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Come walk the crops with us - Biosecurity on the farm

By Gideon Olaleye, AAg, Extension Agrologist Intern and Sara Doerksen, AAg, Extension Agrologist Intern

Field season is picking up and there is a lot of movement going on in the fields. When travelling between farms, either by foot or with machinery, biosecurity is something that farmers and agronomists should be thinking about. On our May 22 Crop Walk, we discussed what biosecurity is and some things you can do to improve biosecurity on the farm.

Biosecurity refers to a series of different management practices designed to prevent, minimize or control the introduction and spread of plant pests (diseases, weeds and insects) to a field. This is done by restricting or preventing the movement of soil and plant material, such as seed, root fragments and residues, that may result in the movement of a crop pest.

Clubroot is caused by a soil-borne pathogen that overwinters in the soil and can be spread by soil movement caused by wind erosion, water erosion and wildlife. However, the largest potential vector for spread is through human activity that moves large volumes of soil from one field or region to another. This can include field machinery, vehicles and other activities, such as walking when soils are wet.

In our first video, we discussed why it is important for farmers to think about biosecurity. Different farms or fields can have different pests present. Thinking of and taking biosecurity measures can help prevent the introduction of new pests on your farm. It can also minimize the spread of pests between fields. This will potentially allow for fewer inputs to be used and, in the end, reduce the need for pesticides or other management costs.

The risk of moving crop pests increases when work is conducted across multiple farms or over a large geographic area. When visiting any field or farm, there are a couple of different things you can think about to improve biosecurity for yourself and for the owner of the field you are visiting. In the second video in our Crop Walk this week we talked about and advised the following biosecurity measures:

  • Restrict the entry of vehicles unless they have been properly cleaned;
  • Park on the side of the road and not in the field;
  • Wear disposable boot covers when entering a field, and remove and dispose of them properly when exiting; and
  • If you are not wearing disposable boot covers, remove soil from your boots using a brush and then disinfect them with a two per cent sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solution for at least 20 minutes.
Disposable boot cover
Disposable boot cover.

If you are not wearing boot covers, it is important to knock any soil off of and disinfect your shoes. Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient in bleach and is the most effective disinfectant for killing the clubroot pathogen. Household bleach contains approximately four to six per cent sodium hypochlorite. Knowing the per cent sodium hypochlorite concentration will help you dilute it appropriately to prepare a two per cent disinfection solution.

In our third video, we talked about how to clean your machinery and other simple management practices that can be used during the growing season to prevent and minimize the spread of clubroot on farms. Similar to cleaning off your shoes, it is important to knock any large chunks of soil off your equipment between fields, even if you only have 10 to 15 minutes between fields. Remember that if you remove 90 per cent of the soil, you are reducing your risk of moving pests by 90 per cent. Using an air compressor or pressure washer will help clean off the machinery even better and help to clean harder-to-reach areas.

Washing equipment is especially important if you are buying used machinery from areas that are at high risk for containing a certain pest. You may want to consider pressure washing and disinfecting the new machinery with a two per cent sodium hypochlorite solution. Let the disinfection solution sit for at least 20 minutes and then rinse it off with water. This is also recommended after working in fields that you know carry a certain disease or pest that you don't want to move to other fields. To make this easier, always visit high-risk fields last. This will give you more time to clean equipment and minimize introducing the pest into other fields where it is not already present.

Some other simple management practices that can improve biosecurity on your farm may include:

  • Avoid working in wet or muddy conditions. When the soil is wet, more soil will be carried on the equipment and it will be more difficult to remove once it dries;
  • Seed using zero or minimum tillage to help prevent soil movement on the field;
  • Create a separate entrance and exit in each field, if possible. Clubroot is often first introduced at the field entrance, and pathogen levels will often be highest in this area. A separate exit will prevent you from moving soil with high pathogen levels to the next field. This can be further improved by seeding a sod-forming grass at the entrance and exit to further minimize soil movement and create a clean area for soil-knockoff;
  • If any pest is known or suspected to occur in a field, always visit the infected field last and clean your equipment before working in other fields; and
  • Consider posting no-trespassing signs on your fields to minimize unauthorized vehicles from driving in them.

It is important to talk openly about your biosecurity expectations with all individuals who are working on or have access to your land. By talking about and including even just a few new biosecurity tips on your farm, it will reduce your risk of introducing and spreading new pests.

To see more information on what was discussed on our biosecurity Crop Walk video, check out the videos stored on the Ministry of Agriculture's Facebook page. For more information on biosecurity you can visit Biosecurity for Preventing the Introduction of Crop Pests.

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