Independent research companies like Gaia Consulting are an important part of getting new products approved for the potato industry.

When a company makes a new potato protection product there are a few things they have to do to get it registered by the Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). Among the boxes to check, they need to see how it performs across the country which is where independent contract research companies come into the picture.

“Any company, if they work with potatoes at all, or potato products, or registering potato products, are going to do trials with us at least sometimes. They all know who we are. And we work with all of them,” says Darin Gibson with Gaia Consulting in an interview in Portage la Prairie, Man. “We probably do as many trials as anybody in Canada. And so, we’re sort of the main ones in the Prairies that do contract research with potato.”

Darin Gibson
Darin Gibson with Gaia Consulting showing a promising selection in a field near Newton, Man. Photo: Gaia Consulting

Across Canada there are various small companies, such as Gaia Consulting and Atlantic AgriTech, who work with various companies. These contract research companies collect data on the efficacy of the product in various locations across the country. This data is then provided to the PMRA for the product’s registration approval.

“Contract research organizations, they’re pretty vital to the potato industry in Canada. That’s mainly because the potato production is diverse across the country,” Jen Foster, agronomic services manager with Syngenta, explains in a phone interview. “We rely on these contract research organizations to expand that footprint, looking for product consistency across multiple geographies.”

Syngenta has been working with Gaia Consulting for data on their products in Manitoba for more than a decade. Foster says Gaia Consulting has tested seed treatment products, fungicides, insecticides, foliar fungicides, and foliar insecticides for them.

These local contract research companies aren’t just important for testing products, Foster says they also rely on them for information about what’s happening in the potato industry.

“Without their expertise we wouldn’t know if we were building solutions that are really fit for the local market. And we have ongoing conversations with Darin to understand what those local needs are of the growers he works with to really make sure we’re hitting all the marks and expectations,” she explains.

Testing the Products

For the companies doing that testing there is lots to keep track of. Depending on what the product is supposed to do, they need to try and expose it to that pest or disease. For example, if a product is supposed to protect against Colorado potato beetles (CPBs) then they need to use it in a potato field which has high incidences of CPB infestation.

“When a client comes to us with testing, whatever they’re looking at, certain pest, we endeavour to find that pest in the province. If it’s a certain soil type, we endeavor to find that. We have great relationships with the growers, and quite often they’re so kind to let us do research in their fields,” Debbie Jones with Gaia Consulting explains in an interview in Portage la Prairie, Man.

The contract research companies also pay attention to which potato cultivars are more susceptible to diseases. Jones says they’ll listen at grower meetings to find out which cultivars are showing susceptibility and then will use those for testing.

“For trials you need a susceptible variety, and you need the conditions that will be conducive to development of the disease or harbour the insects or whatever that you’re testing against, and you got to have the weeds,” Gibson adds.

And while it may seem that these contract research companies are on the hunt for all things bad in growers’ fields, they only are because they want to help growers in the long run.

Debbie Jones
Debbie Jones with Gaia Consulting making selections in a field near Portage la Prairie, Man. Photo: Gaia Consulting

“We want to help the grower so much, like providing information and whatever. If it’s providing information to the crop protection company, so they’re getting products out or anything like that,” Jones says.

Even though they may be the first to work these products, contract research companies aren’t always exactly sure what the products they’re working with are. Companies will provide the new products to them as numbered products.

“For different products, we don’t even know what they are. The they’ll bring us a protocol that might have, for example a seed treatment fungicide trial, and it’ll be 10 different treatments in different products alone or in combination, that we’re testing for,” Gibson explains.

The tested product will be compared to established standard products in the industry to see what the product’s efficacy is. They’ll also test the product at a number of rates for usage ranging from the minimal usage to the maximum that the company has provided — this is a testing requirement of the PMRA.

The product will also be tested over a few years, however for contract research companies they work by the year and are never sure what exact work they will receive from companies each year.

“We don’t do trials just for interest’s sake. Unless somebody wants to do something, we don’t do it. The nature of contract research is we get paid to do whatever the client wants us to do,” Gibson says.

Header Photo — Darin Gibson with Gaia Consulting terminating a herbicide trial near Winkler, Man. Photo: Gaia Consulting

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