It defies imagination. A biblical-scale plague of locusts an estimated 500,000 square kilometres in size swept across the U.S. Midwest and into parts of Western Canada in 1875. The ravenous insects ate virtually everything in their path from crops to cloth. Described as a living eclipse of the sun, it is believed to have been the largest insect swarm in recorded history. Perhaps even more extraordinary, within 25 to 30 years of this legendary natural event, the Rocky Mountain locust (Melanoplus spretus) was declared extinct.
Two research projects funded by the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) have made significant advances in cereal crop genetics. Overseen by Pierre Hucl of the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan, the first of these examined the viability of a new dwarfing gene in bread wheat. Secondly, Nora Foroud of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) developed new wheat and barley lines with improved resistance to Fusarium head blight (FHB).
There was a time when Canadian Western Hard White Spring (CWHWS) wheat was touted as the next big minor class. Today, though, the class is virtually dead. Despite having lost its shine, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) wheat breeder Harpinder Randhawa believes CWHWS is poised to make a comeback thanks to a new, higher yielding variety he developed. While AAC Whitehead yields 21 per cent higher than previously established CWHWS varieties, industry experts believe it will take more than yield to revive the class. If the history of CWHWS has taught any lessons, it is that marketing, competition and quality all play a crucial role in determining the success of a wheat class. However, GrainsWest recently spoke with farmers and scientists who are cautiously optimistic about its return.
One of the largest bug resources in the world is located right here in our backyard. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) maintains the Canadian National Collection (CNC) of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. Located at the Ottawa Research and Development Centre Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, ON, the facility serves agricultural research in a number of key areas.
Over the last several years, dry conditions have led to lower wheat midge levels in Western Canada, but spring rains in 2020 appear to have sparked a potential outbreak in various regions of the Prairies. Details and confirmation of these nascent flare-ups await release of data from the annual wheat midge survey. In the meantime, greater attention to midge management may well be required in the run-up to the incoming crop year.
Beneficial insects are old news, at least to entomologists. However, their benefits, hence the name, are in the limelight once again. This is thanks to a recent promotional campaign and the reinforcement of the notion that positive alternatives beyond blanket spraying exist.
In February 2020, Eric Watson of Ashburton, New Zealand, produced a new world record wheat yield. At an incredible 258.8 bu/ac, his 21-acre irrigated crop was grown in the country’s South Canterbury region where the average wheat yield is a respectable 178 bu/ac. It was his second such record yield confirmed by the Guinness World Records organization.
From weevils to midges, beetles to spiders, professor and entomologist Boyd Mori examines the secret
life of bugs. He leads a team of researchers with the University of Alberta’s Agricultural and Ecological
Entomology Group. Focused on integrated pest management, the team analyzes the inner workings of
insect ecosystems. This burgeoning area of study focuses on the battles between pests and beneficial
insects within agriculture.