Canola AgriScience Cluster

Sustainable, Reliable Supply for a Changing World (2018-2023)



           albertacanola            SaskCanola            MCGA

The Canola AgriScience Cluster: Sustainable, Reliable Supply for a Changing World, is a partnership between Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the canola industry. Over a 5 year period, this initiative will channel $20 million in public/private funding into six areas of research aimed at sustainably growing the canola industry. This $20 million investment comprises $12.1 million in AAFC funding and $8 million in industry support, including $2.2 million in industry commitment to knowledge and technology transfer and scientific support. Industry funding partners include the Canola Council of Canada, Alberta Canola, SaskCanola, and Manitoba Canola Growers.

This cluster is building on the success of the two previous Clusters and Projects (2009-2013 and 2013-2018). Research outcomes are focused on the industry’s new strategic plan targeting 52 bushels per acre by 2025 and address two main priorities:

1.  Sustainably and profitably increase canola production in Canada to meet global demand for 26 MMT of canola by increasing yield to 52 bushels/acre. Improve quality characteristics of seed, oil, and meal to meet new and existing customer requirements.
2.  Meet global demand of 26 MMT by differentiating and demonstrating the quality characteristics of canola products to meet new and existing customer requirements at a competitive price.

By helping to reduce production risk, improve yield, increase market demand, and an enhanced focus on sustainability, the findings are expected to greatly expand the economic value of this $26.7 billion industry and propel the industry towards the 2025 strategic goals.

Developing the third cluster was an extensive, year-long process which included consultations with industry and the scientific community. Project decisions were based upon alignment with the industry’s research goals, and scientific excellence as determined by an in-depth peer review process. Progress will be overseen by a Science Advisory Body comprised of industry scientific experts.

In 2019, the Canola AgriScience Cluster Program was amended to include Theme 7 with projects focused on Blackleg and Verticillium stripe. Verticillium stripe is an emerging disease in canola in western Canada and its distribution, economic impact and management are not well understood in canola production. A greater understanding of Verticillium stripe is required to go forward with management strategies in Western Canadian conditions. Blackleg is widespread across the canola growing regions of western Canada, and while infection levels remain relatively low, new resistance genes, gene deployment and further understanding of the disease etiology will facilitate sustainable production of canola into the future. Furthermore, this research will ensure our industry is managing the disease to allay international trade concerns and reduce risk of Canadian canola as a vector for disease introduction in other countries. Continued development of management tools for Blackleg is essential to maximize returns to canola growers and to maintain positive trade relationships. The amendment injects another $5 million in joint public/private funding, with close to $3 million in additional funding through AAFC’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership and $2 million from Alberta Canola and SaskCanola. Funding will be directed to 33 projects, and will be completed by March 31, 2023. The pie chart below illustrates the research funding by area:


Canola Cluster Funding by Research Area


You can jump to a theme or project using the links below.

THEME 1: Differentiated quality and enhanced environmental performance in food processing

THEME 2: Differentiated quality and sustainable livestock production using canola meal

THEME 3: Increased production – yield and quality optimization for sustainable supply

THEME 4: Sustainability and climate change – improving nutrient and water use efficiency

THEME 5: Sustainability and climate change – integrated pest management

THEME 6: Putting innovation into action – knowledge and technology transfer

THEME 7: Maintaining Canola Supply and Trade: Blackleg and Verticillium

Theme 1: Differentiated quality and enhanced environmental performance in food processing

In the US canola oil has been granted a qualified health claim for heart health. The strategic focus for the industry is to position canola in healthy diets to prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes that are linked to obesity and inflammation. Further research is necessary to determine and scientifically validate additional health benefits of canola oil in diets in order to provide evidence to build health care and public trust and respond to changing consumer demand. Communicating the benefits of canola will be a priority in key markets including Canada, the U.S., Japan and Mexico, and will be an integral piece in differentiating canola oil and increasing its value.

Adapting food processing techniques to evolving sustainability metrics and emerging consumer preferences will be a key issue for the canola industry, and has been identified as the highest priority for Canadian oilseed processors. New food processing techniques will also be investigated in the context of canola protein. At present, canola meal is primarily streamlined into the animal feed market where it is a competitive animal feed source owing to its high protein value. Demand for high quality, highly bioavailable plant protein for human food is predicted to increase dramatically in the next decade. Improvements in digestibility of canola protein also have advantages for young livestock, companion animals and aquaculture species with high protein requirements. New research projects will be looking at novel techniques to extract and concentrate protein in order to meet this emerging demand and thereby increase value of canola meal. Economists project that improvements in protein composition and bioavailability could more than triple the value of canola meal.

1. Nutrigenetics, canola oil, and glucose tolerance: Does SCD1 genotype modulate a person’s response to canola oil?
David Mutch (University of Guelph), Peter Jones (University of Manitoba)

Increased consumption of canola oil has been linked to various health benefits that includes improved blood lipids, reduced platelet aggregation, and increased glucose tolerance. However, not everyone experiences these benefits to the same extent. The overall objective of this project is to investigate if the health benefits associated with canola oil are influenced by a person's genotype. For this initial proof-of-principle study, the research group will use samples previously collected during the “Canola Oil Multi-center Intervention Trial II” (COMIT II) to examine if differences in the stearoyl-CoA desaturase (SCD1) gene influences blood glucose regulation following the consumption of canola oil. It is anticipated that the outputs of this novel research will help to reconcile some of the discrepancy in the scientific literature regarding the effects of canola oil on blood glucose regulation, as well as provide strong support for future whole-genome studies to more broadly investigate how genetic variation influences the various health benefits associated with canola oil.


It is anticipated that this research will begin to lay the foundation for personalized dietary advice related to canola oil. The knowledge generated from this activity will be of considerable interest to direct-to-consumer companies who provide their customers with genetic-based dietary advice by informing strategies to support dietary behaviour change in regards to canola oil.

2. Novel extraction of oil and antioxidants from canola seed
Martin Scanlon (University of Manitoba), John Shi (AAFC Guelph), John Lu (AAFC Lethbridge), Yachaun Zhang (AAFC Lethbridge), Jim House (University of Manitoba), Usha Thiyam (University of Manitoba), Rick Green (POS BioSciences)

This project examines a number of cutting-edge pre-processing techniques for oilseed extraction, and couples them with an examination of the performance of two very promising non-organic solvent technologies – supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, and microemulsion extraction. As well as evaluating process efficiency, the multidisciplinary team will comprehensively evaluate oil and meal quality, with a particular focus on the healthful nature of the novel processing techniques. Workshops will be held in years 3 to 5, with emphasis on trainees interacting with personnel in the canola value chain to share research results. A robust technical evaluation, including pilot-scale trials, of the process and the finished products will provide industry with guidance for conducting further evaluation and cost/benefit analyses.


This research will quantify the technological feasibility of novel processing techniques and enhancing oil and meal quality, ensuring the continued growth of the industry.

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Theme 2: Differentiated quality and sustainable livestock production using canola meal

Currently all canola meal produced in Canada is consumed by livestock with the majority being exported. The canola industry anticipates that by the year 2025 there will be 7.8 million metric tonnes of canola meal produced in Canada. This is nearly 3 million metric tonnes more meal than what is produced today. Over the short term, it is likely that canola meal will continue to primarily access livestock markets and the industry will need to continue to work to differentiate its value compared to other common protein ingredients. Two key areas where canola meal has the potential to carve out added value are in sustainable livestock production and contributions to improvements in gut health in swine and poultry.

Production agriculture is highly scrutinized for its impact on the environment and specifically for its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Ruminant animal production is further scrutinized due to the inherent nature of the rumen to produce and release gaseous products including emissions in manure output. Canada’s single most important market for canola meal use is California whose dairies consistently consume ~30% of all meal exported out of Canada. Dairy operations in California have been directed by law to reduce methane emissions from their operations to levels of 40% below 2013 levels by 2030.

The swine and poultry industry in Canada has placed a huge emphasis on reducing the use of antibiotics. The industry is looking for nutritional tools to help keep animals healthy and producing to the same levels as those achieved through antimicrobials. Canola meal contains a large amount of insoluble fibre which has been reported to improve gut health of weaned pigs. Demonstrating a gut health benefit, which includes reduction in use of antibiotics, from canola meal inclusion puts canola at an advantage over other protein ingredients.

Canola meal fed dairy cows continue to outperform cows fed other ingredients, and under Science Cluster 2, researchers learned that early lactation cows have an even greater response to canola. Further work is needed to understand this mechanism, and to understand if additional nutrient partitioning is occurring to allow for other production responses to occur, such as in reproduction. 

The range of projects related to meal utilization have the potential to capture an additional 3.2 MMT of canola meal in swine and poultry diets in China and Canada and have potential to triple or quadruple meal exports for dairy rations in Wisconsin (which currently imports 200,000 t of canola meal).

1. Gut health and digestive physiology of nursery pigs and broiler chicken fed canola coproducts-based diets.
Tofuko Woyengo (South Dakota State University), Joy Scaria (South Dakota State University)

The use of antibiotics to improve gut health of pigs is being discouraged because antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistant microorganisms. Hence, there is a need for alternative feeding strategies to manage gut health. The overall objective of this project is to determine the effects of including canola meal in diets for nursery pigs on gut health and digestive physiology.  It is hypothesized that dietary canola meal will improve gut health and digestive physiology of nursery pigs because canola meal contains: (1) insoluble fiber that reduces post-weaning diarrhea of pigs; and (2) glucosinolates that have exhibited anti-microbial activity against pig gut pathogens, and antioxidant activity. The specific objectives will be to determine the effects of: (1) dietary level of canola meal on growth performance, organ weights, gut health, and small intestinal nutrient absorptive capacity of nursery pigs; (2) dietary canola meal on growth performance and gut health of Escherichia coli-challenged nursery pigs; and (3) hulls or dehulled components of canola meal on growth performance and gut health of nursery pigs.


Results from this activity will contribute to the development of feeding strategies to manage gut health and performance of nursery pigs based on the use of canola meal as a feed ingredient. This will reduce gut infections in pigs and economic losses associated with gut infections, leading to increased production efficiency and improved sustainability metrics. This research will also benefit the canola industry by increasing the demand for canola meal in formulating swine diets.

2. Canola meal to improve efficiency and sustainability of dairy production: Filling knowledge gaps.
Chaouki Benchaar (AAFC Sherbrooke), Karen Beauchemin (AAFC Lethbridge), Fadi Hassanat (AAFC Sherbrooke)

Because of its high protein quality (i.e., higher rumen undegradable protein content, more balanced amino acid profile), canola meal (solvent-extracted) is being increasingly used in dairy cow diets as an alternative to soybean meal. A number of studies provide evidence that canola meal can successfully replace (partially or completely) soybean meal in dairy cow diets. Most of the studies published to date on canola meal have been limited to its effect on efficiency of protein utilization and performance of dairy cows. Compared to soybean meal, canola meal has been shown to increase dry matter intake and milk performance (production and efficiency). However, little is known about the effects of feeding canola meal to dairy cows on greenhouse gas emissions, particularly enteric methane emissions. Furthermore, to the best of our knowledge, no information is currently available on the carbon footprint (i.e., amount of CO2 equivalent emitted/kg of milk) of milk produced from cows fed canola meal (versus soybean meal) under Canadian confinement dairy production systems. The objective of the proposed research is to fill knowledge gaps by: 1) determining the optimal inclusion level of solvent-extracted canola meal in dairy cow diets (versus soybean meal) to mitigate enteric methane emissions, reduce nitrogen excretion and enhance milk performance (production and efficiency); and 2) establishing the carbon footprint (cradle to farm-gate life cycle analysis) of milk produced using canola meal (versus soybean meal) under typical Eastern and Western dairy confinement farming systems. Ultimately, the research aims to demonstrate whether sustainability (environmental and economic) of dairy production can be improved by using canola meal as the main protein source in dairy cow diets.


While California dairy nutritionists place high value on feeding canola meal for milk production advantages, the proposed research will further demonstrate the value of canola meal in dairy rations including reduction in GHG emissions so that the industry can reach its target reductions. This information will not only be relevant to California but to Canada and other markets as well.

3. Understanding the impacts of canola meal on gut microbiota and potential pre-biotic effect of enzymatically-released bioactive fiber components and the long term effects of high levels of canola meal inclusion on sow and litter performance.
Bogdan Slominski (University of Manitoba), Martin Nyachoti (University of Manitoba), Anna Rogiewicz (University of Manitoba)

Research completed to date has clearly demonstrated that when diets are properly formulated (i.e. on the basis of net energy and standardized ileal digestible amino acids), high inclusion levels of canola meal in poultry and pig diets are possible without compromising growth performance. The overall objective of this research is to further optimize the use of high inclusion levels of canola meal in poultry and swine diets. The specific objectives would include: 1) The impact of high dietary levels of canola meal on gut microbiota and potential pre-biotic effect of enzymatically-released bioactive fiber components, 2) The impacts of high levels of canola meal in diets of broilers and pigs from modern genetic lines, 3) The potential for canola meal and value-added canola meal co-products to be used in pig creep diets, and 4) Optimizing high inclusion levels of canola meal in sow diets. The outcomes of this research would optimise the utilization of canola meal in poultry and swine diets. More precise formulation of diets would result in reduced feed cost and environmental pollution, while achieving optimal animal performance. This research would also demonstrate that the benefits to be gained from enzyme supplementation are not only from improved nutrient digestion and feed efficiency but also from improved gut health. Specifically, improved gut health as a result of prebiotics formed from the hydrolysis of canola meal fibre components, including non-starch polysaccharides (NSP), would benefit the poultry and swine industries by controlling enteric infections, and therefore obviating the need for in-feed antibiotics. Developing and adopting antibiotic-free feeding programs is a major goal of the poultry and livestock industries.


The fibre in canola meal represents an opportunity for discovery with potential advantages to both the Canadian poultry and swine industries but also to the Canadian canola industry. Keeping animals healthy and productive is a key factor in producing quality meat products. This research aims to demonstrate the high value of canola meal for swine in all stages of production, which will result in increased application of canola meal here in Canada and in other markets of importance, specifically China and Mexico.

4. Accurate determination of the contribution of canola meal to metabolizable protein supply in dairy cows.
Daniel Ouellet (AAFC Sherbrooke), Hélène Lapierre (AAFC Sherbrooke), Édith Charbonneau (Université Laval)

Canola meal (CM) is an excellent protein supplement which is now frequently included in dairy rations. In two meta-analyses and in recent studies, milk (mean response = +1.4 kg/d) and milk protein (+45 g/d) yields increased when canola meal was substituted for other protein sources such as soybean meal (SBM), corn or wheat dried distillers grains in dairy rations. The positive milk protein response to CM inclusion in dairy rations happened despite the fact that, generally, inclusion of CM was predicted to decrease the supply in metabolizable protein (MP). This indicates an inappropriate description of the “protein behavior” of CM when fed to dairy cows by actual dietary programs. It is the purpose of this research to decipher where this positive impact of CM is coming from and why the predicted MP supply is under-estimated with CM-based diets. The impact of rumen metabolism on protein flowing to the duodenum and available for digestion and amino acid absorption is determinant. If the contribution of the true protein from this fraction to the duodenal protein flow is under-estimated in CM, this may explain the greater than predicted performances observed. The aim of this research is to elucidate the behavior of the soluble N and small particles (SP) of the CM, these being the N sources during rumen incubation. With “correct” N kinetics of CM into the rumen, formulation models will harmonize predicted and estimated cow performances favoring the inclusion of canola meal in dairy rations.


Dairy producers will greatly benefit from a more solid understanding of the mechanisms behind the milk production advantage seen when canola meal is fed. Together, these results will be readily applicable to be used into diet formulation programs to improve diet performance and profitability. Knowing the real contribution of canola meal to the metabolizable protein supply will give more confidence to nutritionists and producers to include CM in their rations.

5. Evaluation of Canola Meal as compared to Soybean meal in Practical California Rations: Effects upon long term lactational performance, reproductive performance and metabolic disease.
Peter Robinson (University of California, Davis), William Van Die (Cloverdale Dairy), Nadia Swanepoel (University of California, Davis)

Carefully executed large herd studies provide high confidence in the accuracy of results provided to dairy farmers and nutritionists, as they better emulate real-life situations. Cloverdale Dairy is a typical California dairy facility that has been modified to capture data required to assess the impact of feeding on a great number of performance aspects. Studies conducted at this dairy farm showed that the optimal level of canola meal inclusion with corn-distillers’ dried grains and solubles (DDGS) was about 13% of diet dry matter. This feeding level allows dairy cows to produce the highest level of milk production, milk components and sustained body condition compared to diets containing no canola meal as well as diets containing all canola meal as the main protein ingredient in the diet. This research has been adopted by many dairy farms in California and has also solidified observations of other dairy nutritionists who have experienced this ideal level of canola meal inclusion in their day to day work. While the California dairy industry typically feeds canola meal and corn-based distillers dried grain (DDGS) as the main protein ingredient, varying pricing schemes now allow soybean meal to enter the California dairy market – and thus into diet formulations – and this may influence the California protein meal market. A large body of research exists which clearly shows a milk production advantage of feeding dairy cows canola meal vs. soybean meal, but no data exists to demonstrate effects of inclusion of canola meal and soybean meal, or even canola meal with both corn-DDGS and soybean meal.  This study will provide information regarding use of canola meal and soybean meal in this unique market with respect to milk production, health and reproduction of dairy cows.


California is the most important market for Canadian canola meal, while Wisconsin represents a market with significant growth potential for canola meal use. The research to be conducted in this activity will not only benefit the dairy industry in California but will also be extremely relevant for Wisconsin dairy herds, where soybean meal is the direct competing protein source for milking cows. Positive results from this research will provide further explanation of canola meal’s advantages in dairy diets.

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Theme 3: Increased production – yield and quality optimization for sustainable supply

Increased yield is a cornerstone of the canola industry’s Keep it Coming strategic plan – achieving the strategic goal of reaching an average yield of 52 bushels per acre by 2025 is the key to long term sustainable supply. The strategic plan has been implemented so that Canadian farmers and the canola value chain can sustainably supply the predicted global demand for 26 MMT of canola in 2025 while preserving wetlands and wild lands. Innovation, technology and agronomic management are required in order to optimize canola yield and quality; the activities in this theme bring focus to this intersection.

The strategic plan targets 8 bushels per acre in yield gain due to genetic improvement. A major driver for this ambitious yield target is production sustainability. Increasing productivity per unit of land (i.e. increasing bu/ac) can dramatically improve fuel and nutrient-use efficiencies and resource efficiencies without increasing land use or land conversion. Increasing yield per unit of land use is an effective way of increasing carbon capture. This theme addresses several of the important tools identified in the strategic plan for increasing yield, as well as genetic-based improvement of yield.

Increased yield and sustainability are tied to increased profitability and reduced production risk. Plant establishment has the potential to add 3 bushels per acre, and also has a large stewardship component in terms of management of volunteer canola and nutrient use efficiency. The low emergence rate of canola, as low as 50%, has led the Canola Council of Canada to the goal of “plant one to get one”. The secondary dormancy research in this theme is a first step in understanding this complicated issue. Expanding the understanding of B. napus seed biology and how it relates to potential for induction of secondary dormancy will be of significant benefit to plant breeders, seed/life science developers and canola growers, with secondary benefit to the supply chain. This research will enable reduction of input costs and reduce production risk for achieving optimum yields.

The strategic plan targets 2 bushels per acre in yield gain from harvest management. This will primarily be achieved by improved harvest timing and straight cutting. Additional benefits of straight cutting include reduction in fuel use, reduced production risk, and increased seed oil content which has significant benefit to the food industry.

In order to fully realize the market opportunities that are emerging due to increased demand for high quality protein, improved seed protein content and quality are needed. New research will look at improving the amino acid composition and balance, optimizing protein subunit ratios, and developing a better understanding of using genomic tools to improve protein quantity and functionality in the seed. Developing canola with enhanced protein and nutritional qualities will revolutionize meal utilization and functionality in Canada.

1. Manipulating agronomic factors for optimum canola harvest timing, productivity and crop sequencing.
Brian Beres (AAFC Lethbridge), Charles Geddes (AAFC Lethbridge), Breanne Tidemann (AAFC Lacombe), William May (AAFC Indian Head), Ramona Mohr (AAFC Brandon)

There is a movement toward straight-cutting at harvest in order to improve operational logistics and costs by removing the swathing operation.  Not only would cultivar selection potentially interact with harvest method, it is plausible that sowing density and the presence of greater or fewer branches would also influence straight-cutting efficiency.  Lastly, sowing density by harvest methods could potentially interact with crop sequencing from the canola phase to the succeeding crop, particularly if it was a wheat phase with a winter growth habit.  This project will employ a sound agronomic and cross-disciplinary approach that will deliver science-based solutions to overcome canola harvest and production issues for use by the canola value chain including stakeholders, producers and policy-makers.  The project will be able to establish the risks and benefits associated with an integrated system when manipulations are made to sowing density and cultivar selections, and the impact those decisions have on straight-cut and swathing harvest systems.


This research aims to develop improved canola production guidelines that successfully integrate ideal sowing densities with pod shatter tolerant hybrids to facilitate both swathing and straight cut harvesting. This will result in greater profitability to growers through higher production and higher quality for both the canola phase and wheat phases that follow, as well as provide knowledge on the economics and sustainability of reduced sowing densities and implications for both straight cut and swathing scenarios.

2. Enhancing yield and biomass in canola by modifying carbohydrate metabolism.
Michael Emes (University of Guelph), Ian Tetlow (University of Guelph)

This program is focused on achieving a significant increase in canola productivity. Canola is an oilseed but, as is true for all plants, the energy currency which is derived from photosynthesis is carbohydrate. This research group has previously shown that by selectively modifying particular reactions in the pathway of starch biosynthesis, known as starch branching enzymes, a 400% increase in seed production was achieved in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, brought about by a parallel increase in flower and silique production.  Arabidopsis is closely related genetically to canola and the DNA coding sequences for starch branching enzymes are identical. We therefore aim to transfer this approach to canola using a combination of genome editing and genetic manipulation. Even if a tenth of the effect seen in Arabidopsis was obtained in canola, this would constitute a massive gain in productivity, made more attractive by the observation that oil quality remained unchanged and no additional inputs were required. The project will also bring environmental benefits through increased carbon capture, and help sustain and increase the pollinator population with the concomitant increase in flower production.


The primary goal of this research is a new technology which results in a stepwise gain in canola yield without additional crop inputs, an important factor in both farm profitability and sustainability. Environmental benefits will also be realized through increased carbon capture and potential increases in the pollinator population.

3. Weeding Out Secondary Dormancy Potential From Volunteer Canola.
Sally Vail (AAFC Saskatoon), Rob Gulden (University of Manitoba), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Steve Robi nson (AAFC Saskatoon), Steve Shirtliffe (University of Saskatchewan)

Volunteer canola is becoming an ever-increasing issue in rotational crops and in-crop across the Canadian prairies. This is especially so with increasingly tight rotations, shifting crop species (ie. corn and soybean) in rotation with similar herbicide resistance packages to canola and shifting to direct cutting of canola which could result in larger contribution to the weed seed banks. Underlying the persistence of volunteer canola in weed seed banks is the secondary dormancy potential of the species. Secondary dormancy is a heritable trait that can be selected against in breeding programs using marker assisted selection. This can be accomplished by establishing the genomic regions containing genes for the trait (ie. mapping Quantitative Trait Loci, or QTL). In addition, recent results have found that expression of a particular gene (DOG1; which stands for ‘Delay of Germination’) is correlated with dormancy induction. In addition to using molecular markers to select against secondary dormancy potential in canola breeding programs, these tools could be useful in monitoring and studying the secondary dormancy potential of volunteer weed populations. Changes or shifts in the genes for dormancy potential could describe, quantify and facilitate understanding volunteer canola populations across the prairies.


The molecular tools developed by this research may be used by:

  • Canola breeders for selection against genes that confer secondary dormancy in elite breeding lines and in breeding populations derived from wide-crosses with high secondary dormancy potential lines;
  • Weed scientists for monitoring weed populations of volunteer canola; and
  • Seed laboratories for monitoring relative amounts of secondary dormancy potential of canola seed lots.

4. Advancing the functional, nutritional and economic value of canola protein in Canada
Rob Duncan (University of Manitoba), Jim House (University of Manitoba), Janitha Wanusundara (AAFC Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Rotimi Aluko (University of Manitoba), Lee Anne Murphy (MAHRN)

Canola meal has historically been a by-product and utilized only for animal feed. This provides an immense opportunity to expand the utilization of Canada’s most important crop. The value of canola production could grow significantly if high-quality protein products were developed for use in human food products. To accomplish this, a better understanding of how protein quality and digestibility varies within diverse Brassica germplasm must be developed. Furthermore, we need to determine how this genetic variation interacts with different processing methods.  The research will examine the variation for multiple seed quality traits that directly and indirectly relate to protein quality and include protein content, amino acid profile, in vitro protein digestibility, protein composition (e.g. cruciferin and napin content), oil content, fatty acid profile, glucosinolate content, phytate levels, fibre content and free sugar content. The diverse set of germplasm characterized for these traits will also be genotyped to identify genetic regions that are impacting these traits. Finally, we will explore how this genetic variation interacts with multiple processing methods in order to identify the best combination of germplasm and processing methods for developing food products with improved protein quality and digestibility. 


Additional value will come from the ability to transform canola protein into a premium co-product with equal or higher value than canola oil. This research will facilitate this transformation by understanding the available variation for protein-related traits, the genetic control of these traits and the interaction with multiple processing methods. This research has the potential to improve the nutritional value, functionality and the economic value of canola meal/protein by several-fold.

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Theme 4: Sustainability and climate change – improving nutrient and water use efficiency

The canola industry’s strategic plan targets 3 bushels per acre in yield gain from improved fertility management. Nitrogen (N) use is high in modern, high-yielding arable crop production. In conjunction with water, nitrogen is an important yield-determining factor for canola, and determines the protein content of the seed and thus the value of the seed press cake or meal for livestock feed. Furthermore, high seed oil and protein content requires much more nitrogen and energy to produce than starch and this is belied by the fact that cereal yields are often double that of oilseed yields and these yields are produced with the same amount of nitrogen.

Nitrogen is the most expensive operating cost for Canadian canola growers. Unfortunately nitrogen application is partially lost by leaching or volatilization before canola benefits from the fertilizer. Early spring losses along with the costly production of oil and protein in canola seeds contribute to the crop having low Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE), which has important economic and environmental ramifications. In addition to increasing yield and profitability and reducing production risk, improved NUE also significantly impacts sustainability metrics.

A collaborative approach to increasing NUE in canola was designated as a high priority by the canola industry. The two proposed activities will be overseen by a steering committee composed of public and private sector scientists and agronomy specialists. The research is multidisciplinary and will involve genomics, plant physiology, root architecture, microbiology, soil sciences and agronomy.

1. Improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and soil sustainability in canola production across Canada.
Bao-Luo Ma (AAFC Ottawa), Mervin St. Luce (AAFC Swift Current), Yantai Gan (AAFC Swift Current), Paul Tiege (Olds College), Rob Gulden (University of Manitoba), Luke Bainard (AAFC Swift Current), Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), Ramona Mohr (AAFC Brandon), Cindy Gampe (AAFC Scott), Greg Semach (AAFC Beaverlodge)

Canola producers face numerous challenges with increasing seed yield and improving NUE, while reducing production cost and minimizing environmental impacts. This project is designed to address these challenges by developing N management technologies and advancing knowledge of soil nutrient cycling and plant nutrient uptake mechanisms. Field studies will be conducted at eight ecosites, and site-specific N management guides will be developed for the main and potential canola production regions, with the specific conditions in climate, soil and cropping systems at each ecosite taken into account. A unique feature of this project will investigate the critical roles of root architecture in nutrient absorption, root anchorage strength (involved in lodging resistance) and genotypic variations. Soil and plant diagnostic tools will be identified and employed to improve NUE and yields of canola as well as promote soil and environmental sustainability. The overall goal of the proposed project is to achieve concurrent improvements in NUE, canola yield, lodging resistance, and soil sustainability across different ecoregions. This study will provide canola producers with a complete information guide of site-specific N management practices for each agroecozone. Advancing knowledge and developing technologies for more efficient use of plant nutrients can benefit the environment by significantly decreasing N loss to the soil and protecting water quality.


This research will provide canola producers with a complete information guide of site-specific N management practices for each agroecozone; improving economic, agronomic and environmental management. This activity builds upon the “right rate” and “right time” pillars of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program, contributing to increased production, increased grower profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability.

2. Making of a more sustainable canola: Using genetic diversity to improve NUE.
Sally Vail (AAFC Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Rosalind Bueckert (University of Saskatchewan), Raju Soolanayakanahally (AAFC Saskatoon), Melissa Arcand (University of Saskatchewan), Steve Robinson (AAFC Saskatoon), Andrew Sharpe (GIFS), Leon Kochian (GIFS), Robert Guy (UBC), Reynald Lemke (AAFC Saskatoon), Bobbi Helgason (University of Saskatchewan)

Canola is the major oilseed crop grown on the Canadian prairies. Nitrogen is the most expensive operating cost when growing this multi-billion dollar crop. Furthermore, rates of nitrogen application the previous fall and/or at seeding are increasing to match ever- increasing yield potential in modern hybrids. This research, along with parallel agronomic research, will advance the Canadian body of understanding within and beyond that of the international community. This project will determine what makes a spring canola plant N-use efficient by characterizing the above-ground and root components of the plant, the correlation of shoot vs root components, the overall growth parameters and flowering patterns in response to N. In addition, this project will examine how to improve N- capture (NUpE) and repartitioning within the plant (NUtE) by testing different root types in response to N availability. Through characterization of these phenotypes and by correlating these phenotypes with the genetic make-up of the lines, we will eventually provide the industry with methods to predict the N-response for new lines, without having to test individual lines and hybrids. In the longer term, this research program will pair whole-plant phenotypes with suitable N-fertilization agronomic practices that will result in reduction of N-losses from the system.


This research will provide knowledge and tools to enable canola breeders to provide growers with varieties more responsive to N fertilizers. Improving the NUE for canola has important ramifications for both profitability and the long term sustainability of the crop.

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Theme 5: Sustainability and climate change – integrated pest management

The canola industry’s strategic plan targets 2 bushels per acre in yield gain from integrated pest management. Of greater imperative for the profitability and risk management of canola producers is protecting yield and quality of the crop from pests and disease in an environmentally sustainable manner. This theme focuses on the development of resistance to and management of a number of economically important pathogens and pests of canola across all production regions of Canada. Integrated pest management continues to be the anchor for protecting crop yield and quality while preserving biodiversity and improving environmental performance and long term sustainability.

Plant protection in general and the protection of crops against plant pests and disease in particular, have an obvious role to play in meeting the growing demand for food quality and quantity. The canola value chain will incur hundreds of millions in dollars in economic loss if yield and quality are not protected, and these risks cannot be managed through crop rotation alone. Furthermore, unhealthy canola plants rob pollinators and beneficial insects of valuable food and habitat.

In the canola production system, several diseases and insect pests are economically important on an annual basis. Other insect pests cause sporadic damage. The major diseases of canola in western Canada are Sclerotinia stem rot, blackleg (Leptosphaeria maculans) and clubroot (Plasmodiophora brassicae). Economic losses due to these pathogens vary from year to year but incidence and severity has been shown to be increasing, in part due to increasing canola acreage. Mitigation of canola diseases relies on the innovation provided by private and public breeding programs.

Clubroot is found primarily in central Alberta and regions around Edmonton, AB. While the disease is not widespread across the prairies, the area of infestation is growing each year. Severe infestations can result in yield losses of 30% to 100%. Therefore strategies to contain and manage the disease are critical for sustainable canola production in western Canada. If the currently affected acreage could no longer grow canola because of a lack of research and innovation, the production impact would be in the range of 150,000 metric tonnes (MT) to over 376,000 MT, representing a dollar value to producers of at least $75 million per year. Resistance genes have been identified and incorporated into canola hybrids grown in western Canada but identifying other sources of resistance is critical for crop protection. The objective of this research is to further identify sources of resistance, characterize virulence and variability in pathogen populations, and identify integrated management strategies that could be used over large areas typical of canola production in western Canada.

Sclerotinia stem rot continues to be the most damaging and difficult-to-manage disease of canola in Canada and has resulted in the largest yield losses. Despite availability of crop protection products, successful control of the disease remains elusive. Growers manage sclerotinia by applying fungicides to coincide with early canola flowering with the goal of covering as many flower petals as possible with the application. The canola plant flowers for an extended period of time depending upon environmental conditions and therefore a fungicide application made during early flowering may no longer be efficacious near the end of the flowering period. Since the cost of spraying is high and disease incidence varies greatly across years, regions and fields, systematic spraying is not profitable. By applying fungicide only when necessary, yield losses due to heavy infestations and unnecessary fungicide applications can be avoided. The proposed sclerotinia activities will work in collaboration and will optimize disease management using current fungicides while investigating novel RNAi technologies, genetic resistance, and new risk assessment tools.

Pollinator health is a key issue in agriculture. Canola is proven to be an ideal food source for natural and managed pollinators and 20 million acres of a long-flowering crop provides an excellent habitat. In order to protect pollinators and beneficial insects and maximize the biodiversity within the canola canopy, better predictive models for pest emergence and economic action are needed, as insecticide use has both economic and environmental costs. The proposed research on integrated management strategies for flea beetles, and biocontrol of cabbage seedpod weevil endeavors to provide immediate benefits to growers, as well as insight on the biodiversity and long-term sustainability of canola production.

1. Feasibility of using Trichomalus perfectus for biological control of cabbage seedpod weevil in the prairies.
Héctor Cárcamo (AAFC Lethbridge), éric Lucas (UQAM), Luc Belzile (Institut de recherche et développement en agroenvironnement), Dan Johnson (University of Lethbridge), Scott Meers (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Meghan Vankosky (AAFC Saskatoon), Boyd Mori (AAFC Saskatoon), Kevin Floate (AAFC Lethbridge), Tara Gariepy (AAFC London), Patrice Bouchard (AAFC Ottawa), Peter Mason (AAFC Ottawa), Meghan Vankosky (AAFC Saskatoon), Tyler Wist (AAFC Saskatoon)

The cabbage seedpod weevil (Ceutorhynchus obstrictus Marsham) is a serious pest of canola and related brassicaceous seed crops in North America and Europe The weevil continues to spread north and east towards the key canola growing regions. Practical alternatives to insecticides are not available; however biological control with a parasitoid wasp (Trichomalus perfectus) has high potential to provide a permanent solution. This wasp parasitizes the pest at high levels in Europe and has invaded eastern Canada on its own. In parts of Quebec where it occurs at high populations, it appears to be managing the weevil to levels that no longer require insecticide spraying. The host range of the parasitoid may include non-target weevils that are native or have been introduced for biological control of weeds. Therefore, before relocation, a comprehensive environmental and economic study is required. The research team assembled to conduct the work described in this proposal will complete an efficacy and economic analysis of the impact of the parasitoid on the pest in Quebec. In addition, a team of entomologists throughout Canada will conduct extensive surveys and ecological studies to collect the information required to make a recommendation in favour of relocations or against it.Insecticide use has economic and environmental costs. The potential impact of insecticides on beneficial insect species including predators and pollinators is of particular concern. In conducting this research, due diligence will be exercised to ensure that the biocontrol agents for seedpod weevil will not influence the outcome of biocontrol programs for weed pests or have serious impacts on native non-target insect species.


This research will provide a comprehensive environmental and economic study to determine whether a wasp may be successfully introduced as a biocontrol agent for cabbage seedpod weevil in western Canada. In addition to the direct benefits of protecting yields, establishment of the parasitoid would help canola growers avoid insecticide use, thus helping to conserve pollinators and natural enemies of other pests.

2. Integrated approaches for flea beetle control II: incorporating the impacts of plant density, ground predators, and landscape-scale predictive models in the management of flea beetles in the Canadian prairies.
Alejandro Costamagna (University of Manitoba), Héctor Cárcamo (AAFC Lethbridge), Jennifer Otani (AAFC Beaverlodge) Tharshinidevy Nagalingam (University of Manitoba), John Gavlovski (Manitoba Agriculture), Rob Duncan (University of Manitoba)

Flea beetles are one of the major pests of canola in Western Canada. Currently, preventative seed treatments are used to protect canola seeds from flea beetle damage. Canola growers are in need of strategies to improve the efficiency of seed treatments and need improved methods to control flea beetles efficiently. This research will study the effects of seeding rates on the efficiency of canola crops in recovering from flea beetle damage and on economic thresholds for high yielding canola varieties. In addition, conditions conducive to stem feeding by different flea beetle species and the impact of stem feeding on canola yield will be determined. The effect of ground and foliar predators and landscape structure on canola defoliation, flea beetle abundance, and species composition in different regions of western Canada will be evaluated. Finally, the group will refine predictive models for flea beetle abundance and damage to canola, incorporating predators, landscape effects and abiotic factors. This project will be conducted in four eco- regions of the Prairie provinces, incorporating a variety of canola growing conditions, and in collaboration with research scientists, extension specialists, and crop specialists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Manitoba Agriculture, and the University of Manitoba. This project will add new management options to develop sustainable strategies to mitigate flea beetle damage in canola.


This research aims to predict the abundance and risk of flea beetle damage to canola crops. This will result in an overall reduction in the use of insecticides.  Reducing insecticide applications in canola has important ramifications on sustainability, pollinator health, and also farmer profitability.

3. Genetic resources for flea beetle resistance in canola.
Dwayne Hegedus (AAFC Saskatoon), Sally Vail (AAFC Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC Saskatoon), Chrystel Olivier (AAFC Saskatoon)

Flea beetles are the most economically damaging pest of canola.  Currently, there are no canola (Brassica napus) varieties with any level of natural resistance to flea beetles. This project builds on work begun by researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Saskatchewan which identified lines of B. napus, and the related Brassica villosa species, exhibiting natural resistance to flea beetles by producing hairs on their leaves and stems.  The presence of these hairs deters the beetles by disrupting their normal feeding behavior.  This research will provide canola breeders with B. napus lines that produce hairs, as well as genetic markers to allow this trait to be introduced into next generation varieties.


This research aims to map the loci/genes responsible for the hairy canola trait that will permit seed development companies to introgress it into next generation canola varieties to be made available to Canadian farmers.  If successful, this will result in an overall reduction in the use of insecticides. 

4. Improving the management of sclerotinia stem rot of canola using fungicides and better risk assessment tools.
Kelly Turkington (AAFC Lacombe), Steve Strelkov (University of Alberta), Mike Harding (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Henry Klein-Gebbinck (AAFC Beaverlodge), Breanne Tidemann (AAFC Lacombe), Greg Semach (AAFC Beaverlodge), Charles Geddes (AAFC Lethbridge), Henry de Gooijer (AAFC Indian Head), Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), William May (AAFC Indian Head), Dale Tomasiewicz (AAFC Outlook), Ramona Mohr (AAFC Brandon), Debbie McLaren (AAFC Brandon), Denis Pageau (AAFC Normandin), Barb Ziesman (Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture), Syama Chatterton (AAFC Lethbridge)

Sclerotinia stem rot is an important factor influencing long-term production and economic stability for canola producers. However, outbreaks of stem rot can be variable and as a consequence fungicide application decisions are often difficult to make. Recent research investigating quantitative (q)PCR assessment of petals and assessment of other factors related to stem rot outbreaks in Alberta have shown that assessment of pathogen levels via qPCR analysis, while accounting for the impact of weather factors such as relative humidity (RH) in relation to crop development, holds promise in terms of stem rot risk assessment.  The proposed research will refine the use of qPCR analysis for assessing inoculum levels during the growing season, while improving the ability to manage stem rot using fungicides. The fungicide and crop development components of the research will improve knowledge regarding factors (e.g. seeding rate) that influence canopy development and fungicide penetration/coverage, and will help to improve the level of canopy coverage including that of leaf axils and bases, thus potentially providing improved management of stem rot. Finally, the integration of weather and pathogen inoculum assessments with revised recommendations for fungicide timing has the potential to better identify field specific disease risk just prior to and over the critical flowering period, and thus the need and optimum timing for fungicide application.


This research will improve farmers’ ability to manage sclerotinia stem rot via improved risk assessment and fungicide use.  Farmers and industry will directly benefit from the research as it will improve the ability to assess the risk of sclerotinia stem rot and need for fungicide application, while allowing them to get the most out of the fungicide application based on risk, crop development and improved canopy coverage, also reducing unnecessary fungicide applications. Reducing fungicide applications in canola has important ramifications on sustainability, pollinator health, and also farmer profitability.

5. Development of a biosensor for Sclerotinia stem rot disease forecasting in canola.
Susie Li (Innotech Alberta), Kelly Turkington (AAFC Lacombe), Jian Yang (Innotech Alberta), Jie Chen (University of Alberta)

Sclerotinia stem rot is causes significant crop yield loss and decreased farm income. Current plant disease forecasting measures are based on field scouting and/or plant surveys conducted in the previous year(s), as well as lab testing which is often not accurate and/or cannot be done in a timely fashion to prevent disease outbreak and yield loss. An accurate mechanism to monitor pathogen levels before disease outbreak is urgently needed. The goal of this project is to develop an in-field biosensor for the detection of the Sclerotinia sclerotiorum ascospore level in the air for disease forecasting and disease prevention. The research group has been working on the design of a nano-biosensor for S. sclerotiorum spore testing and a Bluetooth technology that can transmit the results to an electronic device (cell phone), which has demonstrated promising results in a laboratory setting. In this project, this device will be tested in the greenhouse for spore trapping under near-field conditions and correlate it to the disease (petal infection), set up a threshold for the nano-biosensor signal for disease forecasting and conduct field experiments to verify the device and make it fit for field conditions.


This research will develop an in-field real-time nano-biosensor for monitoring  sclerotinia stem rot pathogens which will notify farmers with Bluetooth technology  when a disease outbreak is imminent. This will ensure that farmers are alerted before yield loss occurs, and will also ensure that farmers are not spraying unnecessarily.

6. Protection of canola from pathogenic fungi using RNA interference technologies.
Steve Whyard (University of Manitoba), Mark Belmonte (University of Manitoba), Mazdak Khajehpour (University of Manitoba), Dwayne Hegedus (AAFC Saskatoon)

Canola crops are threatened by a variety of fungal pathogens, but one of the most damaging is Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. With no available Sclerotinia-resistant cultivars available, damage from this fungus is mitigated primarily by crop rotations and foliar fungicides. Unfortunately, under damp climatic conditions, such methods are insufficient to control the disease. In addition, there is increasing public concern over the risk that chemicals pose to the environment and human health. Together, these present compelling reasons to find (fungal or species-specific) alternatives to control this costly fungal pathogen. RNA interference (RNAi) is a method of reducing a targeted gene’s expression through the application of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). The research team has identified dsRNA molecules that can inhibit sclerotinia growth, and have observed that topical application of these dsRNAs, under laboratory conditions, can reduce sclerotinia infections in canola. Due to RNAi’s high degree of specificity, dsRNAs can be designed to target just the pathogenic fungus or related pathogenic fungi, and not affect beneficial species. This research aims to develop and field-test a new generation of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-based, species-specific foliar fungicides that can be designed to target Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, to reduce reliance on broad-spectrum fungicides and provide canola growers with alternatives to existing conventional chemistries.


This research aims to develop a new generation of dsRNA-based, species-specific foliar designed to target Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, to reduce reliance on broad-spectrum fungicides and improve long-term sustainability.

7. Resistance to Sclerotinia sclerotiorum effectors in canola.
Dwayne Hegedus (AAFC Saskatoon), Hossein Borhan (AAFC Saskatoon), Yangdou Wei (University of Saskatchewan)

The fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum causes sclerotinia stem rot in canola which leads to severe yield losses. While the timely use of fungicides in combination with new tolerant (though not resistant) canola varieties can reduce the impact of this disease, genuine and durable resistance has not yet been achieved.  This project will attempt to simplify the identification of Brassica napus (canola) lines with tolerance to this disease.  Substances produced by the fungus which cause the characteristic brown, necrotic (dead) lesions on the plant or which compromise the ability of the plant to defend itself against attack by the fungus will be identified.  These substances will be used to identify B. napus lines from collections at plant genetic resources centers to find those that are most tolerant or resistant to individual substances.  Combining the resistance traits through traditional breeding will accelerate the development of canola varieties with better tolerance or resistance to stem rot.


This research aims to identify canola lines with individual resistance genes that when combined will provide broad and robust resistance to stem rot that can be incorporated into commercial breeding programs and made widely available to Canadian canola growers.

8. Canadian Canola Clubroot Cluster (C1) Pillar 1: Integrated Disease Management
Sheau-Fang Hwang (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Steve Strelkov (University of Alberta), Rudolph Fredua-Agyeman (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Bruce Gossen (AAFC Saskatoon), Mary-Ruth McDonald (University of Guelph)

By 2016, clubroot infestations were confirmed in 2443 canola fields in Alberta, up from just 12 fields when surveys started in 2003. Clubroot-resistant hybrids were released in response to the rapid spread of the disease and dramatically reduced the incidence and severity of clubroot. The entire zone infested by clubroot is susceptible to resistance breakdown over time. It is becoming clear that the deployment of resistant canola varieties must be combined with other clubroot management strategies.  This project will investigate the etiology of novel clubroot strains that can overcome resistance, explore and refine methods of soil modification and fertilization to prevent clubroot establishment at field entrances (where the disease typically establishes itself first), model the relationship between yield loss and clubroot severity, monitor spore buildup in the soil by resistance-defeating clubroot pathotypes, and develop strategies to rotate clubroot resistant host genotypes to avoid resistance breakdown. Information on soil properties will help to predict and develop methods to reduce the rate of dissemination of both the original strains and of new pathotypes of clubroot.


The main output of this research is to develop and validate best management practices that can be applied immediately on-farm through targeted KTT to reduce clubroot spore populations and prevent their buildup in at-risk areas.

9. Developing novel resistance resources and strategies to address the new threat of clubroot canola production on the prairies.
Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), Habibur Rahman (University of Alberta), Rudolph Fredua-Agyeman (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry)

Variety resistance is the cornerstone for managing clubroot in canola. The changing pathogen population, however, presents a big challenge as using the single-gene resistance has been overcome at many field sites. The current resistant cultivars likely have low diversity on clubroot resistance (CR), and almost any of the newly identified pathotypes/variants and capable of causing severe infection on these cultivars. New CR genes, especially those with broad-based resistance, will help enhance the efficacy and durability of resistance. This study will focus on identifying novel CR genes from both existing and new CR germplasm pools against ‘new’ pathotypes/variants identified recently in Alberta. It will also develop CR canola germplasm and SNP markers to assist resistance selection during introgression of novel CR genes. Multi-gene strategies will be explored to enhance the efficacy and durability of resistance. Next-generation sequencing will be used to conduct mapping by sequencing analysis to locate CR genes and develop SNP markers tightly linked to these CR genes efficiently.


This research aims to increase the diversity of CR genes in canola cultivars and potentially the durability of cultivar resistance. They will address the threat from not only the current pathogen population, but also from future pathotypes/variants.

10. Canadian Canola Clubroot Cluster Pillar 3: Host-pathogen biology and interaction
Bruce Gossen (AAFC Saskatoon), Mary-Ruth McDonald (University of Guelph), Gary Peng (AAFC Saskatoon), Fengqun Yu (AAFC Saskatoon), Sheau-Fang Hwang (Alberta Agriculture & Forestry), Steve Strelkov (University of Alberta)

Severe clubroot infestations can result in yield losses of 30% to 100%, and the area it is affecting is increasing every year. Therefore strategies to contain and manage the disease are critical for sustainable canola production in western Canada. The study will examine factors that affect resting spore survival, germination, and infection in both field and controlled environment trials. This knowledge will be used to evaluate and validate integrated pest management strategies for use by producers to reduce clubroot inoculum in fields and slow its spread into new areas. The study will also evaluate strategies for effective deployment of clubroot resistance genes, with the aim of identifying approaches that will maximize the durability of resistance. Also, studies of intermediate resistance, which has not previously been studied in detail, to determine if sources of quantitative (non-pathotype specific) resistance might be used to increase the durability of resistance. Finally, studies of changes in plant hormones in canola caused by clubroot will be examined to identify the potential to disrupt pathogen infection and development with pesticides or plant breeding.


The goal of this research is to develop and validate best management practices for producers to manage clubroot in canola fields when no single source of resistance effectively manages all of the pathotypes of clubroot in the region.

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Theme 6: Putting innovation into action – knowledge and technology transfer

Effective KTT is critical for success, effective dissemination, and practical application of the above research. Theme 6 activities will increase the value of all Science Cluster research by assisting scientists and sharing their findings with growers and other industry stakeholders. The Canola Council’s agronomy specialists will translate research results into tangible practices that can be applied on farms. The information will also be widely available through the Canola Research Hub, a state-of-the-art online information resource maintained by the Council.

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Theme 7: Maintaining Canola Supply and Trade: Blackleg and Verticillium

The canola industry’s strategic plan targets 8 bushels per acre in yield gain due to genetic improvement and 2 bushels per acre in yield gain from integrated pest management. This theme aligns with these two strategic plan pillars with a focus on blackleg and verticillium, two significant diseases of canola in Western Canada. The canola industry is worth over $26 billion annually for Canada’s economy and faces threats to yield and access to international markets due to these diseases. To address a specific concern pertaining to blackleg and China, a memorandum was signed by both countries with the explicit understanding that Canada would make efforts to address China’s phytosanitary concerns by mitigating risk of introduction from imported seed by reducing blackleg in the field in Canada  Therefore, in order to ensure a sustainable supply of Canadian canola, and to allay trade concerns of our largest trading partner, continued development of management tools of these diseases is required. Genomics of resistance, disease models, and disease control will be used to develop resistant canola varieties and to determine best management practices in mitigating the incidence of these established and emerging disease threats in canola.

This theme includes research projects that aim to improve the control of blackleg in canola through: increasing our understanding of quantitative resistance with major R genes, refining the durability of major resistant genes, and the development of crop management tools and strategies. It also includes research activities that will help in our understanding of the emerging disease threat of verticillium stripe (VS) in Canada. A basic understanding of the evolution, distribution, etiology, and yield loss needs to be ascertained. Currently, there are no fungicide options available to control the disease in Canada, so an improved understanding of genetic resistance and yield loss models will aid in advancing innovative management strategies.

The proposed research on blackleg and verticillium management addresses the program priorities of discovery and applied science focusing on maintaining economic growth in the canola sector and addressing threats to the value chain.

1. Developing a robust system for efficient assessment of quantitative resistance (QR) in commercial canola varieties for blackleg management
Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon), Debra McLaren (AAFC, Brandon)

Blackleg is a serious threat to canola production in western Canada and is a trade issue with seed exports to China. This disease has been managed primarily through variety resistance, including major-gene and quantitative resistance (QR), as well as lengthened crop rotations. QR tends to be more durable but its assessment depends mostly on field-plot trials where the results can often be variable due to the influence of multiple factors on infection. The current evaluation system (R/MR/MS/S) is unable to classify QR (also called adult plant or race nonspecific resistance). QR has been playing an important role in blackleg resistance on the prairies where the industry is moving toward blackleg resistance labelling for more effective utilization of genetic resources; this approach is readily applicable for major-gene resistance but not yet possible for QR. The objective of this research is to develop and validate a system for efficient quantification of QR against blackleg under both controlled environment and field conditions.

This research project expands on previous research that showed QR to blackleg could be quantified using droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) combined with green-fluorescence-protein (GFP) technology and that this protocol could be used to rapidly screen QR canola germplasms. This works needs to be validated and refined before being adapted for QR screening.


The aim of this research project is to develop and validate a system for efficient QR quantification under controlled-environment and field conditions against blackleg by:

1. establishing a model to assess QR based on ddPCR quantification of L. maculans DNA in canola tissues in comparison with field blackleg resistance data collected

2. developing a field-based inoculation protocol efficient for validation and further characterization of QR under field conditions

3. using developed QR assessment system to screen canola breeding lines with ddPCR for superb QR background and characterize QR in commercial canola cultivars for potential QR labeling by the industry. The resulting work will improve our understanding of blackleg resistance and contribute to decreasing blackleg in Canadian canola production and addresses a potential threat to one of our key export markets.


2. Developing tools for the rapid screening of canola germplasm for quantitative resistance to blackleg disease
Hossein Borhan (AAFC, Saskatoon), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta)

Early blackleg infection is characterized by appearance of greyish lesions on the cotyledons and young leaves of canola seedlings. However the most damage occurs later in the season when the fungus reaches the base of the stem causing black lesions (stem canker), restricting nutrient and water flow to flowers and seeds, and lodging of the adult plants. After the initial infection, the fungus grows hidden inside the stem without causing any obvious symptoms until the stem canker occurs which is too late to save the crop. Fungicides have little effect in controlling blackleg and the best practice is using canola cultivars with genetic resistance. Quantitative resistance (QR), also called adult plant resistance (APR), is the most favourable form of genetic resistance since it is controlled by several genes, therefore more durable. Despite its importance, it is very challenging to identify and introduce APR into canola cultivars using conventional field based assay.


The goal of this research is to optimize a protocol for identifying APR to blackleg disease under controlled condition (growth chamber) and validate the result under field conditions. A growth chamber based protocol for identifying and characterizing adult plant resistance in canola will reduce the cost and time required for screening canola germplasm and could be offered as a rapid tool to determine the existence of APR in canola varieties in farmers’ fields. In addition molecular markers associated with the APR genes will be developed and offered as a diagnostic and breeding tool. In summary, a rapid screening method with genome-wide association mapping approach will provide the canola industry with a valuable tool for developing new varieties.


3. Understanding the critical infection window that causes blackleg of canola in western Canada
Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon)

In Western Canada, quantitative resistance (QR) plays an important role in canola blackleg management due to short a short crop season and often unfavorable conditions for infection early spring. Information on the critical window of infection in the spring is needed for development of suitable field inoculation protocols for QR characterization and labelling and for assessment of seed applied vs foliar fungicide timing for efficacious blackleg control. The relative importance of cotyledon vs lower true-leaf infection will be determined under both controlled-environment and field conditions to determine whether the cotyledon is the only avenue of infection into the stem, or if the lower true leaves also provide a route to stem infections. This information is important to the development of an inoculation protocol for the assessment of genetic resistance and chemical control timing.


This study will help determine the relative importance of cotyledon vs. lower true-leaf infection to stem infection (the critical infection window) and blackleg on canola varieties with different levels of resistance. This information is important to designing inoculation protocols for improved QR assessment/labelling in field trials. Additionally, the results of the critical infection window will determine the optimal timing of fungicide applications, either as seed treatment or as a foliar spray at later stages. This research will improve our understanding of the infection pathway for blackleg and provide valuable information for reducing blackleg in the field.


4. Fine-tuning of the blackleg yield loss model in canola
Sheau-Fang Hwang (University of Alberta), Stephen Strelkov (University of Alberta), Henry Klein-Gebbinck (AAFC, Beaverlodge), Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon)

Blackleg, caused by the fungus Leptosphaeria maculans, is an important disease of canola in most regions where the crop is grown. In order to better assess the economic impact of blackleg and to help make appropriate disease management decisions, it is important to be able to relate blackleg severity to corresponding yield losses. This requires the development of robust yield loss models. A preliminary model was generated that related blackleg severity to yield loss to field conditions in Alberta and was based largely on data obtained with the susceptible canola ‘Westar’. Since this is an old, open-pollinated and herbicide non-tolerant cultivar, results may have been confounded by the presence of weeds, canola volunteers and/or other disease. This study aims to build on the earlier work, by modelling yield losses from blackleg in modern canola hybrids, making the model more accurate and more relevant to producers and agronomists. The establishment of a clear relationship between blackleg infection level and the resultant yield loss in modern hybrid canola varieties will assist producers in making informed crop management decisions, by helping them estimate the possible economic impact of different levels of disease on high yielding hybrid canola.


This study will enhance the understanding of the relationship between blackleg severity and yield losses in canola. There are two specific objectives:

1. to refine and improve an earlier yield loss model, In addition to direct benefit to the producer, an improved model may also provide important information to the canola industry allowing accurate estimates of yield losses on a local or regional scale.

2. to determine the potential for virulence and host adaptation by L.biglobosa as part of the L. maculans/L. biglobosa complex. From a broader perspective, an increase understanding of the potential impact/adaptation of L.biglobosa as a canola pathogen and its interaction with L. maculans will serve to enhance trade relationships with Canadian export destinations


5. Improving management of blackleg on canola via better flea beetle control and effective fungicide seed treatment in western Canada
Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon), Dilantha Fernando (University of Manitoba), Debra McLaren (AAFC, Brandon)

From both a sustainable canola production and marketing perspectives, it is important to manage blackleg in canola. While variety resistance is the cornerstone for blackleg management, an integrated approach, including crop rotation and chemical control, is important for continued reduction of blackleg in the field. Fungicide sprays targeting the infection at seedling stages reduce the blackleg incidence and severity, but this treatment is often considered cost ineffective due to insignificant yield returns.

In Australia, fluopyram has been used by growers for several years as an important tool for controlling blackleg. Fluopyram is a broad-spectrum fungicide with preventative, systemic and curative properties in controlling fungal diseases on different crops. It can also be used with other fungicides and insecticides in a seed treatment package against a range of seed- or soil-borne diseases as well as early-season insect problems. This project will evaluate the potential for this systemic fungicide to provide a brand new strategy for blackleg management in Canada. Blackleg incidence and severity are closely related to early infection, especially on cotyledons. Feeding by flea beetles may facilitate the infection of cotyledons, from which the pathogen moves further into the stem. It is unknown whether a moderate level of flea beetle feeding can exacerbate blackleg infection and impact on canola.

The objectives of the study are to:

1. assess the potential connection of cotyledon feeding by flea beetles to the stem infection by blackleg under field conditions

2. understand whether better flea beetle control will help alleviate the impact of blackleg

3. evaluate the efficacy of fluopyram seed treatment on reducing blackleg incidence under different levels of flea beetle feeding.


The results of this study will improve our understanding of the blackleg infection pathway including the impact of flea beetle feeding on blackleg incidence rates and the potential for fungicide seed treatments to reduce blackleg incidence in western Canada. The results of the project will contribute to best management practices in decreasing the incidence of blackleg in Canadian canola production.


6. Improving blackleg resistance durability through R-gene rotation in commercial fields on the Canadian prairies – a science based stewardship program
Dilantha Fernando (University of Manitoba, Gary Peng (AAFC, Saskatoon), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta)

Blackleg is one of the most serious diseases of canola in Canada. It causes damage, at times severe, in many grower fields, and accounts for yield losses, reduced sustainability of canola production and trade issues, particularly with China. The main reason for the increased disease impact is the breakdown of resistance (R-genes) by new races of the blackleg pathogen on canola varieties grown across the prairies. The breakdown of R-gene resistance is being accelerated by tight canola rotations, as well as the move to no-till farming which slows the decomposition of canola stubble, thereby maintaining a long-lasting reserve of L. maculans inoculum. Re-gene rotation strategies in canola cultivars as part of a crop rotation may help alleviate blackleg incidence. This has been a successful strategy used in Australia and France. The WCC/RRC has passed a resolution in February 2017 to introduce this strategy in Canada, and the Canola Council of Canada also supports this approach. The effectiveness of this approach in Canada needs to be studied with growers starting to adopt this practice from 2018. Using commercial fields for the study will also have the benefit for demonstration to a broader range of growers on the prairies. A five-year data set would give a good understanding on how the pathogen population will change in response to different R-gene rotation practices and how the R-genes are protected from rapidly breaking down. The information will help fine tune the sequence of R genes to be deployed in rotation for maximum resistance durability.


This study will provide growers with the information needed to judiciously utilize the major blackleg resistance genes currently available in canola cultivars. The information will aid in developing best management practices for extending the durability of major genes and contribute to decreasing the incidence of blackleg in Canadian canola production and the potential threat to key export markets.


7. Genetic dissection of the Rlm3-4-7-9 blackleg R gene cluster and KASP marker improvement
Hossein Borhan (AAFC, Saskatoon), Nicholas Larkan (Armatus Genetics Inc.), Isobel Parkin (AAFC, Saskatoon), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta)

Single resistance (R) genes against the fungal pathogen Leptosphaeria maculans have been widely used has proved to be the most practical and effective method for controlling blackleg disease of canola. To date, 19 R genes against L. maculans have been reported. Four of these genes, Rlm3, Rlm4, Rlm 7 and Rlm 9, are clustered on the chromosome A07 of B. napus (1, 2). The project aims to resolve the nature of these genes through fine mapping and cloning procedures. This will assist with resolving the genetic complexity of these genes and determine if they are allelic or closely linked. Cloning the RLm3-4-7-9 gene cluster and comparing variation within each allele and between genes will help develop specific genetic markers for more accurate introgression of these specific R genes into commercial canola varieties. Revealing the structure of the Rlm3-4-7-9 cluster will help with understanding the complex interaction and may allow new R genes to be designed with multiple Avr recognition properties. This is particularly important since our extensive genotyping of L. maculans field isolates from western Canada reveals enrichment of AvrLm3 and AvrLm9 genotypes. The Rlm3-4-7-9 cluster is very important for the genetic improvement of canola against blackleg.


The objectives of this project are:

  • Determination of the relative frequency of avirulence genes of the fungal pathogen Leptosphaeria maculans populations that are complementary to Rlm (fungal and resistance gene) 3, 4, 7 and 9.
  • Cloning of Rlm3, 4, 7 and 9 resistance genes for blackleg disease of canola.
  • Production and validation of gene specific markers for incorporation of Rlm3, 4, 7 and 9 into B. napus (canola) elite breeding lines.
  • Production of introgression lines for Rlm7 and Rlm9 via backcrossing into B. napus line Topas DH16516 to complement previously-made lines for Rlm 3 and Rlm 4.
  • Elucidation of the inter- and intra-molecular interactions between the Rlm3, 4, 7 and 9 proteins and their respective Avr proteins
  • Improving the efficiency of molecular markers for genotyping L. maculans isolates and conducting field survey.

The proposed research will improve our understanding of four major genes for blackleg resistance. This pre-commercial work will provide an in-depth understanding of these R-genes, potentially leading to improved major gene resistance and corresponding decrease in blackleg in the field. In addition, this project will improve efficiency of molecular markers so that growers can detect blackleg races in their fields and make better canola variety choices.


8. Verticillium disease etiology and nursery
Dilantha Fernando (University of Manitoba), Mario Tenuta (University of Manitoba), Sheau-Fang Hwang (University of Alberta, Stephen Strelkov (University of Alberta), Maria del Mar Jimenez-Gasco (Penn State University)

Verticillium stripe, caused by the fungus Verticillium longisporum, was first formally detected and described on canola in Canada in 2014. A subsequent survey in 2015 revealed that this disease is present in all provinces from Quebec to British Columbia, but is found most frequently in Manitoba. The disease has been present and studied in Europe for many years, where it causes significant yield loses in both winter and spring types of Brassica napus. However, very little is known about the disease in Canada. This research is an integrated and collaborative approach to addressing the major research priorities needed to understand and manage the disease in western Canada. A series of projects will address major questions that need to be answered about this disease, namely: How to improve the identification of this disease? Can the pathogen be rapidly quantified in the soil? How does the pathogen behave in western Canada? What is the genetic diversity of the pathogen? What is the relationship and interaction between V. longisporum and L. maculans? These questions will be addressed through lab, growth chamber and field based experiments. Fundamental to the success of this activity is the establishment of a test field or nursery. The nursery will provide support for activities including soil and plant materials for method development, longevity of the pathogen, screening of canola lines, disease development and yield effects and outreach to growers and industry.

The objectives of this activity are:

  • Further development of tools for rapid identification of the pathogen in soil.
  • Understand the longevity of the pathogen and micro-sclerotia in soil.
  • Establish the endophytic nature of the pathogen in soil.
  • Measure the diversity of V. longisporum and its lineage.
  • Determine and quantify the relationship and interaction between V longisporum and L. maculans.
  • Develop and utilize a Verticillium nursery to provide source materials.
  • Understand the yield risk of V. longisporum.


Findings from this research will directly benefit the canola industry and especially producers. Understanding the biology of the pathogen and its etiology and epidemiology will provide valuable information to producers, commercial agronomists, and researchers and ultimately mitigate impact of the disease.


9. Genetics and genomics of Brassica-Verticillium interaction
Hossein Borhan (AAFC, Saskatoon), Isobel Parkin (AAFC, Saskatoon), Nicholas Larkan (Armatus Genetics, Inc.), Ralph Lange (InnoTech Alberta), Christina Eynck (AAVC, Saskatoon), Stephen Strelkov (University of Alberta), Sheau-Fang Hwang (University of Alberta), Rudolph Fredua-Agyeman (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)

The recent report of the fungus Verticillium longisporum (Vl) from a canola field in Manitoba raised concerns about the presence of the pathogen in western Canada and its potential effect on canola production. Vl is a soil-borne pathogen that infects crucifer crops including canola. The pathogen germinates in the soil, penetrates the roots and enters the xylem, disrupting the flow of water / xylem sap in the plant. Disease symptoms are dark stripes on maturing plants, hence giving the Verticillium Stripe (VS) to the disease. Yield losses of 10 to 50% have been reported with this disease; however, this needs to be verified under controlled experimental conditions. There is no effective fungicide to control the pathogen and only a few quantitative VS resistance loci have been identified. The prevalence and diversity of the pathogen in western Canada need to be determined.

The objectives of the research project are to:

1. Identify resistance against VS in Brassica germplasm (a) develop molecular markers linked to resistance loci against VI and introgress resistance into spring type B. napus lines; (b) and test performance of VI resistance in B. napus lines under field conditions.

2. Understand genome organization of Canadian isolates of the Vl pathogen.

3. Understand the biology of Vl virulence identify virulence factors in the Vl genome that are vital to colonization of the host.

4. Gain insight into the molecular interaction between Vl and B. napus.

Preliminary work has been done on identifying multiple B. napus lines with resistance to Vl and producing a draft genome sequence for the original Vl isolate from Manitoba. Genes underlying quantitative resistance loci in parental lines will be mapped in both B. napus association populations and in bi-parental populations generated from crosses between resistant and susceptible lines. In addition, there will be additional sequencing of the pathogen genome to improve the existing draft genome sequence and use it to help in understanding the biology of the pathogen and its interaction with its host, canola, and it’s diversity within the Canadian prairies.


This research will provide an understanding of Verticillium stripe resistance with output of genetic markers for resistance as well as insight into the infection process. This information is a vital first step in providing tools for managing the disease in the future.

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