Researchers & Grower-Shipper Association Collaborate to Battle INSV

Grower-Shipper Association of Central California (GSA) — Implementing effective disease and pest management strategies is a continual challenge for farmers. While these challenges are not new in agriculture, they impact more than just farmers. Lower yields due to disease and pest pressure affects farm employees and harvesting crews too and can also inhibit our ability to provide a steady supply of affordable and healthy produce to consumers.

Unfortunately, farmers of leafy greens are now dealing with the re-emergence of a damaging disease called thrips-vectored Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus or INSV. According to local farm advisors this increase in INSV is often accompanied by Pythium wilt infections, which is a relatively new problem in the region.

Lettuce fields are infected by INSV via thrips migrating in from infected host plants in the early spring. Fields infected by INSV cause stunting, yellowing, wilting of the outer leaves and eventual death for leafy greens. Currently, there are no effective treatments for INSV and Pythium wilt on organic and conventional lettuce farms.

To support farmers as they battle INSV, GSA created a new task force to identify major research questions, examine treatment strategies, develop treatment efficacy trials and build a grower education program specific to these diseases.

Mary Zischke, former Executive Director of the California Leafy Greens Research Board, was hired by GSA to lead and coordinate Task Force activities. In addition, to assist local farm advisors and help advance University of California cooperative research efforts, GSA added Jasmine Rodriguez to its team. Rodriguez is currently working toward her biology degree at California State University, Monterey Bay and also serves as a laboratory assistant for entomology research projects at the UC Cooperative Extension in Monterey County.

“Mary and Jasmine will provide our industry with the additional personnel resources and experience as we combat this complex disease and pest control problem,” says Christopher Valadez, GSA president.

To further expand resources and personnel, GSA has applied for a California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Block Grant. The grant would allow scientists to conduct multi-year field research trials assessing the effects of common crop rotation sequences, monitor Pythium wilt and INSV occurrence in commercial fields, conduct greenhouse studies to characterize the interactions between Pythium wilt and INSV in lettuce to understand their impacts on overall plant health and disease management.

If awarded the grant, the GSA team will work with researchers from California State University, Monterey Bay and U.S. Department of Ag, Agricultural Research Service in Salinas. Grant outcomes would include knowledge of the impact of crop rotation on Pythium wilt and thrips populations as well as the interplay between Pythium wilt and INSV and how to jointly manage them.

While GSA is hopeful the grant provides future resources, we will continue moving needed work forward to uncover potential answers and treatment strategies so farmers in our region can minimize losses. Farming equates to surmounting challenges and GSA is committed to supporting farmers as they face those challenges.

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