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Impact of Consumer-Driven Changes to Crop Production Practices on Lettuce Drop Caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and S. minor

March 2011 , Volume 101 , Number  3
Pages  340 - 348

B. M. Wu, S. T. Koike, and K. V. Subbarao

First and third authors: Department of Plant Pathology, University of California at Davis, U.S Agricultural Research Station, Salinas, CA 93905; and second author University of California Cooperative Extension, Salinas 93901.

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Accepted for publication 25 October 2010.

Increasing demands for value-added salad products have triggered revolutionary changes in the production practices of vegetable salad crops in recent years. One of the pivotal changes is the adaptation of 2-m-wide beds for increased vegetable biomass per unit area. The move away from the traditional 1-m-wide raised beds in cool-season vegetable production and the associated irrigation practices potentially can have a major influence on diseases affecting cool-season vegetables. To assess the potential impacts of this shift on lettuce drop caused by Sclerotinia minor and S. sclerotiorum, the two bed widths and different irrigation frequencies within each were compared in two separate field experiments over four lettuce crops in 2 years. Treatments included 1- and 2-m bed widths with twice-weekly, weekly and biweekly drip irrigation serving as subplot treatments that were begun immediately following thinning. Incidence of lettuce drop was evaluated weekly thereafter until maturity. For S. sclerotiorum, 36 half-liter soil samples were also collected once each season and assayed for the number of sclerotia, and apothecia were counted weekly in a 10-m2 area for each plot. Regardless of the species, the effects of bed width and irrigation frequency were both significant. Twice-weekly irrigation and 2-m bed width resulted in higher lettuce drop incidence than other treatments. For S. sclerotiorum, twice-weekly irrigation and 2-m bed width also significantly increased the number of apothecia per unit area and the accumulation of soilborne sclerotia over multiple cropping seasons. Results demonstrated that the 2-m bed width combined with the practiced frequency of irrigations can result in higher lettuce drop caused by S. minor and increased incidence of airborne infection by S. sclerotiorum in the Salinas Valley where, historically, it has not been a serious threat. Increased incidence of S. sclerotiorum infection in commercial lettuce fields in the Salinas Valley between 2001 and 2006 validates these experimental results. These relatively new crop production practices can alter the balance of the two Sclerotinia spp. that has long existed in California.

© 2011 The American Phytopathological Society