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Prairie Crop Disease Monitoring Network

Once operational, the Prairie Crop Disease Monitoring Network will help producers get a better handle on disease risks, so they can mount a timely defense.

When you’re growing pulses, managing disease threats just comes with the territory.  Should you budget for a fungicide application? Should you plan cultural practices to fend off disease? Should disease worries influence whether or not you plant pulses, or in which fields, or how many acres?

Kelly Turkington sees a better way. He wants to build a reliable, robust tool to reduce guesswork in your disease management decision-making.

Between now and 2023, Turkington is leading a major research project tasked with designing and implementing a monitoring program for plant diseases on the Canadian Prairies. The project is being funded by the Integrated Crop Agronomy Cluster.

“We’re looking at developing a similar approach to the Prairie Pest Monitoring Network used for insects, and that network has taken a decade or more to develop,” said Turkington, Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lacombe. “With diseases, you’re dealing with a wider range of issues that are usually unique to individual crops.”

One central hub for current, accessible information

Getting the Prairie Crop Disease Monitoring Network (PCDMN) off the ground will take a large amount of program design and foundational work. The Western Grains Research Foundation is a key partner and will be leading the development of a website and online presence for the PCDMN.

In-field scouting for diseases is critical, but if a certain disease is seen in a field, who’s to say whether the outbreak is mild, medium or severe? It’s a judgment call.

For this reason, a good deal of the project’s initial work will be in developing standardized protocols and scales that are either directed towards research-focused surveys or farmer/crop consultant-focused surveys. The Network will solicit ongoing survey information from provincial plant pathologists and disease researchers, and perhaps even farmers and consultants, and will turn this information into alerts during the growing season as well as annual disease situation reports.

“It’s our hope that researchers who are doing surveys see this as another venue for them to get their information out to producers,” Turkington said. “This information may also help inform research activities and even shape research proposals. The PCDMN can also help to build survey capacity to assist researchers to enhance their coverage of the prairie region, while also providing them with plant samples that can be used for assessments of pathogen virulence and fungicide sensitivity.”

By having observations made in the same locations over time, and reported consistently, the Network can identify changes in severity for key diseases in key crops.

“A farmer or crop consultant could use the Network information to stay on top of issues on an annual or growing season basis,” Turkington said, “and perhaps gauge the risk of the disease issues they are facing, and based on that, what the appropriate management tools are that they should use.”