Pulse Beat Individual Articles

2021 Research and Production Outlook

Daryl Domitruk, PhD, PAg, Executive Director, MPSG – Spring 2021 Pulse Beat

The start of 2021 found us starting to set objectives for the next five-year federal-provincial ag policy framework scheduled to begin in 2023. Traditionally, renewal of inter-governmental agree­ments provide top billing to business risk management (BRM) programs. Importantly, they also signal the renewal of commitments to research and other topics collected under the rather bland heading of “non-BRM.”

It is these programs that stretch check-off dollars invested in research and extension. They also help Canadian agriculture capture opportunities to expand and become more sustainable. In fact, some policy makers believe the next federal-provincial framework may be an opportunity to elevate agriculture to its rightful place as a strategically critical sector for Canada.

Given where MPSG stands in steward­ing the development of our crops, the activities undertaken through the next framework could prove critical to the future of pulse and soybean crops in Manitoba.

That’s not to leave the impression everything important in crops happens through producer-government projects. In fact, private companies account for the vast majority of innovation in crop agriculture. Perhaps, though, that is the very reason why government funding of producer-driven research is more important than ever. If we’re going to fully adapt pulses and soybeans to Manitoba, we’ll need to complement the latest varieties and chemistries with better informed purchase and use.

Digital ag technologies have promise in this regard, but there’s some distance to go before they’re fully verified. Digital ag has certainly become a competitive market with new technologies and services revealed weekly. MPSG is evaluating some of these new tools to reduce pest control costs. Even compared to biotechnologies, the digital space is very exciting and we remain hopeful the digital wave will roll in ag’s favour.

In fact, our main challenge remains to increase and transfer knowledge. Pulses especially can be temperamental and unthrifty when exposed to pests and inclement weather. Given market sensitivities and razor-thin margins, it’s not feasible to seek technological solutions alone. A better understanding of pests and crop stress at the genetic level is required.

In this edition of Pulse Beat we see examples of this type of knowledge being developed. Bryan Cassone at Brandon University is figuring out how to trap, identify and count wireworms. We have treatments for this pest, but we don’t really know when it pays to use them. Likewise, soybean cyst nematode’s inevitable arrival has been confirmed. We don’t know its extent or intensity, so, as an article herein shows, effective sampling is key.

A big boulder we hope to roll out of the way in the next round of funding is the adaptation of soybean to stress from drought and soil salinity. As we repeat at every opportunity, prairie farmers grow soybeans in a manner unlike anywhere else in the soybean world. This means our varieties don’t come with built-in stress tolerance. In a recent workshop hosted by the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance, the research consortium reported remarkable progress in our understanding of the genetic basis of crop maturity. We asked if the same workers could now turn their skills in genetics and physiology to understanding drought tolerance. The public plant breeders were there to hear the call.

Canadian soybean research capacity is still centred in Ontario and Quebec. Drought tolerance isn’t something those labs are accustomed to addressing. Still, there’s a keen awareness drought stress is becoming an issue in the east as climatic patterns shift.

Addressing drought tolerance is complicated. Much like yield, it’s considered a “quantitative” trait with many genetic origins. MPSG has its work cut out, sorting through and targeting research that will most likely get us to our adaptation goals. We are less likely in the next round to fund general breeding programs. We must be more precise in setting and pursuing targets.

Back to the reality that what a soybean experiences in Manitoba is different from their Ontario or Iowa brethren. Here, we can still get away with asking the simple questions. Row spacing, plant populations and early season optimization of plant stand; when you rotate soybeans among the many crops from which Manitoba farmers choose, the basic questions keep returning. As the enclosed articles attest, we think programs like the On-Farm Network, Agronomist-in-Residence and agronomy research at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and University of Manitoba will continue to be the best routes for answering these simple yet complex questions. We will seek support in the next framework to continue this work.

We’ve heard growers’ perspectives and witnessed first-hand the need to develop pulses and soybeans into resilient go-to crops. The process of building partnerships toward that goal is underway.