Daryl Domitruk, Executive Director, MPSG – Spring 2022 Pulse Beat
THE ROLLER COASTER of sentiments felt by growers this crop year is leaving its mark in the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) office. In addition to anxiety over drought and input prices, the absence of in-person extension events has tested the spirits and patience of our ag professionals. After all, Cassandra, Laura, Ian and, most recently, Leanne signed up with MPSG to deepen their experience in face-to-face exchanges with farmers. Disappointing as times have been, it’s not only the prospect of returning to in-person events that imbue staff with optimism. Discovery of virtual extension formats has MPSG experimenting with new, innovative and cost-effective ways to serve our members. The possibilities presented by evolving forms of communication are fuel for the optimism that continues to drive MPSG staff.
It’s in that frame of mind I relay some of the latest happenings in the world of MPSG.
I’m pleased to report we’ve participated with Pulse Canada and our provincial sister groups in a national campaign to promote beans to Canadian consumers. It’s a professionally orchestrated social media and TV campaign featuring influential chefs. So intrigued were we by the potential to increase recognition of Canada’s bean farmers, we’ve stepped up our consumer outreach program. In February, we contracted a communications consultant in part to carry forward the bean campaign with a Manitoba flavour.
A big deal lately has been planning for the next round of five-year federally funded “science clusters.” With fewer funds compared to the last round in 2017, there are some tough decisions to make. Much of the research in science clusters involves genetics, and as a result, the fruits of the research are ten or more years away. These projects compete with quick return projects such as fungicide performance, On-Farm Network trials and the Agronomist-in-Residence program. We’re putting the MPSG-funded dry bean breeding program at AAFC–Morden under the microscope and have polled the bean industry and growers on their thoughts for the future.
A new national research strategy for pulses described in this edition of Pulse Beat helps guide our research decisions. It was very satisfying working on the development of this strategy with colleagues from across Canada. Canadian pulse growers have a strong team working for them. Overall, a good balance was achieved between national aspirations and provincial grower needs.
Encouraging signs are coming out of national discussions on soybeans as well. Soy Canada convened a Northern Soybean Summit in January (see Brian Innes’s article on page 15). Prairie expansion is a big focus for the industry. The summit was an honest discussion on the challenges we’ll have to overcome to sustain soybean acres in Manitoba, let alone expand westward. For one, competition from the canola juggernaut is substantial. As with pulses, there’s a strong sense of national mission that seeks success by meeting regional needs. On the heels of the summit, the national soybean science cluster began reviewing project ideas for a 2023 start. Industry is generating varieties for the prairies at an impressive pace. However, they’re challenged to improve drought tolerance and protein, two traits critical to soybean’s success in our region. This may be the role of public science; accelerate advancements not immediately achievable in private research programs.
By comparison, the annual planning of regional variety test (RVT) trials is uncomplicated. MPSG is again preparing for a full program of tests across Manitoba. Often under the radar, the RVT program is one of our most ambitious. The results remain popular with members. Last year, a member request for a site in the Holland area became a reality and we’re enthusiastic to hear more feedback from members.
I hope some members caught the November virtual grand opening of Roquette’s Manitoba plant. As informed pulse advocates, we can look beneath the glitz and appreciate the industry-defining event this was. Indeed, plant protein has ruffled some feathers and is under scrutiny by competitors. In the final analysis, the positive impact of pulse protein on Manitoba is clear. We continue to work with Roquette on research and extension.
KEEP IT CLEAN
With leadership from Pulse Canada, MPSG continues to contribute to the Keep it Clean product advisory. Ensuring our products don’t exceed Maximum Residue Limits (MRL’s) for pesticides is critical. It’s also tricky because while growers are finicky about pesticide application, it only takes a minor deviation from the accepted standard to raise the alarm among customers. MRL’s are the first place where the desire for purely science-based actions meets the reality of market demands, especially when pre-harvest glyphosate is the subject. It’s a constant tug-of-war. A lengthy, often controversial discussion that is made more difficult by the variety of crops, markets and geographies encompassed by pulses. The same process in soybeans is relatively straightforward.
Grain Growers of Canada embarked on a mission to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This is an ambitious and necessary undertaking in which MPSG is a full partner. Simultaneously, Pulse Canada has prepared the science and policy pieces to support the essential role for annual legumes in Canada’s climate strategy. Pulses and soybeans are no less critical for Manitoba to meet its objectives. However, if our prairie neighbours are a measure, we have some catch-up to do in carbon sequestration. It seems the broad adoption of zero-till in Saskatchewan and Alberta combined with extensive acres of pulse crops have enabled growers out west to already be at or near net-zero. With our lower acreage of legumes, more intensive tillage and increasing application of fertilizer, Manitoba is some distance behind. Our goal is to work across commodities to find the win-win combination of profitable and carbon-conserving farming practices that work for Manitoba. Undeniably, pulses and soybeans are a great place to start.
ASSINIBOINE COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Speaking of starts, Assiniboine Community College (ACC) continues to build its capacity for applied research in crop production. MPSG has an eye on expanding research in Westman and is working with ACC to implement a crop protection product screening project so that Manitoba growers have access to practical pest control information similar to growers in Ontario.
MPSG received a shot of enthusiasm at the start of 2022 when Leanne Koroscil joined MPSG’s On-Farm Network team and Cassandra Tkachuk assumed responsibility for the research program. As an executive director, it is reassuring to see we continue to attract and develop talented ag professionals.
If innovative extension methods are the fuel for MPSG staff, the spark is provided by the regular news of good things coming from pulses and soybeans. There’s big picture news like recognition of the essential role our crops must play in agriculture if we’re going to reduce carbon emissions. At a regional scale, we’re learning about the competitive advantage of critical amino acids in Manitoba-made soybean meal. Attention is being brought to the potential for non-GM soybean production in Manitoba as well as
the potential to produce lupins. Even at the micro-scale, the news is encouraging; genes essential for drought tolerance in Canadian soybeans are, in fact, within our reach. One gets the sense that something very positive is possible with pulses and soybeans. Our job is to limit distractions and effectively marshal our resources to achieve some extraordinary things. ■