University of Alberta: Online tool helps canola producers get a leg up on blackleg disease

The work of a University of Alberta researcher has been used to develop a tool for Western Canadian canola farmers to get a better idea of how a disease common to the plant could affect their bottom line.

The Blackleg Yield Loss Calculator is part of the Canola Council of Canada’s suite of agronomic tools being offered to producers across the Prairies, and will help farmers estimate potential crop losses.

The model—the first that can be used for blackleg-resistant canola cultivars currently being grown—quantifies how much yield loss would occur in canola at certain levels of the fungal disease, said Yixiao Wang, who developed it as part of her master’s degree in plant science in the U of A’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

The Canola Council of Canada, SaskCanola and Alberta Canola then built the calculator based on Wang’s work.

“It’s a very practical model for canola farmers that helps give them a better idea of how blackleg disease would affect them. It helps them predict what their losses will be and plan for that,” said Wang.

After scouting their fields, farmers can use the calculator at harvest time to select a severity rating of zero to five, using posted images of blackleg-infested canola as a guide. They then type in the incidence percentage, projected yield and approximate canola price per bushel to calculate potential losses from the selected field.

It can give producers a more accurate picture of crop damage than visual guesswork, said Justine Cornelsen, agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada.

“It’s not always obvious the damage that is being done by disease in a field, but when you run that through the calculator, it’s possible to see how much is being lost, and the tool can be used for risk assessment in reducing yield loss in future years,” she said.

Farmers can use the tool as a way to plan for the next growing season by rotating crops, using a different canola cultivar or applying an enhanced seed treatment or early-season foliar fungicide, Cornelsen added.

The published research also revealed some good news, Wang noted. Canola crops with very low levels of infection of zero to one on the rating scale would likely have no yield loss, and could even have a slightly increased yield.

“More research needs to be done, but our assumption is that the infestation might trigger the defence system of the plants so that they grow more seed pods,” she said, noting that the information can help producers make decisions about their crop management.

The work the Plant Pathology Lab in the ALES Plant Biosystems division has done on yield loss, including the model developed by Wang, helps give canola producers what they’ve been asking for, Cornelsen noted.

“This research was something we really wanted for Canadian canola growers. It’s something the growers themselves are wanting, and the U of A has done a great job of providing models to help in the development of tools for producers to use.”