Shaun Sharpe is a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at the Saskatoon Research and Development Centre (Saskatoon RDC). Sharpe grew up in Nova Scotia and completed his bachelor’s degree at Mount Allison University and his master’s at Dalhousie University. He then moved to Florida, where he completed his PhD research on strawberries and his post-doctoral research on tomatoes, peppers and occasionally cucumbers at the University of Florida. He and his wife now live in Saskatoon with their dog and cat.
What is the best part of your job?
I think the best part of my job is getting to work with plants every day. They are such a big part of my life that I’m very thankful to be able to have this as my job, and as one of my passions outside of work. I’m very grateful this is the path I was able to go down.
What got you interested in this area of work?
I wanted to be a veterinarian (my wife is one now) but after a very tough first day in the clinic, I changed my mind quickly. I met a professor at Mount Allison who brought out my interest and passion for plants. He worked in forestry primarily, and had me teaching three different courses for him. I did my project with him and he is the one who sort of gave me the direction to go for my master’s and PhD, and where to go from there. When I was getting ready to do my PhD, Nathan Boyd moved to Florida and was looking for students. That’s where my interest in weeds and their underlying ecology came from, learning in his program and learning how to do research from him.
Tell us a bit about what you’re working on at AAFC.
The top priority for my research program is to prevent and mitigate risk associated with herbicide resistance. For resistance, the major complication is a result of the long-term use of herbicides. The result is too much accumulated death of plants, which is a consequence of how we are choosing to control those weed populations (spraying herbicides). We want to attack this underlying issue and look at what we can do to reduce the amount of death without necessarily removing the option of herbicides, but to take the pressure off of them. Over time, the populations are building, so the end goal of my program is to pull infestations downward by helping to provide farmers with alternative options.
The idea behind the Stimulating germination of wild oat and volunteer cereals from the soil seed bankproject was to provide farmers with a control strategy to use in the fall, post-harvest, to rely on frost to kill seedlings, or pre-seed as part of a stale seedbed strategy with an herbicide. Wild oats tend to flush after the crop has emerged and I think part of the issue is that we’re not getting good control later in the season (there is more coming up after the spray window is gone). Those wild oat populations emerge and replenish themselves, keeping that pressure on our herbicides. Ultimately, we are hoping that we can reduce our baseline infestation that will help with prolonging herbicides and the amounts of plants emerging later.
The project with the pyroligneous acid (wood vinegar) was a one-year project of greenhouse work testing a few applications and trying to develop a use pattern we could use in the field. The question was, can we reduce infestation by applying a product that stimulates the seeds out when we want? If we could stimulate them to come out, especially wild oats (which have a very complex dormancy), we could use additional methods of control. While there has been some work with fertilizers, pyroligneous acid hasn’t been used in the field as much. We completed 24 different experiments and developed a use pattern for field applications and identified some concentrations of pyroligneous acid. This research should be published later this year.
What can you say about the value of farmers providing funding and support to your organization?
It’s absolutely critical. AAFC is part of the public service, there to help Canadian farmers with the issues they face on their farms. It’s feedback from the farmers that helps us understand what the major issues are that they are facing on their farm. A lot of times that is through the commodity organizations or through agronomy extension. Their support means everything.
How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?
It directly benefits farmers because firstly, it helps to train new individuals on the Prairies about herbicide resistance issues. For example, students through my program and those hired through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP). As well, it helps researchers better understand the issues farmers are facing and learn where they are severe. With research, it’s never just identifying a problem and saying, “Here is the end of the road and here is the answer.” It’s usually asking more questions, like, “What is the resistance and how is it impacting different facets in different environments?” Farmer support helps me understand these issues more closely and build information to apply to other areas that have the same issue. Resistance is an issue that faces everybody.
How do you spend your time outside of work?
We have a couple of rescue horses my wife and I enjoy spending time with – it’s great to be able to go out and visit them. I also really enjoy gaming when I have the time.
What gets you most excited about your work?
I think it’s better understanding a problem we don’t really know the answer to. Doing experiments as a way to better understand issues that are very ongoing for our environments really excites me.
What are you excited about for the future of agriculture?
I’m very excited about the development of technology. I think it’s a very booming area and there’s going to be a lot, possibly even an information overload for some. There is a lot of promise and a lot of potential tools to hopefully make life easier for folks. Not necessarily to replace anybody, but to give people tools to make their lives much easier.
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