Today, Canadian lentil crops are threatened by a root rot disease called aphanomyces. No fungicides can kill it. Farmers can only slow it down through crop rotation—planting other crops for a few years before planting peas and lentils again.
Peas, lentils and other pulses require significantly less fertilizer than many crops, so they are more sustainable and less costly to grow. For farmers, growing fewer pulses can mean making less money.
When a disease or other issue puts domestic crops at risk, plant breeders are called on to breed a plant immune to that danger. To find the traits they need, breeders sometimes turn to the crops’ hardier wild relatives.
To breed a lentil that can resist this disease, scientists at the University of Saskatchewan have turned to crop wild relatives.
Unlike domestic crops, which grow in the most idea conditions farmers can provide, wild plants must fight to survive. Weeds, bugs, and plant diseases have pushed wild plants to evolve over millennia or die trying.
But while crop wild relatives are important sources of genetic diversity, human’s land development, climate change, and even conflict in the Middle East, are gradually making these plants harder to find.
Contributors: Geralyn Witchers, Robin Booker