May 5, 2021Summer Sanitation Is Important as Ever
To contact John Palumbo go to: jpalumbo@ag.Arizona.edu
Pigweeds are some of the most common summer annual broadleaf weeds in the low deserts. Although they are often lumped together, there are 4 different species of pigweed that are common here and more than 10 species that occur as weeds in California and Arizona. Their growth habits and response to herbicides are similar. It is easy to identify them by physical characteristics but one species of pigweed can hybridize with another and become less distinguishable.
Palmer Amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) is probably the most common pigweed species found in this region. It is very aggressive and fast growing and can become 6 feet tall or higher if uncontrolled. It has one thick stem and several lateral branches. The leaves are lance shaped, hairless and have distinctive white veins on the underside. It has flowering tassels that become stiff and spiny. This species has become resistant to Glyphosate in many parts of the county.
Redroot Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) is probably the second most common pigweed species. It is shorter and the seed heads are smaller, in clusters and have stiff spine-like scales. It has leaf hairs on the margins and the veins are often reddish. The lower stems are often reddish. This species will hybridize with Palmer Amaranth and become less distinguishable.
Tumble Pigweed (Amaranthus albus) is very different from Palmers or Redroot. It grows lower to the ground and has many branches that turn upright. The leaves are much smaller and narrower. The numerous stems are light green rather than red. The seed heads are small, spiny and at the base of the leaves rather than in long terminal spikes. When mature, the branches are sticky, stiff bristles that break off at the ground and tumble with the wind.
Prostrate Pigweed (Amaranthus blitoides) is very similar to Tumble Pigweed but the stems are more prostrate, grow close to the ground and form mats. The stems and leaves are smaller and reddish rather than light green.
Downy mildew has always been one of the major problem for PCAs and growers in the desert southwest. The symptoms observed are green to yellow angular spots on the upper surface of the leaves and fluffy growth on the lower side (See Picture). Symptoms usually start from older leaves. As disease progresses the lesion turn brown and dry up and in some occasions, the disease can become systemic causing dark discoloration of vascular tissue.
Favorable condition for disease development:
The pathogen Bremia lactucae thrives in damp, cool condition, with moisture present on leaves. Spores are short-lived but dispersed efficiently by wind during moist period. Cultivated lettuce is the main host of the pathogen but it has also been reported to infectartichoke, cornflower and strawflower.
Why is downy mildew difficult to manage?
One of the main reason that hinders the disease management is the complexity of the pathogen. Bremia lactucae consists of multiple races (pathotypes), and new races continue to occur as pathogen evolves. The pathogen is one of the fastest evolving plant pathogen. And each pathotypes have developed insensitivity to fungicides to different extent.
One of the best practice is to grow resistant cultivar, but there are limitations. As the pathogen is highly variable and dynamic, resistant cultivars are not a permanent solution as the pathogen overcomes the resistance by evolving into virulent strains and isolates.
Preventative application of fungicides are effective to some extent. Reducing leaf wetness and humidity by using drip or furrow irrigation can be helpful. However, weather condition like rain during cool weather as we had in past couple of weeks is conducive to development of epidemics and we have very little control on that matter.
It Takes a Village:
And better yet the whole nation or world! Downy mildew is a bigger problem than we think. It is just not a problem in Arizona and California, it is a nationwide, worldwide problem. Thousands of plant pathologist/scientists/labs are working hard everyday to combat the disease.
Dr. Michelmore’s lab in University of California-Davis has been working on downy mildew for years and they need our help to build the database for next several years. Please let me (Bindu Poudel) or anyone in University of Arizona know if you see symptoms in the field. We can come collect the samples and send it to UC-Davis. The goal is to racetype as many isolates as possible to understand the genetic variability, the more information we have about the pathogen, the more it helps the scientific community come up with better management practice, better resistant cultivars etc.
Learn more about the Bremia Project:
Bremia Project Database:
This is the second in a series of articles discussing technological advances being made by manufacturers of automated thinning and weeding machines. This is a fast-moving space and innovations are entering the marketplace constantly. One of these on the near-term horizon is a robotic thinner/weeder being developed by Tensorfield Agriculture, San Francisco, CA that uses hot vegetable oil to kill weeds. The idea is to spray a “micro-dose” of hot oil (320 °F) onto the targeted plant/weed with high levels of precision. Why vegetable oil and not water or steam? Sufficient levels of heat from any source will rupture cell membranes and kill plants, but the advantage of vegetable oils is that they adhere to plant surfaces better than water and can be raised to much higher temperatures before boiling. Soybean oil for example, has a boiling point of 450 °F which is much higher than that of water at 212 °F. Consequently, vegetables oils transfer more heat faster than hot water and kill plants more effectively. A limitation of steam is the difficulty in concentrating the heat energy onto the target plant.
The concept of using hot vegetable oil to control weeds with an automated machine is not new and has some merit. Vegetable oil degrades naturally in the soil and thus can be used in commercial and organic crop production. Researchers at UC Davis developed and tested a prototype, hot oil based micro-dosing sprayer for automated weeding in tomato crops (Giles et al. 2005, Zhang et al., 2012). They found the technique effective at controlling weeds (>90%), but computing speeds were too slow for the integrated automated weeding machine to be commercially viable at the time.
Tensorfield Agriculture is rejuvenating the idea using modern computers, artificial intelligence and automation. The company has built a micro-dosing sprayer that delivers heated oil to target weeds at the 1/2” scale level of precision (Fig. 1). The sprayer assembly is mounted on an autonomous, robotic platform (Fig 2 - please note that the robotic platform depicted is a first-generation design developed for testing and debugging purposes and that a commercial style unit is forthcoming). Computer imaging and artificial intelligence are used to detect crop plants and weeds. The company will be testing and debugging the system this winter in California with carrot, spinach and romaine crops. The aim is to have prototype commercial systems available for the spring of 2021.
Some of you may have visited Tensorfield Agriculture’s booth or seen their technical breakout-session presentation at the 2020 Southwest Ag Summit in Yuma, AZ. They have an interest in working in the Yuma area and with the University of Arizona. It will be interesting to see how this technology progresses over the winter and how killing weeds with heated vegetable oil may benefit weed management systems.
As I mentioned, 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 publication, please feel free to contact me.
 Reference 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.
Fig. 1. Custom built sprayer modules for delivering high temperature vegetable oil (350 °F) to kill weeds organically. The units are designed for precision weed control (1/2” scale of resolution) by Tensorfield Agriculture, San Francisco, CA (Photo credit – Tensorfield Agriculture).
Fig. 2. Autonomous robot for thinning and weeding using heated vegetable oil. The unit is a first-generation prototype designed for testing and debugging purposes by Tensorfield Agriculture, San Francisco, CA (Photo credit – Tensorfield Agriculture).
Giles, D.K., Lanini, W.T. & Slaughter, D.C. 2005. Precision weed control for organic and conventional specialty crops. In Buy California Crop Block Grant Program Final Report. Sacramento, Calif.: California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Zhang, Y., Staab, E.S., Slaughter, D.C., Giles, D.K. & Downey, D. Automated weed control in organic row crops using hyperspectral species identification and thermal micro-dosing. Crop Protection 41: 96-105.
Results of pheromone and sticky trap catches can be viewed HERE.
Results of pheromone and sticky trap catches can be viewed HERE.
Corn earworm: CEW moth activity increased a bit in the past 2 weeks but remains well below average for late spring.
Beet armyworm: Moth counts increased slightly, but remain very low consistent with seasonal temperatures, and below average for this point in the season.
Cabbage looper: Significant increase in activity in Dome Valley, Gila Valley and Tacna, but moth counts remain unusually low for this time of year, as they have all season.
Whitefly: No adult movement recorded across all locations and overall low numbers consistent with temperatures.
Thrips: Thrips adult movement beginning to pick up considerably, particularly in Yuma and Dome Valleys. Movement is below average for late March.
Aphids: Seasonal aphid counts down considerably compared with the Feb and Jan. Counts highest in Bard and Gila Valley. Below average movement for this time of year. Majority of species found on traps were green peach aphid.
Leafminers: Adult activity up slightly in some locations, but well below average for late season.