Working with Western Canadian farmers to protect canola crops from clubroot

Canola farm with Experts

By Dan Stanton, Corteva Agriscience Research Scientist 

I have always admired small farming communities for their ability to pull together to solve a problem using a unique blend of hard work, cooperation and “can do” attitude.

As clubroot has spread across the Prairies in the past few years, I believe it has become one of those problems that we will all need to work together to manage and correct.

Your level of familiarity with clubroot likely depends on where in Western Canada you live. While it has been on the radar of farmers in Alberta for over a decade, many growers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have only recently become aware of this serious soil-borne disease that has infested thousands of fields across our canola-growing regions.

Additional Resources

Chad Koscielny Radio Interview with GX 94 Yorkton

Chad Koscielny, Canola Breeding Lead, Interview about Clubroot 04/13/20
File format not supported. Unable to play audio. Please refresh your browser and try again.

Leading in seed native trait development

Pioneer is one of two premium seed brands offered by Corteva Agriscience. Pioneer introduced the first clubroot resistant (CR) hybrid back in 2009 and today Corteva is the only company to offer a portfolio of CR hybrids with different sources of clubroot resistance. As the industry leader in seed native trait (i.e. disease, drought and harvest management) development, over the next few years we expect Pioneer will offer several more sources of CR to provide Western Canadian farmers with even more tools to address clubroot in canola.

Working out of the Corteva research station in Ardrossan, AB, I’m part of a team of global multidisciplinary scientists and team members devoted to identifying and incorporating new effective sources of resistance into our canola hybrids. While we have been making incredible strides on this front, as a company we recently realized that we needed to do more to educate farmers on clubroot, for it’s a problem that can’t be solved by science alone.

How clubroot affects your crop

 

Clubroot Gall

Healthy Canola Roots

Clubroot Gall

Caused by a fungal-like micro-organism, clubroot results in distinctive club-like/galling symptoms on the plant’s roots. Water and nutrient uptake is restricted, resulting in reduced seed production and, ultimately, stunted plant growth or plant death. It has been known to cause canola growers up to 100 per cent yield loss in extreme cases. While we have been able to develop new technologies and better methods to protect against clubroot, it continues to evolve, with new virulent pathotypes found in Alberta and Manitoba.

Clubroot infection releases millions of resting spores, which can survive in the soil for up to 17 years. Because of this long lifespan, reducing the spore population in your soil is key to long-term clubroot management. This is best achieved through a proactive, integrated approach that entails preventing infestation, rotating crops and rotating effective types of CR canola hybrids.

Preventing infestation

Clubroot is spread when infested soil is carried from field-to-field by farm machinery, wind, water erosion, etc. A 2019 map identifying clubroot-infested areas shows that the disease is now widely distributed across Western Canada’s canola growing regions. This means that even if clubroot symptoms are not evident in your fields, you should assume there's a diverse pathogen population nearby.

A growing threat in Western Canada

Thousands of infested fields have been indentified across canola growing regions

Clubroot affected areas in 2011

Clubroot affected areas in 2018-2019

If you’re in prevention mode, we recommend scouting your fields early and often. Also try not to move soil between and within your fields. This can be accomplished by practicing soil conservation, working infected areas last, and always disinfecting your equipment, vehicles and boots. If you notice symptoms of clubroot, patch management may be an option, if patches are small enough. You should also keep host weeds and volunteer canola in check, ideally within 3-weeks of their emergence. Finally, increasing pH (liming) may be an option in patches or field entrances as it has been proven to reduce infection, especially in dryer years.

More importantly, do not hesitate to deploy effective CR hybrids as it’s never too early to start protecting your crop from clubroot.

Even if you don’t have the disease in your fields, clubroot resistant hybrids are proven to significantly reduce spore propagation or disease establishment compared to susceptible hybrids. CR hybrids would help prevent any initial establishment of the pathogen. Better yet, Corteva Agriscience CR hybrids yield well and are agronomically solid.

Rotating your crops

The Canola Council of Canada recommends a minimum three-year crop rotation, yet many Western Canadian farmers continue to grow wheat and canola on a two-year cycle. Now, canola is obviously a big part of our agri-economy and likely essential to how you make your living, but as an industry we must also understand that the actions we take today will affect our tomorrow.

When you utilize a one-in-three canola rotation, 90 per cent of clubroot spores in the soil are broken down, so you reduce your spore loads over time. However, with a shorter rotation, high-resting spore loads increase over time, placing additional pressure on CR genetics.

If we continue to manage clubroot at a low level, we run the risk of eroding the genetic resistance that we're developing as an industry and it may impact the sustainability of canola as a crop.

Rotating your genetics

CR1 clubroot resistance refers to the resistance gene initially deployed by the industry in 2009. For the majority of growers in Western Canada who have not identified clubroot on their farm, CR1 is an excellent option and offers the maximum choice in products. However, if you have been using CR1 clubroot resistance, you may want to consider rotating to alternative CR sources. There is no reason to wait for CR1 to breakdown before rotating genetics, given that keeping spore load low is key to managing clubroot. A proactive approach is your best option.

If clubroot has been identified on your land or close by, the goal should be to not grow clubroot resistance genes more than once consecutively. There is a lot of genetic diversity in clubroot populations (37 identified pathotypes in Canada and counting), so essentially every time you grow the same resistance you may be increasing the number of rare virulent types. Whereas when you rotate resistance, you’re never allowing the same virulent pathotype to take hold. Therefore, to prolong the effectiveness of CR1, it is important to rotate to other CR gene sources, when possible.

At Corteva, we currently offer a portfolio of CR hybrids with different sources and combinations of resistance gene stacks. When you stack genes with each other, it creates a multiplying effect that creates a kind of layered resistance that avoids breakdown; the resistance genes are covering each other's backs so to speak.

Tips for proactive clubroot management

  • Implement a 1-in-3 year crop rotation.
  • Grow clubroot resistant canola hybrids.
  • Prevent and minimize moving soil.
  • Control host weeds and volunteer canola.
  • Scout for signs of clubroot and look for virulence shift.
  • Practice patch management.
  • Control pH levels in soil with liming.

A future without clubroot

The goal of our native trait development program, in terms of clubroot, is to be able to provide stacks of effective genes, as well as products with single effective genes, that will allow growers to rotate between resistance, avoid new virulence problems and provide sustainable options for moving forward into the future.

Because Corteva has been leading the industry on this for quite some time, our production is coming to maturity, to the point where within the next few years we expect to release a number of different stacked gene resistance traits that growers can rotate as part of a proactive management strategy.

That’s undoubtedly great news for everybody in Western Canada’s canola farming community. But, it’s still important to remember that clubroot resistance is a finite resource that must be managed effectively through proper on-farm practices.

It is only by working together and taking a proactive management approach that we will succeed in defending our crops against clubroot.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for being part of the solution.

Choose from nine Pioneer Protector® clubroot resistant hybrids

Pioneer Protector® brand canola is adaptable across Western Canada and delivers high-yielding canola hybrids with very good standability. Many of our canola hybrids contain consistent, multi-race clubroot resistance. They provide a high level of resistance to the most prevalent race of clubroot (race 3H) and resistance to other races 2F, 5I, 6M and 8N. Plus the emerging virulent pathotypes 3A, 3D, 2B and 5X.

  • Pioneer® brand 45CM39 offers exceptional yields, clubroot and harvest flexibility with the Pioneer Protector® HarvestMaxCR traits (clubroot - new source), plus blackleg.
  • Pioneer Protector® brand P501L delivers superior yields with the Pioneer Protector® clubroot and LibertyLink® traits.
  • Pioneer Protector® hybrid 45CS40 combines clubroot and sclerotinia resistance traits in our Protector® Plus package, along with great yields and blackleg resistance.
  • Pioneer Protector® 45H37 is an early maturing canola hybrid with the Pioneer Protector® clubroot resistance trait and strong blackleg resistance.
  • NEW! Pioneer Protector® brand 45H42 offers very high yields, standability and the power of the Pioneer Protector® clubroot trait.
  • NEW! Pioneer® brand P505MSL is a next generation Pioneer Protector® Plus hybrid with yield, clubroot, sclerotinia, HarvestMax and blackleg - in one package.
  • NEW! Pioneer® brand P607CL is a Pioneer Protector® clubroot  hybrid with blackleg in one package, now in the Clearfield® herbicide tolerant system.
  • NEW! Pioneer® brand 45CM44 offers excellent yield, the Pioneer Protector® clubroot trait and harvest flexibility with the HarvestMax trait, plus strong adult blackleg resistance in one package – the new standard.
  • NEW! Pioneer® brand P506ML is a high-yielding, Pioneer Protector® HarvestMaxCR (clubroot and harvest flexibility) hybrid with blackleg, and the LibertyLink® trait.

Watch Corteva Research Scientist, Dan Stanton, answer the key questions about clubroot in Western Canada and how to protect your canola. In this video, you’ll get expert advice on the following:   

  • What is clubroot? 
  • Should Western Canadian farmers be concerned about clubroot? 
  • How can farmers protect their crops from clubroot? 
  • Why should farmers practice a 1-in-3 year crop rotation?
  • Why is it important to rotate genetics?
  • What is CR1? 
  • As new sources of clubroot resistance become available, should growers continue to grow CR1 or consider rotating resistance? 
  • If I don’t have clubroot on my farm, is it ok to grow Pioneer clubroot resistant hybrids?
  • When should growers grow or rotate clubroot resistant hybrids?
  • What is Corteva/Pioneer/Brevant doing to protect farmers against clubroot?
  • Why is Pioneer partnering with farmers in the fight against clubroot?