US (NJ): Bacterial leaf spot and copper resistance in tomato and pepper crops more widespread

Copper resistance in bacterial leaf spot of tomato and pepper crops has been detected and is more widespread than expected. While not surprising, copper resistance has been known to develop for decades now; however, this is the first time it has been confirmed in tomato and pepper crops across New Jersey. Copper application to control bacterial diseases in many crops has been a mainstay for decades now and is often applied in weekly protectant fungicide programs. In 2020 and 2021, with help from Dr. Nrupali Patel and Dr. Don Kobayashi, bacteriologists in the Department of Plant Biology located on the New Brunswick campus, a small (NJ-VGA funded) survey was initiated to determine which species of bacterial leaf spot are most prevalent in New Jersey tomato and pepper crops.

Four species of Xanthomonas can cause bacterial leaf spot: X. euvesicatoria, X. vesicatoria, X. perforans, and X. gardneri. Currently, there are four races of BLS found in tomato (T1-T4; one for each of the four species stated above) and eleven races found in pepper (0-10). Differential tests in southern New Jersey using various bell pepper lines over the past 15 years have suggested that the number of races of BLS in pepper has increased over time, with all races present in the State to date. Lab testing results from samples collected from the small number of NJ vegetable farms the last two summers have shown the presence of X. euvesicatoria in pepper, as well as X. euvesicatoria and X. perforans in both tomato and pepper in the state, with ~50% of all samples testing positive for copper resistance.

How do you know what species of bacteria are present on your farm?
The only way to determine which species of bacteria are present in tomato or pepper crops on your farm is to have them identified through laboratory methods.

How do you know what pathogen races are present on your farm?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Up to now, the only way to know is through differential testing. That means planting several different bell peppers with varying BLS resistance packages and monitoring which cultivars develop symptoms. For example, if you detect BLS development in Aristotle X3R (which has resistance to races 1,2 & 3), you possibly have races 4-10 present on your farm. If you were to plant Turnpike in that same field and notice BLS development, you possibly have race 6 or 10 present because Turnpike has resistance to BLS races 0-5 and 7,8,9. It’s extremely important to know what races of BLS are present so you can choose the proper cultivars to grow. Choosing the appropriate cultivar will do two things: significantly reduce the chances of BLS development and significantly reduce the number of copper applications on your bell pepper crop. As a note, there are a few non-bell peppers available with BLS resistance packages (see 2022/2023 Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations Guide).

How do you know if copper resistance is present on your farm? 
Growers who have used copper applications to control bacterial leaf spot in crops such as tomato or pepper for many years should always monitor for efficacy. If you noticed a loss in copper efficacy over time, there is a good chance copper resistance is present. Once copper resistance is detected, further applications will be unwarranted and ineffective. The only method to truly determine if copper resistance is present is through laboratory testing. However, growers who pay close attention to efficacy should have a good idea if copper is still effective.

What can you do to mitigate bacterial leaf spot development on your farm?
In crops such as bell pepper, it comes down to growing cultivars with resistance to BLS and knowing what races are present on your farm. Many of the recommended commercial cultivars have varying resistance packages to the different races of the pathogen. Some cultivars, such as Paladin, which has Phytophthora resistance, have no resistance to BLS. Other “older” cultivars such as Aristotle X3R have resistance to races 1-3; newer cultivars such as Turnpike have resistance to races 0-5,7-9; while cultivars such as Playmaker and 9325 have resistance to 0-10 (also known as X10R cultivars). Unfortunately, BLS resistance in commercial tomato varieties is lacking, but efforts from around the world are making progress.

For more information:
Rutgers University
State University of New Jersey 

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