Breakdown of disease resistance is a serious concern in canola. We checked in with major Canadian seed producers about how they stay prepared and what new factors can shave seed development timelines.
It still takes at least five – sometimes over 10 – years to develop a brand new resistance trait due to issues like global testing requirements, complexity of the resistance problem and whether the seed
is GMO. The cost to introduce a complex trait can be well over
Of course, new traits for resistance are being worked on all the time, but overall, the process is still challenging. “Identification of replacement genes is unpredictable and does not necessarily happen following a loss of efficacy of an existing trait,” says Dave Harwood, technical services manager at DuPont Pioneer.
David Kelner, canola portfolio manager with Monsanto Canada, says that while having multiple sources of resistance in the pipeline is critical, Monsanto also maximizes the durability of disease resistance traits by deploying them strategically, such as in stacked combinations, and by promoting good crop management practices, such as rotation.
Curtis Rempel, Canola Council of Canada vice president of crop production and innovation, also believes good crop management matters. “Traits such as disease resistance genes require significant
resources to develop and it’s incumbent on growers and seed developers to work together to steward these genes so they remain effective for as long as possible,” he notes. “Canola Council of Canada agronomists collaborate with growers, seed developers and government scientists to ensure we have the best stewardship practices in place. Many studies have shown that a significant component of resistance stewardship involves rotation of crops on the farm as well as rotation of the resistance genes present within varieties.”
Dane Lindholm uses a four-year rotation is his area, which he describes as “a moderate-to-high clubroot risk zone”. He manages Lindholm Seed Farm with his father, Craig, in New Norway, Alberta. As part of their resistance management, they grew Roundup Ready Canterra CS2000 canola seed with resistance to five different pathotypes of clubroot and moderate resistance to another pathotype that has been called “5x”. In four years, Lindholm says they will switch to Liberty Link canola seed to ensure disease and weed resistance don’t build up.
Trait development in action
While trait development is still a significant challenge, some factors can speed up the process.
Shaan Tsai, oilseed and pulse product development manager with Canterra, says timelines can be cut if a trait can be incorporated into existing elite germplasm, adding that regulations and registration in Canada and beyond could be improved.
Kelner agrees that streamlining various global approval processes would be helpful for commercializing biotech traits. So does Blaine Woycheshin, manager of oilseed crops and InVigor at Bayer CropScience. “The unpredictability of regulatory processes is a growing concern when it comes to investing in potential solutions,” Woycheshin notes.
New technology is another factor that could speed trait development. High-quality, high-speed phenotyping is one example to more quickly assess how new test varieties perform under a range of growing conditions. “In the case of resistance traits, speed of development is often defined by the ability one has to screen materials under the presence of the pest,” Harwood says. “Screening must produce repeatable measurements so that one can identify heritable forms of resistance.”
Tied to high-quality phenotyping is the use of molecular markers. Once a new trait is identified, also identifying a high-quality genetic marker for the trait makes it easier and faster to identify the plants that carry it.
Harwood adds that greenhouses and growth chambers, winter nurseries and winter seed production all contribute significantly to faster product development. Advances in information management and automation also allow for larger-scale breeding projects.
Lastly, Harwood points to global connections as important. He says having Canadian breeding programs integrated with programs in Europe (for clubroot, for example) and Australia (for blackleg) increase the likelihood of rapid identification of valuable new sources of genetic variation.
Commercial seed multiplication is also global. Seed companies work with third-party companies to produce hybrid seed with production in the U.S., Canada and contra-season multiplication in Chile. Hybrid seed production must take place in an environment that combines adequate environmental (weather) risk, good canola adaptation and low risk of uncontrolled pollination.
Given the cost and risk to produce hybrid seed and the challenge to meet demand for specific varieties, unexpected events can be a challenge. One example was the million or more acres reseeded in 2015. While predicting overall seed sales volume has become slightly easier, that year was an exception, according to Tsai.
Predicting the demand for particular canola hybrids, however, remains as complex as ever. Establishing seed production targets is “a very thorough and complex process,” Tsai says. “Once we’ve assessed performance of a particular canola hybrid, we then evaluate where it best fits, where we’re at from an inventory perspective and the canola seed market at both a macro and micro level. We then develop various product mix scenarios.”
For new Pioneer canola hybrids, the company finds it prudent to produce an amount that allows wide-area introduction of the new product but not to a volume that places growers at risk, Harwood says. “The second year of commercialization is when significant sales of a product take place,” he notes. “The process for determining that volume takes into account the market’s demand for a product with the traits and performance advantage it represents.”