The Integrated Crop Agronomy Cluster (ICAC) was designed to put focus on a whole-farm approach, it addresses critical gaps in research for farm management as a whole and does not put focus on one crop type or approach. There are seven research activities within the cluster, MCA participates in all research activities as they all bring valuable information to Manitoba producers. Each activity and a brief description are listed below, for more information, view the Integrated Crop Agronomy Cluster Summary 2018-2023.
Co-ordinated monitoring of field crop insect pests in the Prairies Ecosystem
Funds the activities to continue to provide timely information about crop diseases and highlight effective disease management approaches.
Developing a risk model to mitigate Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) in western Canadian cereal production.
Provides funds to develop a FHB risk map model that is based on data taken across the Prairies and takes into account over 500 weather stations to produce a user-friendly, online risk-mapping tool.
Management of glyphosate-resistant kochia in western Canadian cropping systems
Studied the effect of several different non-chemical ways to manage kochia, including crop rotation, row spacing, seeding rates and harvest timing.
Spray drift management under changing operational requirements
Studied how the machinery plays a role in creating spray drift.
This included quantifying drift as a function of travel speed, spray quality and boom movement.
Optimizing systems productivity, resilience and sustainability in the major Canadian ecozones
With increasing evidence that supports the benefits of diversifying crop rotations to ensure long-term sustainability, this project studied several different crop rotations at eight sites across the Prairies to determine the impact of different rotations on productivity, resilience and sustainability.
Economic and agronomic performance of emerging cropping systems for Western Canada
Looks at including soybean and/or corn in crop rotations in Western Canada (regions where this is not a traditional crop included in rotations) and the economic, agronomic and environmental impacts this will have.
Consumers play an important role in agriculture, and finding new ways to reach this audience is important.
With that goal in mind, the first ever “Wheat Retreat” brought about 30 influencers in the food and nutrition world together to explore all things wheat – nutrition, functionality and sustainability.
The Wheat Retreat was hosted by the Canadian Wheat Nutrition Initiative, aka What About Wheat?, at Cereals Canada’s world-class facilities in Winnipeg on April 27-30, 2023.
Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA) supports market development initiatives that provide value to our farmer members, so we sent Mallorie Lewarne, our former agronomy extension specialist – cereal crops, to add some perspective on farming in Manitoba.
The retreat included a tour of Cereals Canada’s technical facilities, a pasta sensory session, a hands-on sourdough workshop, a bannock making session and discussions about wheat farming.
“Everyone who attended had great questions – including plenty about agriculture. They asked lots about general farming practices, pesticide use, the wheat class system and more,” says Lewarne.
“These influencers are much more public facing than the typical farmer or agronomist. I think this was a great opportunity to connect and provide them with accurate information they can share with the general public.”
Sheila Elder, a delegate on our wheat and barley crop committee, and her husband Jeff attended one day of the retreat and gave a presentation that took attendees through a growing season as a farmer.
They talked about seeding, scouting, spraying and harvesting, while focusing on technological advances that allow them to be more profitable and sustainable.
“I think there is often a disconnect between the farmer and the consumer,” says Lewarne. “Any opportunity we get to share accurate information about farming practices in Canada is invaluable, and these small opportunities can add up to make a large impact on that disconnect.”
What About Wheat? is a platform for nutrition professionals to find the latest science-based information on wheat to share with their clients and consumers. The information is vetted by a Scientific Advisory Council made up of researchers and registered dietitians.
Member organizations include Cereals Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, Alberta Wheat Commission, Manitoba Crop Alliance, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and Canadian National Millers Association.
As a member of the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC), Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA) participated in National Grain Week March 27-29 in Ottawa, which included nearly 20 meetings and roundtable discussions with MPs and senators.
Attendees included Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau, MP Brian May, MP Marie LaLonde, MP Blaine Calkins, MP Chandra Arya, Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay, MP Ted Falk, Senator Paula Simons, MP Yves Parton, MP Alistair MacGregor and MP John Barlow.
Sally Parsonage, a delegate on MCA’s sunflower crop committee, and Jonothan Hodson, MCA vice-chair and corn committee delegate, represented MCA at this year’s event. Hodson was a returning participant, while Parsonage was attending for the first time.
During the opening reception, MP Francis Drouin, parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture, addressed attendees. The next day participants attended an overview of key highlights from the 2023 budget and witnessed the historic passage of Bill C-234, an Act to Amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.
“Before the last election in 2021, I was fortunate enough to be a presenter to the Standing Committee on Agriculture on Bill C-206, which was trying to accomplish the same changes as C-234,” Hodson says. “That bill was lost when the election was called. It was personally rewarding to be in Ottawa when C-234 passed this time around.”
Both Parsonage and Hodson spent much of their time in Ottawa talking about current issues facing farmers and supporting GGC’s preliminary snapshot of the Roadmap to 2050 report, which emphasized the significance of trade, transportation and innovation.
“Broadly speaking, most of my conversations with government officials involved various aspects of the roadmap to net-zero emissions by 2050,” Hodson says.
“I talked a lot about the effects of innovation on the farm level, using the past to demonstrate the value of government and farmer investments in various forms of innovation, and looking to the future return on further investments.”
The importance of science-based policy was communicated repeatedly.
“In order to achieve environmental goals, farmers need access to innovative varieties, practices and tools, not mandated targets,” Parsonage says.
“Forcing Canadian grain farmers to adopt practices that are less productive may lower Canadian emissions, but the shortfall in production will be made up by other regions that may have less stringent environmental requirements.”
Parsonage adds Grain Week was an important chance for farmers to have direct contact with decision makers from across the country.
“I found they were genuinely interested to learn directly from farmers about the issues we face, but in some cases have had very little opportunity to do so,” she says. “While it’s tempting to be cynical about the political process, we will only limit our industry if we don’t make these opportunities happen for ourselves.”
Experiencing firsthand the disconnect many people involved in the political process have from agriculture was a concern for Parsonage. But on a positive note, she says, most people she spoke with were curious and open to learning more.
“Explaining the on-farm cost and benefits of adopting cutting edge equipment – like retrofitting a sprayer with sensors to spot spray weeds, for example – helped bring some perspective to our conversations.”
This year was a reminder for Hodson that sometimes when these decisions are made a long way from the farm, how they will impact the farm is not taken into consideration.
“Sally’s focus on sunflowers, a smaller acreage crop, was well received. She was able to relate real world consequences (of policy decisions) on a crop that is not widely known in all ag circles in Canada, but is an important option in Manitoba,” he says.”
“That was a reminder for me how important it is for farmers to explain how these decisions and consequences can affect their operation.”
At the end of the day, both Parsonage and Hodson saw National Grain Week as a valuable opportunity to share their lived experience and send an important message on behalf of the Canadian agriculture industry.
“As farmers, we have to make sure we are speaking up for ourselves to the people who are responsible for making the decisions that are going to affect our next five, 10, 50 years,” Parsonage says. “Talking to each other only goes so far, we have to be proactive to get our message out to the public instead of waiting to react.”
Hodson adds that “as farmers in Canada, we need to remember, we produce grain on some of the most sustainable farms in the world and we have never been afraid of change. Never be afraid to tell your story and to be proud of your accomplishments.”
The Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC) is responsible for setting standards (merit), evaluating and recommending grain crop candidate varieties for registration in Western Canada. There are four independent recommending committees:
Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale (PRCWRT)
Prairie Recommending Committee for Oat and Barley (PRCOB)
Prairie Recommending Committee for Pulse and Special Crops (PRCPSC)
Prairie Recommending Committee for Oilseeds (PRCO)
The committees are comprised of representatives from the entire value, including variety/trait developers, farmers, commodity organizations, seed industry representatives, grain companies and end users.
In March, the PGDC held their annual meetings in person for the first time since 2019. Two staff and four crop committee delegates from Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA) attended the meetings in Banff, AB.
“It’s extremely important to be involved in the decision-making process,” says Rauri Qually, a farmer from Dacotah, MB, and delegate on MCA’s wheat and barley crop committee.
“Farmers are a key part of the industry. We grow and sustain these varieties, whether developed privately or publicly. It is important for breeders, seed growers, merchants and industry officials to understand our perspective in real world cropping situations. This feedback is essential.”
Nick Matheson, an MCA director and flax committee delegate from Stonewall, MB, agrees that farmer feedback is extremely valuable in this arena.
“Farmers are the actual boots on the ground growing the commodity,” he says. “I think it’s very important to have farmer perspective at these meetings because the varieties need to meet the needs of farmers.”
Mallorie Lewarne, MCA’s agronomy extension specialist for cereal crops, adds that the PGDC is a great opportunity for farmers to directly interact with the scientific community and highlight the issues that are most prevalent on their farms.
“It is at these meetings we get to know the attributes of varieties coming forward for commercialization,” says Lori-Ann Kaminski, research program manager for cereal crops at MCA.
“We are judging upcoming lines against ‘merit criteria’ that we set. Farmers at this meeting can have a voice (vote) on any changes to those merit characteristics and get a look at how prospective lines stack up in field trials over two or three years, depending on crop type, at multiple Prairie locations.”
MCA also invests directly in the delivery of field-ready barley, flax and wheat varieties from Western Canada’s public breeding programs at the University of Manitoba, the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, the University of Alberta and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Western wheat and barley commissions formed the Canadian Wheat Research Coalition and the Canadian Barley Research Coalition to facilitate this collaborative approach to farmer funding of regional and national research projects in variety development and agronomy, including Core Breeding Agreements, the Canadian National Wheat Cluster and the Canadian National Barley Cluster.
Through these investments, Kaminski says, the “entire value chain is working together to build Canada’s reputation for quality and consistency.”
For Qually, Canada’s reputation around the world of producing the finest quality grains and oilseeds is key to the success of our industry at home.
“The variety registration system allows the industry and whole value chain to work together and decide what lines will be best, while maintaining our status of quality throughout the world,” he says. “It also allows the breeders to listen to the rest of the industry’s concerns and suggestions for making our grain and oilseed varieties all they can be.”
After attending the PRCWRT agronomy evaluation team meeting and annual meeting, Ryan Hueging, an MCA director and wheat and barley committee delegate from Woodlands, MB, says he is confident he will have access to new varieties that will improve profitability on his farm, and that these varieties will contain the quality buyers are looking for.
The variety registration system provides important information (the merit criteria) for farmers, such as disease ratings, agronomy characteristics and quality. This information also goes into Seed Manitoba.
“Farmers can evaluate risks specific to their area and decide on varieties to plant,” says Sheila Elder, a farmer from Wawanesa, MB, and chair of MCA’s wheat and barley crop committee.
“For example, in areas with fewer ‘growing degree days’ a shorter-season crop can be considered; for areas with risk of Fusarium head blight (FHB), a more resistant variety can be chosen; and if a farmer wants to grow a crop that has a higher risk of lodging, an appropriate growth regulator could be considered.”
When asked to share one takeaway from the meetings, there was general consensus recognizing all of the hard work and dedication that goes into developing varieties, as well as the organization, time and skills that go into gathering a large, diverse group together to decide on which lines to advance.
“My one takeaway would be that there is a lot of hard work and dedication put into creating varieties that are progressively improving,” says Hueging. “That comes from a very good collaborative effort to get all members of each specific segment of our industry to share their knowledge.”
Lewarne says she always leaves the PGDC meetings with an immense respect for the plant breeders, as well as the geneticists, pathologists and everybody else who works alongside them.
“Canada has a reputation for its high-quality wheat, and the breeders work tirelessly to maintain or exceed those standards for our customers around the world, while also taking farmers’ needs into consideration,” she says. “It seems like the target is constantly moving, but our Canadian breeders show up each year with new lines that improve on disease, agronomy and quality characteristics.”
MCA staff and farmers at PGDC meetings in Banff, March 2023. From left Rauri Qually, Ryan Hueging (back), Mallorie Lewarne, Lori-Ann Kaminski, Nick Matheson (back) and Sheila Elder.
What happened at Banff in 2023?
Wheat, Rye and Triticale – 12 CWRS, two CWAD, four CPSR, one CWSWS, one rye, one spring triticale, and two winter triticale lines brought forward. Breeders are always working to meet or exceed merit criteria, so a lot of culling happens before lines are brought forward at the committee meetings. All but three were supported for registration (two CWRS and one CPSR). Over the last few years, the committee has been assessing which newer varieties should be used as our standards or checks. New FHB checks are to be implemented in 2024 because current intermediate checks are looking more moderately susceptible, especially for durum. Hoping to do some post-registration testing to update Seed Manitoba.
Barley – 12 lines brought forward (three general purpose, seven malt and two food) and 10 were supported for registration. Both lines not supported were proposed as malting varieties.
Flax – There were no new varieties brought forward this year, as upcoming lines are still in the data-gathering stages.
What happens next?
The recommendations from PGDC go forward to the Canadian Grain Commission for assignment of market class and the Variety Registration Office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for registration. At the same time, breeding institutions and companies are making decisions about commercialization.
If you are interested in learning more about the PGDC, please reach out to MCA staff, directors or crop committee delegates, or visit pgdc.ca.
Cereals Canada and the Canadian Grain Commission recently launched the 2022 New Wheat Crop Report at a series of webinars targeted to global customers of Canadian wheat. This month, the report will be shared in person when delegations representing the cereals value chain travel to over 15 countries in Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This will be the first time in nearly three years that the report has been presented in person.
Sheila Elder, a delegate on Manitoba Crop Alliance’s wheat and barley crop committee, will be travelling with the group on the Latin American leg of the tour. She will visit Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile and represent Canadian farmers at over a dozen seminars and meetings. In addition to providing a summary of 2022 Canadian growing conditions,Elder will talk about the growing conditions in her area, share her science-based production practices and answer questions from the audience.
Hearing directly from a Canadian grower is always a popular component of both the virtual and in-person meetings, as it provides a direct link between the customer and grower and puts a face on Canadian grain production. For Elder, this experience is an incredible opportunity to represent Canadian cereals growers and get a better understanding of customer interest from an availability,milling quality and end-product use perspective.
Sustainability labels on food packaging can be found in the grocery stores on everything from coffee to chocolate and even on wine. Food and beverage packages that contain Canadian wheat have not seen an ecolabel applied to their products until now with the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel. The Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel program is a solution that benefits Canadian wildlife habitats, the environment and the economy.
Research by Ducks Unlimited shows that winter wheat provides ground cover in the spring to help reduce soil erosion and offers nesting habitat for wildlife, especially waterfowl and songbirds in Western Canada.
While bread and flour are obvious products that could be certified, any food or beverage brands that use western winter wheat are eligible. For example, Beam Suntory, a world leader in premium spirits, received certification for its newly launched Northern Keep Vodka, a premium craft vodka that is committed to sustainability and land protection.
“We’re thrilled to announce that Northern Keep Vodka is one of the first brands in Canada to be accredited as a certified Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat product. This highly coveted certification assists consumers in identifying environmentally friendly products that provide critical habitats for ducks, birds and other Canadian wildlife,” says Danielle Milette, senior brand manager of Northern Keep Vodka.
Northern Keep Vodka believes in preserving Canada’s natural resources and has partnered with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect ecologically significant parts of the country. “Sustainability and protection of the lands that have gifted us the bounty of grains needed to create this premium vodka are at the core of everything Northern Keep Vodka does,” Milette says.
Consumers will start to see the branded ecolabel on Northern Keep Vodka product promotions in local liquor stores this spring.
“As the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat program grows with more companies, choosing products with the ecolabel helps supports Canadian farmers while making a positive impact on the environment,” says Doug Martin, winter wheat farmer from East Selkirk, MB. “By working together from field to product, we are showcasing one part of Canadian agriculture’s sustainability story.”
Manitoba Crop Alliance has partnered with Cereals Canada to develop this ecolabel in co-operation with the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission and Ducks Unlimited Canada. The ecolabel highlights the ecological benefits of winter wheat to consumers and creates new marketing opportunities that increase demand for winter wheat.
The Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel program promotes western Canadian winter wheat, while also sharing the environmental benefits that are inherent in this crop. “It is an innovative approach to market development that taps into growing consumer demand for sustainable products,” says Daniel Ramage, director of market access and trade policy at Cereals Canada. It also represents an opportunity to communicate agriculture’s positive contributions to the environment.
Farmers can participate in the program by growing western Canadian winter wheat and delivering it to a certified processor or end user. Grain handlers, mills and food manufacturers can become certified through an application and audit to confirm they can appropriately document grain segregation and track flour blending to meet the required 30 per cent minimum percentage of winter wheat for certified flour.
Along with Northern Keep Vodka, another company using the ecolabel is Les Moulins de Soulanges, a specialty flour manufacturer based in Quebec’s Montérégie region. They are sourcing Manitoba winter wheat to sell certified habitat-friendly winter wheat flour to bakers across North America. Both companies found a fit with the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat program that puts sustainability at the forefront.
“We want to see this program expand. We are always looking for more companies to get certified and to use the ecolabel, and more farmers to grow winter wheat,” says Ramage. “We are excited about new partners joining the program and look forward to announcing the addition of another participating brand later this spring.”
Learn more about the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel program at habitatwheat.ca
Learn more about the Northern Keep Vodka and their sustainability efforts at northernkeep.ca
East Selkirk, MB, winter wheat farmer and MCA wheat and barley committee delegate Doug Martin