Partnering in plant health: Improving our understanding of fruit tree diseases in Kansas

Final report for ONC20-074

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $39,583.00
Projected End Date: 05/08/2023
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Megan Kennelly
Kansas State University
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Project Information


This project will enhance knowledge of fruit production problems in Kansas while strengthening relationships between growers and Kansas State University/K-State Research and Extension. A group of growers have identified several fruit tree production problems as critical areas for research and extension. The central Great Plains is a challenging environment for fruit production due to weather extremes which drive abiotic stresses, disease problems, and insect pressure. The overall goal of this partnership is to increase our understanding of fruit tree disease development in Kansas to develop sustainable disease management strategies. A prime case study will be the apple disease fire blight, but we will gather data on other fruit tree diseases as well as environmental stresses and insect pests. The project will integrate aspects of research, education, and outreach and will provide growers training with data collection. The project will have short-term impact by increasing knowledge of the grower/university team of current disease/pest development and disease losses, and training growers on some data assessment methods. In the medium term we will share findings with other growers, prioritize and and plan for additional research and extension programs, and build collaborations. Long term the project will lead to more sustainable management practices.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of this partnership program is to increase our understanding of fruit tree disease development and insect pests in Kansas to optimize sustainable management strategies. Our original objectives were: to quantify losses in tree fruit crop yield and quality due to diseases and insects with a special focus on fire blight of apple, explore relationships between current grower practices and disease and insect development in light of Kansas weather conditions, train growers in on-farm disease and insect assessment, share information with industry, and establish a solid foundation to prioritize future extension and research programs and collaborations. We had to scale back and modify the project due to the covid19 pandemic.



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  • Travis Carmichael (Educator)
  • Rebecca McMahon


Materials and methods:

In 2021 parts of the team visited 6 farms in 6 counties to tour the orchards and take notes on orchard history, production issues (including pest management concerns), and grower needs. At four of the orchards the local K-State Research and Extension agent also joined the visit/conversation. At two orchards the KSU Diagnostic Lab Director also participated. This was informal/qualitative research but provided valuable insights into key challenges that growers face.

Research results and discussion:

In our site visits we collected valuable qualitative data regarding cropping systems, marketing issues, variety selection, rootstock selection, insect issues, weed pressure, diseases, etc.


Key findings:

  • Most fruit growers produce a diverse array of crops to provide season extension, expanded markets, protection against year-to-year weather which impacts specific fruit (such as spring freezes which can damage entire stone fruit crops). Fruit crops include apples, plums, berries, peaches, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines. Several growers have diversified further into vegetable crops (tomatoes, cucurbits, asparagus, beets, radish, pumpkin including ag tourism/pumpkin patch). Several use high tunnels for season extension and the related marketing opportunities. Several are producing value-added products.
  • Labor is a consistent issue for all growers
  • Growers have diverse reasons and strategies for including different marketing angles such as U-pick, farmers market, value-added products, etc. Factors to consider include proximity to population centers, labor, time, time sensitivity of crop ripening, price.
  • Pest and disease issues are diverse. Growers make use of regional spray guides, conferences, weather information, peers, and pest forecasting systems to make decisions.
    • Pests mentioned – coddling moth, oriental fruit moth, stink bugs, spotted wing Drosophila, mites, Japanese beetle
    • Disease mentioned – apple scab, rust, fire blight, sooty blotch, phytophthora (primarily in low areas with poor drainage), brown rot
  • Growers emphasized variety selection as a critical underlying decision for fruit, with the heavy investment and delays until production.

 These information will inform future extension, research, diagnostics, and other grower engagement.

Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Tours
1 Workshop field days
1 Other educational activities: educational conference

Participation Summary:

40 Farmers participated
5 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We partnered with Sedgewick County to contribute disease/pest management information in a Sept 2022 farm tour (40 participants touring 5 farms).

We partnered with Sedgwick County Extension on a local food producers conference – Feb 4 2023 at Sedgwick County Extension Education Center. Learning outcomes summarized separately below (78 participants). Two participating growers provided presentations, and the project PI presented a talk about disease management that was rooted deeply in the information gathered from the 2021 field visits.

Learning Outcomes

25 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • It is difficult to determine the exact number of growers reporting gains, as our events included individuals who are not (or not YET) commercial growers. At the February 2023 conference, 92% of attendees said they would make changes based on what they learned. 62% reported that what they learned will help them increase production of fruits and vegetables. 79% indicated that connections made and opportunities they learned about will help them to realize their local food goals.

Project Outcomes

2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Unfortunately the covid19 pandemic drastically affected the project. Ultimately we had to modify the planned scope. However, we were still able to build and strengthen relationships with growers, gather critical data on production challenges, and build foundation to new collaborations.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.