Bacterial wilt, caused by Erwinia tracheiphila, is a major disease of cucurbit crops in the United States. Management of the disease relies on controlling two vector species, striped (Acalymma vittatum) and spotted (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) cucumber beetles. Six field trials were conducted at Iowa State University research farms during 2007, 2008, and 2009 to assess the efficacy of delayed removal of spunbond polypropylene row covers to control bacterial wilt on muskmelon (Cucumis melo). Treatments were (i) row cover removed at anthesis (conventional timing of removal), (ii) covers removed 10 days after row cover ends were opened at anthesis, (iii) covers removed 10 days after bumble bee hives were inserted under row covers at anthesis, and (iv) a noncovered control. In two field trials during 2007 and 2008, the delayed-removal row-cover treatments significantly suppressed bacterial wilt throughout the growing season and enhanced yield compared with the noncovered and removal-at-anthesis controls. In Gilbert in 2008, however, bacterial wilt suppression was equivalent among all three row-cover treatments. No bacterial wilt was observed during three trials in 2009, and there was minimal difference in marketable yield among treatments. Net returns were compared using partial budget and sensitivity analyses. Melon prices and occurrence of bacterial wilt had a strong impact on net returns. Using row covers increased production costs by 45%. In site years in which bacterial wilt occurred, delaying removal of row covers resulted in the highest returns. When bacterial wilt was absent, however, the delayed-removal row-cover treatments had the lowest returns. Results of the sensitivity analysis indicated that delaying removal of row covers for 10 days could be a cost-effective component of an integrated bacterial wilt suppression strategy for muskmelon where bacterial wilt occurs ≥50% of production seasons.
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