FFAR Awards Emergency Funds to Combat Lettuce Disease in Florida

University of Florida Researchers to Study Management Practices and Crop Resistance Against Wilting Disease

German Sandoya-Miranda (left), Ph.D., and Richard Raid, Ph.D., examine lettuce in a field in Florida as part of research efforts to study wilting disease.

 

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill with bipartisan congressional support, awarded $67,000 to University of Florida, where researchers will develop management practices and disease resistance in lettuce. The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from the University of Florida for a total $135,000 investment.

Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. lactucae, a pathogen that causes wilting disease, is a fungus that was first reported in the U.S. in California in the 1990s, but has spread to other regions. The soil-borne pathogen survives in the soil and can remain active for years after an initial outbreak. Wilting disease in lettuce is characterized by necrosis of roots, reddish-brown discoloration, limp leaf structure, and often leads to plant death. At risk is the $70 million Florida lettuce industry, which would suffer economic losses if the disease is not mitigated.

The goal of this research is to develop disease management practices and train lettuce growers to better manage cross contamination to reduce the spread of the disease. Researchers will also examine lettuce varieties for resistance to the harmful fungus, which may lead to the development of a disease-resistant crop.

“By developing better management practices and breeding disease-resistant crops, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research hopes to reduce the risk of an outbreak and protect America’s lettuce industry,” said Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

The project will provide training for growers and stakeholders to share information about managing wilting disease. Research results will be shared publicly through an online website, publications, and presentations.

The research team is being led by Principal Investigator (PI) German Sandoya-Miranda, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

“As a lettuce breeder, this grant will provide us with an initial understanding of Fusarium wilt in Florida, with the ultimate goal of developing a breeding strategy to battle the disease in the long term,” said Sandoya-Miranda.

Sandoya-Miranda is working closely with UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County agent, Christian Miller, and UF Plant Pathologist, Richard Raid, Ph.D., in a unified effort to help the lettuce growers of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

Lettuce producing companies, such as Growers Management Inc. and TKM-Bengard, are supporting the grant through in-kind and monetary donations. By collaborating, lettuce industry stakeholders and the University of Florida hope to avoid spread of the disease, which has caused millions of dollars in crop losses in other lettuce production areas worldwide.

Researchers on this project include:

  • Richard Raid, Ph.D., at the University of Florida
  • William Wadlington, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate at the University of Florida

The grant is issued through the Foundation’s Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, an initiative designed to prevent and mitigate damage from emerging pests and pathogens through short-term research funding. Applicants are encouraged to form broad-based coalitions to increase research collaboration and maximize the mitigation potential of each grant.

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