December 12, 2008

Diseases pose annual problems for many tobacco and vegetable producers in the state. However, if they properly sanitize tools and equipment now, producers can help prevent some diseases from reemerging during the next growing season, said Kenny Seebold, UK extension plant pathologist.

"Regardless of what you're growing or whether you have a large or small operation, getting things sanitized that were used in last year's crop production and will be used again next year is an important step in disease prevention," he said.

Common bacterial and fungal diseases in tobacco and vegetables can survive in a variety of places during the winter months. One of the biggest tobacco diseases in Kentucky, black shank, can live in soil attached to tractors or farm implements. Organisms that cause other troublesome tobacco diseases, such as Pythium root rot and target spot, can overwinter in transplant trays that were used during the previous year, especially if the disease occurred earlier in the trays.

In vegetables, diseases that affect tomatoes and peppers, such as bacterial canker and bacterial spot, can live during the winter on the surface of gardening tools. Several fungal diseases that infect cucurbits (cucumbers, watermelon, squash) and tomatoes can survive in plant debris that were left on the ground or in the greenhouse.

Producers can achieve proper sanitation by discarding or burying crop residue, removing clumps of dirt from production equipment and cleaning all equipment, trays and tools.

"Probably one of the least expensive and most effective things to use is a 10 percent bleach, 90 percent water solution, but there are also a couple of ammonia-based products that will work well too," he said.

Since many diseases overwinter in the soil, annual crop rotation will help destroy or reduce the chances of the disease returning. This is especially crucial if the field contained a crop that contracted a disease last year.

"Producers should not rotate with crops that are related to the crop that was previously grown in the area because related crops could be susceptible to the same diseases," Seebold said. "Grasses and corn make good rotational partners for tobacco and vegetable crops grown in Kentucky."

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