Charles Mellinger, director of technical services and vice president of Glades Crop Care, Inc. (GCC) was born in Lancaster, PA. He earned his B.A. degree at Goshen College, followed by a Ph.D. degree and post-doctoral study at Michigan State University. From 1970 to 1978, Mellinger was an employee of Yoder Brothers, Inc. in Ohio and Florida, where he was responsible for developing programs for detection, diagnosis, and control of diseases affecting carnations, chrysanthemums, and foliage crops. Based on his leadership, cost-savings programs, and effective disease control practices, Mellinger served as corporate manager of plant health, directing the research in laboratory, greenhouse, and field programs.
In the 1970s, Carnation etched ring virus (CERV) was causing major economic losses for the U.S. carnation industry. Mellinger introduced the first large-scale indexing program for the detection of CERV. The program was based on the use of Saponaria as the indexing plant, a novel approach to thermotherapy, and the use of only apical dome tissue culture for propagation. This was a major contribution to Yoder Brothers, the largest foundation stock propagator in the United States.
Mellinger’s commercial-scale indexing program for detection and elimination of CERV restored grower confidence in the Yoder product and increased national and foreign sales by 30% while significantly reduced indexing costs.
Yoder Brothers was the earliest commercial chrysanthemum propagator with a program involving production of pathogen-free foundation stock from thousands of clones maintained in sanitary greenhouses. Mellinger developed an aseptic system of clone maintenance, thus eliminating the annual need of the costly indexing and greatly improving supply reliability.
At Yoder Brothers, Mellinger determined that an important foliage disease caused by Erwinia originated in the irrigation water of the Caloosahatchee River. Knowing this, a chlorination system was installed, bringing this disease problem under total control.
In 1980, Mellinger joined GCC in Jupiter, FL, and over the next 28 years he worked with his wife and CEO, Madeline Mellinger, to develop and expand their crop consulting business. GCC conducts advanced crop scouting and pest and disease analyses to generate profitable and environmentally sound advice to farmers. They have developed, along with state universities, integrated pest management (IPM) programs for more than 45 fresh market vegetables planted to more than 65,000 acres. Mellinger and his staff provide scouting and consultation services to one-third (value ~ $150 m) of the Florida tomato industry along with other important crops, such as sweet corn, bell peppers, leafy greens, and cucurbits. He oversees two research farms that conduct, on average, 75 efficacy and residue trials annually on vegetables, citrus, and sugarcane.
Under Mellinger’s leadership, GCC was the first crop consulting firm in the country to invest systematically in measuring IPM adoption along a continuum within its grower base. With pesticide resistance management as a central theme, they implement preventive practices to reduce pesticide interventions in addition to pesticide class rotations. Their success in managing bacterial spot of tomatoes and peppers lies in carrying out a whole series of practices, including use of disease-free transplants, strict field sanitary practices, and a correct fallow management program. Loss of yield and quality are minimized when all of these recommendations are conscientiously applied. Mellinger and his coworkers have documented that growers stand to lose $2,000 per acre if they do not practice preventive IPM recommendations for bacterial spot.
Another major disease limiting tomato production in Florida has been Fusarium crown rot. By focusing on the biology of the pathogen, Mellinger recognized that, by maintaining a nonfluctuating water table and planting crown rot-free transplants, damage caused by the disease would significantly decrease. Because of his contributions to the management of this pathogen, major losses caused by this disease over the past decades are now under acceptable control.
In 1990, GCC discovered Thrips palmi in Florida, the first find of this damaging thrips species in North America. GCC had recognized that accurate identification of T. palmi versus other thrips that vector Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) was essential. Using grants (SBIR) awarded to GCC and in cooperation with the University of Florida, in 1998 a software package was developed and marketed for the identification of vegetable thrips.
Two viral diseases, Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) and TSWV, have been the bane of tomatoes and other crops in the Florida vegetable-growing region. Mellinger and GCC advocate the adoption of a wide range of practices for management of both diseases. For TYLCV, they include strategic scheduling and placement of plantings, correct postharvest crop destruction, elimination of disease and vector reservoirs, and thorough, accurate scouting of the population levels and life cycle stages of the silverleaf whitefly (SLW) vector. They promote region-wide TYLCV management via geo-referencing the SLW population levels and virus incidence and use a GIS database for across time evaluations and interpretations. Growers following the GCC recommendations have significantly minimized losses caused by TYLCV.
Mellinger and GCC have been at the forefront of managing TSWV in vegetable crops since it was first identified in Florida in 1985. GCC promotes the use of nonchemical preventive practices, use of reflective mulch, roguing infected plants, planting resistant varieties, and conservation of the minute pirate bug, a thrips vector predator.
Carrying out biointensive IPM in Florida’s vegetable-growing areas is about as challenging as IPM gets. One of the remarkable initiatives Mellinger and GCC have made over the years was to move from an industry dominated by the use of hard pesticides to one based on the commercial implementation of biointensive IPM. As a tribute to this advancement of both the practical arts and science of IPM, GCC has been awarded the EPA’s Champion Award for “Outstanding Efforts to Reduce Risk from Use of Pesticides” for 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. Mellinger has shared knowledge, experience, and data widely and unselfishly. Mellinger and GCC have conducted a considerable amount of original research using the highly competitive SBIR, SARE, PMAP, and RAMP grants, totaling more than 1.5 million dollars. GCC has found solutions to key pest problems using IPM practices, the development of pesticide resistance management strategies and pioneered methodologies to measure IPM adoption and impact.