Windsor

A new computer program to give ammunition to fight corn mould

Grain farmers in Ontario are hoping a new computer program that will forecast the best time to apply a fungicide will give them ammunition to protect their corn and wheat crops from a mould that devastated 600,000 acres of corn last year.

Forecasting tool to predict when best to spray for DON

A sample of an ear of field corn infected with DON. If a grain has DON in too high concentrations, it can't be used for animal feed. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Grain farmers in Ontario are hoping a new computer program that will forecast the best time to apply a fungicide will give them ammunition to protect their corn and wheat crops from a mould that devastated 600,000 acres of corn last year.

The disease is called deoxynivalenol (DON) and it can result in entire crops to be rejected at grain elevators.

"Anything that helps is a positive thing," said Markus Haerle, chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Research funded by Canada and Ontario is currently under way to develop the computer tool.

The program will analyze weather data to predict when the corn or wheat is going to flower, which is the optimum time to spray the crop.

"That's looking at weather patterns, moisture of the air, if there's more precipitation at certain times of the year and we have to identify when the onset of that DON is actually going to happen," said Haerle.

Stoney Point area grain farmer Leo Guilbeault said if it works well, the computer forecasting tool will be better than the guessing game the farmers play now.

 "It depends on how well the plant is growing relative to the weather, what the weather patterns are for the few days and weeks, following the application. And all that has to tie in together," said Guilbeault.

"You can plug in your planting date and the program will follow the weather patterns and kind of give you a ballpark figure of when's the optimum time to apply fungicide."

"We are pleased to have the support of the federal and provincial governments on this program," said Barry Senft, CEO of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

The DON infestation last year caused millions of dollars in damage to crops across Ontario including Essex County.

Haerle said the losses are still being tallied and they won't know the total damage until later this year. That's because some of the corn has yet to be sold.

However, the computer program won't be ready until the end of next year, so the farmers are keeping their fingers crossed this season and next season won't be as wet as last year.

"We continue to work closely with representatives of Ontario's corn sector, processors and other industry partners, to develop immediate and long-term solutions to help farmers affected by DON," writes Julian Neal, communications advisor to Ontario agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman in an email.

"We are also supporting the Grain Farmers of Ontario with up to $550,000, through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, to conduct research on storage, testing and evaluating corn hybrids for disease resistance."

Meanwhile, Guilbeault adds the grain farmers in Essex County might not have to worry about a corn crop this year if the wet weather continues.

Planting has been delayed two weeks. If they can't get into the fields by June 1, they'll have to switch over to planting soy beans which can wait until the third week in June.

Guilbeault said they need five to seven days of warm, dry, windy weather to dry out the fields.

"There's still water laying in some fields from the last rain we had," said Guilbeault.

About the Author

Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is an award-winning video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print.

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