Come hear Dr. Kelly Turkington, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), June 15 in a masterclass on when and how to best scout and ID plant pathogens at the Farming Smarter Field School.
He will share the best crop stages for scouting and spraying, the differences between systemic and contact fungicides and how they interact with plants, as well as new and growing diseases to put on your radar.
Kelly sits on the Sclerotinia Stem Rot Steering Committee with the Canola Council of Canada and the AAFC Prairie Biovigilance Network Working Group led by Brent McCallum from AAFC Morden. Additionally, Kelly brings 40 years of plant pathology experience to our field tour!
Kelly’s interest in plant pathology began in 1982 at the University of Saskatchewan. He enrolled in an undergraduate course taught by the late Professor Robin Morrall and found this course, and Morrall’s passion for plant pathology, fascinating enough to change the direction of his Bachelor's degree in agriculture from the Crop Science to Ag Biology option. In the summer of 1983, he worked with Dr. P.R. Verma an AAFC canola pathologist who collaborated with Professor Morrall. In 1984, he worked directly with Professor Morrall as a summer student.
Following this initial exposure to the wonderful world of plant pathology, Kelly started and completed a Master’s degree and PhD in the field at the University of Saskatchewan. He also studied at the University of Guelph for eight months throughout the Fall 1988 and Winter 1989 semesters. This gave him exposure to a different academic environment and helped him throughout his studies as he worked on his doctorate and beyond.
Throughout his time as a summer and graduate student, he worked on research related to Sclerotinia stem rot. After 8 years, it became his favourite disease to investigate. Following the challenging nature of Sclerotinia research his focused changed to working with cereal leaf spot diseases when he started as a Research Scientist in Lacombe, initially with Alberta Agriculture in 1994, and then Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 1996.
“It’s rewarding work. Although it can be challenging it is important to Kelly to develop practical strategies for effective disease management, especially given that diseases are a significant production concern and source of stress for farmers” says Kelly.
Image Caption: Our 2023 Field School schedule, full of learning opportunities through regional research and presented by top professionals! Don't miss this great opportunity to learn how you can best improve your farming operation for the future.
With cereals, his focus is on helping plant breeders to develop disease resistant varieties, while also working with agronomy and weeds colleagues in terms of integrated crop and pest management. Much of the program’s recent fungicide research has focused on studying the best timings for both leaf disease and fusarium head blight (FHB) in cereals and stem rot in canola. With cereal leaf spots farmers and consultants can follow disease development during the growing season and use this to gauge risk and guide application timings. In contrast, fungicides need to be applied before FHB or stem rot symptoms are visible. With leaf diseases the presence of symptoms represents a synthesis of whether components of the disease triangle have been favourable or not for disease development up to that point in time.
Throughout his career, Kelly participated in both small plot and field-scale research projects. Farming Smarter is excited to host Kelly at our Field School this year as his experience will embolden the small plot disease research being presented by Farming Smarter. However, small plot research is only one piece of the puzzle in Kelly’s eyes.
“There’s value in both styles of research; small plot research lets you focus on what you want to investigate, which is great for the researchers themselves. Meanwhile, field-scale research provides the variability found in commercial-scale fields that producers are impacted by and researchers are interested in studying,” comments Kelly.
While the variability in a commercial-scale field best replicates real-world situations, its limiting factor can be that it makes treatment comparisons more challenging. Furthermore, the purpose of the study is what dictates the proper setting, says Kelly. For example, with small plot research we may be trying to assess the potential for different treatment regimes to impact crop and disease management, and thus we want to minimize background variability associated with soil conditions, topography, etc.
Image Caption: Dr. Kelly Turkington
Kelly does recognize that for farmers field variability can represent challenges in terms of crop and pest management and that strategies may need to be varied depending on crop and disease conditions.
For some of the work Kelly and his pathology colleagues are involved with, the interest centers around what diseases are present, what impact are they having, and are we seeing shifts in pathogen virulence or fungicide sensitivity. In this situation it is critical to be in commercial fields.
“Annual surveys need to be done in commercial fields. They allow for proper tracking of issues through the observation of a disease’s impact and collection of contextual knowledge from that first-hand experience.”
“This is important, now more than ever, as changes in virulence can mean that current resistance genes are no longer effective and thus breeders and pathologists need to look at new more effective sources of resistance or the use of a combination of different resistance genes in the same variety.
The same applies to fungicides where shifts in fungicide sensitivity may mean some actives are no longer effective. Fortunately, this is more of an issue for European and UK farmers than Prairie farmers, but there are signs that things may be changing depending on the Prairie crop and disease issue,”
Kelly and colleagues are also involved in an overall Prairie Crop Disease Monitoring Network (PCDMN) initiative to help facilitate annual surveying as well as helping farmers and consultants to identifying potential risks to Prairie crops. For example, the PCDMN issues weekly cereal rust risk forecasts from mid-May to early July.
“Our Prairie rust risk is reflective of what’s happening in the USA in terms of cereal rust epidemics, but also the occurrence of wind trajectories that bring rust spores rom the USA into the Prairie region. The main concern is that rust spores can be readily carried by wind parcels from the Texas to Nebraska cropping corridor or up through the Pacific Northwest,” he continues.
While there’s an important shift in pathology research to focus on new tools and instruments available, Kelly warns that forgoing field-based aspects of research and knowledge can lead to a disconnect. As farmers and professional agronomists have the expertise in their fields, researchers must continue working with them while using newer molecular tools on the disease.
This two-pronged attack will lead to a greater understanding of on-going pathogen activity and possible new pathogens.
“Every tool has a purpose; always know your tools and when or where to use them. But what’s also important is to know what you’re dealing with on a field-to-field basis. Identify your target and understand it. Be prepared to shift strategies based on what you’re up against and how it changes,” states Kelly.
Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to learn how to best protect your field from crop pathogens. Register for the June 15 Field School today and come hear from Dr. Kelly Turkington in the field!