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Berries: New pathology team studying gray mold, mummyberry

Oct 1st, 2014 | Category: News

MOUNT VERNON – Northwest Washington’s small fruit growers may get some help warding off two growing threats to their high-value crops, as a result of the ongoing work of WSU Mount Vernon’s new berry pathology research team.

Associate Plant Pathology Professor Tobin Peever, Post-doctoral Research Associate Dalphy Harteveld, and Ph.D student Olga Kozhar are studying the biology, ecology and epidemiology of Botrytis cinerea and Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi, fungi which respectively cause Botrytis gray mold and mummyberry of raspberry and blueberry. These two plant diseases are infecting and posing a significant risk of loss to the Pacific Northwest’s blueberry, raspberry and strawberry crops, valued at $136 million according to the most recent annual statistical information available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Peever and his berry pathology team’s research are currently funded by the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, the Washington Blueberry Commission, the Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration, and the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research.

“For both diseases, we are focused on similar questions,” said Peever, whose research is geared to identify how and when infection occurs, under what environmental conditions infection occurs, how disease cycles can be disrupted, and how disease spreads among different berry crops. “We are interested in providing growers with a better understanding of the disease cycles of these two important berry diseases, as well as other diseases, so that control methods can be employed more effectively and in a more cost-effective manner.”

The three researchers – part of a collaboration between WSU Mount Vernon and Washington State University’s Department of Plant Pathology in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences in Pullman – are working closely with local growers to determine how their research can address the needs of the community and the Washington state berry industry.

Over the past eight months or so, they have met with several different grower groups and industry leaders to establish pathology research priorities. One of those is to help small fruit growers more effectively deal with fungicide resistance.

According to Peever, it has been nearly 10 years since WSU has had a small fruit pathologist; and the need for berry pathology research is growing.

“Our main goal is to provide growers with increased knowledge of the disease cycles of these two diseases – Botrytis gray mold and mummyberry — and to ensure this knowledge will be directly applicable to improving disease control and allowing growers to move away from calendar-based application schedules,” Peever said. “We hope to be able to reduce fungicide use while maintaining a high level of disease control by using fungicides only when they are needed.”

Peever and WSU Mount Vernon Research Center Director Steve Jones anticipate this new berry pathology team will complement the work being conducted across the Pacific Northwest – within Lisa Wasko DeVetter’s WSU Mount Vernon small fruit horticulture program; at the WSU plant pathology labs in Pullman; in the fields of WSU’s cross-border agricultural research partner, Oregon State University, in the Willamette Valley; and in British Columbia.

Peever’s team is collaborating with OSU berry researchers Jay Pscheidt and Lisa Jones to address different components of the Botrytis gray mold disease cycle and with the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and food scientist Siva Sabaratnum on fungicide resistance in B. cinerea.

–Cathy McKenzie 


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