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It may be thought of as a disease of the past, but ergot still causes headaches for farmers across the Prairies. While its prevalence may be high, its threat level is typically low and often a non-issue. However, the fungus that’s been a fact of life since at least the Middles Ages, remains a concern. Downgrades at the elevator and contaminated screenings cause issues for grain farmers and feedlot owners alike.

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There’s an old saying: A garden of purple is always in bloom. A new barley variety promises one loaded with anthocyanins, a natural pigment with antioxidant properties linked to lowering the risk of diseases such as hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia and cancer.

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Whether it’s pernicious pests, an unpredictable climate or increasing costs, threats to cereal crops constantly evolve. To build and maintain a sustainable system for cereal production in Canada requires the ability to adapt. There are few better examples of adaptability in agriculture than the efforts made by plant breeders to assist farmers. 

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Research has long established the benefits of diversified crop rotations. However, most Prairie farms keep their rotations short and simple, typically growing cereals and oilseeds on an intensive basis. Many farmers agree they need to diversify their rotations, but it’s tricky to find one that consistently delivers better returns than what they already grow.

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To protect the midge tolerance gene and ensure it continues to do its job, tolerant wheat must be sown as a varietal blend, 10 per cent of which is susceptible to midge. This limited sacrifice to the insect ensures it does not evolve countermeasures. Breeding these all-but-identical pairings is a tricky task, but they are needed now more than ever.

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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Program (YESP) was created to help students acquire the skills and experience they need to land that first job once they complete their studies. This year, the federal government allotted $3.7 million to subsidize about 300 agricultural jobs open to youth between the ages of 15 and 30.

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As drought ravaged crops across the Prairies this past summer, it was once again made abundantly clear farmers can’t control the weather. On the Prairies, crop losses in dry years can range from 30 to more than 50 per cent of average yield.

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Old World malting barley genetics may soon be available to Alberta farmers, brewers and distillers in search of trademark flavour characteristics and carcinogen-free chemistry.

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Prairie winter wheat acres have declined for years, but interest in the versatile crop has been revived. Its renewed appeal coincides with a changing of the guard in wheat breeding circles. Picking up where their predecessors left off, breeders Harwinder Sidhu and Curt McCartney aim to give farmers strong new varieties.

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