Alberta opts for education over regulation of fusarium head blight

The move better reflects the reality facing farmers on the ground

The Alberta government will stop trying to regulate fusarium head blight (FHB) in favour of managing the fungal disease that can reduce yield and quality in infected wheat and barley.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen announced June 3 that Fusarium graminearum (Fg) is being removed from the province’s Pest Nuisance Control Regulation of the Agricultural Pests Act — a move welcomed by an industry-led FHB working group.

“This news has been a long time coming,” Todd Hames, Alberta Wheat Commission chair said in a news release June 3. “FHB is well established in Alberta and since it’s spread through airborne spores, we know that zero-tolerance policies (set out in regulation) are not effective. We welcome this regulatory shift that better reflects the reality facing farmers and appreciate Minister Dreeshen’s dedication to breaking down this regulatory barrier so that we can move ahead with improved competitiveness.”

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The FHB working group, which consists of value-chain partners from primary producers to global bioscience companies and other stakeholders, has long advocated for a shift from regulatory control to promoting best management practices.

To mitigate FHB, the Alberta wheat and barley commissions, in collaboration with the working group, are developing a website called, ‘Let’s Manage It!’ (manageFHB.ca) — a one-stop resource with information on how farmers can manage the disease.

“Alberta Seed Processors has been asking for regulatory reform for years,” said Tom Coppock, president of Alberta Seed Processors. “The legislative amendment will allow farmers to focus on real risk factors to better manage the disease. Using high-quality seed that has been tested by an accredited laboratory is still one of many important FHB mitigation tools that farmers will continue to utilize.”

Manitoba suffered its first major FHB outbreak in spring wheat in 1993, although it’s believed the disease had been infecting corn and some wheat crops at lower levels before then.

Over the years FHB has worked its way west.

Like all crop diseases, before FHB can infect crops three factors must be in place: the pathogen has to be present, there needs to be a host crop to be infected and the right environmental conditions must exist. Wheat is susceptible to infection if the weather is warm and humid at flowering time.

Crop rotation, higher seeding rates to encourage even flowering and applying a fungicide to wheat at the early-flowering stage are some of the ways to reduce FHB infections.

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