Eric Johnson, Research Officer, University of Saskatchewan

Follow @ericusaskweeds on Twitter!

Follow @ericusaskweeds on Twitter!

Eric Johnson is a Research Officer for the Agronomic Crop Imaging Lab in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan (USask). He is also a member of the Resistant Wild Oat Action Committee. Eric earned his Bachelor of Science and his master’s degree from USask. He lives in Battleford with his wife Trish.

Where did you work before USask?

I started my career working with Sask Agriculture in extension as an agricultural representative (now obsolete), and then I became a regional crop specialist. In 1996, I moved to the Scott Research Farm with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada where I started doing weed control research, and was also the test site manager for the Pesticide Minor Use Program until 2015. After that I joined the weeds lab with Dr. Chris Willenborg at USask until 2019 when I moved to the Agronomic Crop Imaging Lab.

What got you interested in this area of work?

Because I worked in the Battleford area with Saskatchewan Agriculture, I had a very close working relationship with the research scientists at the Scott Research Farm. Once they were nearing retirement, an opportunity to work on research became available and I was ready for a new challenge. I’d spent 15 years or so working in extension and I always felt that it would be much easier to do extension if I was actually doing the research myself. The change to research seemed like a new challenge and opportunity where I could combine the best of both worlds.

Tell us a bit about the Resistant Wild Oat Action Committee.

The idea of the Resistant Wild Oat Action Committee came forward to the Canadian Weed Science Society from a farmer from central Alberta, Ken Espheter, and Neil Harker, a retired weed scientist. There was an active Wild Oat Action Committee in the 1970s which originally did all the work on dormancy and the ecology and biology of wild oat that we know today. In the 1990s we ended up with quite a number of effective herbicides at controlling wild oats and, at this time, although there was some resistance developing, the perceptions were that there would be a never-ending pipeline of new wild oat herbicides, so the committee came to an end.

Today, the Resistant Wild Oat Action Committee includes 12 members of farmers, agronomists, industry as well as research and extension people. Our mission is that “we are a cross-industry committee devoted to developing herbicide resistant wild oat management solutions through producer engagement, knowledge transfer and research.” What we are trying to do is not only conduct research and extension, but engage producers in the process so they are involved in developing the solutions.

We received funding from Manitoba Crop Alliance, Alberta Wheat Commission, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and Saskatchewan Forage Seed Development Commission for a two-year pilot project to engage producers in developing solutions for resistant wild oats. We have developed a producer group in central Alberta who are conducting field projects and meet periodically to discuss resistance testing with growers who haven’t done it before. The Resistant Wild Oat Action Committee has developed extension materials in the form of infographics that are available on our website. We have also initiated a testing project with selected producers who are suspicious that they have resistant wild oat but have never tested for it. The producers are asked to fill out a short questionnaire. The testing project will involve 30 to 40 producers across Western Canada. At the end of the project, we will conduct a follow-up evaluation on the producer’s perspective of the value of testing.

Unfortunately, we’ve had to deal with COVID-19 and I think we could have had a lot more momentum by having face-to-face meetings rather than trying to do everything virtually. We will be doing an evaluation of the impact of this pilot project after the second year to find out what impact it has had, and what other things could be done to increase that impact or make a difference.

If farmers are interested in resistance testing or want to learn more about it, they can watch this videoabout understanding resistant wild oats on the Canadian Weed Science Society website, email or follow @RWildOat on Twitter.

What can you say about the value of farmers providing funding and support to your organization?

Farmers provide funding and support two ways. They provide funding through the producer groups, and through direct support from those who are volunteering their time on the committee. We have some extension people from the producer groups that are providing human resource support by volunteering on the committee. We wouldn’t be able to address some of the current research gaps or engage more farmers without this support.

How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?

I think the main benefits from this funding are hopefully to raise the profile of resistant wild oats, develop farmer-led solutions to manage herbicide resistant wild oats and produce readily available extension materials. If we can get farmers engaged in the research and development of solutions, they will benefit greatly. The long-term benefit from this pilot project for farmers will be to have an ongoing Resistant Wild Oat Action Committee.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I really enjoying gardening, and I golf a little bit in the summer and curl in the winter. I’m getting close to retirement, so I’m going to have to develop some more hobbies!

What is your favourite crop?

I’ve worked on 60 different crop types in my career. I haven’t done any work on it in awhile, but I really liked working with hemp when I was working with it. I’m fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to work with just about every crop that we can grow in Western Canada.

What get’s you most excited about your work?

Right now, the fact that we are starting to work in the digital age of agriculture is exciting. When I joined the Agronomic Crop Imaging Lab, I thought using satellite/drone imagery was way beyond me. But, because we have some really brilliant post-docs and have attracted some really bright students, I’ve been able to actually understand how they do things. It’s really interesting and it has been quite exciting to see the types of applications we’ve been able to make use of with that type of research.

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