May 5, 2021Summer Sanitation Is Important as Ever
To contact John Palumbo go to: jpalumbo@ag.Arizona.edu
Although it is not vigorous or vegetative, Shepardspurse is one of the most widespread and difficult to control broadleaf weeds worldwide. I used to think that it spread when there was more alfalfa here and because it is not controlled with 2,4-DB (Butyrate & Butoxone) but it has continued to spread in vegetable crops. It likely has become worse each year because of its growth habits more than its tolerance to herbicides. It germinates from on or just below the soil surface. Herbicides that move or are placed below the surface often miss it. It is difficult to control with Kerb, for instance, because it leaches easily with overhead sprinklers. The seed is less than 0.1 inch in diameter and moves easily in wind and water. It is very small, and the cotyledon leaves are hardly ever seen. By the time you see it, it is at the 3 or 4 leaf stage. It grows rapidly in a rosette that is low to the ground and often covered by the crop. Herbicide coverage is difficult. It soon puts up a thin seed stalk and several seed pods (“purses”). Unlike many annual broadleaf weeds, it can produce several generations in one season. It can grow year round in many regions but has a difficult time surviving the summers in the low desert.
Last year we had a lot of watermelon fields infected with Fusarium from Winterhaven to Yuma, Wellton, and Mohawk Valley. Rain, and overwatering of fields when plants set fruits might have contributed to the disease development.
Fusarium wilt of watermelon, caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. niveum, is one of the oldest described Fusarium wilt diseases and the most economically important disease of watermelon worldwide. It occurs on every continent except Antarctica and new races of the pathogen continue to impact production in many areas around the world. Long-term survival of the pathogen in the soil and the evolution of new races make management of Fusarium wilt difficult.
Symptoms of Fusarium can sometimes be confused with water deficiency, even though there is plenty of water in the field. In Yuma valley we have seen fusarium problem in some overwatered fields.
Initial symptoms often include a dull, gray green appearance of leaves that precedes a loss of turgor pressure and wilting. Wilting is followed by a yellowing of the leaves and finally necrosis. The wilting generally starts with the older leaves and progresses to the younger foliage. Under conditions of high inoculum density or a very susceptible host, the entire plant may wilt and die within a short time. Affected plants that do not die are often stunted and have considerably reduced yields. Under high inoculum pressure, seedlings may damp off as they emerge from the soil.
Initial infection of seedlings usually occurs from chlamydospores (resting structure) that have overwintered in the soil. Chlamydospores germinate and produce infection hyphae that penetrate the root cortex, often where the lateral roots emerge. Infection may be enhanced by wounds or damage to the roots. The fungus colonizes the root cortex and soon invades the xylem tissue, where it produces more mycelia and microconidia. Consequently, the fungus becomes systemic and often can be isolated from tissue well away from the roots. The vascular damage we see in the roots is the defense mechanism of the plant to impede the movement of pathogen.
Disease management include planting clean seeds/transplants, use of resistant cultivars, crop rotation, soil fumigation, soil solarization, grafting, biological control. An integrated approach utilizing two or more methods is required for successful disease management.
There are many innovative automated weeding technologies coming out of Europe. One of these is the autonomous weeding robot being developed by Ecoroboti (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland). The device is lightweight and solar powered. Early prototypes used a spider like, three-axis delta robot to precisely deliver herbicides to target weeds. Videos of the device were futuristic and intriguing to watch. The company has since moved on to a simpler weeding robot equipped with a fixed boom for spot spraying weeds (Fig. 1 & 2). The autonomous robot has some specifications that are plausible for use in Arizona vegetable production. Machine travel speed is 2.2 mph and work rate is 15 acres/day (10 hour day). Spot spray resolution is reasonable at 2.5 inch2 (1.5 x 1.5 inch). This is accomplished using a series of 52 nozzles mounted on an 80 inch wide boom (Fig. 2). The machine uses computer imaging and artificial intelligence for crop/weed differentiation to identify and target weeds.
This past summer, the system was tested in sugar beets in Germany. Results showed the system correctly sprayed about 80% of the weeds. For a first time, real-world, field scale test, this outcome is encouraging.
There are some limitations however. According to product literature, the machine’s artificial intelligence system will identify a crop plant as a weed approximately 5% of the time. Given the high value of vegetable crops, killing 5% of the crop as a trade-off for robotically controlling weeds is probably not viable. It should be noted that this level of crop/weed recognition performance is consistent with other artificial intelligence-based systems reported in the literature.
Don’t give up hope though. This type of technology is advancing rapidly, and may become feasible in the future. Computing speed and sensor capabilities are advancing all the time. A review of literature indicates that systems that combine 3-D morphology, optical color and accurate location data with deep learning techniques may be a viable approach to reliably differentiate crops from weeds. It will be interesting and exciting to watch this technology as it develops. That’s for sure.
As I have mentioned before, automated thinning and weeding technologies are advancing at a very rapid pace. If you know of a new technology that would be of interest and appropriate for this newsletter, please feel free to contact me.