By Clint Thompson
Natalia Peres, Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Florida/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, is confident Florida’s strawberry industry will survive Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot Disease. But it will take time.
“The industry has faced challenges before with other diseases like anthracnose. It’s one that has been devastating in the past, and we have been able to do a much better job now, a lot through breeding, breeding cultivars that are more resistant,” Peres said. “I’m working very close with Vance (Whitaker) now, trying to find some forces of resistance. He’s been optimistic that we have found a few selections that look more resistant.”
It has quickly emerged as a devastating disease within the past three years. It was first discovered during the 2018-19 season in five farms and was attributed to one nursery source in North Carolina. More than 20 farms experienced the disease during the 2019-20 season. The disease was attributed to two nursery sources early last season in North Carolina and Canada.
It was discovered this past year in fields that had it the prior season. Neopestalotiopsis causes leaf spots on strawberry plants. It develops quickly, produces spores on the leaves and can cause severe leaf spotting and fruit rot under favorable weather conditions.
It even wiped out one Georgia farmer’s crop in 2021.
Short-term solutions are available. Growers need to start with clean plants. Peres encourages producers to scout early in the season and dispose of any infected leaves. But in the long-term, breeding resistant cultivars will be the key. But it takes time.
“In the meantime, we have to come up with some other recommendations. I’m optimistic. It’s going to be tough the next few years. But I think there’s hope that we can come with varieties that are more resistant and some better management strategies,” Peres said. “It won’t be a single thing. It’s probably going to be a combination of cultivars that are more resistant, managing irrigation and weeds. I’m optimistic that we can get a good handle. Hopefully, soon enough, so the industry will survive.”