spores produced by infected plants.

“If we can do that, then this disease will be just a minor problem, not the big, ugly beast that it is right around Edmonton,” he said.

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