Now that Verticillium longisporum has been found in Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working on getting a handle on the distribution of the new disease threat to canola.

The verticillium wilt pathogen, which has caused significant economic losses in Europe’s rapeseed crop, was found in a canola trial plot at an undisclosed research location in Manitoba last fall. It was the first known case of the disease infecting an oilseed in North America.

The pest is primarily spread through the movement of infested soil or diseased plant tissue, although there’s some evidence suggesting seed from heavily infected crops may spread the pathogen.

Canola infected with verticillium wilt photo courtesy MAFRD)
Canola infected with verticillium wilt (photo courtesy MAFRD)

Surveying has begun to determine whether this was an isolated case or if the pathogen is more widespread than known, explains Kanwal Kochhar, national manager of the grains and oilseeds section in the CFIA’s plant health and biosecurity directorate, in the following interview.

“Knowing this distribution is critical to determining the regulatory status of this pest in Canada,” she says. (continued below)

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The CFIA’s survey and risk assessment plan includes looking for the disease in fields adjacent to the original confirmed location, as well as samples from canola fields across the prairies. Kochhar says they will also be collecting samples in Ontario and Quebec.

“We’re seeking collaboration from provincial agriculture departments because it’s going to be a massive task,” she says in the interview below. “We are working closely with partners from Canola Council of Canada, Manitoba Agriculture, as well as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and also the provincial departments of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.”

According to the International Plant Protection Convention, a “quarantine pest” must not be present in a defined jurisdiction. Since quarantine controls have been implemented at the only confirmed site, the pathogen could potentially qualify for that definition, but its future regulatory status depends on the results of the survey and risk assessment.

“As the distribution of the pest will become known, we will need to determine if regulatory controls can still be applied, can still be feasible and practically achievable, and then decide if it could be declared a quarantine pest and put under official regulation,” explains Kochhar. “If it’s limited in distribution, then sure, the option could be considered, but if it is more widespread, then it may not qualify as a quarantine pest.”

Kochhar notes the CFIA is working with an advisory group that includes grower organization representatives to consider the survey results and determine an appropriate response. The CFIA will then make the decision on whether it should be regulated under the Plant Protection Act as part of an effort to eradicate it or prevent it from spreading.

“A decision on its regulatory status, we hope, will be made by early next year,” says Kochhar.

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