Identification, assessment and management of soil-borne plant pathogens in vegetable production systems in the Northeast

2013 Annual Report for LNE10-296

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $124,851.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Beth Gugino
The Pennsylvania State University

Identification, assessment and management of soil-borne plant pathogens in vegetable production systems in the Northeast


Root diseases affect a wide array of vegetable crops grown throughout the Northeast region, significantly impacting the quality and quantity of marketable yield annually. Among the major root pathogens causing damage to vegetables are Phytophthora, Pythium, Rhizoctonia, Fusarium, Sclerotinia, Thielaviopsis, Verticillium, and Phoma. Not only can these pathogens incite disease individually, but they can also interact with other soilborne pathogen(s) and non-pathogenic organisms and cause more severe and damaging disease complexes. They are also frequently associated with poor soil health. Diagnosis of the root disease(s) and its causal agent(s) is critical in designing long-term effective integrated pest management strategies either to prevent or reduce soilborne pathogen populations while improving soil health.

Seven intensive hands-on training workshops will be held in the Northeast region over two years to increase workshop participant knowledge about the biology of major root pathogens in the region, familiarize them with symptoms and signs of the resultant diseases, learn how to assess their prevalence, and discuss sustainable management practices. We will also provide participants with both hardcopy and electronic versions of resource materials to consult and use in future programming as well as to promote networking for further future collaborations. Equipping growers and ag service providers with research-based knowledge about soilborne pathogens and skills through these hands-on trainings will expand the IPM toolbox of each participant and promote integrated crop management across the Northeast regio

Objectives/Performance Targets

Through use of intensive discussions and hand-on trainings in NY, PA, CT/MA, VT/NH and ME, 200 growers, extension educators, NRCS, crop consultants, and other agriculture service providers will be trained in the diagnosis, assessment and management of soilborne fungal pathogens and their root diseases on vegetable crops. Of those, 100 will incorporate acquired knowledge in their programming and communications with growers and thus reach an additional 7,000 growers/stakeholders. In addition, 30 extension educators/ag service providers will actively work with growers to identify and address soilborne pathogen disease problems on their farms. An additional 20 grower participants will diagnosis a disease problem and implement a management solution. Several case studies will be developed to further document impact.


Milestone 1. Target beneficiaries attend and participate in one of seven soilborne disease management trainings that will be held in NY, PA, CT/MA, VT/NH, ME and NJ/DE/MD. Training sessions are designed to educate 25 to 30 people per session with a new group of participants attending in each location over the course of 19 months.

  • The project directors refined the workshop content (PowerPoint presentations, factsheets, etc.) based on feedback from workshop participants. The topics covered during the biology and ecology portion of the training include: characteristics of healthy soil, losses attributed to soilborne diseases, plant disease triangle, characteristics of soilborne pathogens, pathogen survival, distribution in the soil and factors that affect infection and disease development. The signs and symptoms section focuses on the types of damage caused by soilborne pathogens (damping-off, wilts, root rots, etc.) as well as symptoms specific to oomycetes, Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, Sclerotinia and Verticillium on specific crops and host families. Due to time constraints, pathogens covered during each workshop are based on local need, however information covering a wider range of pathogens and disease complexes is available in the resource binder. In the section on how-to assess for soilborne pathogens participants learn about disease foci and pathogen spread in the field, how-to collect and submit diseased plant samples for diagnosis, how-to sample and conduct the soil bioassay with snap bean and observe prepared pathogen cultures on selective media and slides to facilitate pathogen identification and disease diagnosis. Specific topics covered in the management section include: selection of resistant/less susceptible cultivars and grafting, pathogen-free plant material, chemical and microbial seed treatments (how they work and how long do they last), mycorrhizal inoculants, transplant drenches, crop rotation/sequences, cover crops/biofumigant crops as well as products applied at planting and post-emergence/planting. For each pathogen, a matrix is in the process of being developed to indicate which management practices are most effective for specific soilborne pathogens. Once completed, this will be distributed to those who have attended previous workshops.
  • Cultures of various soilborne pathogens continue to be collected and stored for the inoculation of specimens to be examined during the hands-on activities. High resolution disease images also continue to be collected for posting on the project website which is currently under development.
  • Hands-on demonstrations provided the participants the opportunity to see signs and symptoms and also observe the diagnostics characteristics of plated cultures under the microscope. The demonstrations included examination of specimens of various stages of root rots on snap bean and pea, Rhizoctonia and Pythium on beets, Fusarium wilt on tomato, and root knot nematode on carrot, tomato and lettuce. In addition, demonstrations were prepared to show how to bait Thielaviopsis out on carrot disks, baiting of Phytophthora capsici out of water and soil using lemon leaves and green tomatoes as well as use Agdia immunological test kits for Phytophthora and Pythium.
  • In 2013, the workshops were announced via flyers that were distributed via various email listservs, newsletters and web postings as well as through personal communication with growers, extension educators and other ag stakeholders. Based on the post-workshop survey, the majority of participants learned about the workshop from newsletters (n=19), web postings (n=12), email listservs (n=8), directly from colleagues (n=9) and project leaders (4) as well as from the marketing materials for the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention (n=6).
  • Two workshops were held, one on 28 January in conjunction with the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center in Hershey, PA and one on 20 March at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. A total of 58 people attended the workshops. Due to weather related issues at the meeting in Hershey, PA another 9 pre-registered people were not able to attend. The group of 58 was comprised primarily of growers (n=32) our main target audience, crop consultants/advisors (n=5), extension educators (n=7), university personnel (n=5), and four that were self-described as other which included a master gardener, seed industry researcher, chemical industry rep, and one undescribed.
  • Not surprisingly based on the workshop survey, the primary reason participants attended the workshop was to learn and increase their diagnostic skills and/or gain a better understanding about soilborne pathogens/ diseases in vegetable production systems.

Milestone 2. At the end of each training session, evaluation of hands-on training, supplemental materials, perceived change in knowledge and intention to use acquired knowledge and skills. 19 months. 

  • A pre/post workshop survey was administered at the conclusion of each workshop to evaluate the hands-on training materials, perceived change in knowledge and intention to use the acquired knowledge and skills. Of the 51of 58 participants who responded to this question, 58.8% rated the overall workshop as excellent with remaining 33.3% rating it as good. Over 74.5% (n=38) of the participants increased their knowledge in at least three of the four major topics covered (biology/ecology, symptoms, assessment, and management) with an additional 23.5% (n=9) increasing their knowledge on two topics.Of the 48 respondents to this question, 93.7% indicated that they were moderately (n=13) to very likely (n=32) to incorporate the knowledge and skills acquired during the workshop into their farming operations and/or outreach activities. Participants indicated that they planned to use the information in a variety of ways ranging from increased scouting for symptoms, sampling for diagnosis to making crop rotation decisions based on pathogen information and working to improve soil conditions and using biofumigant crops. A number of participants indicated that they intended to disseminate the knowledge gained at the workshop to others either on the farm or clients with whom they work.

Milestone 3. Extension educators and other ag service providers will incorporate acquired knowledge and skills into outreach programs and communications with growers. Growers will evaluate and diagnosis root disease problems on their farm and implement appropriate management strategies as needed. 24 months.

  • We are in the process of gathering this information through the follow-up evaluation currently being conducted with participants of the workshops conducted thus far.

Milestone 4. Target beneficiaries and other stakeholders in the vegetable production industry access additional information as needed from the developed web-based resources. 24 months.

  • The web-based resources are currently under development and will be accessible in the near future. Participants in previous workshops will be notified and directed to this content when available.

Milestone 5. Target beneficiaries complete an on-line (or hardcopy) evaluation one-year following attendance at a workshop to assess project behavioral impact among target beneficiaries and anticipated long-term impact of outreach to vegetable producers in NY, PA, CT/MA, VT/NH, and the Northeast region. 30 months.

  • We are currently in the process of administering the follow-up evaluation with participants in the workshops conducted thus far.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

A full day interactive workshop titled “Identification, assessment and management of soilborne plant pathogens in vegetable production systems in the Northeast” was developed. The workshop consists of the following sessions divided by two breaks and lunch: 1) workshop overview and introductions, 2) biology and ecology of soilborne organisms, 3) symptoms and signs of soilborne pathogens and diseases common in vegetable production systems, 4) sampling and assessing plants and soil for soilborne pathogens, and 5) soilborne pathogen management – available options and strategies. A resource binder containing hardcopies of the workshop powerpoint presentations, an array of relevant factsheets on soilborne pathogens and diseases, protocols on soil sampling and conducting soil bioassays for soilborne fungal and nematode pathogens was developed and has been refined based on participant feedback. All these resources as well as some additional factsheets were placed on a CD-ROM so participants can use the information in the future. Participants also received a trowel to emphasize the importance of digging up the root system when assessing for soilborne pathogens.

Two workshops, attended by 58 participants, primarily growers, were conducted on 28 January in conjunction with the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference in PA and on 20 March at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in NY. The participants rated the content of the workshop very highly and 93.7% indicated that they were moderately to very likely to use the knowledge and skills gain as a direct result of this workshop in their farming operations or educational programming. This is the highest measurement of intention to-date. The follow-up survey will enable to measure whether or not this intention was put into practice. One additional workshop is being planned for Maine/New Hampshire in spring 2014.


James LaMondia

[email protected]
Chief Scientist
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
153 Cook Hill Road
Windsor, CT 06095
Office Phone: 8606834982
George Abawi

[email protected]
Cornell University
630 West North Street
Geneva, NY 14456
Office Phone: 3157872374