FFAR Grant Addresses Emerging Pine Needle Diseases FFAR Grant Addresses Emerging Pine Needle Diseases

FFAR Grant Addresses Emerging Pine Needle Diseases

Athens, GA

Loblolly pine is a highly valuable tree for pulp, paper and lumber products and the tree provides a habitat for numerous wildlife species. This important pine is currently plagued by needle diseases, about which still too little is known. Current reports from industry and government forest managers indicate a recent increase in the prevalence of needle disease in the southeastern U.S., raising concern about the stability of this important commodity in the region. To address this growing concern, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $74,111 Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program grant to the University of Georgia Research Foundation to develop diagnostics that detect and identify loblolly pine needle fungal pathogens. The Southern Pine Health Research Cooperative, the University of Florida Board of Trustees and the University of Georgia Research Foundation provided matching funds for a total of $148,237 investment.

The symptoms of brown spot needle blight.
The symptoms of brown spot needle blight. Credit: Colton Meinecke, UGA
The loblolly pine is the second-most common species of tree in the U.S. and the most commercially important tree in the southeastern U.S. FFAR is funding research to detect the causes of pine needle diseases to mitigate outbreaks and protect this important source of timber. Angela Records, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer

Loblolly pines across the southeast are infected by fungi that cause pine needle diseases like brown spot needle blight and needle cast. Infected trees experience early loss of needles, reduced growth, and even mortality in severe cases. While needle disease outbreaks were originally only reported in a few states, the issue has spread to encompass the entire U.S. southeast, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. These diseases put the construction and paper industries at risk, as well as grove managers’ livelihoods, as infected trees reduce yields and profits.

The symptoms of needle cast on a young loblolly pine.
The symptoms of needle cast on a young loblolly pine. Credit: Elizabeth McCarty, UGA

Researchers discovered that multiple fungi are causing pine needle diseases in different areas, and the identification of the organisms involved is critical to recommend the correct management strategy. Traditional diagnostics cannot easily differentiate fungi, making it difficult to accurately determine the cause of these diseases. To better understand the underlying causes of the diseases, University of Georgia Research Foundation researchers, led by associate professor of forest pathology Dr. Caterina Villari, are developing a universal diagnostic technology that can be used as a more accurate screening tool for needle diseases in southern pines. They are also working on a multi-faceted outreach approach to inform forestry consultants, county agents and state foresters, and to assist them in supporting growers.

FFAR’s ROAR program rapidly funds research and outreach in response to emerging or unanticipated threats to U.S. food supply or agricultural systems.

Loblolly pine needle diseases are among the major priorities for southern forest commodity-based industries, and our cutting-edge diagnostic platform will benefit several stakeholders. Beyond the needle pathogens, the tool can also facilitate the diagnosis of other diseases of forest trees, in which the causal agents are often unknown, and thus, serve the broader forest health community.” Dr. Caterina Villari, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Forest Pathology, University of Georgia Research Foundation


Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR

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