First, second, and fifth authors: Department of Crop Science, Plant Pathology and Plant Protection section, Georg-August University Göttingen, Grisebachstraße 6, 37077 Göttingen, Germany; third author: Center Institution for Decision Support Systems in Crop Protection (ZEPP), Rüdesheimer Straße 60-68, 55545 Bad Kreuznach, Germany; and fourth author: Information System for Integrated Plant Production (ISIP), Rüdesheimer Straße 60-68, 55545 Bad Kreuznach, Germany.
Sclerotinia stem rot (SSR) is an increasing threat to winter oilseed rape (OSR) in Germany and other European countries due to the growing area of OSR cultivation. A forecasting model was developed to provide decision support for the fungicide spray against SSR at flowering. Four weather variables—air temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, and sunshine duration—were used to calculate the microclimate in the plant canopy. From data reinvestigated in a climate chamber study, 7 to 11°C and 80 to 86% relative humidity (RH) were established as minimum conditions for stem infection with ascospores and expressed as an index to discriminate infection hours (Inh). Disease incidence (DI) significantly correlated with Inh occurring post-growth stage (GS) 58 (late bud stage) (r2 = 0.42, P ≤ 0.001). Using the sum of Inh from continuous infection periods exceeding 23 h significantly improved correlation with DI (r2 = 0.82; P ≤ 0.001). A parallel GS model calculates the developmental stages of OSR based on temperature in the canopy and starts the model calculation at GS 58. The novel forecasting system, SkleroPro, consists of a two-tiered approach, the first providing a regional assessment of the disease risk, which is assumed when 23 Inh have accumulated after the crop has passed GS 58. The second tier provides a field-site-specific, economy-based recommendation. Based on costs of spray, expected yield, and price of rapeseed, the number of Inh corresponding to DI at the economic damage threshold (Inhi) is calculated. A decision to spray is proposed when Inh ≥ Inhi. Historical field data (1994 to 2004) were used to assess the impact of agronomic factors on SSR incidence. A 2-year crop rotation enhanced disease risk and, therefore, lowered the infection threshold in the model by a factor of 0.8, whereas in 4-year rotations, the threshold was elevated by a factor 1.3. Number of plants per square meter, nitrogen fertilization, and soil management did not have significant effects on DI. In an evaluation of SkleroPro with 76 historical (1994 to 2004) and 32 actual field experiments conducted in 2005, the percentage of economically correct decisions was 70 and 81%, respectively. Compared with the common practice of routine sprays, this corresponded to savings in fungicides of 39 and 81% and to increases in net return for the grower of 23 and 45 €/ha, respectively. This study demonstrates that, particularly in areas with abundant inoculum, the level of SSR in OSR can be predicted from conditions of stem infection during late bud or flowering with sufficient accuracy, and does not require simulation of apothecial development and ascospore dispersal. SkleroPro is the first crop-loss-related forecasting model for a Sclerotinia disease, with the potential of being widely used in agricultural practice, accessible through the Internet. Its concept, components, and implementation may be useful in developing forecasting systems for Sclerotinia diseases in other crops or climates.