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Combating Devastating Disease

Sclerotinia (White Mold)

Nuseed’s North American Sunflower Product Manager and Quality Commercial Lead, Alison Pokrzywinski, offers her insights into the challenges and future opportunities for the sunflower and canola sectors.

What are the biggest challenges and how can they be overcome?

Sclerotinia (commonly known as white mold) is a devastating disease that plagues both of these crops. Since sclerotinia effects so many crops across numerous regions, a coalition of commodity associations were formed to help understand and combat this devastating disease. Sclerotinia resistance is a quantitative trait that involves many genes and the environment, making it very difficult to breed for in both crops. To date, there is no actual resistance of sclerotinia in either crop, but there are hybrids available with increased levels of tolerance. In canola, fungicides are effective in helping to prevent the disease in any given growing season. The challenge is understanding what the level of infection risk is and if it warrants a fungicide application. Several factors are often considered such as: environmental conditions prior to flowering, density of the canopy, yield potential, weather forecast, genetics, and presence of the disease. Sunflowers on the other hand are not so fortunate. Sclerotinia can affect sunflowers one of three ways: headrot, mid-stalk rot or basal rot and all three involve different genes. While many fungicides have been tested to combat sclerotinia in sunflowers, none have been shown to have high levels of activity in preventing the disease.

For tips on fighting sclerotinia and to learn why associations such as the National Sunflower Association and NDSU Extension are so critical to producers:


What are the key topics/issues that canola and sunflower growers are facing right now?

Each of these crops has a different set of key topics and challenges. Research funding can sometimes be limited when the acres just aren’t there. For example, there are countless university and public breeding programs for other crops such as corn and wheat, but only one public sunflower breeding program for sunflowers, which is the USDA-ARS based out of Fargo, N.D. Luckily, there are some great associations out there to help keep research going for these niche crops such as the National Canola Research Program (NCRP) and the National Sunflower Association (NSA). Having access to the public work that the USDA-ARS in Fargo does helps to complement our U.S.-based sunflower breeding program.

What do you foresee for the industry in 2021 and beyond?

Continued support of associations and initiatives such as the NSA, NCRP and NSI are important to niche crops such as canola and sunflowers. I foresee companies such as Nuseed continuing to work alongside other sunflower programs like the USDA-ARS Sunflower Unit in Fargo to bring forward the best genetics possible for our growing regions.