By Alison DeLoach
Pests and diseases are always top of mind for blueberry growers. To help growers better understand how to identify these issues, Juanita Popenoe, a University of Florida (UF) commercial fruit production Extension agent for Orange, Lake and Marion counties, hosted a hands-on event at the Lake County Extension center in Tavares. Blueberry growers had the opportunity to hear from a plant pathologist and an entomologist and actually view species under microscopes.
“We are having hands on so people can see what these things actually look like,” Popenoe explained. She said there are some pests and diseases on blueberries that photograph nicely in books, “but when it comes down to actually recognizing them in the field, it’s very difficult.”
Insects that cause devastation for growers can be extremely small, and it’s challenging to compare what growers see on their blueberry bushes to pictures in books. The same goes for diseases, many of which can be difficult to diagnose unless a grower has experience accurately identifying them. Therefore, Popenoe thought it was important for growers to practice identifying certain pests and diseases at the event, which included experts to answer their questions.
According to Popenoe, blueberry gall midge is a pest that is so small that some Extension agents have a hard time identifying it. She said there are also some new insects on Florida blueberries that are not common anywhere else in the United States, so giving growers an opportunity to see these pests can help them immensely.
In addition to pests, a specific disease Popenoe wanted growers to see was algal blotch. Recently, this disease has caused issues for growers so it’s crucial they see the live disease on a cane to be able to identify it.
Popenoe added that Doug Phillips, a regional Extension coordinator with UF, is developing an app that will help with identification of various pests. It may be a couple of years before the app is ready to be released because there isn’t good cumulative information or photographs for some pests. In the meantime, it’s important for growers to contact their Extension agents when they see an issue and get the help they need.
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