Canadian fruit growers need the best varieties of plants to be successful. In the case of Canadian strawberry growers, they grow the best varieties of plants, which foreign buyers demand. The import and export of fruit plants, however, must go through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to test for potentially devastating plant viruses. Currently, this testing and quarantine process takes an average of three years to complete, significantly hampering the speed of trade.

Today, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay announced that the CFIA will lead two projects worth $500,000 that use new DNA-based technologies to reduce quarantine testing time, helping to boost trade and economic competitiveness in the $240-million Canadian fruit tree industry.

The first project will dramatically shorten the testing period of seeds, cuttings and bulbs imported into Canada to grow new varieties of plants. With this funding, scientists will use DNA technology to test for all viruses associated with imported plants to get an early indication of any plant diseases present. This approach could reduce the quarantine testing time by up to two-and-a-half years.

“Canadian import/export markets will be stronger and more competitive because of these genomics-based tools. Early detection of pathogens and viruses is a vital outcome of genomics and it is being applied across many key economic sectors,” said Catalina Lopez-Correa, chief scientific officer and vice-president for Genome British Columbia.

The second project streamlines the testing of strawberry plants. Traditionally, multiple tests for viruses are required before exporting strawberry plants to foreign markets. This project will test for multiple viruses in one single test, dramatically reducing the time and cost to get plants to market.

“The ability to potentially evaluate new varieties with next generation sequencing methods will exponentially speed up the present evaluation system and allow Canadian growers to remain competitive by providing access to new varieties from around the world in a timely fashion,” added Nick Ibuki, operations manager at Summerland Varieties Corporation.

Funding for these projects is provided through a partnership between the CFIA, Genome British Columbia, Summerland Varieties Corporation, Phyto Diagnostics, the British Columbia Cherry Association, and Vineland Research and Innovations Centre.

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