Canada - Successful pest protection and prevention programs

02.02.2023 126 views

Pests of all kinds — weeds, animals, insects or diseases — would like to find a good home on your crop production acres.

Prevention is by far the best method of pest control. If you can stop or prevent the pest from gaining a foothold on your acres, you are winning the battle. You do not have to pay for expensive or labour-intensive pest control procedures.


When I first settled in Alberta, I was told about the rat program by none other than the well-known Alberta pest control specialist, Joseph Gurba. Rats cause many millions of dollars in damage to crops, food losses and buildings in Canada annually.

Joe Gurba reasoned that rats (Norway rats) were going to move in on the province along the Saskatchewan and Montana borders. If Alberta Agriculture could eliminate rats from Alberta landfills and grain-holding or storage areas followed by frequent border patrols, rats could be eliminated from the province. Joe knew full well there were no rats in the Northwest Territories or along the Rocky Mountain Foothills.

The Rat Control Program under the Alberta Agriculture Pest Act was started in 1950. This prevention program has saved countless tonnage of all kinds of food and feed grains and many millions of dollars annually from spoilage in the form of rat feces, urine and hair common in other grain areas of Canada.

Rat prevention may well have prevented some rat-borne diseases and the extensive damage rats can do to storage buildings and housing.

In the 1970s, this program cost little more than $50,000 annually and even in 2007 its cost did not exceed $350,000. This would contrast with millions of tons of rat-infested grain crop spoilage and the very thought of consuming rat hair, feces and urine in grain products.

Bacterial ring rot

In 1981, I took over the Bacterial Ring Rot of Potato program for Alberta Agriculture. This devastating disease was a scourge of the potato industry worldwide, causing huge crop losses in Canada. I have no idea how many thousands of researchers had worked on this disease from Europe to the Americas, but it was never controlled.

John Stenrue, a colleague of mine, and I worked closely with all Alberta potato growers from seed to sale. We followed up on every outbreak of this quarantinable bacterial pest (Clavibacter michiganensis). We collaborated with Agriculture Canada in British Columbia over several years.

By 1986, we had the full answer. This ring rot bacterium shocked the world’s potato industry. It could survive and multiply in absolutely symptomless potatoes. This disease is now fully understood and prevention procedures resulted in it rarely showing up in North American potato stocks. Canadian collaborative research solved a major worldwide disease problem in potatoes, leading to full control of a costly and destructive potato production problem.


In the early 1980s, it became obvious that a new virulent strain of blackleg was very destructive on canola crops in Saskatchewan. The virulent fungal disease organism (Leptosphaeria maculans) was declared a pest in Alberta. Alberta growers were advised to plant only canola seed that had been tested and found to be free of this virulent fungal disease organism. It was run provincewide as the Blackleg Disease Control Program.

While major losses to this disease occurred in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Alberta cropland remained virtually free of this destructive fungus for many years. Eventually, blackleg-resistant canola varieties became available. It was estimated independently that Alberta growers were saved from more than half a billion dollars in canola yield revenue losses as a consequence of this control program.

Dutch elm disease

No doubt you have heard of Dutch elm disease. This disease has wiped out many millions of elm trees in North America, from the East Coast to the West Coast. The province of Alberta is the only jurisdiction among the Canadian provinces and in the United States with its million elm trees free of this tree-killing fungus. There are a few healthy elms in British Columbia but Alberta, with its full municipal co-operation and the very small annual grant of $110,000, has kept the province free of this disease.

The prevention program called STOPDED has been successful with more than a million healthy elms in the province. If you want to see groves of awesome, mature elms, once common in North American cities, you now have to visit Alberta.

Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan run Dutch elm disease control programs. In these provinces, a lot of the work involves finding and removing diseased elm trees. These programs in the larger cities and urban areas are estimated to cost Manitoba and Saskatchewan around $5,000,000 and $2,000,000, respectively, each year. Some 50 per cent of all majestic trees in both Edmonton and Calgary are elm trees correctly called “American elms.” Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan still have large numbers of healthy elm trees but the disease is difficult to control.

Fusarium head blight

Finally, on to the Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) control program. All cereal seed sold in Alberta must be certified free of head blight caused by Fusarium graminearum. The program lasted from around 2000-2020, about 20 years. In that time, Alberta cereal grain growers were saved from billions of dollars in crop losses. They were the sole providers of malting barley in Canada. The province remained virtually free of FHB until pressure from seed growers to bring in new cereal varieties caused the program to be dropped, against the wishes of the majority of cereal grain growers. In that time span, both Manitoba and Saskatchewan growers suffered huge wheat and barley crop losses amounting to billions of dollars over those 20 years. Better disease-controlling fungicides and more FHB-resistant varieties as well as grain cleaning procedures have now greatly lessened the effects of this destructive disease.

The preceding examples from rats to potatoes illustrate that Prairie growers, given the right advice and willing co-operation, can do much to mitigate or even prevent crop yield losses on a Prairie-wide scale.

Remember, the happiest people do not have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.

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