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US: Web tool helps South Carolina, Florida strawberry growers

Strawberry growers in Florida and South Carolina are reaping the benefits of a UF/IFAS web-based system designed to ward off two deadly pathogens, a new University of Florida study shows.

That’s good news as Florida’s strawberry growers start a new season. Strawberries pack a powerful economic punch nationwide and in the Sunshine state, bringing in $2.3 billion to the national economy and $300 million a year to Florida, according to UF/IFAS research.

The tool, known as the Strawberry Advisory System (StAS) uses data such as temperature and leaf wetness to tell growers when to spray fungicide to thwart botrytis and anthracnose fruit rots.

For the study, UF/IFAS plant pathology professor Natalia Peres and her colleagues tested StAS on eight strawberry varieties at 39 commercial farms in Florida and South Carolina. They found the system saved an average of 50 percent of the fungicide growers normally would use without losing crop yield under different seasons, locations, cultivars, and nursery sources.

Based on their prior research, Peres and her colleagues knew Florida farmers were adopting StAS.

“The StAS has been valuable to growers in that it reduces not only the amount of chemical product they need to purchase, but also the number of times they have to spray,” said Peres, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida. “Thus, cost savings for growers are substantial. In addition, it has potential environmental and health benefits since residues on fruit are much lower. As strawberry growers in other states showed interest in the system, there was a need to evaluate whether it would work as well in other environments and with different cultivars.”

Most strawberry growers treat for fungi every week during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, Peres said. When conditions are ripe for botrytis to spread – lower temperatures and dampness on leaves — strawberry production can go down by 50 percent, even if a grower uses a scheduled fungicide, Peres said.

Growers can use the system by clicking here, or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

“The system is easy for growers to use since disease alerts are sent by text messages or emails, so all alerts are timely,” Peres said. “In addition, they receive information as to which products are most appropriate to spray in any given situation.”

The new UF/IFAS study is published in the journal Plant Disease.

Source: University of Florida (Brad Buck)

Publication date: 11/30/2017



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