Conditions right for plant diseases around much of the state

By Adam Russell

COLLEGE STATION – Disease problems for vegetable producers and gardeners are popping up around the state, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Conditions have been good for vegetable production around much of the state following mild spring conditions and ample rains, but the weather is also setting the stage for plant diseases, said Dr. Kevin Ong, AgriLife Extension plant pathologist and director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station.

Ong said producers have been seeing early blight, a fungal pathogen, in tomato plants. Symptoms of early blight include yellowing of bottom branches and blotches on leaves.

Hot, drier conditions recently could allow another threatening fungal pathogen to affect vegetable gardens and fields, he said.

“It’s getting hotter, so I am predicting that with all the early moisture, I would not be surprised to see an increase in southern blight incidence,” he said.

Southern blight infestations can infect a variety of vegetables including squash, tomatoes and zucchinis, Ong said. Symptoms include white fungal growth visible at the base of the plant. Plants quickly wilt and die from the disease, while the root system often looks normal.

There are not many effective treatment options available for home vegetable growers to deal with southern blight, Ong said.

“The best thing you can do is sanitation,” he said. “The fungus sclerotia can survive in the soil, so cleaning up your garden area well and getting rid of diseased plants as soon as they show symptoms is a good idea.”

Solarization, a practice of using plastic to cover moistened, tilled soil to increase the temperature, can help reduce sclerotia numbers. Sclerotia is a plant fungus and can cause white mold if conditions are conducive. Sclerotia can be killed in four to six hours at 122 degrees. Amending soil with compost or organic matter can help reduce southern blight incidence by encouraging growth of biological antagonists. The biocontrol agent Gliocladium virens has also been shown to suppress Sclerotium rolfsii, he said.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

CENTRAL: Field work continued, including spraying cotton for insects and baling hay. Corn silage harvests were going full speed in some areas, while other producers expected to harvest within three weeks. Yields and quality looked good. Grain sorghum was progressing well with some coloring. Sugarcane aphids were not an issue so far this year. Grass conditions were excellent. Some brush work was done. A significant amount of rain fell and caused flooding in some areas. Tanks and other bodies of water were full. Cattle and other livestock were in great condition, however fly numbers on livestock increased. Nearly all counties reported good soil moisture and good overall crop, pasture and rangeland conditions.

ROLLING PLAINS: Conditions remained hot and dry with no moisture. Pastures and rangelands took a turn for the worse. In some counties, pastures were drying out to the point wildfires were becoming a serious threat once again. Livestock were in good condition. Producers began feeding supplements to cattle on a regular basis to avoid selloffs. Plantings of this year’s cotton crop were almost complete, but the outlook was bleak due to poor moisture levels. Most cotton acres either haven’t emerged or emerged only to be scorched by hot, dry, windy conditions to the point plants were dying. Cotton that tapped into deep moisture seemed to be doing well, but a good general rain was needed to keep it going. Some producers started spraying mesquite.

COASTAL BEND: Most crops needed moisture, but rain was scattered and may slow the start of harvest in some areas. Early planted corn was drying down rapidly with some rust present. Grain sorghum was coloring with some combines running. Sorghum yields were good thus far, but some producers were concerned with head sprouting, lodging and harvest delays. Cotton was in full bloom, but some cotton had worms. Fertilizer applications were made on hay fields in anticipation of additional rain, and some weed and brush control applications continued. Pastures and livestock continued to do well, however large fly numbers were reported.

EAST: Tropical storm Cindy produced heavy rain in several counties around the region while other counties only received light rainfall. Jasper County reported some wind damage to corn. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate in all but Shelby County, which reported surplus. Cherokee County reported ponds and creeks were full. Pasture and range conditions were good in most counties. Hay baling was slowed due to the rain. Some producers were getting ready for their second hay cutting. Wood County reported armyworms due to recent rains. Wild pig damage remained a problem in hay meadows, pastures and corn, and control was underway in Upshur County. Corn fields in Anderson County were 100 percent dented. Grain sorghum looked good and was heading out with no aphid control needed. Vegetable crops including purple peas, tomatoes, okra and beans were harvested and sold at local markets. Watermelon growers reported high yields and good quality. Cattle were in good condition. In Anderson County, the cattle market was weaker on some classes including cow/calf pairs and bred cows. Feeder steers and heifers ended $3-$7 per hundredweight lower. Slaughter cows finished steady with slaughter bulls ending $1 per hundredweight higher.

SOUTH PLAINS: The district experienced another week of temperatures in the high 90s with gusty winds and some rain. A cool front passed through the area. Showers should help improve subsoil and topsoil moisture conditions, but rain was desperately needed. Some dryland fields were released by insurance adjustors. Other dryland fields had thin or skimpy stands. Wheat harvests were almost wrapped up, and farmers were lucky to avoid major storm events to affect the harvest. Peach harvests were ongoing.  Cattle were in good condition.

PANHANDLE: Many parts of the district remained extremely dry, with excessive heat for most of the week. Strong winds over the last few weeks took a toll on soil moisture conditions. Crops were beginning to suffer and it was slowing plant growth. Wheat harvest continued and should wind up by July 1. A few scattered showers halted harvest in the northern part of the district for a day, but hot, dry conditions were the standard. Corn, sorghum and soybeans were being irrigated. Cotton irrigation was expected soon. Dryland grain sorghum was still being planted in some counties. Range conditions declined with the dryer, hotter weather, but pastures overall were in good shape. Cattle were in good condition with fly control occurring. Respiratory complications in some cattle were still being found in the northeastern part of the district due to the March 6 wildfires.

NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short with a few counties reporting surplus. This week brought some much needed rain to North Texas with amounts ranging from 1-3.5 inches around the counties. Corn and soybeans were doing well. Cotton was up and looking nice. Wheat and oat harvests were finished with yields averaging 50 bushels and 70 bushels per acre, respectively, and near-average weights on both. Pastures and livestock were in very good condition, and spring-born calves looked good. Insects were beginning to be a problem on livestock with heavy fly and mosquito numbers in some areas. Feral hog activity was moderate with 16 hogs caught in demonstration traps during the reporting period.

FAR WEST: Temperature highs were in the 110s with lows in the 70s. Rainfall totals were near 1 inch. Winds damaged trees and power lines. Lightning damage was reported. Rains came at a critical time for dryland cotton, which was in desperate need of moisture to help establish root system and some fields emerge. Sorghum was in the boot stage or blooming and needed a good rain. The rain supplemented irrigation for all crops. Pastures were very dry, so many ranchers were providing supplemental feed for cattle and reduced their stocking rates to conserve forage. Producers began to ship lambs and kids. Rabbits and deer were moving into cotton and sorghum looking for something green to eat. Pecan trees and fruit trees were faring well but needed irrigation.

WEST CENTRAL: Conditions were hot, dry and windy. High temperatures were in the triple digits most of the reporting period, but cooled down some. Soil moisture was declining rapidly due to extreme temperatures. Home gardeners were pulling the first harvest of fresh vegetables. Wheat harvests were complete in most areas. Cotton planting continued. Cotton fields were beginning to emerge and looked good. Haygrazer fields were in excellent condition and hay reports were good. Cutting and baling was underway. Grain sorghum was in mostly good condition with some fields showing some heat stress. Rangeland and pasture conditions were mostly good. Some grasses and forages were starting to show signs of heat stress and will need rain soon to make it through the summer. Most stock tanks were full. Livestock remained in fair to excellent condition. Markets remained strong in most areas. Cattle prices dropped in some areas with the number of head at auction also down. Pecan crop reports ranged from very good to poor.

SOUTHEAST: Most counties received showers to heavy rains from Tropical Storm Cindy. More than 3 inches of rain was reported in northern Lee County. Walker County was concerned with soil moisture due to evaporation from heat. Montgomery County experienced moderate temperatures. A few showers promoted good growth in pastures and new growth in trees. A few insect pests were present but not to the extent of serious damage. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to good with good ratings being the most common.

SOUTHWEST: Available forage was suffering due to the lack of rain. Some areas received rain but the amounts did not help much and rivers were beginning to dry. Rangeland was starting to dry and grasses showed signs of dryness. Temperatures continued to rise and producers were cautious of working during the heat of the day. Fly populations continued to increase. Livestock were in fair condition.

SOUTH: Conditions were hot, dry and windy. Temperatures were soaring well above 100 degrees throughout the district. Rangeland and pastures continued to show signs of stress and fire hazards increased. There were some spotty showers across the northern portion of the district and temperatures cooled from 105 to 90 degrees as a result. Rainfall amounts ranged from 0.2-0.5 of an inch. Potato and sweet corn harvests continued and were nearing completion. Corn fields were maturing. Sorghum fields were turning color and cotton fields were setting-bolls. Pasture and rangeland conditions were beginning to dry. Soil moisture conditions were very short and body condition scores on cattle remained fair despite the harsh summer conditions. The live cattle market remained was steady. Livestock offerings at the local Jim Wells County auction fell below 500 head for the first time this year. Prices were steady with 500-600-pound steers averaging $132 per hundredweight.  Wildlife habitat throughout Jim Hogg County was in good condition with good numbers of deer, quail, dove and turkeys reported. Grain harvests were in full swing. Corn and cotton were irrigated. Native rangelands and pastures continued to provide adequate grazing for livestock, but the forage quality was beginning to diminish. No supplemental feeding was reported. Hay was being baled.


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