Natural sclerotinia fighter served cold to Prairies

Packed in cold storage, a biological fungicide that attacks sclerotinia in the soil is bound for a limited spring release to Prairie sunflower, bean and canola growers.

UAP Canada, the ag input arm of fertilizer firm Agrium, has prepared cold storage at its Regina warehouse facility to handle distribution in Western Canada for Contans WG, a water-dispersible granular fungi that acts as a parasite on the spores that infect vulnerable plants.

The product is a pre-emergent treatment to be used on the soil, as opposed to the seed. “Our target is the contaminated harvest residues and the sclerotia in the soil,” UAP product manager Garth Render said Friday.

The treatment, which has previously been used in the turf and horticulture markets in Eastern Canada, is based on the concept that the main ascospore infection of a crop is caused by infestation in the field where the crop is standing.

The product can be used for long- or short-term “sanitation” in the soil, UAP said, and can also be used to create a barrier in the soil or to suppress sclerotia contamination that’s already hit a previous crop.

Contans’ active ingredient is Coniothyrium minitans, a fungi found in trace levels in soils. The product, encased in glucose granules, is to be sold by the 20-kilogram bag this fall, but only in 12-kg buckets this spring.

Application rates range from 0.2 kg/acre for long-term sanitation to as high as 1.6 kg/ac. for creation of a barrier against infection of a seeded crop.

Growers will either have to harrow the product into the soil or use irrigation to water it in. A quarter inch of rain would move Contans into the soil “quite nicely,” said Render, who operates out of Oak Bluff, Man., near Winnipeg.

Contans attacks the sclerotia in the soil and destroys them over a period of about three month, the company said. Effectiveness can vary depending on soil temperature and available moisture.

When the product is used properly, a farmer can expect a “significant reduction” in the sclerotinia attacking his or her crop, Render said. In regions of the southern Prairies under heavy sclerotinia pressure, “it may make sunflowers viable again, if it works as it has in other parts of the world.”

Returnable coolers

Contans has already been used on a field-trial scale in the West, Render said. The product, made in Germany by Prophyta, has already been available for a couple of years in the U.S. and is “very popular” in France.

Like other fungicides, it’s registered for “suppression,” rather than “control,” of its target disease. Render emphasized that the product “has huge advantages, but is not a silver bullet.”

The product has two enemies: temperature in transportation, and exposure to ultraviolet light.

UAP will store its supplies of Contans at -18°C in its Regina warehouse and ship it to dealers on a just-in-time basis for the day before application, using returnable bulk coolers.

Render said he sees the sunflower market in southern Manitoba as UAP’s initial market for Contans in the West, followed by the bean market in southern Manitoba and southern Alberta, then the canola-intensive areas of northeastern Saskatchewan and northwestern Manitoba.

As a naturally-occurring biofungicide in a glucose sheath, the product could expect to be approved for use in organic crops, but Render couldn’t confirm Friday whether Contans has already been approved for organic growers’ use.

Interested growers can contact UAP for more information and read more about Contans in the April 1 Manitoba Co-operator and an upcoming issue of Grainews.

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