Research roundup

FIND OUT WHAT’S NEW IN THE WORLD OF RESEARCH

Name your nemesis
Which weed makes you see red? What pesky plant can you not get rid of or is spreading faster than you can say rainfastness?

A weed technician team from the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus wants your help in naming Ontario’s worst weeds for 2016. David Bilyea, along with colleagues Kris McNaughton and Christie Shropshire, have launched a short survey for farmers to name their picks for the worst weeds.

Choosing from about 40 species, farmers are asked to name the toughest to kill, fastest spreading, or most persistent weeds in their area. There are also associated resources to ensure correct identification of each species.

Findings from the survey will help inform research not only on what weed species to focus on, but also help shape the discussion around why some weeds are gaining a foothold in certain areas of the province.

To participate in the survey, type this link into your web browser: https://uoguelph.eu.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_dcBMByebR7HQptb&Q_JFE=0. •

Drought partly to blame for patchy red clover stands
Kyra Lightburn
Greater understanding of stand uniformity in red clover could promote diversified cropping systems, improving environmental and economic efficiency for corn and soybean producers in Ontario, say researchers at the University of Guelph.

From 2013 to 2015, doctoral student Cora Loucks, Department of Plant Agriculture, and her supervising professors Ralph Martin and Bill Deen, studied the effect of drought on red clover stand uniformity. They used 36 custom designed ‘rain out shelters’ — which exclude rain, but allow infiltration of light and wind, in field trials at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Research Station. 

They determined that drought is one stress factor that affects red clover stand uniformity and survival rates.

“Our research continues to investigate drought and stress tolerance mechanisms in several red clover varieties which could aid in screening and breeding efforts to improve stand uniformity. We hope by focusing on improving crop uniformity we can encourage farmers to use red clover to their economic and the environmental benefit,” says Loucks.

For corn and soybean producers that utilize winter wheat, a system with recognized benefits — including improved yield and increased resilience to several environmental stresses like variable weather events — the period between mid-July wheat harvest and winter is ideal to establish red clover as a cover crop.

Red clover is adaptable, shade tolerant, and very economical for farmers, says Loucks.

Specifically, farmers growing a red clover cover crop benefit from a nitrogen credit applied to successive corn plantings. As well, they benefit from red clover’s ability to take up nitrogen that might otherwise leach away, help prevent erosion, and improve organic matter, soil aggregate stability, and weed control.

Uniform red clover stands are particularly desirable, as they reduce the potential for nitrous oxide emissions — a greenhouse gas with over 265 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide — and the farmer-borne economic costs associated with the uniform application of nitrogen fertilizer to corn following patchy red clover stands.

With these results, the researchers move closer to understanding the plant mechanisms that cause red-clover non-uniformity in farmers’ fields.

Funding for this project has been provided by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Grain Farmers of Ontario, and Loblaws. •

Next crop input: soil warriors
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Beneficial bacteria that could promote crop health and growth have been identified by an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientist.

The bacterium works by enhancing the root size of crops, thereby increasing uptake and fixation of important soil nutrients, says Dr. Ze-Chun Yuan, plant protection scientist at AAFC’s London Research and Development Centre who made the discovery.

So far, he has identified three bacteria with potential beneficial applications for plants. One bacterium, Paenibacillus polymyxa CR1, has been found to fix nitrogen and produce naturally occurring growth hormones which enhance plant growth.

Additionally, the beneficial bacteria produce chemicals, both internally and externally, which could help the plant increase its resistance to diseases and perhaps insect pests.

“This bacterium can also produce antimicrobial chemicals that can kill microbial pathogens. It could in the future be used to develop natural pesticides in disease prevention or treatment in agriculture,” he says.

Modern molecular technology allows the genome to be studied at the molecular level. “Genome sequencing will help us better understand (the bacteria’s) molecular mechanism and biology, and enhance scientific understanding of how bacteria can improve plant growth and antimicrobial production to fend off pathogens, diseases, and pests,” says Yuan. •

Research Roundup is provided by members of SPARK (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge) at the University of Guelph’s Office of Research. For more information, contact a SPARK writer at 519-824-4120, ext. 52667.

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