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Seedcare Institute interviews - Darian Blanchard

Darian Blanchard

Darian, you are an Application Specialist for the Seedcare Institute in Canada. Could you please tell me, when did you start working in this function and what is your previous background (education and previous roles)?

I have been working with the Seedcare Institute in Canada since April 2017. Prior to this, my time was split between teaching at a local academic institution and working with a biotechnology company called Aterica Health. My education is a combination of Biology (Bachelors) and Organic Chemistry and Toxicology (Masters). I also grew up on a livestock farm in Southern Ontario.

You have created a new vizualisation tool to support the launch of Fortenza in Canada. Why did you focus on this project and could you please explain what kind of new technology it is? 

The launch of Fortenza on soybeans is very important to give farmers a non-neonic insecticide option to protect their crops. We wanted to demonstrate the impact that insects can have on plants both above and below ground, and the value of insecticides to growers. Under heavy pest pressure, soybean stands can be decimated without the protection of a good Seedcare package. We have developed “Terrariums” to visualize this. Terrariums, in their basic form, are a glass enclosure that allow for crops to be grown in a controlled environment. Insects were introduced into these controlled environments in order to observe their effect on seedlings and the protective power of the seed treatment.

What is the goal of this new tool?

The goal of this new tool is to communicate the value of Syngenta’s science either through the creation of time-lapse videos or in-person displays. Videos are a great tool 12 months of the year but nothing beats seeing pests in action. The secondary goal of this technology is to capture the affect that below ground insect pests have on root systems. Terrariums allow us to observe roots being consumed by insects.

The Seedcare technical team typically uses pot studies to capture the impact of insects on crops. I decided that we could take this a step further and create a device that showcases above and below ground feeding in a “camera-ready” format. Now, the movement and feeding behaviours of insects can be observed in real time. It was difficult to find the right parameters to ensure that crop growth patterns were as close to normal as possible, while also maintaining an excellent picture quality. In order to do this, we designed and implemented miniature below ground irrigation systems as a means to water the terrariums without disturbing the insects or visual experience. We also experimented and refined the quality and materials of construction for the enclosures to optimize picture quality.

How did you come to this incredible idea? Do you think you will test this tool with other products?

So far, we have experimented with soybeans, corn, and canola with five insect pests that feed on roots and foliage. We plan to further explore many other crop and pest combinations.

In this video, you have tested the product Fortenza Vibrance Maxx with Black Cutworm pressure. Do you have other expectations with this tool?

Overall, we would like to refine the system to produce high quality visuals for below ground pests, where it can be difficult to highlight the value of an insecticide. Terrariums demonstrate the impact pests have on root mass. Establishing a strong root system is very important for the resilience of the crop to drought and to constantly improve the potential yields.

We are very proud to present your new technology idea, and we congratulate you. We can’t wait to see the next videos. Many thanks Darian for your explanations.

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