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.
With the start of melon season, you will also start seeing seedling diseases on melon. Bacterial fruit blotch (BFB) of melon is a common disease in melon seedlings that can stay in the crop until fruits/seeds are formed. You will be seeing more of this disease in greenhouse transplants.
Bacterial fruit blotch (BFB) of watermelon is caused by the bacterium Acidovorax avenae subsp. Citrulli. The bacteria produceslarge olive green to brown water-soaked lesions on fruit, making them unmarketable.
Symptoms of BFB on seedlings begin with water-soaked areas on the lower surface of the cotyledons and inconspicuous lesions on leaves. BFB lesions will become necrotic often with yellow halos. Lesions are frequently delimited by veins. Infected seedlings collapse and die.
Greenhouse conditions are usually favorable for dispersal and establishment of pathogen. Thus, good greenhouse practices and sanitation is extremely important. Clean transplant trays must be used (disinfect trays if they will be reused) and new soil. Destroy any volunteer seedlings and keep the area in and around the greenhouse weed free. Avoid overhead watering if at all possible, or water in the middle of the day so that the plants dry thoroughly before evening. The bacterium can spread on mist and aerosols. Relative humidity should be kept low through proper watering and good air circulation in the greenhouse. Separate different seedlots, to reduce lot-to-lot spread. Monitor these isolated seedlings daily and destroy trays where symptoms develop. The remaining trays should be sprayed with a labeled bactericide and the applications continued until the plants are transplanted to the field.
The pathogen can be seedborne, so growers should only use seed that has been tested for the presence of the pathogen by a reputable testing facility. Management of BFB includes a combination of preventing the introduction of the pathogen, sanitation to eliminate any inoculum present, and the use of bactericides if the disease appears. There are no commercially available watermelon cultivars that are resistant to bacterial fruit blotch, but there is some variation in susceptibility among cultivars.
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.