May 4, 2022Spider Mites on Spring Melons 2022To contact John Palumbo go to: jpalumbo@ag.Arizona.edu
DISEASE: Center Rot of Onion
PATHOGEN: Pantoea ananatis, Pantoea agglomerans, Pantoea alli and Pantoea stewartii subsp. indologenes
HOSTS: Onion (Allium cepa L.), garlic (Allium sativum L.), shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum L.), leeks (Allium ampeloprasum L.), chives (Allium schoenoprasum L.).
Symptoms and signs
Center rot of onion has not been a major problem in the desert southwest but when the environment is favorable, the disease can cause up to 90% loss. Foliar symptoms (symptoms on leaves) may start with water-soaked lesions spanning the length of the leaf blade, which gradually become blighted resulting in desiccation and collapse of the tissue. Experiments have shown that the bacteria can move from leaves to the bulbs, thus protecting foliage is important to manage the disease.
The bacteria can overseason to infect onions in a number of different ways. Like many bacterial pathogens, P. ananatis can be seed-borne with infested seed serving as a survival mechanism as well as a means of dissemination. It has been demonstrated that P. ananatis can be both naturally seed-borne and seed-transmitted in onion. The significance of the bacterium's ability to colonize seed is uncertain, as most onion seed production sites are located in arid climates but extremely important to understand to manage the disease.
Although P. ananatis can be seedborne, the proposed primary mode of transmission is by two insect vectors. Two species of thrips, tobacco thrips (Frankliniella fusca (Hinds)) and onion thrips (Thrips tabaci), have the ability to transiently acquire and transmit P. ananatis and P. agglomerans . The bacterium can persist in a non-circulative manner in the gut of thrips for 128 h, allowing the vector to infect plants over an extended period of time.
P. ananatis can survive epiphytically and endophytically on a wide range of hosts. These alternative hosts can serve as a source of inoculum in fields where susceptible crops are grown. In Georgia alone, 25 weed species, including carpetweed (Mollugo verticillata), common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), common cocklebur (Xanthium pensylvanicum), curly dock (Rumex crispus), Florida pusley (Richardia scabra), sicklepod (Cassia obtusifolia), stinkweed (Thlaspi arvense), Texas panicum (Panicum texanum), vaseygrass (Paspalum urvillei), wild radish (Brassica spp.), yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) and other multiple crop plants were found to harbor P. ananatis populations asymptomatically.
Pic Credit: Colton Tew
Onion cultivars resistant to Pantoea sp. are not commercially available. Use of certified onion seeds is encouraged to avoid introduction of Pantoea sp. inoculum in the production field. Planting early maturing or mid-maturing onion varieties are often recommended for growers. Late maturing varieties provide a larger window for infection and a potential epidemic to occur, which are favored by thrips pressure, hot and humid conditions, and lack of effective bactericides. Overhead irrigation should be avoided as it promotes bacterial spread compared with sub-surface or drip-irrigation. Controlling thrips population can be an effective management strategy to reduce center rot incidence as these vectors play an important role in bacterial transmission.
Center rot management in onion fields relies heavily on copper applications mixed with an ethylenebisdithiocarbamate fungicide (EBDC), such as mancozeb, which growers may apply weekly as a protectant. In addition, researchers found P. ananatis strains to be copper-tolerant indicating overuse and potential risk of insensitivity to this chemistry. Repeated applications of copper sprays during susceptible growth stages can be effective only to a limited extent and does not offer a robust solution to the problem. Perhaps the inefficacy of these sprays could be due to thrips preference to colonize certain parts of the onion plant, e.g. the basal meristems (neck region).
The implementation of successful weed management strategies are important in reducing P. ananatis inoculum in the field. By reducing weeds, growers can potentially reduce initial inoculum.
Weed escapes are easy to spot in vegetable fields at harvest time. Some growers have these weeds pulled, bagged and removed by hand from the field because they are unsightly and to reduce seedbank loads. This can be a costly operation. An alternative solution might be to use high voltage electricity to kill these weeds. The idea of using electricity to “zap” weeds is not new. Machines for agriculture applications were developed decades ago and commercially available in the late 1970’s. Although the devices worked, they were not widely adopted due in part to the availability of low cost and efficacious herbicides.
Because of environmental concerns, herbicide resistant weed issues and increased organic production, non-chemical, high voltage weed control technology is seeing a resurgence. There are now five companies, three established within the last four years, offering or developing machines for commercial agriculture. Although configurations differ, all machines operate using the same principles. To explain, consider the example of the machine shown in Fig. 1. The unit comprises high voltage electrodes (8-15 kV) positioned above the crop canopy, an electric generator and a soil engaging coulter connected to ground. During operation, when an electrode touches a weed protruding above the canopy, current flows through the plant back to the generator via the ground contacting coulter. Current flow combined with electrical resistance in the plant causes rapid heating and plant fluids to vaporize. This ruptures cell walls and kills the plant. Although there are few recent reports in the literature, prior research on dated machines showed that the technique can provide better than 98% weed control in moderate weed densities (15,000 weeds/acre) at travel speeds of 2 mph (Diprose & Benson, 1984).
Modern approaches that utilize high voltage electricity in combination with smart machines to spot treat weeds are being developed. The idea is to use camera imagery and artificial intelligence to locate weeds and high voltage electricity to kill them. One such machine being developed by the MASCOR Institute1 and the Zasso Group is an autonomous robot equipped with cameras, on-board computers and robotic arms (Fig. 2). As the machine moves through the field, high voltage electrodes mounted on the movable, computer controlled robotic arms zap weeds. Another unit is being developed by Stekettee and RootWave. It is tractor pulled and designed to travel at 3 mph. Stekettee’s machine vision system identifies the weeds and RootWave’s high voltage electric technology shocks the weed with a pulsed 5 kV charge. Power is supplied by a generator connected to the tractor’s PTO. Both systems are in late stages of development with field tests conducted in 2020.
These systems appear promising and if they prove to be effective and economical, may be something to look for in the future.
1Reference to a product or company is for specific information only and does not endorse or recommend that product or company to the exclusion of others that may be suitable.
When known weedy fields are ready to plant and labor is expected to be short, it is tempting to use all the preplant herbicides that are available. In lettuce, there are three preplant herbicides available and it is not uncommon to use 2 and occasionally all 3 on the same crop. All three of these herbicides use the same mode of action to kill weeds. There are slight differences between them but they all either stop or disrupt cell division in the roots and or stems of the weeds. They are normally safe to lettuce unless the crop is stressed or the rate, timing or placement are poor. The rationale for using multiple preplant herbicides in lettuce is often to broaden the weed control spectrum or guard against misses caused by misapplication or environmental conditions. There are some hazards, however, that sometimes outweigh the benefits. Potential crop injury is increased. All 3 use the same mode of action and the chance of injuring developing crop roots is compounded. Sometimes herbicides are added that contribute nothing but potential injury to the mix. If you look at the following chart you can see that many weeds are controlled by Kerb, for instance, that are not controlled by Balan or Prefar. Why add them? All three control grasses, goosefoot and purslane. If environmental conditions and applications are optimal it is often possible to use only one. Herbicides are much less expensive than labor, but it is possible to overdo it and cause more problems and expense.