Tag Archives: disease

Battling Fire Blight with Biologicals

This post was written by Anna Wallis, Kerik Cox, and Mei-Wah Choi (all from Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology). Thanks for sharing your research with us!

Since this is a slightly longer post, here’s a little table of contents:

Biological Modes of Action

What products are currently available and where do they fit in?

Results from the Cox lab

The verdict on biologicals for fire blight management

Streptomycin is a clear asset in the fire blight arsenal—it is inexpensive, effective, and reliable. However, antibiotics may not always be a viable option. More and more, biological materials are holding their own in the fight, with an increasing number of products on the market claiming protection for both blossom and shoot blight. Biological materials are still relatively new to the apple scene, an industry with a long track record of effective disease management. So why change to biologicals, and how do they work?

There are a multitude of reasons driving the growth of antibiotic alternatives. Organic production eliminated antibiotic use in 2014 in the United States. In European markets, they are prohibited or severely limited. Pressure from regulatory organizations and markets to use more sustainable management techniques will not be slowing any time soon. The prevailing evidence supports that responsible streptomycin applications do not seem to select for resistance in the pathogen. Yet, resistance continues to appear in commercial settings.

So, what are these biological materials and how do they work? In the ‘What is Biocontrol?’ tab above, Amara provides an excellent overview of biocontrol, as defined by the EPA and industry. Here I’ll review the biological modes of action and specific materials available in the context of fire blight management. I’ll also provide a snapshot of how biological programs have performed in our research orchards. There is no intention to endorse any specific trade products, rather this is an attempt to provide a neutral perspective and overview of the current market.

Biological Modes of Action

Biological materials available for fire blight management are typically biopesticides falling into the biochemical or microbial category. This means they are derived from natural sources (i.e. plant extracts or minerals) or they are composed of microcorganisms and/or their products.

To understand how biologicals can be used in fire blight management, it’s first important to review the important features of the disease. A thorough description of the disease cycle, symptoms, and causal organism can be found on this Cornell Fact Sheet. Fire blight is caused by Erwinia amylovora, a bacterial pathogen which preferentially colonizes the floral surface, specifically the stigma or the sticky part of the tip of the female organ. First, enough heat must be accumulated for colonization to occur, which can be predicted by disease forecasting models such as MaryBlyt (if you’re familiar with the disease and pest prediction tool NEWA, this is the model used in the fire blight prediction model there). Then there must be a wetting event to wash the bacteria into the natural openings in the flower, the nectary at the base of the floral cup. Unlike fungi, bacteria cannot penetrate plant cells directly, so they rely on natural openings and tissue damage to invade their host.

Pictures (counterclockwise, from top left) of a yellow glob of bacteria oozing out of a dark, necrotic canker on an apple stem; a dead cluster of apple blossoms; a dead apple shoot curved like a shepherd’s crook; the base of an apple tree trunk with a dark canker.
Figure 1. Simplified disease cycle for Erwinia amylovora, causal agent of fire blight. Clockwise from top left: primary inoculum is produced in the spring as bacterial ooze from old cankers; inoculum is transferred to open flowers and causes blossom blight; blighted blossoms provide additional inoculum which is transferred to young leaf tissue damaged by wind or hail causing shoot blight; bacteria may also travel systemically via the vascular system of the plant leading to canker blight; cankers produced from blossom, shoot, or canker blight provide an overwintering site for bacteria to colonize the tree in the following season.

Biologicals can disrupt these events by:

  1. Outcompeting the bacteria during colonization of the plant
  2. Producing antibiotic metabolites, killing the pathogen prior to infection, or
  3. Priming natural host defenses, making the plant more resistant to the bacteria. This is called ‘Induced Resistance’

A simplified view of these events is depicted in Figure 2.

Two identical pictures of a cluster of open apple blossoms. Left photo with a red circle around the yellow floral parts (stigmas) and a blue curved arrow from this circle to the base of the flower (nectary), representing the colonization of the stigma by E. amylovora and a wetting event washing the bacteria into the plant. Right photo with the red circle and blue arrow, plus a yellow ‘X’ over the red circle, indicating protectant activity at the stigmatic surface, and a brown ‘T’ with the top facing the stigma, indicating the induction of plant defenses.
Figure 2. Depiction of fire blight blossom infection and how biological materials interfere. (A) In order for a blossom infection to occur, flowers must be open and receptive, heat accumulation must be sufficient for E. amylovora to colonize the stigma (red circle), and there must be a wetting event (blue arrow) to wash the bacteria into the floral nectary. (B) Biological materials protect against infections by outcompeting the pathogen or producing antibiotic metabolites (yellow ‘x’) or priming host defenses (red letter “T”).

Like any product, these materials require precise applications, to ensure they are in the right place at the right time to provide effective control (Figure 3). Materials with competitive action or antimicrobial metabolites that ‘protect’ the flower (protectants) must be applied when the bacteria is present or just before. This enables sufficient, timely colonization or interaction with the pathogen. Induced resistance materials (defense inducers), also called Systemic Acquired Resistance or Induced Systemic Resistance materials (SARs or ISRs), must be applied prior to infection events, with enough time to activate the host response. (Click the image below to enlarge it.)

Seven pictures of apple buds in a row, depicting growth stages in chronological order: 1. dormant (closed, brown buds), 2. green tip (green leaves just starting to emerge), 3. half inch green (about ½” of green showing), 4. tight cluster (cluster of green floral buds in center of emerged leaves), 5. pink (floral buds showing pink color), 6. bloom (open blossoms), and 7. petal fall (cluster of very small fruitlets). At several stages, words are printed above indicating actions to be taken for fire blight management. At dormant “Prune out cankers”, at green tip “Copper”, at pink “Pre-bloom defense inducers”, at bloom “Protectants”, at petal fall “Post-bloom defense inducers.”
Figure 3. Approximate timing of biological materials corresponding to phenological stages of apple for blossom and shoot blight protection. In any fire blight management program, it is essential to remove inoculum (old cankers) during the dormant period and apply a general antimicrobial at green tip to reduce inoculum. Blossom blight control is provided by defense inducers applied prior to bloom and protectants applied at bloom. Additional applications of defense inducers post-bloom provide shoot blight control; some of the earlier applications targeting blossom blight seem to also have some carry-over effect for shoot blight.

What products are currently available and where do they fit in?


Blossom protectant type products include both bacteria and fungi. The most well-known examples include: Pantoea agglomerans, a bacterium closely related to the fire blight bacterium and an excellent colonizer of apple flowers, marketed as Bloomtime Biological (Northwest Agricultural Products), and the yeast Aureobasidium pullulans, a fungus, marketed as Blossom Protect (Westbridge Agricultural Products). Another bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens, is also an effective competitor and is marketed as BlightBan (NuFarm).

Materials with antimicrobial activity are most often Bacillus species, most commonly strains of B. amyloliquefaciens and B. subtillus. Currently on the market are Serenade Optimum (Bayer), Double Nickel (Certis), and Serifel (BASF).

Products that stimulate Induced Resistance response in the host plant work by stimulating two possible pathways the ISR and SAR, as mentioned earlier. These pathways are related and overlapping in the plant, and scientists are still detangling the complex molecular mechanisms involved in plant protection. Example products include Regalia, an extract of the plant Reynoutria sachaliensis or giant knotweed (Marrone Bio Innovations) and a Bacillus mycoides strain marketed as LifeGard (Certis). Another common product used in induced defense is acibenzolar-S-methyl. This is not a biological, but a synthetically derived product marketed as Actigard (Syngenta).

Many of these products have been recommended as part of an integrative management strategy outlined in an extensive report from The Organic Center, based on results from both research trials and anecdotal experience (Ostenson and Granatstein 2013). Always follow the label on any pesticide (including biopesticides) you use.

Table 1. Biological products for Fire Blight

Product Active Ingredient Mode of Action
Firewall Streptomycin antibiotic – kills pathogen
Blossom Protect Aureobasidium pullulans strains DSM14940 & 14941 competitive with pathogen
Bloomtime Biological Pantoea agglomerans strain E325 competitive with pathogen
BlightBan Pseudomonas fluorescens strain A506 competitive with pathogen
Serenade Optimum Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain QST713 antibiotic metabolites
Double Nickel Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain D747 antibiotic metabolites
Serifel Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain MBI600 antibiotic metabolites
Regalia extract of Reynoutria (giant knotweed) resistance inducer
LifeGard Bacillus mycoides isolate J resistance inducer

Results from the Cox lab


Our lab conducts extensive trials evaluating efficacy and sustainability of disease management programs in our research orchards at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. More recently testing has included various biological materials. In these trials, management programs are tested in two orchard blocks: a Gala block and an Ida Red block, established in 2002 and 2004 respectively, both on B.9 rootstock. The trees in these blocks are spaced considerably farther apart than commercial orchards in order to prevent drift between treatments.

Programs targeted either blossom or shoot blight. To provide sufficient disease pressure, trees are inoculated with a high concentration of E. amylovora at bloom. In blossom blight programs, resistance inducers are applied at pink, and protectants are applied at bloom. For shoot blight programs, resistance inducers are applied at petal fall.

Disease pressure varied from season to season, as indicated by the untreated control trees, ranging from 60 to 99 % disease incidence. Across all trials, antibiotics provided the most consistent and reliable control of both blossom and shoot blight, with less than 15% blossom and 5% shoot blight. The biological materials, both protectants applied at bloom and defense inducers applied pre-infection, also provided good disease protection with typically less than 30% incidence depending on the season conditions and the product. Compared to antibiotic programs, these materials showed greater variation both within and between seasons (i.e. greater standard deviation within a treatment and different top performers in different seasons). In seasons with lower disease pressure, biological programs tended to perform as well as antibiotics. Some of the specific results from 2015-17 are shown in Figure 4 (click the image to enlarge the graphs).

Disease was most severe in the untreated control, ranging from 60% to more than 90% of blossoms blighted and 30% to more than 50% of shoots blighted. Pressure was high in 2015 and 2017, lower in 2016. The antibiotic streptomycin always had <20% and often 0% incidence. Defense inducers outperformed protectants in 2015. In 2016 and 2017 defense inducers and protectants performed similarly, and overall disease incidence was lower.
Figure 4. Average disease incidence of four replicate trees treated with fire blight management programs in 2015 (A & D), 2016 (B & E), and 2017 (C & F). Programs included untreated control (grey bar; highest disease pressure), antibiotics (maroon), resistance inducers (blue), and blossom protectants (yellow).

The verdict on biologicals for fire blight management


Do we recommend biological materials for fire blight management? Overall, the answer is generally yes. There are several important considerations to consider. In our research orchards, the system is challenged with a very high level of inoculum to examine fine differences in product performance. These inoculum levels are much higher than would be present in most commercial orchards. Hence, we expect all programs would perform even better in a commercial setting. In addition, combinations of products seem to be the best: for example, pairing a defense inducer applied at bloom with a protectant material at bloom to control blossom blight, with follow up defense inducer applications for shoot blight. We also expect efficacy of biological materials to improve in the future. Changes in formulations improving activity (note the old and new Regalia formulations in Figure 3), as well as shelf life, tank mixing, and storage happen fairly regularly and will make products more accessible and affordable for growers.

Biologicals are still relatively new materials. As with any product, there is still much to learn about how products work in the field, the most effective management programs, and translating best practices from research to commercial settings. We believe they are a valuable part of an integrated fire blight management approach, including good cultural and mechanical practices such as planting resistant cultivars and rootstocks and removing inoculum from the orchard.

 

You can learn more from these sources:

Ostenson, H., and Granatstein, D. Grower Lessons and Emerging Research for Developing an Integrated Non-Antibiotic Fire Blight Control Program in Organic Fruit. The Organic Center. November 2013. Available at: https://www.organic-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/TOC_Report_Blight_2b.pdf

Pal, K., and Gardener, B. 2011. Biological Control of Plant Pathogens. The Plant Health Instructor, APS. Available at: https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/advanced/topics/Pages/BiologicalControl.aspx.

Turechek, W. W., and Biggs, A. R. 2015. Maryblyt v. 7.1 for Windows: An Improved Fire Blight Forecasting Program for Apples and Pears. Plant Health Progress. 16:16–22. Available at: https://www.plantmanagementnetwork.org/pub/php/volume16/number1/PHP-RS-14-0046.pdf

And the results are in…from Year 1. What do biofungicides add to vegetable disease management Part 3

Cucurbit powdery mildew on a winter squash leaf.
One of our goals for this project was to understand what biofungicides might add to a cucurbit powdery mildew management program.

Introduction

In 2018 we conducted field trials using biofungicides in cucurbit powdery mildew and snap bean white mold management programs. Hopefully you’ve read part 1 and part 2 of this biofungicide story. If not, now might be a good time.

Part 1 will give you more details about the trial design. We wanted to know whether adding biofungicides would improve disease control, plant health, or yield. For cucurbit powdery mildew, we were adding one of three different biofungicides to a conventional chemical spray program. We also included a treatment that was all OMRI-listed (organic) products. For white mold on snap beans, we were curious about using an in-season biofungicide (Double Nickel, Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain D747) in combination with a pre-season biofungicide (Contans, Paraconiothyrium minitans strain CON/M/91-08). In 2018, our white mold treatments were just Double Nickel and Cueva (an OMRI-listed copper). In 2019, we’ll add the pre-season Contans treatment.

Part 2 explains more about the modes of action of the five biofungicides we are looking at. The post also includes practical information about how to use these biofungicides to maximize their efficacy – compatibility with other products, best way to store them, when to apply them, etc.

Now it’s time to talk about what we learned from this first year (of a two-year project).

The bottom line

We don’t want to keep you in suspense, so here’s a quick summary of what we learned. Fortunately for the eastern NY grower who graciously allowed us to run the trial on his farm (but unfortunately for us), the snap bean field had very little white mold in 2018. Even the plots that were not sprayed with Double Nickel or Cueva had almost no disease. So we weren’t surprised when there were no differences in disease, plant health, or yield among the white mold treatments. Results from Sarah Pethybridge’s efficacy trials with OMRI-approved products for white mold are available online.

A healthy field of snap bean plants.
Our snap bean trial in eastern NY in 2018 had very little white mold. (Photo credit: Crystal Stewart)

Cucurbit powdery mildew was a bit more severe than white mold (low pressure in eastern NY, moderate pressure in western NY and on Long Island), but we were not able to detect statistically significant benefits from adding biofungicides to a conventional spray program. Disease severity, plant health (as measured by NDVI), yield, and fruit quality (Brix) were the same whether you used a conventional spray program, or a conventional spray program plus a biofungicide. We didn’t measure significant differences in yield among any of the treatments at any of the three sites.

The conventional powdery mildew spray program alone, or when combined with LifeGard, Regalia, or Serifel significantly reduced disease compared to no treatment for cucurbit powdery mildew. Adding any of the biofungicides to the conventional spray program did not improve control compared to using only the conventional sprays. The organic (OMRI-listed products) treatment was not significantly different from either no sprays at all, or the conventional spray program.
Severity of powdery mildew on the upper sides of the leaves in the Western NY trial. Here, disease severity is quantified using the area under the disease progress curve (AUDPC). This number summarizes disease severity from multiple dates, and the larger the number, the worse the disease. If two treatments share the same letter, the average disease in those treatments is not significantly different. The error bars give you an idea of how much variability there was in each treatment.

NDVI results

NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) values did not detect cucurbit powdery mildew early. (Since there was so little white mold, we couldn’t test NDVI for early detection.) There was some inconsistent correlation between NDVI readings and disease, yield, and Brix in winter squash. In WNY we used both a handheld GreenSeeker and a gator-mounted Crop Circle to measure NDVI. Both devices had similar results. Based on this first year of testing with these two devices, NDVI measurements were not useful as an early indicator of cucurbit powdery mildew.

In addition,  NDVI measurements did not  detect subtle differences in plant health among treatments. At only one of our three sites (Long Island) were there any significant differences in NDVI among treatments. This was only on the last two rating dates in the season, when powdery mildew was visibly more severe in the non-treated control than the conventional fungicide treatments.

On the last two rating dates of the season (August 31 and September 17), NDVI values were significantly higher in the conventional powdery mildew spray program treatment and all three of the conventional + biofungicide treatments, compared to the plots that were not treated for powdery mildew. Adding the biofungicides did not significantly improve NDVI, compared to using only conventional products.
Normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) measured on winter squash in the Long Island trial on three dates at the end of the season. NDVI values closer to 1 indicate more healthy, green foliage. If two treatments have the same a letter on the same date, the average NDVI readings on that date were not different between the two treatments. Data from August 31 are labeled with uppercase, while data from September 17 are labeled with lowercase letters. There were no differences among any treatments on August 24. The error bars give you an idea of how much variability there was in each treatment. We couldn’t do statistics on the organic treatment because too many plants were killed by Phytophthora blight in the plots that received this treatment.

Some caveats

The non-treated control (received no powdery mildew fungicide) was often not significantly different from the conventional fungicide control (our best management program). We know that controlling powdery mildew on cucurbits is important, so if we don’t detect a significant difference between the non-treated control and the treatment that should have provided the best control, it is then hard to draw further conclusions from the data.

We didn’t measure statistically significant differences in marketable yield among any of the treatments at any of the sites. Data for eastern NY are shown in this graph.
We didn’t detect statistically significant differences in marketable yield among any of the treatments in any of the trials. Here are the data from eastern NY. Notice that all six bars are labeled with the letter “a”. As with previous graphs, the error bars give you an idea of how much variability there was across the different plots in each treatment.

When disease pressure is low (as it was in Eastern NY), we would expect not to see many differences between treatments. Similarly, if the conventional fungicide program provided excellent disease control (as it did on Long Island), it would be hard to detect an improvement in control from adding a biofungicide. Another challenge we dealt with in the Long Island trial was Phytophthora blight. By the end of the season, we had lost two of the four plots receiving the organic treatment to this disease. This limited our ability to statistically analyze the biofungicide data. On Long Island, the organic spray program initially performed well – as seen on August 31  – comparable to the conventional treatments. But by the final assessment on September 17, the organic program was no longer as effective. This was not surprising since it was 10 days after the last application. Suffoil-X was the final organic product applied, and it has little residual activity.

In the Long Island trial, there was very little disease on August 16 or 24. On August 31, disease had increased in the non-treated control, but the organic treatment was still suppressing disease well. Control in the organic treatment had declined by September 17, but this was 10 days after the last spray was applied.
Average severity of powdery mildew on the upper surface of leaves on the last four assessment dates in the 2018 Long Island trial. All of the treatments (except the non-treated control) suppressed powdery mildew well through August 31. Control in the organic treatment had declined by September 17, but this was 10 days after the last spray was applied.

In WNY, we had an epic aphid outbreak. An entomologist colleague identified them as probably melon aphids, and also that 2018 was generally a bad year for aphids. It’s also possible that while trying to control cucumber beetles earlier in the season, we killed some aphid natural enemies, contributing to an aphid outbreak later in the season. I know cucumber beetles are tough, but if you can manage them without decimating your local natural enemies, you’ll be doing yourself a favor!

The underside of a squash leaf covered with aphids; an acorn squash fruit covered with shiny honeydew from aphids; a close-up picture of an adult aphid and some young aphids.
The severe aphid outbreak in the western NY trial may have made it more difficult to detect differences among treatments. In late August, some of the leaves were covered with aphids (A), and many fruit were covered with honeydew (B). Getting a close look at the aphids is essential for correct identification (C).

We deliberately used a very intensive spray program, starting our biofungicide applications early, and continuing to apply them as we added conventional fungicides later in the season. This was an expensive powdery mildew management program. But, in this first year of the project, we didn’t want to be left wondering if a lack of differences was due to underapplication of the biofungicides.

If you want to see more of the data we collected from the cucurbit powdery mildew trial, you can find it in the Proceedings from the 2019 Empire State Producers Expo.

What does this all mean?

First, this is only the first year of our project and one year of data. It’s a start, but we’ll hopefully learn more in a second year. Since we didn’t measure a significant improvement in yield, we didn’t see evidence that adding biofungicides to a full chemical spray program for powdery mildew justified the cost. The relative costs of the treatments we used are listed in the table below, and the approximate per acre costs of each product are in the Proceedings from the 2019 Empire State Producers Expo. Replacing a chemical spray or two with a biofungicide could be a more economical option. That’s something we’re planning to look at in 2019.

Treatment
Date Non-treated Conventional Conventional + LifeGard Conventional + Regalia Conventional + Serifel Organic
7/19/18 LifeGard Regalia Serifel LifeGard
7/27/18 LifeGard Regalia Serifel LifeGard
8/3/18 Vivando LifeGard + Vivando Regalia + Vivando Serifel + Vivando MilStop
8/10/18 Quintec LifeGard + Quintec Regalia + Quintec Serifel + Quintec Serifel
8/17/18 Luna Experience LifeGard + Luna Regalia + Luna Serifel + Luna SuffoilX
8/24/18 Vivando LifeGard + Vivando Regalia + Vivando Serifel + Vivando MilStop
8/31/18 Quintec LifeGard + Quintec Regalia + Quintec Serifel + Quintec Serifel
9/7/18 Luna Experience LifeGard + Luna Regalia + Luna Serifel + Luna SuffoilX
Total cost (per A) $228.28 $343.32 $536.28 $696.28 $257.76
Cost increase vs. conventional (per A) $  – $115.04 $308.00 $468.00 $29.48

Based on results from this year, we can’t yet recommend that you run out and buy a handheld NDVI sensor for early detection of cucurbit powdery mildew. We’ll collect NDVI data again in 2019, and let you know what we learn. Although our results from the field trials were somewhat inconclusive in this first year, we’re hopeful that the information we’ve compiled about how these biofungicides work and how to use them will be useful. If you’re thinking of using Contans, Double Nickel, LifeGard, Regalia, or Serifel in 2019, first take a look at these fact sheets related to our white mold and powdery mildew trials. And if you have used biofungicides, we’d be interested in hearing about it; click here to send an e-mail.

This post was written by Amara Dunn (NYS IPM), Elizabeth Buck (Cornell Vegetable Program), Meg McGrath and Sarah Pethybridge (both Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University), Crystal Stewart (Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program), and Darcy Telenko (Department of Botany & Plant Pathology, Purdue University). Thank you to the New York Farm Viability Institute for funding.

How do they work? How do I use them? What do biofungicides add to vegetable disease management Part 2

rows of healthy winter squash plants with flags
Winter squash in our cucurbit powdery mildew biopesticide trial conducted in western NY, eastern NY, and on Long Island in 2018. We are also testing biopesticides for white mold. Photo credit: Meg McGrath.

Remember from Part 1 of this post that we (I and many great colleagues) are studying what biopesticides can add to effective disease management of cucurbit powdery mildew and white mold. After “what is a biopesticide?” the next most common questions about this project are about the specific biopesticides we’re testing:

  • How do they work?
  • Can I tank mix them with other pesticides or with fertilizers?
  • Do I need to use these products differently than I would use a chemical pesticide?

Today’s post will try to answer those questions.

 

Modes of action – How do they work?

As you may recall from February’s post, biopesticides work in different ways, and the five biofungicides we’re studying cover the range of these modes of action.

table summarizing modes of action for Contans, Double Nickel, LifeGard, Regalia, and Serifel
Biopesticides protect plants from diseases in different ways. I like to divide them up into the five modes of action (MOAs) in this table. Like many biopesticides, some of the products we are testing have more than one MOA. Click on the table to enlarge it.

Eats pathogen

The fungus active ingredient of Contans (Paraconiothyrium minitans strain CON/M/91-08; formerly called Coniothyrium minitans) “eats” (parasitizes and degrades) the tough sclerotia of the fungus, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum that causes white mold. Sclerotia survive in the soil from year to year. However, for this strategy to be effective, the fungal spores within Contans have to first make contact with the sclerotia. The time between colonization and degradation of sclerotia is about 90 days.

Makes antimicrobial compounds

The active ingredients in Serifel and Double Nickel are bacteria – same species but different strains. They both produce compounds that are harmful to plant pathogens (antimicrobial). According to the manufacturer, most of the foliar efficacy of Double Nickel is due to the antimicrobial compounds already present in the container. But the manufacturer notes that some of the efficacy also comes from the live bacteria that are responsible for this product’s other modes of action, especially the induction of plant resistance (more on this later). The strain of bacteria in Serifel has been formulated so that it contains only living bacteria (no antimicrobial compounds). The manufacturer’s goal is for the bacteria to produce antimicrobial products unique to the specific environmental conditions after application. Double Nickel and Serifel are examples of different strategies for using antimicrobial-producing bacteria to fight plant diseases. Our goal is to explain how the products work; not tell you which strategy is better.

smiling blue bacteria on a leaf; angry yellow bacteria have no place to land
Some biopesticides contain microbes that grow on the plant. These beneficial microbes use up space and nutrients so there is no room for the pathogen, excluding it.

Excludes pathogen

The bacteria in Double Nickel and Serifel also can protect plants from disease by growing over (colonizing) the plant so that there is no space or nutrients available for pathogens. How important this mode of action is to the efficacy of Double Nickel depends on the setting and time of year (according to the manufacturer). Cucurbit leaves exposed to sun, heat, and dry air are not great places for bacteria to grow, and pathogen exclusion is not likely to be very important in protecting cucurbit leaves from powdery mildew. The antimicrobial MOA is more important here. Apple blossoms being protected from fire blight in the early spring could be a different story. The bacteria in Serifel tolerate a wide range of temperatures in the field, but the manufacturer recommends applying this product with a silicon surfactant to help the bacteria spread across the plant surface better.

Induces plant resistance

Plants have mechanisms to defend themselves. Some pathogens succeed in causing disease when they avoid triggering these defenses, or when they infect the plant before it has a chance to activate these defenses. Some biofungicides work by triggering plants to “turn on” their defense mechanisms. This is called “inducing plant resistance.” It is the sole mode of action of the bacteria in LifeGard, and one of the modes of action for the active ingredients in Double Nickel, Regalia, and Serifel.

Promotes plant growth and/or stress tolerance

The last biofungicide being studied in this trial has a plant extract as an active ingredient, instead of a microorganism. Regalia works by both inducing plant resistance, and also promoting plant growth and stress tolerance. Some of the other products in this trial also share these MOAs. According to the label, some crops treated with Regalia produce more chlorophyll or contain more soluble protein. This final MOA (promotion of plant growth and stress tolerance) is also sometimes shared with “biostimulants”. But remember that “biostimulant” is not currently a term regulated by the EPA. This may be changing in the future, so stay tuned. Biostimulants enhance plant health and quality. They are not registered as pesticides, and must not be applied for the purpose of controlling disease. Make sure you read and follow the label of any product you apply.

Best practices – How do I use them?

We’ll get to some product-specific details in a minute, but first some notes about best uses for all five of these products.

  • They need to be used preventatively. For biofungicides to eat pathogens, exclude them from plants, induce plant resistance, or improve plant growth and stress tolerance, they need to beat the pathogen to the plant. It takes time for the plant to fully activate its defenses, even if “flipping the switch” to turn those defenses on happens quickly. The same applies to promoting plant growth and stress tolerance. And if you want the beneficial microorganism to already be growing where the pathogen might land, of course you need to apply the product before the pathogen is present. Microbes that produce antimicrobial compounds also work best if they are applied when disease levels are low.
  • Use IPM. These biofungicides (and most, if not all, biofungicides) were designed to be used with other pest management strategies like good cultural practices, host resistance, and other pesticides. For example, they can be included in a conventional spray program to manage pesticide resistance.
  • Mix what you need, when you need it. Don’t mix biofungicides and then leave them in the spray tank overnight. Some products may need to be used even more promptly. Check the label.
  • Store carefully. Generally, away from direct sunlight and high heat. Follow the storage instructions on the label.
  • They have short intervals, but still require PPE. One of the benefits of biofungicides is short pre-harvest intervals (PHIs) and re-entry intervals (REIs). All five of the products we’re studying have a 0 day PHI and a 4 hour REI. But they all still require personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling and applying them. Read and follow those labels!
  • Tank mixing best practices still apply. The table at the end of this post has details about biological compatibility of these products in tank mixes, as reported by the manufacturers. But just like other pesticides, you need to follow the label instructions for mixing. If you have questions about a specific tank mix partner, confirm compatibility with a company rep. Do a “jar test” if you are mixing two products for the first time and want to know if they are physically compatible.

Biopesticides (especially those that contain living microorganisms) often need to be handled and used differently than chemical pesticides. They may be more sensitive to temperature, moisture, or UV light, which may impact the best time or place to apply them. And of course you don’t want to tank mix a living microorganism with something that will kill the good microbe. (Cleaning your tank well between sprays is always recommended, whether or not you are using a biopesticide.) The following table summarizes details for the five products we’re studying provided by the manufacturers – from product labels, company websites, and conversations with company reps. We have not personally tested this information.

summary of FRAC codes, where and when to apply, temperature tolerance in the field, rainfastness, UV tolerance, tank mix compatibility, storage and shelf life for 5 biopesticides
Exactly how should you use these biofungicides to maximize their efficacy? This table summarizes best practices (as reported by the manufacturers) for each of the five fungicides tested in this trial. Click on the table to enlarge it.

We’ve created handouts that summarize the designs of both the cucurbit powdery mildew and the white mold trials, the modes of action of the five biofungicides we’re testing, and the best practices information presented above.

cucurbit powdery mildew biofungicide trial summary

white mold biofungicide trial summary

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this post – results from our first year of field trials!

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn (NYS IPM) and Sarah Pethybridge (Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University). Thank you to the New York Farm Viability Institute for funding.

What do biofungicides add to vegetable disease management? Part 1 – Introducing the project

butternut squash plants grown on a black plastic-covered raised bed
This summer we compared three biofungicides added to a conventional cucurbit powdery mildew management program in field trials conducted in western and eastern NY and on Long Island. Photo credit: Caitlin Vore, Cornell Vegetable Program

What we’re doing

This summer I have been working with great colleagues (Elizabeth Buck, Dr. Julie Kikkert, Dr. Margaret McGrath, Jud Reid, and Crystal Stewart) on a project funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute looking at the use of biofungicides (Remember what biofungicides are?) in vegetable disease management. Dr. Darcy Telenko (formerly of the Cornell Vegetable Program) helped plan the project before starting her new position at Purdue University, and Dr. Sarah Pethybridge has provided valuable advice based on her extensive work with white mold (including control with biofungicides). BASF, Bayer, BioWorks, Certis, Dow, and Marrone BioInnovations provided product for the field trials.

The project has two goals:

  1. Quantify what biofungicides add to management of cucurbit powdery mildew and white mold in terms of…
    – disease control
    – yield
    – plant health
    – economic value (comparing yield gains to fungicide costs)
  2. Evaluate the utility of NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) as a measure of plant health and disease detection in fresh vegetables

Why this project?

For both diseases (cucurbit powdery mildew and white mold), we’re considering biofungicides used with other pest management – other biofungicides, conventional chemical fungicides, and/or cultural practices. Biofungicides are not expected to be silver bullets, and they work best when used in an IPM strategy. But when deciding whether or how to use them in your operation, it’s good to know what value you’re getting for the extra costs of purchasing and applying the products. This summer we ran trials in three major vegetable-producing regions of the state: western New York, eastern NY, and on Long Island.

Biofungicides for cucurbit powdery mildew

cucurbit powdery mildew on the upper side of a squash leaf
Cucurbit powdery mildew looks like a dusting of powdered sugar on the cucurbit leaf. These powdery spots start on the underside of the leaf, and then develop on the upper surface of the leaf, so excellent spray coverage is important. Photo credit: Amara Dunn, NYS IPM

For combatting cucurbit powdery mildew, we’re comparing three biofungicides: LifeGard (Bacillus mycoides isolate J), Regalia (extract from the giant knotweed plant Reynoutria sachalinensis), and Serifel (Bacillus amyloliquefaciens MBI 600). All three were applied weekly starting when the plants were small. Then, when the first signs of powdery mildew showed up, we started a rotation of conventional fungicides (Vivando, Quintec, and Luna Experience). These three treatments plus a rotation of all-organic fungicides (LifeGard, MilStop, Serifel, and a mineral oil) are being compared to two control treatments: the conventional fungicides alone, and plants that received no treatment for powdery mildew. We ran the trials on a variety of bushing acorn squash (‘Honey Bear’) that has intermediate resistance to powdery mildew.

Biofungicides for white mold

bean pod half rotted by white mold fungus
Most vegetable crops are susceptible to white mold, with legumes being among the most vulnerable. The name comes from the dense white “tufts” that the fungus forms. These develop into dark, hard sclerotia that can survive for years in the soil. Photo credit: Amara Dunn, NYS IPM

In the white mold trial, we’re looking at Double Nickel (Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain D747) alone or in combination with Contans (Paraconiothyrium minitans strain CON/M/91-08; formerly Coniothyrium minitans). Next year we’ll look at these biofungicides in combination with reduced tillage at one site. Reduced tillage is another IPM strategy for white mold. The active ingredient in Contans is a fungus that eats the resting structures (sclerotia) of the fungus that causes the disease white mold. Because of this, it needs time to work, and is applied either in fall or spring. The goal is to reduce the number of sclerotia present in the next crop. Next year we’ll collect data on whether application of Contans reduced disease. In the meantime, during the 2018 growing season treatments we tested were Double Nickel, Cueva (an OMRI-approved copper) and no treatment for white mold on snap bean. Previous research by the EVADE Lab at Cornell AgriTech at The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva, New York, has shown that Double Nickel is a promising biofungicide for white mold.

What is NDVI, anyway?

In a nutshell, the “normalized difference vegetation index” (NDVI) is a way to quantify how much healthy, green foliage is present. The device we used emits different types (wavelengths) of light (red and near infrared), and measures how much of each type of light is reflected back from the leaves of the plant. Leaves that are dark green and healthy reflect more infrared light and absorb a lot of red light. Less healthy leaves reflect less infrared light. A NDVI value closer to 1 indicates healthier plants. A NDVI value closer to 0 indicates less healthy plants (or more bare ground).

GreenSeeker device over a dark green (healthy) cucurbit plant and a light green (less healthy) cucurbit plant. Arrows show that red and infrared light are reflected differently from these two plants. NDVI values closer to 1 indicate a lot of healthy green leaves. NDVI values closer to 0 indicate less healthy (or fewer) leaves.
NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) quantifies the amount of dark green foliage based on how much light of different wavelengths is reflected. It is used in some crops to decide when to apply fertilizer, or to help detect below-ground pests. Photo credit: Amara Dunn, NYS IPM

NDVI and similar indices are already used in other crops and in other places to help growers make decisions about when to fertilize, or to help detect parts of a field where a pest may be present. So far in NY, NDVI is not being widely used by fresh market vegetable growers for disease detection. Collecting NDVI data from this project will do two things:

  1. Help us quantify the health of plants. Even though NDVI is not a measure of disease, we would expect to see more healthy foliage if biofungicides are contributing to disease control.
  2. Provide some preliminary data to help us determine whether NDVI measurements could be useful to NY fresh vegetable growers.
people walking through a winter squash field
Growers and industry reps had a chance to visit the 2018 cucurbit powdery mildew field trials shortly before they were harvested. Photo credit: Amara Dunn, NYS IPM

Field meetings were held at each powdery mildew trial location so that local growers could see the trials and hear about the project. We’re currently wrapping up data analysis from the 2018 field season. You’ll be able to learn about results from the first year of this two-year project at winter meetings around NY, in extension newsletters, and here on this blog. Also, stay tuned for Part 2 of this post with details about how these biofungicides work (modes of action), and how to use them most effectively.

This post was written by Amara Dunn (NYS IPM), Sarah Pethybridge (Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University), and Darcy Telenko (Department of Botany & Plant Pathology, Purdue University).

But does it work? Efficacy of biological control

yellow sticky card for monitoring insect pests in a greenhouse
Biocontrol should be preventative. This yellow sticky card lets you monitor which pests are present and when so that the correct biocontrol (or other management tool) can be used at the right time. It will also help you assess whether your management strategy is working.

If you are thinking about trying biological control, of course you want to know if it is effective. The short answer is, “Yes!” But of course it depends on which biocontrol organism you want to use (and how), which pest you want to manage, and where.

First, you should ask yourself a question: What do I hope to achieve? Some great reasons to use biocontrol for pest management include:

  • Protecting the environment and human health by using more environmentally-friendly pest management strategies
  • Reducing the number of chemical pesticide applications to a crop
  • Preventing (or dealing with) pesticide resistance
  • Meeting a need for a short REI (re-entry interval) or PHI (pre-harvest interval) on the crop
  • Biocontrols are the most effective (and cost-effective) management strategy (definitely true for some pests and settings!)

Second, in what context are you using biocontrol? Biocontrol is best used within a larger integrated pest management strategy. Are you using good sanitation and cultural practices (e.g., adequate but not excessive nutrition and water) that promote healthy plants? Are you regularly checking your plants so that you will notice pests when they are still infrequent (scouting)?

peppers in flooded field
Biocontrol should be used as part of an IPM plan. The excess rain and poorly-drained soil in this field make it unlikely that a biocontrol will be able to protect these peppers from a soil-borne disease.

Biocontrol should also be preventative (before pest pressure becomes high). If you are expecting to use only biological control to solve an already out-of-control pest problem, you will probably be disappointed. Similarly, if environmental conditions are very favorable for a pest, a biocontrol solution will probably be insufficient.

Each year, university researchers, extension staff, and private companies conduct efficacy trials to quantify how well pest management strategies work. Knowing how a biocontrol product/organism performed in these trials can help you decide if you want to try it on your farm or in your yard. It helps to know a little about how these trials are structured. Efficacy trials typically include some combination of the following types of control treatments:

  • non-treated control – plants are exposed to pests (either naturally, or deliberately by the researcher), but no pest management strategy is used; disease/damage severity should be highest in this treatment
  • chemical control – plants are exposed to pests, and a chemical pesticide is applied to manage the pest; sometimes an “industry standard” (what is typically used to manage that pest in that crop and setting) is designated by the author of the study; if no industry standard is designated, comparisons can still be made to the chemical treatment that worked best; disease/damage severity should be very low in this treatment
  • non-inoculated control – no pest pressure (i.e., plants were not deliberately exposed to the pest); sometimes disease or damage still occurs because of natural pest pressure, or because disease or insects spread from other treatments in the trial; disease/damage severity should be lowest in this treatment

Efficacy trials also include statistical analysis. In a nutshell, this analysis tells you whether two values are really different (often described as “statistically different”), or not. If two numbers are not statistically different from each other, it means that only by chance is one larger or smaller than the other. If you did the same experiment again, you might see a different relationship. One common way of expressing these differences is by using letters. If two treatments are assigned the same letter, then they are not statistically different. So in the example below, Bio1 is statistically different from Bio3 but neither Bio1 nor Bio3 is different from Bio2.

graph of sample efficacy trial results
An efficacy trial may compare biocontrol products (Bio1, Bio2, Bio3, and Bio4) to non-treated (high disease/damage), chemical (low disease/damage), and non-inoculated (low disease/damage) controls.

 

When interpreting an efficacy trial, you should compare a biocontrol of interest to the control treatments. Of course, it would be great to see biocontrol products that are just as effective as the chemical control (like Bio4), and sometimes they are. Sometimes, a biocontrol may be less effective than the chemical control, but more effective than taking no pest control action (like Bio3). Sometimes there’s so much variability (represented by the lines extending above and below the blue bars on the chart, called error bars), that a biocontrol product is not statistically different from either the non-treated control, or the chemical control (like Bio2). This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about how well the product worked.

But, it’s not always quite that simple. For example, in these efficacy trials, researchers deliberately expose plants to pests, and often they manipulate the environment to favor pest populations. For example, they might over-water plants to promote a soil-borne disease like damping off. While there can be value in assessing product efficacy in a “worst case scenario”, this may be much higher pest pressure than you are likely to encounter on your farm or in your yard. When looking at efficacy trials, you should consider:

  • How much disease/damage was observed on plants that were not protected in any way (non-treated control)? If it’s too low, it’s hard to be confident that the biocontrols being tested were effective, since even unprotected plants were pretty healthy.
  • How much did the most successful treatment (chemical control) reduce disease/damage? If even the “best” pest management strategy in the trial was not very effective, then pest pressure may have been too high, and it’s not surprising that the biocontrol was ineffective. If you practice good IPM, you likely won’t experience such high pest pressure.
  • How was the biocontrol applied (alone, or as part of a spray program with other products)? Applying single products in an efficacy trial can simplify interpretation, but may not mimic how you plan to use a biocontrol product. If a biocontrol was applied in combination with other products, you should compare the “biocontrol + other products” treatment to the “other products alone”  treatment to see what the biocontrol added to pest management.
  • What was your goal, again? For example, if you are hoping to replace one or two chemical applications in a larger spray program with a biocontrol, then a moderately effective biocontrol product (like Bio3) may meet this goal.

Because the efficacy of a biocontrol can depend a lot on the environment in which it is used (temperature, humidity, soil conditions, etc.), it’s also a good idea to initially try a new biocontrol in a small area of your farm or yard, and keep notes on what you did and how well it worked for you. You can modify your plan to find what works best for you. The manufacturer or distributor should be able to provide you with important details on how (and for how long) the biocontrol should be stored, and exactly how and when to apply it. And (as always!) if you are using a biocontrol that is also a pesticide (see previous post), make sure that you read, understand, and follow the label.

The following resources summarize efficacy results for biocontrol of plant diseases. As I find efficacy summaries of insect and mite pest biocontrol, I will add them. Or, feel free to suggest efficacy resources you know of in the comments!