The new partnership with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences will see BASF invest $1.25M over a five-year period in research to help tackle clubroot resistance in canola.
Stewart Brandt – Head of Global Oilseed Breeding
On June 22, 2022, BASF announced a new partnership in collaboration with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences. The partnership will see BASF invest $1.25M over a five-year period in a research project dedicated towards tackling clubroot resistance in canola. Working together with U of A ALES plant scientists, BASF will look to identify sources of canola resistance in an effort to help combat new strains of clubroot disease, which causes crop damage to more than 3,300 canola fields across Alberta alone.
Recently, I had a chance to sit down with key researchers from the U of A ALES team to discuss the importance of addressing this soil-borne disease given its major impacts on canola crops and examine how plant science innovation and technology play a critical role in helping growers achieve higher yields. Industry collaboration such as this partnership is key to advancing agriculture and driving forward a more sustainable future. We couldn’t be prouder to partner with the U of A to help tackle this pressing issue and provide growers with the solutions they need to succeed now and for years to come.
1. What motivated you to get involved with this field of work, and why are you personally inspired to solve this pressing agronomic issue faced by canola growers?
Strelkov: The first clubroot-infested canola fields were found in Alberta almost around the same time that I was hired as a professor at the U of A. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to work closely with clubroot during my time as a student, I knew about the disease’s potential to cause serious damage as well as the growing need to start working proactively to help mitigate its impacts. Through my role as a professor within an applied faculty setting, I feel strongly that it is important to be actively involved in the development of solutions to address clubroot and hope to be able to provide greater direct support and timely resources to growers facing these challenges first-hand.
Hwang: One of the main reasons I became interested in plant pathology, beyond the discipline’s biological and scientific components, was for its great potential to provide practical benefits that work to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing society today. Once I learned about the complexity of clubroot and the implications the disease was having across our agricultural industry, I felt inspired to become involved in working to help effectively manage its growing presence and provide long-term solutions directly catered toward addressing this important issue.
Fredua-Agyeman: Something I’ve observed across the canola industry, which continues to pose ongoing challenges, is that most breeding companies have been using the same source of clubroot resistance in their clubroot-resistant canola varieties. As a direct result of this, once resistance is overcome in one variety, it is often overcome in most other canola varieties, posing a major setback for effective clubroot control. I feel personally motivated to try to help identify additional sources of resistance to clubroot to enable more sustainable production of canola in the future.
2. What key projects or initiatives will the U of A Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES) be working on related to this $1.25M investment over the next five years?
Strelkov: Through this $1.25M investment, U of A ALES will be able to help advance several key initiatives over the next five years, including crossing some clubroot-resistant lines of canola identified through our work in ALES over the years with new additional lines of material sourced by BASF. Our goal from this collaborative effort is to introduce enhanced resistance in order to help to address new and emerging strains of the clubroot pathogen currently affecting canola.
By sharing tightly linked molecular markers with one another, which can assist in allowing for the breeding and selection of new plant varieties, we hope this work will collectively help to facilitate opportunities to improve clubroot resistance moving forward. Additionally, we have also developed a comprehensive collection of well-characterized pathogen resources, which can be used to help test plant material and work to identify resistance that is effective against multiple clubroot strains.
By supporting the training of new scientists, we hope to increase the number of highly qualified personnel in the field who can conduct higher-level research in this and other plant science related areas, helping to meet the need for this expertise in Canada.
3. With BASF committing a steady stream of funding until 2026, how will the research project and partnership continue to evolve over the next five years?
Hwang: With the support of BASF funding over the next five years, the U of A will be able to support significant and timely research efforts around clubroot by establishing critical mass and building out a strong foundational framework to continue bringing in new industry expertise.
Strong collaboration between both the U of A ALES and BASF teams will help enable opportunities for learning and personal development by leveraging one another’s unique and specific industry expertise, while supporting potential avenues to expand this research project and partnership as other pressing issues for growers continue to arise.
4. How this will collaboration contribute to innovation across plant science technology, and support growers as well as the Canadian agricultural industry at large?
Fredua-Agyeman: Through BASF’s collaboration with the U of A ALES team, innovation across plant science technology will allow growers to be able to select from a wider range of commercial canola varieties with a more diverse range of clubroot-resistant genetic material. In turn, this will help to support the rotation of a broader, more diverse set of genes for resistance to the clubroot pathogen, thus also increasing and prolonging the durability of resistance among canola crops.
Over time, through facilitating additional training and sharing further knowledge and insights around clubroot resistance, we hope we can also continue to strengthen awareness and emphasize the value of agronomic innovation across the Canadian and global agricultural industry.
5. What is involved in collecting extensive pathogen material, along with introducing different genetic bases to maintain and increase diversity of resistance? Why is it important to manage clubroot sustainably?
Strelkov: Dr. Victor Manolii, a plant pathology technician at the U of A, has surveyed more fields for clubroot than anyone else worldwide. He works closely in collaboration with farmers, agronomists, agricultural field personnel and staff across counties and local municipalities to collect infected plants and infested soils.
From there, these extensive samples of pathogen material are purified and characterized to identify specific pathogen strains. These strains will be used for testing across our large collection of plant accessions for resistance, with the hopes of identifying promising genetic material. It is important that we look for ways to manage clubroot sustainably now, while we have the opportunity to intervene before we potentially lose our ability to navigate any direct impacts of the pathogen altogether.
6. What are some challenges that society is facing in an ongoing effort to tackle clubroot resistance in canola? How will combining this research with other methods through an integrated approach work to address the issue?
Hwang: One major challenge that we face in our efforts to tackle clubroot resistance within canola is the growing prevalence of shorter rotation times driven largely by ongoing financial concerns. As a result, this is directly contributing to the continued buildup of pathogen populations, as well as the emergence of new clubroot strains.
Ideally, an integrated approach is needed to address this issue given that resistance alone cannot be relied upon to manage clubroot strains and gene selection offers the potential to introduce additional new pathogen strains. With all that said, when combined with strong resistance stewardship and other supporting approaches, including sanitation, soil amendments and longer rotation times, diverse sources of resistance will continue to increase in their strength and overall level of effectiveness.
7. How will addressing new strains of clubroot disease causing crop damage provide support and enable meaningful change for increased crop production yields while actively shaping the future of food production?
Fredua-Agyeman: In order to continue supporting more sustainable production of canola, addressing new strains of clubroot is required. In an effort to combat and minimize ongoing damage to canola crops being observed by growers, novel resistance is required to allow for improved management practices for tackling clubroot, which in turn will help to protect future yields and increase crop production across the agricultural industry.
Although the clubroot pathogen itself will continue to change and overcome our best efforts to curb and control its spread, we can continue to do our part in working to shape efforts around this. We remain committed to continuing to stay at least one step ahead of the disease’s evolving profile, all while also working collectively to help secure the future of food production for both Canada and across the world.