Mouldy corn could return in 2019, expert warns

Albert Tenuta, field pathologist with OMAFRA, talks to members of the local chapter of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association at their annual meeting Friday. (Louis Pin/The Observer) SO

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The “perfect storm” of weather conditions in 2018 that triggered widespread mould in Ontario corn — and widespread yields losses — could become more frequent.

That’s according to Albert Tenuta, a field crop pathologist with Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. Speaking at the annual Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association general meeting in Brooke-Alvinston Friday, Tenuta said local farmers have seen a significant increase in hotspots, brought on by milder weather, over the last five years.

In 2018 it proved a troubling conclusion for an otherwise high-yeild year for farmers.

“Overall for corn, soybeans, and wheat, we were good,” Tunuta said. “In many cases (we had) above average yields and that, so we had good, favourable environmental conditions . . . but along with those favourable environment conditions, certain pest problems increased.

“We can’t do anything about the weather. The one thing we can do is manage risk.”

Recent weather in Southwestern Ontario has been a problem, Tenuta said. Going forward, farmers wanting to minimize yield losses may have to bank on a collection of hybrids, some more susceptible to mould-causing DON (Deoxynivalenol) and other pests and diseases, like gibberella.

It’s not as easy as choosing one less-susceptible hybrid, Tenuta added, as each hybrid is still susceptible to certain conditions and diseases.

Other research is being done at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus to help farmers determine which hybrids are best suited for harvest during Ontario’s now-warmer fall season.

“We’re working cooperatively to minimize the risk,” Tenuta said. “Looking at everything from hybrid development, hybrid screening, and fungicide management trials as well.”

The Ontario government agreed to subsidize farmers testing for DON in late 2018. That money only covered the tests — not production losses by farmers, estimated in the millions of dollars.

lpin@postmedia.com

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