Alberta deregulates fusarium

Crop disease comes off province's 'zero tolerance' list

Alberta is moving to keep fusarium in check by means other than the “zero tolerance” policy it has in effect on agricultural pests such as rats, rabies and clubroot.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen announced a ministerial order Wednesday to remove Fusarium graminearum from the list of pests covered by the Pest and Nuisance Control Regulation, which is attached to the province’s Agricultural Pests Act.

Removing fusarium from the regulation “will allow Alberta to modernize to managing the disease, rather than having zero tolerance for it,” the province said in a release.

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The fungal plant pathogen causes fusarium head blight (FHB), which impacts yield and grain quality and produces toxins in infected crops. In Canada it shows up mainly in wheat, barley and corn.

Known to damage crops in Eastern Canada at least as far back as the 1940s, fusarium was first spotted at low levels in Alberta in 1989, and the province responded to its spread in 2002 with its Fusarium graminearum Management Plan.

Since then, the province said, regulating fusarium “has failed to stop its spread” and the 2002 management plan “does not account for recent advances in seed treatment options that can lower detections, bringing them close to zero.”

“This long-overdue change creates new opportunities for our farmers by levelling the playing field,” Dreeshen said in Wednesday’s release, adding Alberta farmers “will benefit from current research advances” as a result.

“Fusarium is well-established in Alberta and since it spreads through airborne spores, we know that zero-tolerance policies are not effective,” Alberta Wheat Commission chair Todd Hames said in the same release, adding the regulatory change “better reflects the reality facing farmers.”

Canadian Seed Trade Association president Georges Chausse said the CSTA “has long advocated for a removal of fusarium as a pest as it will be the most effective way for industry to promote management systems; encourage research, investment and innovation; and allow Alberta farmers to stay competitive with their counterparts in other jurisdictions.”

Member organizations in the province’s fusarium working group had until now called for “extension and education of best management practices,” saying such an approach would “enable sustainable FHB mitigation.”

To that end, the province’s cereal crop commissions and the fusarium working group are now developing a website expected to serve as “a one-stop resource aimed at FHB mitigation.”

The website, titled “Let’s Manage It! – A farmer’s guide to mitigating and managing fusarium head blight in Alberta,” is expected to launch “in the coming days.”

“The ‘Let’s Manage It!’ website aligns with the government’s shift away from regulatory control and will help farmers take action,” Alberta Barley chair Dave Bishop said Wednesday in a separate release from the working group.

“FHB has become a challenge in all regions of Alberta, but we can control its spread by how we manage our operations. I know farmers will appreciate being able to find everything they need right at their fingertips to keep this disease at bay.”

“By shifting to a science-based collaborative effort to address fusarium, we can encourage industry investment in research and broaden our range of prevention and disease management techniques,” Alberta Seed Growers president Renee Hoyme said in the same release.

Plant diseases still listed as “pests” in the Pest and Nuisance Control Regulation include, among others, clubroot, blackleg, potato wart, Dutch elm disease, fireblight and head smut. –– Glacier FarmMedia Network

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