The Ontario garlic industry is gradually working to create a cleaner seed supply, which should help reduce disease transmission on cloves.
“There is no certified seed in Canada at this time,” says Joann Chechalk president of the Garlic Growers Association of Ontario, and a Smithville, Ont. garlic grower. “Other countries are developing it. Spain and some of the European countries have got it. To date we don’t have anything.”
A previous program that grew clean seed from bulbits, and then planted them in clean growing medium in greenhouses in New Liskeard is on hold after the person who ran the program for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), retired.
It produced clean seed, but was expensive and took three or four years, according to Chechalk.
The challenge with garlic seed is that it is the actual cloves from a previous year’s production that are used for the next season. A garlic clove is a softer seed, with a thin vegetative coating, compared to the hard coating of most seeds, like corn or soybeans.
That means that the most problematic of garlic diseases can be carried by the seed.
“There is no certification program, so no one knows what pests are in the seed such as stem and bulb nematode, or fusarium,” says Michael Celetti, OMAFRA’s horticulture pathologist, and a speaker at a recent garlic growers field day near Dashwood. “By having a clean seed program that is certifiable, people are watching the crop that will be next year’s seed, and monitoring it. It originates from tissue culture or a clean source that is absolutely pest free, grown in an isolated area and sold to growers.”
Stem and bulb nematode is the top disease challenge for garlic and is spread via seed. Once it is in soil, it is difficult to manage.
“The pest is inside the cloves,” says Celetti. “When you sell infected cloves, you are selling the problem.”
Nematodes like wet years and as they move when there’s lots of water.
Stem and bulb nematode is aptly named because you see symptoms in June when the plants are scaping and where the roots meet the bulb, will become weak.
“Growers say they have no roots, but the roots are there, they just separate from the ball,” he says.
Plants will also be stunted and leaves will start turning brown.
Symptoms are similar to the way the fusarium attacks the plant, and as such OMAFRA is working with Dr. Mary Ruth McDonald at the University of Guelph on a large integrated pest management study on the stem and bulb nematode and fusarium.
Until a certified seed program and the protocols around them are developed, Celetti is continuing to work on seed treatments and seed dips, but they are challenging to get approved by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
Chechalk says the quality of garlic seed is much improved in Ontario, despite the lack of a certified program, and farmers are making decisions based on seed source and soil health. Many are saving their own garlic for seed, once they’ve tested fields for disease and sorted their garlic for the best quality. That includes Van Raay Farms who hosted the recent field day. Martin Van Raay told garlic growers at the field day that they are in their third year of growing garlic, and have invested in garlic processing, including being able to crack garlic for their own seed.
They are also building a new area that will allow them to dry, cure and bag garlic.
Chechalk says the garlic growers need the support of the provincial government in order to develop a certified system. Celetti suggested that may be possible and encouraged growers to look to the next agriculture policy framework – whatever follows Growing Forward 2 – to help fund a clean seed program.