Cercospora leaf spot (CLS), caused by Cercospora beticola, is an important and emerging disease in beet and swiss chard production in New Jersey. Efforts to control this disease have become more difficult in the past few years in some areas of southern New Jersey. The soil-borne fungal pathogen, once established in fields, can survive in the soil for up to 2 years on infected debris and on weed hosts such as Chenopodium, goosefoot, and pigweed. The pathogen may also be seed-borne. Symptoms of infection include numerous small tan leaf spots with distinct dark purple margins that are easily diagnosed (Fig. 1). Overhead irrigation and rainfall help spread the pathogen throughout the field. Cercospora beticola is most damaging in warm weather (day temperature of 77 to 90° F and night temperature above 60° F).
Controlling Cercospora leaf spot with preventative fungicide applications has become challenging for some growers in New Jersey. The pathogen is known to have developed resistance to important fungicide classes in recent years, such as the QoIs (FRAC code 11) and the DMIs (FRAC code 3) in different regions of the country, based on fungicide use. This is not surprising since resistance development can occur when fungicides in these groups are used extensively over many years. In New Jersey, azoxystrobin has been used extensively for years to manage this disease.
Cultural practices to help mitigate losses to Cercospora leaf spot
There are a number of cultural practices growers can do to help reduce losses to CLS.
- Start with certified, disease-free seed, or treat seed using hot water seed treatment method.
- Avoid fields with a known history of CLS.
- Rotate to non-host crops (outside of the Chenopodium family) for 2-3 years.
- Bury infected crop residues and destroy volunteer plants and weed hosts.
- Burn down fields after harvesting.
- Avoid planting succession crops close together (at least 100 meters apart).
- Avoid overhead irrigation if it will result in prolonged leaf wetness periods (e.g., late evening or at night); irrigate early to mid-day when leaves will dry fully or use drip irrigation for small plantings.
- Using the proper fungicides, rates, and fungicide rotations.
Fungicides for controlling Cercospora leaf spot
In recent years a number of new fungicides have been labeled for CLS control. Many of these fungicides contain two different active ingredients with more than one mode of action. Growers who have relied on managing CLS with azoxystrobin (FRAC code 11) for years and suspect a loss in efficacy should consider removing it from their fungicide program. There is a good chance fungicide resistance has developed. In 2019, a field study was done at RAREC to examine the efficacy of different fungicides for CLS control (Table 1). The fungicide efficacy trial was established in a field with a history of CLS, where the field was inoculated with infected debris collected from a farm in southern New Jersey. Fungicides were applied weekly for 5 weeks with overhead irrigation to help promote disease development.
Cercospora leaf spot development was extremely high during the course of the study. Area Under Disease Progress Curves (AUDPC) were calculated to determine the amount of disease development under each fungicide program (Table 1). CLS development was highest in the untreated control (UTC), with no significant differences between the UTC and weekly copper applications, suggesting that weekly copper applications did not help reduce CLS in this study (Table 1). Weekly applications of Quadris, Fontelis, and Miravis Prime were not significantly different but significantly lower than the UTC (Table 1). Control of CLS was best with weekly applications of Tilt and Merivon, but these were not significantly different from weekly applications of Miravis Prime or Fontelis (Table 1). Results of this study suggest that growers with resistance concerns who have relied heavily on copper and azoxystrobin for CLS control should consider using other fungicides in their weekly preventative fungicide programs. Control programs should focus on applying fungicides with more than one mode of action and focus on rotating fungicides with different modes of action. For example: (please see 2020/2021 Commercial Vegetable Production Guide), Apply Tilt (FRAC code 3) followed by Miravis Prime (7 + 12), then tebuconazole (3), then Merivon (7+ 11), then Tilt (FRAC code 3), then Luna Tranquilty (7 + 9). Remember, resistance development to FRAC code 11 fungicides (QoIs) is qualitative and controlled by single-point mutations. Once resistance develops, the fungus is completely resistant (to all fungicides in the group). Resistance development in FRAC code 3 fungicides (DMIs) is quantitative which often characterized as a gradual loss of resistance over time. As a note, FRAC code 3 fungicides should always be applied at the highest rate. Using lower rates may increase selection pressure.
Organic Control Options
Controlling CLS in organic production systems starts by following and executing the good cultural practices listed above. Always purchase certified seed. Use the hot water seed treatment method to help disinfested seed. Avoiding fields with a history of the disease. Producing beet on mulch and drip irrigation in small operations should be considered. This will help reduce weed pressure (as well as potential hosts) and reduce the need for overhead irrigation. Organic copper applications may not be effective in some operations where disease pressure is extremely high. Unfortunately, control of CLS with organic and biopesticides has been difficult. Therefore good cultural practices must be followed accordingly.
Please see the 2022-2023 Mid-Atlantic Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations Guide.
For more information:
State University of New Jersey