Be on guard for clubroot in canola

Hart Attacks: If it’s in your community, be on the lookout for clubroot in your canola fields this year

I’m using this photo of a flowering crop heavily hit with a pest to make the point to watch out for canola diseases this year — and in particular be on the ball to detect and hopefully prevent clubroot.

This southern Alberta farm didn’t expect to be coping with staghead, but it suddenly appeared out of no where, and fortunately didn’t last long. Actually there is a disease known as staghead (also called white rust) and it particularly affects Polish canola and Juncea or mustard variety brassica — this is a field of a regular old hybrid brassica napus.

The truth is I was just so impressed with this photo I took about a year ago of these deer crossing a field of canola, I wanted another reason to use it. (Please take a few seconds to be really impressed with this picture, before reading on. As I recall there was actually at least one more buck in this group, but he was camera shy.)

But I’m on the warning about clubroot after a recent talk with Dan Orchard, a Canola Council of Canada agronomist, who also chairs the Alberta Clubroot Management Committee. Orchard, after navigating some winter roads in late January had just landed somewhere taking kids to a weekend hockey tournament, but upon arrival he took time to talk about diseases… it’s just that important.

It’s out there, you don’t want it

Clubroot is found in high, moderate or low levels across much of Western Canada — the point being you may not farm in a real high risk area, but be on guard. It’s out there and you don’t want it.

Orchard has a bit of a fear-of-God-message when it comes to clubroot, which is good. Nobody wants to invest $300 to $400 per acre to produce a canola crop and then not be able to harvest it because of clubroot. And that has happened.

It’s a life changing disease. Once it is in a field it is there for essentially a farming life time. The spores can survive in the soil for 15 to 20 years. It can spoil the opportunity to grow canola on a particular field and there’s also the risk of it spreading.

In a recent presentation, Orchard reminded growers that it’s an issue with soil rather than just with canola.

North-central Alberta is certainly a hotspot for the disease with more than 2,000 fields infected. There are only a few reports from Saskatchewan primarily because of lack of testing. And a reasonable surveillance program in Manitoba shows low levels of the disease in many areas.

And it is a very adaptable disease with as many as nine different strains so far identified. Plant breeders certainly have to be running to keep up with the need to develop clubroot resistant varieties.

Orchard says boron looks promising as a potential management tool, which means canola varieties with a high tolerance for boron could be one answer.

“I think this is a huge opportunity for the seed industry to start breeding boron tolerance into our canola,” says Orchard.

His advice to growers — be careful about introducing seed from outside your region to your farm unless you are sure it is clean and disease free; be careful about allowing vehicles or machinery from a clubroot infected area onto your farm, those vehicles can carry the disease; and be vigilant for any signs of the disease. As a general guideline Orchard says to really pay attention if clubroot is in your “community” — whatever area you determine that to be. If there is a risk grow clubroot resistant varieties. There is plenty of good information on clubroot online at:

The one good thing about the staghead outbreak I discovered… within a couple of minutes it can hop the fence and disappear without a trace.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.


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