Soil Borne Pathogens

Soil borne pathogens are tiny organisms like bacteria, viruses, or fungi that infect plant roots, stems, and leaves, leading to reduced plant growth, increased costs to the growers, and potential damage to the environment. Cotton seedling diseases caused by soilborne pathogens can kill or weaken seeds and seedlings, delay crop growth, or require costly replanting. Though U.S. cotton seed is universally treated with fungicides prior to sale, growers must decide whether to use additional fungicides to ward off disease. Growers need to know which treatments are most effective for their specific problems and growing conditions in order to prevent needless expenses, ineffective treatments, and crop losses. Soilborne pathogens are also problematic for bedding plants and vegetable transplants, both of which are key commodities in the Southeast. Although production of these plants typically takes place in greenhouses where environmental conditions can be controlled and sanitation is practiced, many greenhouses inadvertently provide conditions favorable for pathogen survival. Even one diseased plant can result in the loss of the entire flat of plants. In 2009, soilborne pathogens were responsible for an estimated 10% of losses in vegetable crops. Though these soilborne pathogens and others are common throughout the southeastern U.S., we know little about their genetics, making it difficult to develop control methods. Because fungicide use is not consistently effective, economical, ecologically desirable (due to environmental and worker exposure concerns), or commercially desirable (production of pesticide-free or organic crops can increase value by 30%), biological control and plant growth promoting agents should be considered key management components. Research is needed to make sure that these control methods are safe, effective, and economical for greenhouse, field, and landscaping use. In turn, this research will help reduce our reliance on chemical fungicides and increase the sustainability of U.S. agriculture.

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