It’s a common misperception that growers only want pesticides to manage crop pests. After all, it costs time, money and labour to apply pesticides.
Yet even if growers reduce their pesticide use by adopting alternative strategies (such as growing crop varieties resistant to pests or artificially inducing the plant’s natural, or systemic, resistance), pesticides can still be necessary.
So, what happens when a few bold growers try to bring a new crop to the market? Especially since there won’t be any pesticides available for when growers will need them?
That was the challenge facing fruit growers interested in growing haskap berries for Canadian consumers.
An emerging industry looks for a leg up
Haskap, which is also known as blue or edible honeysuckle or camerise in French, is the newest crop to catch the attention of a number of fruit growers across Canada, including Yukon.
Credit: Khanmn2019 via Wikipedia Commons
Early haskap enthusiasts, most of them in Quebec, began planting the bush in 2007 using cultivars developed by Dr. Bob Bors, a plant scientist at the University of Saskatchewan.
Not only does the plant thrive in cold climates and harsh, wet conditions. It is rich in Vitamin C, high in polyphenols and has more antioxidants than blueberries. Little wonder they’re calling it the newest superfood to hit the market.
But because it’s a new berry crop, there were no fungicides to protect it against harmful diseases. A fact of life for growers, disease can reduce fruit yield and quality and, in a worst-case scenario, destroy the entire crop.
When the first commercial harvests began to come in (it takes anywhere from four to seven years for the plant to mature), growers began thinking about the future.
The haskap plant can produce fruit for up to 25, even 40 years. That’s a long time over which pests can become a headache, so growers wanted to be prepared. They needed tools for managing the pests known to affect haskap, especially powdery mildew, a common fungus that affects the leaves and can weaken the plant over time.
Once they knew what they wanted, haskap growers turned to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Pest Management Centre (PMC) for help in getting it.
Pest Management Centre is there for growers
The PMC fills a critical gap in the process to register pesticides for use on specialty crops like haskaps.
By designing and managing pesticide efficacy and residue field trials, the PMC generates the scientific data the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) must have before it will approve a pesticide for a new use.
While pesticide companies would normally generate their own data, these trials are expensive and complex. But specialty crops are grown on too few acres to provide companies the financial incentive to run the trials themselves.
That’s where the PMC comes in to the picture.
It was created to help bring safe and effective pest management tools and technologies to Canada for high-value, low-acreage specialty crops. And, at the same time, to reduce chemical pesticide use by supporting the development of lower risk tools and techniques and integrated pest management strategies to protect any crop grown in Canada.
It’s a mandate that ties in with this year’s International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, a United Nations initiative to direct world-wide efforts to growing, and eating, more fruits and vegetables.
That’s because in finding new crop protection tools, the PMC ensures Canadian consumers can enjoy an increasing supply of healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables, among other plants. It also helps growers stay in business.
The long and winding road to pesticide registration
PMC’s help starts at its annual workshop where growers from across Canada identify their toughest pest challenges. Once the growers have picked their top priorities, the PMC then goes to work to find new tools that will protect their crops, safely and effectively.
Credit: Opioła Jerzy (Poland), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In 2015, it was the turn of the haskap growers.
They wanted the PMC to expand the label of Flint, a broad-spectrum fungicide with trifloxystrobin as an active ingredient, to include powdery mildew on haskaps.
It took three years for the PMC’s pathology team to meet the PMRA’s stringent regulatory requirements: Two years to generate the data, and one more year to write the residue and value reports.
In carrying out its work, the PMC conducted four efficacy and eight residue field trials in British Columbia and Quebec, plus a final residue trial at the PMC’s analytical chemistry lab in Vineland, Ontario.
After the PMC submitted its reports to the PMRA at the end of 2018, the regulatory agency took over the process. Now in the final stages of its assessment, the PMRA is reviewing the product label before issuing a registration of Flint.
In the meantime, though, the haskap growers came back to the PMC’s annual workshop in 2016. Even though they expected the Flint fungicide at some point, growers wanted options for rotating products.
As Jean-François Dubuc, Study Lead at the PMC’s research and development centre in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, explains, “What growers want, especially for a new crop, are different rotational tools, each from different chemical groups and with unique modes of action. This way, they can control a disease and delay the development of resistance.”
At the time, growers didn’t know which products might be good for pursuing a registration. So they asked the PMC to run screening trials to test nine fungicides against powdery mildew on haskaps.
Based on the results, the PMC flagged Miravis Prime, a contact and systemic product with two active ingredients, pydiflumetofen and fludioxonil, as the top contender. Growers, encouraged by the PMC’s findings, added the product to the PMC’s work agenda, and in 2018, the PMC began the efficacy trials needed to get this fungicide registered. Although delays have been encountered due to low pest pressure and impacts of the pandemic, PMC hopes to complete the trial requirements this season.
If the results prove adequate, the PMC intends to complete its report and submit it to the PMRA by the end of 2022.
To be sure, it’s a long process. But in the end, thanks to the PMC, haskap growers will have two fungicides for control of powdery mildew in their pest management tool kit.
More tools on their way to haskap growers
But for haskap growers the story doesn’t end there.
Once the growers got the PMC started on the search for fungicides against powdery mildew, they turned their attention to finding solutions for managing weeds.
Again, because haskaps are a new crop, there were no registered herbicides available for controlling weeds. But knowing they could rely on the PMC for help, growers have shown up at the PMC’s annual workshop, year after year, to get help to improve their control of weeds.
Now with the PMC working on generating the data for five herbicide products, haskap growers took another look at their pest management needs. At this year’s workshop, they identified grubs as a pest of concern.
Already, the PMC has started the work to bring haskap growers yet another pesticide for its pest management toolkit, this time an insecticide. Because that’s what the PMC does, it helps all growers, but especially specialty crop growers, set themselves up for long-term success.