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COLUMN: Crop rotation lowers risk of tobacco plant disease

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By David Harrison

 Farmers planning for this year’s burley tobacco crop need to keep disease prevention and management a part of those plans.

Black shank is always a problem in some fields every year, but may or may not be a big problem this year. There's no way to tell what disease pressures growers will face in the coming growing season. Much depends on the climate with diseases like black shank, blue mold and target spot.

However, some problems and diseases, such as black shank, will show up again and again once they become established in a transplant system or the field.

It is important to think about managing diseases like Pythium root rot, target spot and black shank now and not wait until the growing season. A critical step is to have or begin good sanitary practices on the farm. Many diseases seen in outdoor floatbeds or the greenhouse float system and in the field survive between crops on equipment and plant residues.

Greenhouses and outdoor float beds should have been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized last year to reduce overwintering populations of disease causing organisms called pathogens. Plant debris and trash should be buried or burned. Styrofoam transplant production trays should have been carefully cleaned, sanitized as recommended (or destroyed), and properly stored. If these things have not been done, do them now.

It's also time to think about crop rotation. One of the best practices that we can recommend for preventing or suppressing diseases like black shank is rotation to a non-host crop. Even though we are a few months from transplanting, growers need to start the planning process and make decisions on field choice and potential rotation crops.

For more information on tobacco variety disease resistance levels, relative yields, maturity and other characteristics, or for other tobacco production information, call or contact the Extension office.