UA Researchers Try New Ways To Combat Lettuce Wilting Disease

By Heather van Blokland
Published: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 2:14pm
Updated: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 2:17pm
(Photo courtesy of Michael Matheron - University of Arizona)
The fusarium fungus enters the plant through the roots, causing lettuce to wilt or die.

Yuma and Maricopa counties grow approximately 90 percent of the winter lettuce crop for the United States, but production has been threatened by a wilting disease. And prices have spiked. One researcher says the path to a cure involves a new kind of agriculture, using technology to choose where to plant.

Paul Brierley is the Executive Director at the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture.

He’s been working with growers on field trials to fight what’s called Fusarium wilt, a disease that impacts the soil and right now, has no cure. The solution so far has been to not grow lettuce in fields with infected soil. Brierley said newer solutions are needed for an industry estimated to generate $2 billion for the state.

“We have some pretty neat things going on with technology and with big data analytics where we are trying to figure out what are the triggers for these disease and how can they be avoided — what kind of amendments they put in the soil that might keep these diseases from flaring up,” Brierley said.

He said pathologists are also continuing with protection methods and crop rotation. Brierley also said the price of lettuce has spiked recently from the effects of wilting disease and warmer weather that forced harvest season to finish two weeks early.

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