Saturday, March 15, 2014


Phytopthora cost me money last year by killing off some of the stand in my non GMO soybeans.  They bushed out great but I still had some bald spots in the field that hurt the yield.

I started learning more about Phytopthora in 1985 when I became a seed scout for Ohio Seed.  At that time Dr. Pat Lipps spent a good deal of time teaching us how to identify the different strains of phytopthora.

I just saw a Tweet from Bill Gates about science attacking phytopthora in potatoes.  The Great Potato Famine starting in 1845 is estimated to have starved a million people.  That led to the Carrington's, my mother's side coming to America.  This disease even led to my birth!

The Oxford study, published in Science, examines the biochemical differences between two related blight strains affecting potatoes and the four o’clock flower. The findings may not be particularly glamorous, but understanding how such pathogens adapt to new hosts and spread between plant species is crucial in the fight against a disease so harmful that the U.S. once researched it as potential agent for biological weapons.

In fact, the same pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, that caused the Great Famine still affects tomatoes and potatoes today, all over the world, costing an estimated $7 billion a year. That’s enough money to feed the entire world for 2.7 days.  Doesn't sound like much, does it?  That's a whole lot of food.

Read more: A New Generation of Disease-Resistant Crops | Fast forward | OZY

Phytopthora has always been a problem in crops in Ohio because of our favorable conditions for its growth.  Seed treatment pays here and the beans I lost were untreated, only a planter box mixture that by itself was not strong enough to fight the pathogen.

If you fight phytopthora on your farm, what are you doing differently this year?

Ed Winkle


  1. From a long time alfalfa grower friend "I am interested to know that there are so many different strains of the root rot disease.
    For years it was known as Phytophthora M M but now that is listed in the alfalfa data as Phytophthora RR for root rot.
    Forty years ago I knew it as Wet Foot Root Rot, which is very descriptive but not scientific. Sixty years ago we did not think of a fungal disease &c but simply said the alfalfa drowned.

    Now to the point:
    We have long insisted our alfalfa have a Highly Resistant rating for PRR.
    Then a older wiser gentleman who was a seed breeder mentioned if we really want reasonable survival with plant resistance we should look for Aphanomyces resistance also.
    In 2007 we had a unusually wet summer and we lost all our alfalfa to actual drowning or Wet Foot Root Rot.
    This dramatically illustrated that DR Warren Thompson's statement.
    So NOW I look for HR for PRR plus HR for Aph race 1 & race 2.

    Moral of the story is to look for plant resistance to your Wet Foot Root Rot fungi. "

    That reminds me of my debate with my good Pioneer seed supplier. Pioneer always promoted soybeans with "good tolerance," rather than gene resistance. He usually did pretty well here but there was a time when Ohio Certified soybeans would outyield Pioneer, partly thanks to bred in resistance.

    Personally, I have that if I can just build healthier soils, I don't need so much defense in the genetics. I won't see that is true for alfalfa which is perennial but I've proved that true for soybeans, an annual crop.

    There is so much we don't understand about soil and soil disease!

    Ed Winkle

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  3. Wow I didn't know you had such rich and powerful friends, Ed. Tell Bill I said Hi!

    Yes, some of these diseases have terrible potential or consequences, and globalization even helps them propagate worldwide. And as the article says, the way the crops are reproduced and planted (like from spuds that are 99% water instead of dry nutrient-rich grains protected by bran) can make them even more fragile. Take the plain banana from the store, for instance: It's not just the same variety, Cavendish, it's the same cultivar, the exact same plant with the exact same genes all over the world, a disease that can attack one plant can wipe out a whole planet of it because of its lack of genetic diversity and resistance.

    That's what happened in the 50s with the Panama disease, a Fusarium wilt. I never even tasted the banana that people ate back then because it does not exist anymore commercially. Today, the Cavendish that was found to be resistant to the Panama disease by sheer luck is the only cultivar what we eat. "Is," or I should say "was," because when they planted the Cavendish is Asia, it started being ravaged by a local strain of the same Fusarium that destroyed the American banana. Banana growers in Central and South America fear not the if, but the when this Asian strain will infect their plantations. Currently there are no replacement solutions, and no effective treatment. The only reason that they can still produce bananas in Asia is that the banana cycle is short, 9 to 12 months between planting and harvesting, and in many cases, they plant new clean plants every year instead of letting a shoot from the same root produce next year's crop as used to be done traditionally.

    I never knew the Gros Michel (Big Mike, what a name! ;) banana from the 50s, but I loved the dried whole banana snack from my youth, dark golden, slightly sticky, chewy and with a strong banana flavor which now makes me wonder if they were not a cultivar other than the Cavendish. They tasted more like the smaller flavorful pink banana than the store banana. They cost about $10/lb retail, or $1 on alibaba if you order 10 tonnes of "dried whole soft banana"!

    Anyone tried them? They were quite common in France, I don't remember if they came from French ex-colonies in Africa or Asia. It looks like preppers know only of the banana chips, which have very little flavor in comparison, and are way too hard for my remaining tooth! ;)

  4. Just found out that the dried banana of my youth was indeed not a Cavendish, they still grow and sun-dry the Gros Michel banana in Uganda, where it is known as the Bogoya banana. The British store I linked sells them sun-dried but in strips, not whole, and I think that's probably a strip, not a whole dried banana, that I snacked on as a kid at 4PM right after school, to keep us kids from starvation until the 8PM dinner...

  5. My wife keeps telling me to quit turning her food into a science experiment.