Afua Mante, assistant professor, University of Manitoba

Afua Mante is an assistant professor of soil physical processes in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Manitoba (UM). She was born and raised in Ghana, where she attained a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering and a master’s in water supply and environmental sanitation. In 2011, she moved to Canada as a graduate student at the UM, where she completed an additional master’s degree in mechanical engineering and a PhD in biosystems engineering.

Where did you work before your current role at the UM?

I worked at the Centre for Engineering Professional Practice and Engineering Education in the Price Faculty of Engineering at the UM as a post-doctoral fellow for two years (2018 to 2020) immediately after completing my PhD program. In that role, I was responsible for identifying, through consultation and collaboration with stakeholders, meaningful ways for genuine inclusion of Indigenous knowledges, perspectives and design principles, as well as principles of sustainable development and sustainable design, in engineering curricula. After that, I joined the land remediation group in the Department of Soil Science as a post-doctoral fellow, where I oversaw projects on the restoration of prime agricultural lands disturbed by industrial activities. I stayed in this role until January 2022 and then stepped into my current role in the same department as an assistant professor.

What got you interested in this area of work?

It all started when my uncle made what I had seen in junior high agricultural science textbooks become a reality. Use of agricultural machinery was a dream in my community. My uncle got a small tractor with one plow and one harrow. This set of machinery was “gold.” You could see the pride in my uncle’s face. You can bet he used all his savings on them. No financing opportunities. All he wanted was for the crops to meet the rains at the right time. This investment paid off. He saw an exponential increase in yield – his team was so proud to work with him and it provided my family with security.

More than that, I got the opportunity to see the equipment in action. I was mesmerized watching the whole show. My uncle said to me, with a smile on his face, “we have people who research into how these machines work.” That got me interested in pursuing the agriculture path.

I received opposition to that idea from some of my high school teachers. They had not experienced the magic of agriculture, or they were somewhat disconnected from how we need agriculture. To them and many, agriculture was a way to punish kids at school. It had a negative image. I was lucky to have experienced my uncle’s investment at work. My decision was solidified when I figured out that one of my mentors who had visited my high school to support our education was pursuing agricultural engineering (which I did not know existed at the time) at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He enlightened me on career opportunities in agriculture and from then on, I never looked back.

Tell us a bit about what you are working on at the UM.

I teach the course “Soils and Landscapes in our Environment” at the undergraduate level, soil physics courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the equity, diversity, inclusion and bias sections of the “Principles of Scientific Research and Communication” course at the graduate level.

I run the soil physics research program. In the program, I supervise both graduate and undergraduate students on various projects. We collaborate with stakeholders to identify opportunities and address challenges to advance the agriculture industry. With our projects, our main goal is to understand the complexity of the soil system and how to subject it to applications and interventions in a sustainable way to allow us to continue to enjoy the ecosystem services it lends to us. Currently, we are looking into a wide range of applications and interventions, including farm traffic systems, extreme moisture events, cropping systems, nutrient management, freezing and thawing processes, brine contamination, pipeline construction, and how they interact with the soil for sustainable crop production and a healthy environment. There is more room to expand our research, considering the complexity of the soil system.

I am currently collaborating with two researchers at the UM on a project, “Building resilient soils with cover crops in Manitoba,” funded through Manitoba Crop Alliance and the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (Sustainable CAP). In recent years, we are seeing an increase in the number of farmers in Manitoba who are adopting cover crops to conserve the soil, for nutrient cycling or for improving soil health. In addition to these benefits that are associated with cover crops, we are exploring how cover crops can improve soil strength to support trafficability and reduce the risk of soil compaction and other soil deformation processes. Our focus is not just on the wet condition, but also on the dry condition, as that contributes to the deformation processes of the soil under our climate. This project is an opportunity to present a holistic view on the benefits of cover crops integrated into annual cropping systems by taking into account the agronomic and climatic conditions that prevail in Manitoba.

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

As we know, producing food has many pieces to it. In our province, our climate and our wide range of soils make our challenges unique. To overcome these challenges in our community, we have to recognize that we all have a role to play. But here is the catch: it is one thing knowing you have a role to play and quite another having the resources to support your role.

Farmers’ financial contributions to our research programs make it possible for us as researchers to play our role. We are able to train highly qualified personnel (HQP) for the sector and secure resources we need to address current and emerging challenges in our community. This ongoing farmer support demonstrates a community where we all work together for continued success.

How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?

As I mentioned earlier, there are several pieces to producing food. When farmers provide the support, they set the priorities. They directly influence the sector. They tell us what their actual challenges are. Many times, what we may perceive as a problem is not seen as such by farmers. Also, how we may define a problem to provide solutions may not align with the reality of management. As key stakeholders, we consult and collaborate with them to create working solutions. Knowledge sharing through the life of a research project and after becomes integral to the research. It promotes accountability as well as (re)evaluation of the outcome. Also, with the plethora of challenges the community faces, we need all hands on deck. When we train HQP, we build the workforce needed to tackle the challenges. All these lead to fostering stronger relationships in the community.

Anything you want to add or any comments to our farmer members?

Farmers are our heroes. It is my hope that we all recognize that. They begin the story of the food on our plates. It is a very lengthy story. We may not always hear the story, but what we can all agree on is the excitement and the sense of renewal we have after treating ourselves to a wonderful meal. Thank you, farmers.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I serve as the vice-chair of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank board of directors, where I offer my perspectives and leadership on the organization’s mission to end global hunger and shape Canada’s contribution to international aid and development. I also write songs and poems, which is a great outlet for me. The most fun thing I do is when my kids and I make up songs and sing them unending.

What is your favourite TV series right now?

Monk – a series on Netflix. The characters all have their unique strengths that they bring to accurately solving cases. What I have learned is that sometimes the strength of another may be frustrating when we are not used to it. It may be too slow or too detailed for us, and we think it could be easier to quickly jump ahead, but then it doesn’t lead us anywhere. When we begin to create the space to understand one another, we realize that we complement each other. To have an effective collective, we need to understand and accept the individuals within the collective.

What is the best part of your job?

The training of HQP. I have HQP from diverse disciplines. This requires me to be intentional about knowing them as individuals so that I can train the whole person. This leads to my HQP owning their training and accepting the challenge to be more. It is a joy to see such a development in them.

Connect with Afua on LinkedIn.

Ahmed Abdelmagid, research scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Ahmed Abdelmagid is a research scientist specializing in oilseed crop pathology at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Morden Research and Development Centre (RDC). Originally from Egypt, Abdelmagid completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in plant pathology from Assiut University in Asyut, Egypt. He received a scholarship to Oklahoma State University for his PhD, and then joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to do a post doctorate before moving to Canada in 2015. He joined the University of Guelph for a second post doctorate before moving to Winnipeg in 2017. He now lives in Morden with his wife and three kids, who are in Grades 11, nine and four.

Where did you work before AAFC?

I was a research associate at the University of Manitoba. I conducted research on soybean pathology and taught plant pathology to undergraduate and graduate students. After that, I worked in private industry for a year at Farmers Business Network and led the pathology research on canola diseases, specifically blackleg, verticillium stripe, Fusarium wilt and sclerotinia stem rot.

What is the best part about your job?

I really enjoy my new position. It gives me the freedom to choose the research I think is important for farmers. For example, what is more beneficial in terms of the pathology research or for the whole country because I also collaborate with researchers from Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. We all focus on certain objectives that we think the outcomes will be beneficial to farmers across the Prairies.

What got you interested in this area of work?

When you study agriculture in Egypt the first two years are general, and you choose your major during the third and fourth years. At the time, I didn’t know which department I should join, and I had been warned that plant pathology would be difficult as most of the study would be in English due to the number of scientific pathogen names I would need to memorize.

I saw it as a challenge and looked at it from a different perspective. People get sick and go to the doctor for a bacterial or viral infection. They can speak about their symptoms, but with plants you have to see and study the symptoms to discover which disease it is. I found that to be truly interesting and we were a smaller group of students, which is how I got started into pathology.

Tell us a bit about what you’re working on at AAFC.

Our program focuses on the pathology or plant diseases affecting canola, sunflower, soybean and flax in Manitoba and Canada. I collaborate with breeders across the Prairies and Canada to find new sources of resistance against the most important diseases affecting these crops, and we look at best disease management strategies.

Last year, we began working on a sunflower disease survey funded by Manitoba Crop Alliance. This survey will be similar to what we do on other crops, but it will be very interesting because for many years there has been no verified information about the most important diseases that affect sunflowers in Manitoba and Canada.

We will be in the fields to see what the most important diseases affecting yield and quality of the heads are across Manitoba. We will collect samples of the roots, stems and heads and bring them to the lab to do isolation and identification. From there, we will report on what we saw during the growing season. It will be very beneficial to the industry to know what those diseases are, so the breeding programs can focus on them in the future.

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

It is very valuable. Farmer support is crucial to make our research more practical and applied. We receive funds from other resources to investigate different research ideas, but the link between science and farmers is very important. It tells us as researchers what is important for farmers, what would be more beneficial for them in the future and what ideas or challenges we need to work to solve.

How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?

We are working on the problems that worry farmers and that they need solutions to, especially in the short term. We know they don’t want to see a solution in six or 10 years – they want to see something practical in the short term. We work to give them verified data and good results, and in some cases, we can recommend management strategies.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

Winter in Manitoba is too long, especially for someone like me from the desert. Although I’ve been here for several years, I still have a hard time enjoying outdoor activities in the winter. Time outdoors in the summer is very precious, and I enjoy it a lot.

What is your favourite food or favourite meal to cook?

Foul mudammas (Egyptian fava beans). In Egypt, fava beans are a main dish, especially for breakfast. It’s special, very simple and very healthy.

All you have to do is rinse a can of fava beans, put them in a deep pan with a little bit of oil of your choice. Cut tomato and green pepper, and put the mixture on medium heat. Cover it and leave it for about 7 to 10 minutes. Next add lemon, salt and cumin. Smash it together with a fork, and you can eat it with toast or pita bread. It’s delicious!

Connect with Ahmed on LinkedIn.

Post-registration Assessment of Fusarium Head Blight Resistance in Spring Wheat, Barley and Winter Wheat 

By Anne Kirk and Chami Amarasinghe, Manitoba Agriculture 

The Manitoba Crop Variety Evaluation Team (MCVET) has been evaluating the effects of Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) on spring wheat, winter wheat and barley varieties under conditions of natural infection for a number of years. Varietal resistance ratings for FHB, as presented in Seed Manitoba, are determined through inoculated trials conducted during the period the variety is tested in the variety registration system. While this provides good information on resistance to FHB, the data generated provides limited comparisons with other registered varieties.

Post-registration FHB analysis provides an opportunity to compare fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) and deoxynivalenol (DON) accumulation among registered varieties over a number of locations in Manitoba. Fungicides are not applied to MCVET trials, and FHB infection is the result of natural infection. Due to variety turnover in MCVET trials, on-going analysis is required to evaluate the response of newly registered varieties. 

In 2023, DON accumulation was low at the majority of sites. At the spring wheat sites, mean DON accumulation was below the detection limit of 0.5 ppm at ten of the eleven sites tested; DON ranged from 0.5 to 1.2 ppm at the one site where DON was detected (Table 1). Mean DON accumulation at the barley sites was below detection limit at six of eleven sites, and ranged from 0.5 to 0.8 ppm at the remaining sites (Table 2). Mean DON accumulation in winter wheat was below detection limit at all sites tested (Table 3). Varieties with the highest FDK and DON levels were generally rated as susceptible (S), moderately susceptible (MS), or intermediate (I) for FHB resistance; however, there is variability in FDK and DON within each of the five resistance categories. 

FHB infection is highly influenced by environmental conditions; however, there are management options that should be used to mitigate the risk of FHB. The first step is to select varieties with improved resistance to FHB. Resistance ratings published in Seed Manitoba are a good first place to look for disease resistance information. Caution must be used with one year of data, as presented in these tables. Other management strategies include crop rotation and fungicide application. 

Thanks to Manitoba Crop Alliance for providing funding to conduct FDK and DON analysis and the Manitoba Crop Variety Evaluation Team and contractors who provided the harvested samples.

Seeding Date and Seeding Rate Considerations for Spring Cereals

There are many considerations when planning spring seeding of wheat and barley. Seeding date and seeding rate are two variables to think about to get your crop off to a good start.

Seeding Date


Seeding date is an important factor to consider, as it can impact overall crop yield. In Manitoba, spring wheat and barley are usually seeded between May 1 and 30. Although, if the conditions are optimal, farmers have been able to seed in April.

  • If conditions are conducive to seeding, earlier seeded (figure 1) crops tend to have higher yields and improve yield stability (Manitoba Agriculture, n.d.). Earlier seeded crops can utilize early spring moisture more efficiently, assisting in quick and vigorous growth, which helps reduce weed competition.
  • Additionally, earlier seeded crops, depending on their flowering date, potentially avoid heat damage during flowering. More information about early seeding can be found here and here.

Figure 1: Seeding date vs. relative yield for common Manitoban crop types between 2010-2019 (MASC, 2019)

There are risks associated with early seeding these include:

  • The risk of frost. Most spring wheat and barley are tolerant to some frost (down to -6 °C) when the growing point is below the soil surface, this is until the 5-leaf – jointing stage. Frost damage symptoms include leaves that are dark green, wilted, and have dead leaf tips (Manitoba Agriculture, n.d.). Risk of frost damage and plant death increases when the growing point gets closer to the soil surface.
  • Seeding into cold and wet soils will slow crop emergence, therefore consider using a seed treatment. It should be noted that a minimum temperature of 4 °C is required for germination for wheat and barley (Manitoba Agriculture, n.d.).

Farmers know best about the typical weather conditions in their area. In addition to lived knowledge, long-term weather data can help identify the risk of frost in your area. Manitoba Agriculture produces frost maps for the province which can be found here.

Seeding Rate


The seeding rate of spring cereals is an important decision that can affect both yield and grain quality, by impacting all key wheat yield components. Seeding rates differ between crop types. Current Manitoba Agriculture recommendations for wheat and barley are found in table 1, below. Furthermore, when selecting target plant populations overall management practices, such as soil fertility or pest management, and field selection should be considered to handle the selected target plant population.

Table 1. Manitoba target plant populations recommendations for spring wheat and barley.


Target plant population (plant/ft2)

Spring Wheat




Manitoba Agriculture’s target plant populations were recently reevaluated in 2017 and 2018 and were found to still be adequate (Manitoba Agriculture, 2020). Yield results from the study can be found in figure 2. Plant populations also affect crop uniformity, time to maturity, lodging risk, disease risk, weed competition and overall yield stability (Manitoba Agriculture, n.d.; Collier et al., 2021). Higher seeding rates have been found to improve crop uniformity and decrease days to maturity (O’Donovan et al., 2012). Crop uniformity is also one important component to maximize the efficiency of crop protection agents, such as fungicide application for fusarium head blight. Higher seeding rates have also been found to decrease weed competition.

However, higher seeding rates may lead to thicker crop canopies, thus creating an environment more conducive to disease. As well, increased lodging, and inter-plant competition for resources can be an issue with higher seeding rates, reducing the crop yield potential. If you are planning on targeting higher plant population, it is recommended that varieties with strong straw strength or semi-dwarf varieties are used. Refer to Seed Manitoba for this information. More information about higher seeding rates, its benefits and risks can be found here.

Figure 2. Spring wheat (left) and barley (right) yields at five target plant densities from trials across Manitoba. Different letter represent statistical significant differences in yield (Manitoba Agriculture, n.d.)

Research has found that for malting barley the optimum target plant population which maximizes yield and grain quality to achieve malting grade is at the lower end of Manitoba Agriculture’s recommended target plant population (O’Donovan et al., 2012). For more information on malting barley specific seeding considerations check out this document.

Seeding by target plant population is encouraged, as seeds come in different sizes. This method accounts for differences in thousand kernel weight and per cent expected seed survival.   This method allows you to optimize your seeding rate and give you the best chance to hit your target plant population. The formula can be found below. Although, seed calculators from FP Genetics and Alberta Grains can take the manual calculations out of it. More information about seeding by plant population can be found here.

*Per cent expected survival is expressed in decimal form. ex. 85 per cent = 0.85.


  1. Manitoba Agriculture. (n.d.). Reward Versus Risk: Seeding Early In Manitoba. Province of Manitoba | agriculture – Reward Versus Risk: Seeding Early in Manitoba (
  2. Manitoba Agriculture. (n.d.). Spring Frost Damage. Province of Manitoba | agriculture – Spring Frost Damage (
  3. Manitoba Agriculture. (n.d.). Aiming for higher wheat yields. Province of Manitoba | agriculture – Aiming for Higher Wheat Yields (
  4. Manitoba Agricultural. (2020). Seeding Rates for Spring Cereals. seeding-rates-spring-cereals.pdf (
  5. Collier, G.R., Spaner, D.M., Graf, R.J., & Beres, B. (2021).  Optimal Agronomics Increase Grain Yield and Grain Yield Stability of Ultra-Early Wheat Seeding Systems. Agronomy. 11(2), 240.
  6. O’Donovan, J.T., Turkington, T.K., Edney, M.J., Juskiw, P.E., Harker K.N., Clayton, G.W., Laford, G.P., Brandt, S., Johnson, E.N., May, W.E., & Smith, E. (2012). Effect of seeding date and seeding rate on malting barley production in western Canada. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 92; 321-330.

Manitoba Farmers Participate in 2023 NSA Sunflower Survey

In alternate years, the National Sunflower Association performs a sunflower survey in six states (ND, SD, MN, CO, KS and NE). The survey looks at several agronomic pests and pressures and the potential yield impacts in the given year. In 2023, Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA) participated in the survey with the help of Ahmed Abdelmagid, research scientist for oilseed crops pathology at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Morden Research and Development Centre. Nine sunflower fields were surveyed in Manitoba, reflecting the approximately 85,000 total sunflower acres in 2023.

This project serves two purposes:

  1. Identifying factors that affected yield in the given year and which may be of increasing importance in the future, and
  2. Identifying potential research priorities.

Factors that were looked at specifically during the survey were the following:

  • Yield components – plant population, head diameter, seed size, % good seed, % centre seed set, bird damage
  • Agronomic information – crop type, row width, tillage practices
  • Weed Assessment
  • Diseases
  • Insect & bird damage

Fields were visited in mid- to late-September, once R9 was reached and each was surveyed at two different sites within the field. Of the nine Manitoba locations, six were oilseed production fields and the remaining three were confections, and all locations were distributed throughout southern Manitoba from Eastman to Westman areas.

The initial process in each sampling location was to do a plant count followed by another count including only “harvestable” plants (this would not include very small heads, heads with no seed, lodged plants). These harvestable plants were used in yield estimation against all the factors that lay ahead. Head diameter was measured in inches on five plants per location and centre seed set was measured (diameter of seed not set in the centre of each head). Next, seed samples were taken from three heads and stored in a paper bag to send for testing, but not before determining percentage good seed (% filled seed) and seed size.

A general assessment of the field was made at each sample location for yield limiting factors (birds, disease, insects, weeds, drought, uneven plant growth, hail, herbicide damage, lodging and plant spacing within the row) and the top two limiting factors were ranked. The most common limiting factor across the nine surveyed fields was disease (five fields) and the remaining four fields had greatest limiting factor being birds, drought, lodging or weed pressure. It was rare to find a second limiting factor in these fields, which had a positive impact on yield due to less pressure on the crop.

Bird damage was estimated in the percentage of seeds lost. Five fields had bird damage at the time of surveying, ranging from 0.5 – 4.5 per cent seed loss. Surveying is typically done around the same time blackbirds tend to begin feeding on sunflowers and one of these surveyed fields had a significant increase in bird damage by harvest.

Insect presence measurements accounted for sunflower midge, sunflower seed maggot, sunflower bud moth and long-horned beetle damage (not found in Manitoba). 25 heads at each field site were examined for the above insect damage, aside from long-horned beetle, which required stalk splitting to identify the larvae presence.

Sunflower midge damage. Photo credit: National Sunflower Association.
Sunflower midge damage. Photo credit: National Sunflower Association.
Sunflower seed maggot damage. Photo credit: NDSU.
Sunflower seed maggot damage. Photo credit: NDSU.
Sunflower bud moth damage. Photo credit: NDSU.
Sunflower bud moth damage. Photo credit: NDSU.


Disease observations and samples were taken of the following, when present:

  • Root lodging
  • Midstalk lodging            
  • Ground level lodging    
  • Sclerotinia wilt (basal stem)
  • Sclerotinia mid-stalk rot
  • Sclerotinia head rot
  • Rhizopus head rot
  • Downy mildew
  • Phomopsis stem canker
  • Phoma black stem
  • Verticillium wilt/leaf mottle
  • Charcoal rot
  • Rust

Lodged plants were identified, on average, at the nine locations as follows:

  • Root lodging or percent root upheaval – 2 per cent
  • Ground level lodging – 1.5 per cent
  • Mid stalk lodging – <1 per cent

Sclerotinia infections were significant, but averaged across all nine locations, the per cent instances are quite insignificant:

  • Sclerotinia wilt (basal stem) – 4 per cent
  • Sclerotinia mid-stalk rot – 3 per cent
  • Sclerotinia head rot – 6 per cent

Other diseases were more significant in 2023 and this likely reflects most years, but stem rots tend to go more unnoticed unless lodging is a major issue. Rhizopus head rot was found in two locations, but samples are being tested for disease presence. Rhizopus is not a disease Manitoba sunflower farmers have had to deal with in the past, so further testing is being pursued to determine if this is a misdiagnosis or a real issue. Downy mildew and charcoal rot were not found in any of the sample sites. Verticillum wilt was found to be present on 2 per cent of surveyed plants and rust remained low with roughly 6 per cent infection area on leaves.

Phomopsis and phoma were the real diseases of concern in surveyed fields, which reflects the prior mention of disease being the most yield limiting factor in 56 per cent of surveyed locations. According to final yields, neither disease seemed to impact yield noticeably and lodging due to stalk disease did not occur. Phomopsis stem canker was found in 10 per cent and phoma black stem in 8 per cent of plants surveyed with diseased stalk samples being taken for further analysis. Phoma had very high incidence (80 per cent) across the entire survey in Manitoba and the six states, meaning 80 per cent of all plants sampled had phoma infections. Phomopsis was lower, at 34 per cent incidence in all samples, however this was noted to be an increase from past surveys. It is thought that Phomopsis stem canker prevalence increased due to any of the following factors:

  • Susceptible hybrid
  • Drought stress or other factors
  • No fungicide use
  • Wet weather closer to harvest

Weeds were generally not a concern in fields surveyed except for one that had lambs quarters and Canada thistle escapes and heavy pressure. It was this field that was identified as having weed presence being the primary contributor to any yield loss that was incurred.

MCA has applied for partial funding through the provincial government Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership call for funding for the sunflower disease survey for 2024-27. During this time, they will be partnering with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to do disease verification of samples collected from the 2023 and 2025 season. This partnership allows further collaboration and cooperation with our NDSU partners to participate in their survey, bringing our members a larger dataset, with more information on disease tends.

Call for Tender: Group 2 Herbicide-Resistant Confection Sunflower Hybrid

Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA) is pleased to invite tenders for non-exclusive license to produce in Canada the Group 2 herbicide-resistant confection sunflower hybrids EX 359239 and EX 359306, produced from the only farmer-funded hybrid confection sunflower breeding program in Canada.

Tender application forms, which must be submitted separately for each hybrid of interest, can be found here: 

EX 359239 and EX 359306 are under review with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – registration pending.

MCA reserves the right to reject any or all tenders and to negotiate the terms of agreement with any proponent.

For more information, or requests for samples of the above lines, please contact Katherine Stanley, Research Program Manager – Special Crops with MCA, at 204-898-4122 or

Please forward tender submissions by April 26, 2024 to Katherine Stanley, Research Program Manager – Special Crops, at

Seed samples to be provided upon request.

Aida Kebede, research scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Aida Kebede

Aida Kebede, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Ottawa Research and Development Centre (RDC), is focused on corn germplasm development and genetic studies. She was raised in Ethiopia and received M.Sc. and B.Sc. degrees in plant breeding and plant sciences from Haramaya University, before completing her PhD in plant breeding from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. She now lives in the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area.

Where did you work before AAFC?

Prior to coming to Canada, I worked at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, also known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT. As a PhD student, I spent five years conducting research on improving breeding methods for corn drought tolerance and supporting the establishment of a double-haploid breeding program. I was part of the team that brought the in vivo double haploid line production technology from the University of Hohenheim, Germany, to CIMMYT, Mexico.

After that I worked as a post-doctoral fellow with Lana Reid (former corn breeder) and Linda Harris in the corn breeding program of the Ottawa RDC from 2013 to 2016 and afterwards as a PRP-research scientist at the Morden RDC under the supervision of Curt McCartney from 2017 to 2019. At Morden, I worked on finding molecular markers for disease resistance breeding to oat rusts.

What got you interested in this area of work?

A renowned plant geneticist from Ethiopia, Melaku Worede, who is also a good friend of my father, inspired me to study plant breeding for my postgraduate studies. Since I did my PhD thesis research in corn breeding, I could say corn grew on me.

Tell us a bit about what you’re working on at AAFC’s Ottawa RDC.

My day-to-day activities for a given growing season include designing field trial experiments and nurseries, overseeing planting, recording germination and seedling vigour, followed by observing plant growth and eliminating lines that do not fit the set criteria. In the summer, pollination is a collective effort for my technicians, summer students and myself. We work seven days a week until mid-August.

Then in September we go through our nurseries for a second round of selection and eliminate lines with undesirable traits such as tillering or overall plant stand. Next, we (my technicians and myself) harvest nurseries, isolation blocks and yield trials, and then harvest seed gets processed and the data analyzed in order to do the selection before the new season starts in January.

Around seven years ago, Lana Reid, plant physiologist, and Malcolm Morrison, plant phenomisist, at the Ottawa RDC started making crosses and tested a new method of cold tolerance screening and selection. In this method, crosses and progenies were germinated in cold temperatures (13°C day / 7°C night) in a growth chamber and those which germinate within 21 days were transplanted to the field and selected based on additional attributes to pass to the next generation. This method of selection granted a five-day earlier germination advantage over the commercial check hybrids when tested here in Ottawa. I took over the advancement of the breeding population for cold tolerance in 2021 and continued until the end of the Canadian Agriculture Partnership (CAP) project in 2023.

There is a new project starting this year under the Sustainable CAP stream where the cold-tolerant breeding populations will be tested for cold tolerance under field conditions here in Ontario and Manitoba. This will be in collaboration with Yvonne Lawley from the University of Manitoba.

My role as a breeder is to continue advancing the germplasm in the breeding pipeline with selection for best yield performance and early spring cold tolerance. Promising inbred lines will be released in the coming three to four years, and breeding companies could make use of those inbred lines for making commercial hybrids.

What is the best part about your job?

The best part about my job would be that our research outputs have direct practical application. The inbred lines we develop are taken up by private companies that will turn them into hybrid varieties for use by corn growers.

In addition, the multi-disciplinary nature of our work gives us the opportunity to interact with different national and international organizations, universities and industry groups who dedicate their efforts to the sustainability and productivity of the corn industry in Canada.

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

I would say it is the golden key for maintaining continuity of our research work. Germplasm development is not a short-term undertaking. You need at least nine or more years to develop a variety that a corn grower can use in their field. The support we get from farmers ensures that we succeed.

How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?

It gives farmers the arena for their ideas to become reality and their voices to be heard, plus the opportunity to guide future research directions. At the end of the day, they are the direct users of the technology and germplasm we develop.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I love gardening. I have a community garden lot near my home where I grow vegetables and herbs. I like playing basketball and badminton as well.

How do you celebrate agriculture?

Attending the Corn and Apple Festival in Morden, MB, used to be one of my favorite events when I was living there. I really enjoyed the farm machinery parades, buying stuff from the local vendors with homemade products and the free, cooked sweet corn they serve to everyone. I haven’t found a similar event in Ontario yet, but I have been to a maze inside a corn field, which was a lot of fun.

Who or what inspires you?

People with positive thinking attitudes. I am inspired by those who focus on the solutions rather than the problems.

What is your favourite food or meal to cook?

Sweet corn. It only takes five minutes to cook in boiling water, and tastes delicious.

Meet Manitoba Crop Alliance’s 2023-24 post-secondary bursary recipients

MCA_2023-24 Bursary Recipients Graphic_Twitter

Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA) is proud to support agriculture’s next generation. MCA’s bursary program is designed to assist with the financial needs of students pursuing education in a field that will benefit the agriculture sector.

Six post-secondary students from Manitoba have been awarded with MCA 2023-24 bursaries valued at $2,000 each. The 2023-24 bursary recipients are Emma Harms from Mather, Rhett Grieve from Virden, Ashlyn Whetter from Alexander, Brendan Friesen from Blumenfeld, Nathan Krahn from Rivers, and Cadence Krahn from Carman.

“Year after year, I am impressed with the curiosity and passion for agriculture displayed by our bursary recipients,” says MCA Chair Robert Misko. “These qualities will serve them well as they begin their careers, and I look forward to seeing how their generation moves our industry forward.”

Bursary applicants needed to meet the following criteria:

  • Have completed their first or second year of post-secondary education at the college or university level (diploma or degree) and are enrolled full-time for the 2023-24 school year in an agricultural program within the province of Manitoba.
  • Have achieved a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0.
  • Have an interest in wheat (spring or winter), corn, barley, flax or sunflower crops, or agriculture in general, as demonstrated in a brief, one-page letter.\
  • Are from a farm that is a member in good standing with MCA
  • Have not previously been awarded an MCA bursary.

An independent selection committee was contracted to evaluate the applicants based on their connection to or interest in agriculture, explanation of why they decided to enrol in an agriculture-related post-secondary program, how they hope to benefit the agriculture industry once they have graduated and are in the workforce, and their academics and writing skills.

This year, the selection committee included Mallorie Lewarne, grow team advisor with Federated Co-operatives Limited; Anne Kirk, cereal crop specialist with Manitoba Agriculture; and Haider Abbas, applied research specialist at Manitoba Agriculture.

Lewarne provides technical agronomy support to local co-ops in Manitoba. She holds a B.Sc. in agriculture and an M.Sc. in plant science from the University of Manitoba and is a member of the Professional Agrologists Institute of Manitoba. Prior to her current role, she worked for MCA as an agronomy extension specialist.

With Manitoba Agriculture, Kirk focuses on cereal crop extension and variety trials. She holds a B.Sc. in agriculture and a master’s in plant science from the University of Manitoba. She is also a Certified Crop Advisor and a member of the Manitoba Institute of Agrologists.

Abbas was born and raised on a family farm and holds a B.Sc. in agricultural engineering and an M.Sc. in biosystems engineering from the University of Manitoba. He is currently based at the Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre in Carberry, MB, where he contributes to advancing agricultural research and innovation.

Thank you to the selection committee for evaluating the bursary applications and congratulations to the 2023-24 bursary recipients!

Meet the MCA 2023-24 bursary recipients

Corn Establishment in Dry Soil Conditions

“Corn roots will not grow into dry soils.” – Dr. Joe Lauer, professor of plant and agroecosystems sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison (retired)

When Manitoba experiences a dry cycle, a major concern is the ability of our crops to endure very dry and crusting soils. Spring drought is particularly concerning for crop germination and emergence. Without moisture, germination simply will not occur. With limited moisture, germination may begin and become halted if/when moisture runs out, resulting in an unproductive seed(ling).

According to Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University small grains & corn extension agronomist, “For most soils, 0.5 inches of rain (sandy soils require slightly less) is needed in order for moisture to move to a two-inch depth (the seed zone) in dry soils. Poor seed-soil contact can restrict the corn seed from extracting enough moisture from the soil to germinate. Crop residues that touch the seed can similarly impede the movement of water to the seed. Occasionally, fertilizers placed with the seed inhibit germination due to their salt effect being more pronounced in dry soils1.”

Of course, soil moisture is not just required for germination. It is required for all vegetative and reproductive growth. Nodal root development is occurring as the growing seedling reaches V1 staging and this requires ample moisture in the top two inches of soil. This new root development will be the primary means by which the plant acquires water and nutrients by the V3 stage1, so successful nodal roots are critical for further development. If soil is to remain dry around the crown (where nodal roots develop, about 0.75 inches below soil surface) for extended periods during early vegetative growth, these nodal roots will not develop. As corn plants grow larger, they become too heavy without the support of this root system and will flop over. This is where the terms floppy or rootless corn syndrome come from and these have frequently been found in areas of higher compaction or shallow seeding in recent years but will be a common symptom of dry growing seasons.

Figure 1: First set of nodal roots developing on a V1 Corn Seedling. Photo: Dr. Bob Neilsen, Purdue University.

Weather conditions in the entire month of May are impossible to predict. It is extremely rare to have so little soil moisture that the crop is unable to germinate or that the crop runs out of moisture during early development. It is rare that this should occur and to the best of our knowledge, it has not happened in Manitoba on a large scale.

Should a crop failure occur in spring due to dry conditions and young seedlings die off via dehydration, a replanting scenario may be considered. Stand reduction does have to be very significant to justify replanting corn simply because of the delayed planting date. Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) historical data shows that there is an estimated yield loss of 5% per week delay in spring planting.

Figure 2: Average relative yield reported to MASC during each sowing week for the selected crops grown in Manitoba for the period of 2010-2019.

Replanting corn is a very expensive decision and most often is not economical unless stand loss is over 16,000 plants per acre. Even in that scenario, the farmer may still be looking at too significant a loss to make it worthwhile. Replanting grain corn should only ever be considered after careful economic analysis of costs against any potential gain2.

For more information on growing corn on the Prairies, see Corn Production Resources on our website.


  1. Ransom, Joel. “Dry Soils and Poor Corn Emergence.” NDSU Crop & Pest Report, NDSU, 1 June 2017,
  2. Manitoba Agriculture, Corn Seed Bed Preparation. 

In the field and abroad: sharing the Canadian wheat story with global customers 

In November 2023, Cereals Canada released the 2023 New Wheat Crop Report and shortly after led four trade and technical missions to 17 countries to showcase the quality of Canadian wheat to customers and buyers.

The annual trade and technical missions visit key global markets for Canadian wheat to share reports on the quality and functionality of the year’s wheat crop and include information on market supply and demand. Experts from the value chain – such as commissioners from the Canadian Grain Commission, exporters and farmers – participate in these missions.

As part of the seminars during these missions, farmer participants were asked to present on key farming practices and highlight the practices they follow to grow wheat while minimizing environmental impacts.

“Each market wants to understand more about Canadian farming practices,” says Dean Dias, CEO at Cereals Canada. “Having farmer representatives speak on behalf of Canadian growers about their farming practices is critical to informing customers about sustainability.”

Grain farmer and MCA crop committee delegate Korey Peters was a farmer representative on the Asia trade and technical mission, visiting customers in Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and China from Nov. 24 to Dec. 9.

“The experience was awesome and very eye opening,” says Peters. In each seminar, Peters used photos and videos to talk about the crop types he grows on his family farm and shared information about how the 2023 growing season went.

Photo Gallery

After his presentations, he was often asked questions related to soil fertility, managing wheat diseases and how he looks after the environment.

“Customers were very curious to hear firsthand what we do, how we grow things, and what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “I talked a lot about crop rotation and science-based solutions, and how we work with professionals like certified agronomists, for example, to help us.”

At all the seminars, Peters says customers were engaged and seemed eager to speak directly with a farmer. “They wanted to know about everything I did, but they also wanted to know about the grain and quality,” he says. “They were asking about breadcrumb structure, air pockets and how the bread was going to look.”

He adds the level of scientific detail blew his mind. “I just grow wheat, but it was interesting to hear these types of questions and discussions. It also reinforced to me the importance of having members from the whole value chain at these missions to answer all their questions and to build trust.”

Something that stood out to Peters was the relationships. “These companies want to put a face to the names of the people in the value chain. Some were on a first-name basis, or even exchanging hugs because they’ve met many times before. This showed me how important it is to our customers to have that personal connection.”

For Cereals Canada, the trade and technical missions are a way to build and maintain strong relationships, which is vital to growing the international demand for Canadian wheat. For Peters, it was a great experience, and he says he would go again in a heartbeat.

“It became very clear to me that Canada’s wheat is second to none. Every place we visited agreed that Canadian wheat is phenomenal, which makes me very proud of what we grow.”

For more information about the New Wheat Crop Report or the trade and technical missions, visit