Prairie Post (East Edition)

Fu­ture-friendly crops: A Na­tional Goal

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With cli­mate change be­com­ing a more prom­i­nent is­sue in the world, many peo­ple are con­cerned about how it will af­fect agri­cul­ture – and by ex­ten­sion – food sup­ply. Farm­ers are at the mercy of Mother Na­ture and ir­reg­u­lar rain­fall and heat waves can make or break crops across the coun­try.

By look­ing at how plants re­spond to en­vi­ron­men­tal stresses, plant phys­i­ol­o­gists across Canada are work­ing to help en­sure Cana­dian farm­ers can grow suc­cess­ful crops year af­ter year. By fo­cus­ing on phys­i­o­log­i­cal traits and how they re­spond un­der stress, re­searchers are work­ing closely with breed­ers to de­velop plant va­ri­eties that can bet­ter per­form un­der ex­treme cli­mates.

From the At­lantic prov­inces to the prairies and all the way to Bri­tish Columbia, Agri­cul­ture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) plant phys­i­ol­o­gists are work­ing to­gether to eval­u­ate plant va­ri­eties that will suc­ceed through a va­ri­ety of en­vi­ron­men­tal stresses in the fu­ture.

Plant Phys­i­ol­ogy on the Prairies

In Saskatchew­an, AAFC re­search sci­en­tists Raju Soolanayak­ana­hally and Jatin­der Sangha have spent years re­search­ing prairie crops and how they re­act to stresses. By col­lab­o­rat­ing with plant breed­ers, they are poised to iden­tify phys­i­o­log­i­cal traits that im­prove crop yields and pre­pare for cli­mate change across the Prairies.

Plant phys­i­ol­o­gist Raju Soolanayak­ana­hally’s re­search is fo­cused on canola and how it’s af­fected by drought and heat stresses. Com­bi­na­tions of th­ese two stresses can de­crease crop yields sig­nif­i­cantly cost­ing farm­ers’ money and re­sources. Iden­ti­fy­ing canola lines that use wa­ter and ni­tro­gen more ef­fi­ciently is a key step to im­prov­ing yields un­der stress con­di­tions. “We’re screen­ing large num­bers of canola lines to de­ter­mine which ones can make the most stress-re­silient crops,” says Soolanayak­ana­hally. “Stress-re­silient crops save farm­ers’ money and re­sources, help­ing Cana­dian farm­ers suc­ceed even through cli­mate change.”

Lo­cated in south­ern Saskatchew­an, Jatin­der Sangha is fo­cused on wheat, a com­mon crop of the semi-arid prairies. “We’re work­ing to cre­ate bet­ter va­ri­eties for farm­ers,” says Sangha, “Im­prov­ing crop re­siliency, pro­duc­tiv­ity, qual­ity and prof­its are ar­eas that grow­ers can get ex­cited about.” Sangha is also in­volved in re­search about how to im­prove screen­ing of Deoxyni­valenol (DON), a toxin pro­duced by Fusar­ium head blight dis­ease in wheat that af­fects crop growth, and is sup­port­ing the work to de­velop plant breeds re­sis­tant to dis­ease. By col­lab­o­rat­ing with wheat breed­ers, plant pathol­o­gists, ge­neti­cists, bio­chemists, and even en­gi­neers at AAFC, th­ese ex­perts are driv­ing in­no­va­tion that helps Cana­di­ans.

Grow­ing through the frost

Ju­lia Wheeler, an AAFC re­search sci­en­tist based out of New­found­land and Labrador, is fo­cused on help­ing to en­hance food se­cu­rity in part­ner­ship with peo­ple liv­ing in North­ern com­mu­ni­ties. With many grow­ers in north­ern Canada fac­ing unique chal­lenges such as a shorter grow­ing sea­son, colder av­er­age tem­per­a­tures, and lim­ited sup­ply chains, food pro­duc­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties are more nar­row than other ar­eas of Canada. As an eco-phys­i­ol­o­gist, Ju­lia Wheeler is work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties to over­come th­ese chal­lenges and cre­ate com­mu­nity-driven so­lu­tions. “It’s im­por­tant to en­gage with com­mu­ni­ties to iden­tify what their food pro­duc­tion pri­or­i­ties are – no two com­mu­ni­ties are alike. Co-devel­op­ment of projects be­tween North­ern com­mu­ni­ties and AAFC is an on­go­ing process,” said Wheeler.

To over­come the chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with farm­ing in the north, cold-re­sis­tant plant va­ri­eties are eval­u­ated, as are sea­son ex­ten­sion tech­nolo­gies. By col­lab­o­rat­ing with com­mu­nity mem­bers and grow­ers who have been long work­ing on th­ese is­sues, AAFC can cre­ate shared pri­or­i­ties and help de­velop so­lu­tions for food in­se­cu­rity in North­ern com­mu­ni­ties.

Prac­tice Makes Per­fect

Across Canada in Bri­tish Columbia, Dr. Hao Xu is aim­ing to learn more about the stresses that ap­ple and sweet cherry trees face through­out grow­ing sea­sons. With cli­mate change un­pre­dictably im­pact­ing plant health and fruit pro­duc­tion, Xu is work­ing to de­velop prac­tices to mit­i­gate plant stress. By us­ing the right root­stocks, train­ing the canopy, and ad­just­ing leaf-fruit ra­tios, plant phys­i­ol­o­gists can help im­prove the re­silience of crops. “It’s crit­i­cal for us to fig­ure out ex­actly what is caus­ing the crops’ stress,” says Xu. “Once we learn the cause, we can fine-tune th­ese hor­ti­cul­tural prac­tices to sus­tain yield and im­prove fruit qual­ity.”

Plant phys­i­ol­ogy is not an in­de­pen­dent science. AAFC re­searchers are in con­stant col­lab­o­ra­tion to de­ter­mine best prac­tices and see real-world out­comes to their re­search. “Work­ing with sci­en­tists of a di­verse agri­cul­tural and agri-food ex­per­tise em­pow­ers us make more pre­cise pre­dic­tions and com­pre­hen­sive rec­om­men­da­tions,” says Xu.

Key Dis­cov­er­ies/Ben­e­fits:

• Plant phys­i­ol­o­gists across Canada are work­ing with breed­ers to iden­tify cli­mate-re­silient crops.

• Stress-re­sis­tant crops can save Cana­dian famers mil­lions in an­nual losses.

• Cli­mate change is pre­dicted to have a unique ef­fect on dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try, and it’s vi­tal to cre­ate com­mu­nity-driven so­lu­tions to help farm­ers.

 ??  ?? One of Dr. Ju­lia Wheeler’s field ex­per­i­ments is set up on a farm in early spring, with com­bi­na­tions of biodegrad­able plas­tic mulch and low tun­nels on green bush beans.
One of Dr. Ju­lia Wheeler’s field ex­per­i­ments is set up on a farm in early spring, with com­bi­na­tions of biodegrad­able plas­tic mulch and low tun­nels on green bush beans.
 ?? Pho­tos con­trib­uted ?? Dr. Jatin­der Sangha stands in front of some of the many wheat plots he stud­ies near Swift Cur­rent, Saskatchew­an.
Pho­tos con­trib­uted Dr. Jatin­der Sangha stands in front of some of the many wheat plots he stud­ies near Swift Cur­rent, Saskatchew­an.

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