Daryl Domitruk, PhD, PAg, Director of Research and Production, MPSG
With the sunset of governments’ five-year Growing Forward 2 (GF2) programs, MPSG has taken stock of its previous research investments and set priorities for participating in the new Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP). While government programs do not define MPSG’s research aspirations, they are counted on to stretch producer dollars and enlist the services of federal government researchers.
Since 2012, Pulse Beat has reported on GF2-funded projects, representing about $8.5 million in producer investment. Additionally, a read of the inaugural editions of Pulse Beat – The Science Edition shows the tremendous range of issues tackled during this time through studies in agronomy, genetics, plant physiology and human nutrition.
All GF2 projects have concluded. Their legacy will emerge time and again in MPSG extension activities, further research and as the underpinnings of sustained profit from pulse and soybean production.
The dawn of CAP does not represent a shift in government direction nor in available funds for research. However, CAP does kick off a new round of potential projects and partnerships.
For this reason, it was important for MPSG to match its members needs to a framework for future research. This framework simply helps MPSG carve out projects and partnerships most relevant to Manitoba producers. The table below summarizes the research objectives at the heart of the framework.
The first round of CAP project applications were submitted to federal and provincial programs early in 2018. At the time of writing, responses from governments were pending. Nevertheless, MPSG issued a green light to select new projects so they could proceed for the 2018 field season. As well, in 2016 and 2017, MPSG undertook sole funding of several projects which continue in 2018. Both new projects and those in progress are summarized in the adjoining table. A short description of the new projects in the context of their objective appears below.
OBJECTIVE: IMPROVE CROP YIELD AND MARKET QUALITY
Often the largest basket of research activity, projects in this category aim to improve net return without adding to the cost-of- production. Improved crop varieties, crop rotation comparisons, seeding rates and timing along with crop fertility experiments are common focuses of projects.
For example, soybeans face occasional challenges from iron deficiency chlorosis and lower protein content. Agronomic studies by the University of Manitoba Agronomist-in-Residence and variety evaluations by MPSG have been initiated to better understand these problems. Further, an economist has been contracted to investigate the protein discount applied to Manitoba soybeans.
Meanwhile, to better explain the interplay of soybean with other crops, MPSG has extended research on crop rotations at University of Manitoba (U of M). Land rolling is a go-to practice for many soybean growers. MPSG has enlisted the U of M and Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute to determine if there are conditions under which the costs of rolling may not be justified. This study will also look at the potential for inadvertent damage to soil through rolling-induced erosion.
OBJECTIVE: REDUCE PEST CONTROL COSTS
Crop pests (weeds, insects and diseases) literally take a bite out of farm income. This fact has moved MPSG to focus on reducing some of the costs. True enough.
Crop input pipelines continue to develop tools such as varieties with stacked traits and crop protection chemicals with a blended range of active ingredients. As effective an ally against pests as these products often are, they also propel rising input costs – too often with returns that are nebulous.
What’s more, it is widely accepted that the appearance of resistant pests indicates these tools carry the risk of becoming blunted by overuse. One response to these circumstances has been renewed interest in cultural practices the incorporation of which can make pest management systems more robust. Although, the fact that these practices haven’t caught on with the majority of producers suggests practical challenges still persist.
Part of MPSG’s response is to encourage public research programs to develop pest-resistant crops and methods of early and accurate detection, particularly of soil-borne pests.
The combination of soil-borne pathogens known to cause “root rot” are among the most damaging, especially to pea crops. Under the leadership of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Brandon Research Centre, federal labs in Morden and Lethbridge, along with provincial researchers from Alberta, have teamed to develop tools to definitively detect species of Fusarium and a particularly virulent fungus called Aphanomyces euteiches. Surveys show a range of Fusarium species exist in many Manitoba soils while A. euteiches is present in over one-half of dry pea fields. Researchers will also look for genes in the pea plant that render the crop resistant to these pathogens that could, someday, move control costs down.
Wireworm is another root-killing soil-borne pest that’s proven difficult to profile and control. Brandon University is building its ag research program partly by using advanced DNA methods to catalogue wireworm and confirm its impact on soybean at various crop stages. By knowing how to assess damage researchers can seek cost-effective controls.
On the weeds side, volunteer herbicide-tolerant canola can plague soybeans. Rather than stacking more weed control products, U of M researchers are assessing “CombCut” equipment to sever the tops of volunteers above the soybean canopy. This should reduce the weed seedbank return and allow more sunlight to penetrate the crop. The same U of M group is examining the use of camera-guided inter-row cultivation of narrow-row edible beans to remove weeds.
OBJECTIVE: GROW MARKET DEMAND
This objective will continue to be the target of research in nutrition and food processing. MPSG’s desire is to support rather than lead work in this area. Funding from partners will often be a pre-condition.
To these ends, MPSG has teamed with Pulse Canada’s efforts to diversify markets for pulses. MPSG will take its research cues from this market diversification exercise. While at present there are no approved projects in this category, a few are in the proposal stage and Pulse Canada’s market work promises to bring more ideas forward.
OBJECTIVE: IMPROVE SOIL QUALITY
Soybean and pulse crops are in harmony with nature through symbiotic nitrogen fixation. At the same time, as a group, pulse and soybean crops contribute the least amount of soil-protecting crop residue. Low-residue crops contribute to an effective crop rotation even though they can leave soil exposed to degrading forces.
Maintaining a robust and resilient soil is the biggest win-win for farmers and society. Despite advances, we’re still seeking ways where pulse and soybean crops can help achieve this goal in all areas of the province. A renewed emphasis on this objective is warranted.