WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Saskatchewan will not force its first two farms infested with clubroot disease to stop growing canola for a number of years, as some Alberta municipalities have done, a government official for the Western Canadian province said on Wednesday.
Clubroot has ravaged European crops for centuries and was first detected 10 years ago in Alberta, the main Canadian province affected by the disease.
Two farmers in north central Saskatchewan found symptoms of clubroot, which cuts crop yields, on their plants this autumn.
The government in Saskatchewan, the biggest canola-growing province, will help the farmers and local government authorities make plans to contain the disease, said Faye Dokken-Bouchard, the province's plant disease specialist.
Those will include recommendations that are already standard for all farmers - not to grow canola more often than once every four years, scouting fields and cleaning equipment before moving it from field to field.
Unlike in Alberta, no Saskatchewan municipality currently has a bylaw to order farmers to stop growing canola in infected fields, Dokken-Bouchard said.
"I'm giving the grower the empowerment to come up with a plan and work together, rather than putting (canola rotation) into a regulation," she said. "But that doesn't mean it couldn't happen in the future."
Many Alberta municipalities have banned canola planting on infected fields for several years, said Murray Hartman, Alberta's oilseed specialist.
That province had more than 500 infested fields as of last autumn and another 200 to 300 were detected this year, he said.
Clubroot prevents the canola plant's roots from taking in nutrients and water, cutting yields on average about 25 percent, and can stay in the soil for up to 20 years.
Canada is the world's top exporter of canola, a rapeseed variant.
The most critical step to containing clubroot is to ensure infected soil doesn't move to new fields, said Rod Merryweather, North American director of seeds and traits at Bayer CropScience, one of Canada's biggest canola seed suppliers.
"I think (Saskatchewan) is going far enough if they emphasize the best prevention for this, and that's for farmers to ensure they have got proper sanitation to prevent (disease spores) from getting in their fields in the first place."
A contributing factor to clubroot's spread has been farmers growing canola too often, as its attractive prices have encouraged them to grow it as often as possible.
Canadian canola production has steadily grown and is forecast to reach a record-high 12.9 million metric tons this year due to strong global oilseed demand and expansion of domestic seed-crushing capacity.
Ultimately, clubroot will spread across all three Prairie provinces, Hartman said.
"Our best hope is to slow the spread so we can get more options to control it."
There are currently three clubroot-resistant canola varieties on the market, from seed companies Bayer, Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by David Gregorio