Developing genomics tools as indicators of soil health and sustainable productive agriculture

Principal Investigator

Kari Dunfield & Robert Hanner & Steven Newmaster

Research Institution

University of Guelph Continue reading “Developing genomics tools as indicators of soil health and sustainable productive agriculture”

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Evaluating yield competitiveness of fall and spring strip tillage and fertility placement systems relative to conventional tillage and broadcast fertilizer systems in efforts to reduce soil and P loss from farm fields

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Ben Rosser

RESEARCH INSTITUTION

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

PROJECT START

August 2017

PROJECT END

December 2020

OBJECTIVES

  • Evaluate competitiveness of fall phosphorus (P) and potassium (potash, K) fertilizer placed through strip tiller vs. broadcast and incorporated.
  • Evaluate competitiveness of P and K fertilizer placed with fall strip tillage pass vs. fertilizer placed with spring strip tillage pass.
  • Evaluate importance of planter banded fertilizer in a fall strip tillage fertility system.
  • Evaluate yield performance of strip tillage versus conventional tillage.

IMPACT

  • The development of an economically competitive conservation system using strip tillage may lead to reduced losses of phosphorus (P) fertilizer from the field.

SCIENTIFIC SUMMARY

Agriculture has been identified as a significant contributor toward phosphorous (P) loading in Lake Erie, and has received considerable attention for this role. Soil conservation efforts such as no-till have delivered reductions in particulate P loading; however, these efforts have been offset by an increase in dissolved P, which have been partly attributed to the broadcasting of fertilizer on soil surfaces which do not receive incorporation and are susceptible for loss through surface water. Future conservation strategies for long term sustainability will need to address both issues – reduction in erosion (reduces particulate P loss) with simultaneous incorporation of fertilizer into the soil (reduces dissolved P loss). Strip tillage is one system which could potentially address both reduced tillage and sub-surface placement of larger amounts of fertilizer. Strip tillage has been investigated and promoted as a conservation tillage system for nearly 20 years in Ontario, and is now seeing considerable momentum and uptake in the farm community. More research is required to evaluate the ability of strip tillage to replace surface applications of P and potassium (potash, K) fertilizer, and further refine management recommendations for current corn hybrids and strip tillage technology for those who are converting to it.

This project will investigate the response of P and K fertility and placement in a strip tillage system relative to broadcast and conventional tillage practices by conducting trials in Perth, Wellington, Brant and Oxford counties. Four or five trials will be conducted each year to investigate the ability of strip tillage and fertility placement systems to compete competitively with broadcast fertility and conventional tillage systems. Trials will be conducted with co-operators who are currently under conventional tillage systems, and for fertilizer response potential will be placed on locations with low P or K fertility. Treatments will investigate a variety of tillage and fertilizer placements methods to answer the above objectives over three growing seasons.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Integrated Weed Management strategies for the control of glyphosate-resistant waterhemp

Principal Investigator

Peter Sikkema

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

BASF, Bayer Crop Science Inc., Monsanto Inc., Syngenta Inc., Valent Canada Inc.

Project Start

May 2017

Project End

April 2021

Objectives

  • To develop an Integrated Weed Management (IWM) strategy that will provide near perfect glyphosate-resistant waterhemp control by depleting the seedbank.

Impact

  • The study of long-term, sustainable weed management strategies may lead to the development of an Integrated Weed Management strategy to control glyphosate-resistant waterhemp in corn, soybean and wheat rotation.

Scientific Summary

The overreliance on a single weed management strategy or a simplified crop rotation may have short-term advantages such as simplicity and possible short-term profit maximization, but may have long-term detrimental effects due to the evolution of herbicide-resistant biotypes. Herbicides have been a very cost-effective option for weed management in field crops for over 70 years. But the overreliance on herbicides has resulted in the evolution herbicide-resistant biotypes, sometimes multiple-resistant biotypes as is the case with waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus var. rudis) in Ontario. Studies conducted on Ontario farms showed waterhemp pressure can result in up to 48% yield loss in corn and up to 73% yield loss in soybean. Glyphosate-resistant (GR) waterhemp has been confirmed in 40 fields in Essex, Chatham-Kent and Lambton Counties. To make matters worse for Ontario farmers, 61% of seed samples collected had 3-way multiple resistance to Group 2 (Pursuit), Group 5 (Atrazine) and Group 9 (Roundup) herbicides. This dramatically reduces the herbicide options for controlling this competitive weed. This small-seeded, summer annual, broadleaf weed has an extended emergence pattern, has high genetic diversity, is a prolific seed producer, is very competitive and has the potential to spread rapidly throughout Ontario if not properly controlled.

This project aims to study many of the principles of Integrated Weed Management (IWM) to deplete waterhemp seed in the seedbank and to develop a more sustainable approach to weed management using multiple weed management tactics. The diverse crop rotation will include crops with different seeding and harvesting times, crops with different row widths and seeding densities, the inclusion of cover crops, and the use of multiple herbicide modes-of-action. These integrated strategies are expected to limit the selection of herbicide-resistant waterhemp, reduce seed return to the seedbank and reduce its movement from field-to-field in Ontario. Waterhemp seed density in the seedbank will be determined prior to initiating the experiment and after the 3rd year of the study (after one cycle of a 3-year crop rotation). Corn, soybean and wheat will be grown in a 3-year rotation, with a cover crop seeded after winter wheat harvest. The most efficacious herbicides will be used in each crop. As a result of this research, Ontario grain farmers will have data from local studies on the effectiveness of many of the principles of IWM that could lead to the development of long-term, sustainable weed management strategies for control of waterhemp in corn, soybean and wheat rotation.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

An examination of stripe rust-winter wheat pathosystem in Ontario to improve genetic gain in breeding programs

Principal Investigator

Alireza Navabi

Research Institution

University of Guelph Continue reading “An examination of stripe rust-winter wheat pathosystem in Ontario to improve genetic gain in breeding programs”

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Evergreen farming in southern Ontario: more effective use of cover crops in rotations involving corn, soybean, or winter wheat

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Xueming Yang & Dan Reynolds

RESEARCH INSTITUTION

Harrow Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

PROJECT START

April 2017

PROJECT END

June 2021

OBJECTIVES

  • The overall objective of this project is to develop recommendations for using cover crops in corn-soybean-winter wheat and corn-soybean rotations grown in medium and fine textured soils (e.g. Brookston clay loam) in the lower Great Lakes watershed. The specific project objectives include:
    • Determine seeding practices which optimize emergence of cover crops when seeded into winter wheat stubble after wheat harvest.
    • Determine the most suitable cover crops for seeding into early-stage corn.
    • Evaluate methods for cover crop termination in wheat stubble, cover crop incorporation, and cover crop effects on root zone nitrogen concentrations and corn yield.
    • Determine if there can be reductions in nitrogen fertilizer inputs for corn as a result of the cover crop “nitrogen credit”.
    • Determine the impacts of cover crops on soil organic carbon content and soil physical quality such as soil hardness, water storage and aeration.

IMPACT

  • The successful communication of how to effectively and efficiently integrate cover crops into field-crop rotations will assist farmers in improving their stewardship of the land by increasing nutrient use efficiency, and improving the soil’s resilience to water excesses (temporary flooding) or water deficits (droughts).
  • The successful incorporation of cover crops into field-crop rotations and maintaining year-round land cover may lead to measurable improvements in the water quality of the lower Great Lakes, which are critically important sources of water, fish and recreation for both Canada and the United States.

SCIENTIFIC SUMMARY

Soil and water quality in southwestern Ontario are important to maintain in order to achieve improvements in field-crop yields, reduce sediment in streams and lakes, and limit appearance of dead zones and algal blooms in the lower Great Lakes, especially Lakes St. Clair, Erie, and Ontario. Water quality is of national and international importance because the Great Lakes represents about 20% of the world’s fresh water reserve, which is shared and relied upon by more than 40 million Canadians and Americans for drinking water, field-crop irrigation, commercial and sport fishing, and general recreation. Agriculture has an acknowledged role in the soil and water quality of the Great Lakes watershed. Farmers recognize that intensive crop production systems can lead to the degradation of the soil by decreasing soil structure, permeability, and soil organic carbon content. Cover crops may play an important role in maintaining soil health and influence carbon and nitrogen stores. Although there are many anticipated agronomic, economic, and environmental benefits to using cover crops, they can be difficult to implement in crop rotations with long-season crops such as corn and soybean as there are not sufficient growing degree days left in the fall for successful establishment when the cover crop is planted after harvest. Preliminary work suggests that seeding certain cover crops (e.g. hairy vetch, red clover, crimson clover) after winter wheat harvest can significantly reduce losses of nitrogen from agricultural lands by: 1) scavenging “left-over” nutrient after harvest from the crop root zone and storing the nutrient; and 2) by increasing the soil’s ability to store air and water, sequester organic carbon, and retain and recycle nutrients within the crop root zone.

The anticipated outcome of this research project includes recommendations for better selection and management of cover crops to improve the economic and environmental performance of corn-soybean-winter wheat rotations in southwestern Ontario. This research project will address gaps in our knowledge regarding: i) which cover crops are best suited for planting into wheat stubble or standing corn (i.e. intercropping); ii) the best method for termination and incorporation of the cover crop; iii) which cover crops are most effective for scavenging “left-over” nutrient after harvest, increasing soil organic matter, and improving soil physical quality; and iv) how much “nitrogen credit” cover crops provide to corn on southwestern Ontario’s medium and fine textured soils (e.g. Brookston clay loam) in the lower Great Lakes watershed.

In Ontario Grain Farmer Magazine

“Interseeding Cover Crops”, March 2018 issue.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Integrated pest management and insecticide resistance management for western bean cutworm in Ontario corn

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Art Schaafsma & Jocelyn Smith

RESEARCH INSTITUTION

University of Guelph

EXTERNAL FUNDING PARTNERS

OMAFRA – UofG Research Program; CFIA; Mitacs; DuPont; Syngenta; Dow AgroSciences

PROJECT START

April 2017

PROJECT END

March 2020

OBJECTIVES

  • Adjust current action threshold recommendations for insecticidal control of western bean cutworm (WBC) in corn relative to mycotoxin accumulation.
  • Conduct field experiments to introduce alternative insecticide active ingredients alone, in combination, or in rotation for WBC control sufficient for mycotoxin management.
  • Maximize the effects of insecticidal toxins by understanding their distribution relative to exposure to critical stages of WBC in corn for the purpose of developing appropriate insect resistance management strategies and optimizing application technology.
  • Determine the baseline susceptibility of key larval stages of WBC to Vip3A and candidate insecticides alone and in combination.
  • Propose application and technology deployment strategies and an insecticide resistance management plan for WBC in corn.

IMPACT

  • A comprehensive insect resistance management plan for western bean cutworm (WBC) in Canada will benefit Canadian corn producers and consumers by protecting the longevity of transgenic technology, minimizing costly unnecessary pesticide use, and reducing negative environmental impacts.
  • The development of effective and long-term control of WBC will reduce the risk of grain quality loss in Ontario and serious negative effects on the health of livestock and human consumers, because when environmental conditions are favourable for Fusarium graminearum infection, even a very small amount of WBC damage can significantly increase DON accumulation in grain corn.

SCIENTIFIC SUMMARY

First identified in Ontario in 2008, western bean cutworm has become a significant economic pest of corn in Ontario. Western bean cutworm (WBC) continues to plague Ontario corn producers with losses mainly in grain quality due to insect damage-related moulds resulting in mycotoxin contamination. Fusarium graminearum infection which occurs frequently in Ontario results in increased contamination of grain with mycotoxins that have serious negative effects on the health of livestock and human consumers. The mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON), also known as vomitoxin or VOM, is probably the most important quality factor in trade of Ontario corn affecting both the livestock and ethanol industries. The distribution of WBC has significantly expanded from its native range in the western U.S. across the Midwest Corn Belt over the last few decades and recently into eastern Canada. There are three problems: one, the current published action threshold is yield-based and we have learned that it is not conservative enough because of the importance of mycotoxins; second, the transgenic solution we had hoped for in Cry1F has failed; and third, growers are depending mainly on one insecticide product (i.e. Coragen) to manage this pest.

The overall goal of this project is to develop a more reliable decision threshold to minimize insecticide use, the introduction of alternative active ingredients, and an insecticide resistance management (IRM) plan. A further benefit is that the seed industry will be introducing competitive hybrids carrying a new transgenic Bt protein (Vip3A) which our lab and field tests have shown to be highly effective against WBC. Again, reliance on this strategy alone will inevitably lead to the evolution of resistance. We propose to include the introduction of Vip3A in an IRM plan with the overall strategy of simultaneously extending the useful life of both the insecticides and the Vip3A trait. The overall benefit of this project will be development of a sustainable plan that will provide corn producers with a long term strategy for WBC management.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Isoflavonoid levels in soybean (Glycine max) cultivars and associated anti-herbivore activity

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Ian Scott & Sangeeta Dhaubhadel

RESEARCH INSTITUTION

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

PROJECT START

April 2017

PROJECT END

June 2019

OBJECTIVES

  • Investigate the genetic resistance to important herbivore pests in Ontario soybean: the soybean aphid (key insect pest) and the two spotted spider mite (emerging pest).
  • Measure the isoflavonoid concentration in leaves of several soybean cultivars.
  • Screen resistance to insects, soybean aphid and spider mites, in soybean cultivars that differ in leaf isoflavonoid level and level of susceptibility.
  • Correlate isoflavonoid content with anti-insect/mite activity and damage in soybean cultivars.
  • Recommend resistant cultivars for planting or breeding.

IMPACT

  • The increased knowledge of soybean cultivar resistance to soybean aphids and spider mites may allow growers to better manage these pests through selecting soybean cultivars for Ontario based on resistance and pest forecasts.
  • Understanding the correlation between isoflavonoid concentrations and herbivore resistance in soybeans may lead to improved soybean breeding insect resistance and assess new cultivars that have recently been bred for other desirable traits.

SCIENTIFIC SUMMARY

Two important soybean pests are the soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) and the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae). When populations of these two herbivores are high, there can be a severe reduction in soybean yield. The current strategy for aphid management involves monitoring and reacting by applying insecticides to reduce the aphid pressure. Spider mites are an emerging pest due to the increasing incidence of warmer, drier weather conditions in Ontario. Insecticides are applied to control high populations of aphids and mites; however, the over-use of insecticides may cause mite populations to flare up by reducing native beneficial enemies (lady bird beetles and predatory mites). Isoflavonoids are legume-specific plant natural products abundant in soybean. Their production is induced by herbivores, including hemipterans (e.g. stink bugs and aphids) and lepidopterans (e.g. armyworms and leaf worms), and are characterized by feeding inhibitory activity and growth inhibitory activity on herbivorous insects. Reducing the number of insecticide applications or delaying applications until later in the growing season by slowing aphid and mite population growth is the goal of developing more resistant soybean cultivars to these pests.

This project examines the levels of isoflavonoids in leaves of several Ontario grown soybean cultivars to determine which compounds are most active and which cultivars are important for managing aphid and mite populations to provide an additional tool for soybean IPM. This project will screen resistance of several Ontario soybean cultivars from different maturity groups to the two pests by measuring plant damage as well as growth and reproduction of aphids and mites. Chromatographic techniques will be used for analysis of isoflavonoids in the resistant cultivars. Statistics will be used to correlate the biological and chemical data for isoflavonoids identified in the cultivars and the corresponding pest damage ratings. The findings can be used by growers to select cultivars with increased herbivore resistance when early season predictions indicate conditions preferable for aphid and/or mite infestations. The evidence will also provide direction for breeding or metabolic engineering of specific isoflavonoids into currently registered cultivars to improve their resistance.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Long-term cover crop experiment: How much difference do cover crops make?

Principal Investigator

Laura L. Van Eerd

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

The two long-term trials at University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus have been funded by Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

Project Start

April 2017

Project End

March 2022

Objectives

  • Quantify the effect of long-term cover crop use on crop productivity and nitrogen (N) dynamics.
  • Evaluate the impact of long-term multi-species cover crop on crop productivity and N dynamics.
  • Compare crop yield variability over multiple years with and without cover crops as related to weather.
  • Quantify total carbon (C) inputs based on planting date over multiple years, to provide Ontario cover crop data for modellers of carbon sequestration.

Impact

  • Knowing the long-term impact (positive or negative) of cover crops on crop yield and yield stability over the years may assist growers’ management decisions when choosing cover crop practices that maintain crop productivity and competitiveness.
  • The generation of carbon inputs and carbon sequestration data based on long-term cover cropping may allow modellers to accurately predict how cover crops may impact carbon and nitrogen cycling under various environmental change scenarios.

Scientific Summary

Healthy, productive soil is critical to enhancing the long-term profitability of agriculture. Cover crops may play an important role in maintaining soil health and influence on carbon and nitrogen stores. But these soil changes can only be detected over the long-term. Two unique and state-of-the-art long-term cover crop experiments have been run at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, for the past 10 years. Each year in the long-term cover crop experiment, above-ground primary productivity (biomass) and carbon inputs of all plants (cover crops and main crop) have been quantified.

The overall goal of project is continue the established long-term cover crop experiments to improve our understanding of the influence of long-term cover cropping on crop yield stability and resiliency by investigating carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling. Trial #1 will be switched from a cover crop planting date trial to a multi-species cover crop trial, in a rotation of soybean, winter wheat followed by cover crops, grain corn, snap beans followed by cover crops and sweet corn followed by cover crops. The multi-species cover crops will be chosen based on type (mixes of grasses, legumes and broadleaves) and their management (i.e. winter kill versus overwinters and requires chemical or mechanical termination) and compared to a no cover crop control. Trial #2 continues to be a cover crop trial using oats, cereal rye, oilseed radish, a mix of oilseed radish and cereal rye, and no cover crop control with the main crops of peas, sweet corn, spring wheat, tomatoes, grain corn, squash, soybeans, and winter wheat, tomatoes, peas. Trial #2 will also be evaluating the impact of removing or retaining crop residues of grain corn and winter wheat. The main crop plots will be evaluated each year for yield, quality, above ground biomass weight, and carbon and nitrogen content. The cover crop plots each year will be evaluated for above ground biomass weight and C and N content in the fall and following spring. Finally, soil mineral N will be quantified by taking soil samples at main crop planting, harvest and in late fall (November).

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Molecular markers to select for oat grain fill

Principal Investigator

A. R. McElroy

Research Institution

PhytoGene Resources Inc.

Project Start

April 2017

Project End

March 2018

Objectives

  • Determine if molecular markers called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) included in the in silico array chip (‘6K Chip’) are associated with variation for kernel number per panicle and the percent unfilled kernels in 50 elite oat lines.

Impact

  • The identification of molecular markers associated with grain fill will provide a valuable tool to enhance the efficiency of oat breeding.
  • The development of more effective breeding protocols may lead to an increase in both the yield potential and quality of oat, increasing profitability and making this valuable rotation crop more attractive to producers.

Scientific Summary

Oat is a valuable rotation crop in Ontario and there are good markets for high-quality grain for both feed and milling. However, low yields, compared to some other cereals, and low test weight (‘light oats’) diminish its popularity. Both problems relate to grain fill. PhytoGene Resources Inc. has determined that the number of kernels per panicle is the major yield determinant, and that the proportion of unfilled kernels – a phenomenon not related to stress during the grain filling period – affects yield, and particularly average seed mass and test weight. Both parameters have been shown to be heritable. Evaluating these traits is laborious and expensive, since individual panicles must be threshed and the seed cleaned prior to counting the filled and unfilled kernels. The use of molecular markers would increase the efficiency of screening for these two traits. An in silico array chip has been developed for oat and contains approximately 6,000 molecular markers called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). This ‘6K chip’ may contain SNPs associated with quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that are related to kernel number per panicle and the percent of unfilled kernels.

The project will test whether the ‘6K Chip’ can be used to develop molecular markers to enhance selection for kernel development in oat. Fifty elite oat lines which have been tested with the ‘6K Chip’ will be grown in replicated plots in Cumberland, ON. Panicles with uniform heading date will be tagged in each plot; these will be hand-harvested and evaluated for filled and unfilled kernels, as well as number of kernels per panicle. The remainder of each plot will be bulk harvested with a plot combine to generate yield data. Then statistical analysis will be used to identify associations between the SNPs and the observed traits (kernel number per panicle, plot yield and unfilled kernels).

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.

Metagenomics of Fusarium Head Blight of wheat

Principal Investigator

David Guttman & Gopal Subramaniam

Research Institution

University of Toronto / Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

External Funding Partners

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Microbiome & Metatranscriptome grant); Compute Canada Resource Allocation Competition (RAC)

Project Start

April 2017

Project End

March 2020

Objectives

  • Catalogue and monitor behaviour of natural microbial endophytes and epiphytes on wheat heads by:
    • Assessing natural variation of microbial populations in resistant versus susceptible wheat varieties;
    • Determining dynamics of microbial populations and their behaviours after Fusarium graminearum infection; and
    • Identifying potentially beneficial microbes that may influence the course of the F. graminearum infection process.

Impact

  • The identification of potential yield-promoting members of the wheat head microbiome when the wheat head is infected with FHB (Fusarium Head Blight) will help guide our future research focused on identifying and developing novel biocontrol agents to protect wheat against FHB.
  • The improved knowledge of the host/pathogen interaction in the context of natural microbiome found on the wheat head will greatly improve our ability to combine natural resistance strategies or interfere with disease development using sustainable crop management protocols (e.g. biological control).

Scientific Summary

Fusarium head blight (FHB) is a devastating global disease of small grain cereals that has been called “the worst plant disease to hit the US since the rust epidemics in the 1950s”. The disease is caused by the fungus Fusarium graminearum, which overwinters in crop debris and infects grain heads under favorable environmental conditions. FHB poses a double threat. First, it can significantly reduce both yield and seed germination by discoloring and shriveling the grain kernels. Second, the pathogen produces mycotoxins that contaminate grains during infection, and which are a very direct health risk to humans and domesticated animals. The severity of FHB infection depends on the cereal variety, amount of fungal inoculum and favorable weather conditions. The most effective control strategies have relied on the use of resistant varieties and fungicides; however, these control measures are not always effective, resulting in massive crop losses or contaminated grain. Consequently, there is very strong interest in the identification and development of novel biocontrol agents that can assist in the fight against this disease.

The goal of the project is to understand the contribution of microbial communities to the health of wheat plants. During the study, microbial communities called microbiomes will be assessed to determine how they differ among cultivars with different levels of FHB susceptibility, and determine how the microbiomes respond to F. graminearum infections and the development of FHB disease. This study will provide the first look at the microbiological changes that occur during the FHB development. It will assess the impact of both host (wheat) and pathogen genetic variability on FHB disease development. Understanding the wheat head microbiome and the dynamics of this community during FHB disease development has the potential to reveal new pathogen antagonists or growth promoting microbes, and thereby facilitate the identification of novel biocontrol agents.

Grain Farmers of Ontario is the province’s largest commodity organization, representing Ontario’s 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province.