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Meet a Researcher - Jocelyn Smith, Research Scientist at the University of Guelph

Jocelyn Smith is a Research Scientist in Field Crop Pest Management at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus. Smith earned her Bachelor of Science and Masters Degrees at the University of Guelph and focused her PhD research on western bean cutworm in corn. Smith lives near Sarnia, Ontario and is involved in her multi-generation family farm cropping corn, soybeans, wheat and sugar beets.

Where did you work before?

I started working with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) as a summer student in Ridgetown for a couple of years. After I finished my undergrad, I was hired as a Research Assistant with Tracey Baute, Field Crop Entomologist with OMAFRA. That’s when I met Dr. Art Schaafsma, Field Crop Pest Management Professor at Ridgetown Campus. He asked me if I was interested in doing my Masters with him, which I was. The day after my MSc defence I started working for Art as a Research Technician and I’ve been here ever since. I’m now a Research Scientist and I am managing the entomology research at Ridgetown since Dr. Schaafsma retired earlier this year.

What got you interested in this area of work?

It wasn’t until my third year of university that I took my first entomology course. I grew up on a farm and I always knew I wanted to do some kind of research related to agriculture. Entomology really grabbed my interest and it all fit together nicely. The entomology world is endlessly fascinating and always changing. There’s a never-ending number of questions we can study when it comes to pest management.

Tell us a bit about the Mitigation and management of Cry1F resistance in European corn borer in Canada project.

Resistance to Bt corn in European corn borer (ECB) was discovered in Nova Scotia (NS) in 2018. The original Bt corn technology was designed to control ECB and has been highly effective since 1996. Up until 2018 there hadn’t been any field evolved resistance cases of ECB. It’s pretty interesting that it happened in Canada, and NS of all places, especially because of the magnitude of corn being grown in the US Corn Belt and only 35,000 acres of corn grown in NS.

We believe there could be a number of reasons why it may have happened. Originally, Bt hybrids only expressed one Bt protein against ECB. As time went on, more of these Bt proteins were developed and transformed into corn plants by seed companies. So, we have mainly adopted pyramid Bt hybrids in most of the corn growing regions where the plant expresses more than one protein against ECB. Therefore, you have multiple modes of action working against the pests and the chance of resistance happening is much lower. We understand now know that in some of these smaller, shorter season markets, single Bt protein hybrids were still being sold. As a result, there may have been more selection pressure placed on these isolated populations which could be one reason that led to the resistance in NS.

The Mitigation and management of Cry1F resistance in ECB in Canada is the first project we’ve had with Manitoba Crop Alliance (MCA). We really wanted to get Manitoba producers involved with this project because the corn hybrids that are available to the NS market are very similar to those available in the Manitoba market. There are smaller acreages in the province and shorter season hybrids (older genetics) which may still only have the single Bt proteins expressed. This could put Manitoba producers at high risk for resistance.

The project is funded through NSERC and partially financially supported in part by MCA. A new Alliance Program with multiple partners (NSERC matches funding two to one) includes:

  • Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO)
  • Atlantic Grains Council
  • Manitoba Crop Alliance
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Manitoba Agriculture
  • Centre de recherche sur les grains (CÉROM)
  • Perennia Food and Agriculture Inc.
  • Bayer
  • Syngenta
  • Pioneer
  • Ohio State University

All of these partners are also involved in the Canadian Corn Pest Coalition (CCPC) www.cornpest.ca.

Because ECB was controlled so successfully for the last 25 years using Bt corn, it fell off the research radar and we forgot about it as a major pest, which it still can be. Through this project we are stepping back to look at the general biology of ECB in Canada, specifically the situation in NS.

We have a number of questions about ECB, starting with the basics like biology, number of generations per year in Canada and what host crops they are using. We’re studying these resistant populations to determine:

  • Their life history characteristics,
  • Whether the field-evolved resistance is unique compared to resistance developed in the lab,
  • Are they susceptible to the other Bt proteins that are still available?
  • Will there be new Bt proteins we control with down the road?
  • Will alternate host crops other than corn have an impact on how we can control the resistant populations?

Finally, how can we manage the resistance populations is the biggest question because we don’t want the resistance to spread any further or evolve in other areas.

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

I think it’s really important that farmers are involved in funding and supporting research. We’re really fortunate in Canada that this model is strong and we have good, strong relationships with farmers. Farmers can direct research they feel is important and direct the research priorities to make their operations more sustainable.

How does that farmer funding and support directly benefit farmers?

The goal of the research is to make the results practical and something producers can utilize. We can incorporate some of the basic research and underlying science to produce an applicable tool or practice for the growers at the end.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

Farming outside of my job keeps me busy. I also enjoy golfing, gardening, going to the beach and doing crafty things like stained glass.

How do you celebrate agriculture?

I grew up in a family of farmers on both sides so agriculture has always been a part of my life. It’s been one of the most rewarding fields to work in even though its very hard work. To me, celebrating agriculture is appreciating that and understanding how important it is in everyone’s lives.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

My dad has always said, ‘It’s a poor day if you don’t learn something’. I think I got a lot of my love for science from him. He’s a farmer whose always been super curious and interested in biology and science.

Follow @jocelynlsmith on Twitter.