By Clint Thompson
Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot disease could have a lingering impact on Florida strawberry production for the foreseeable future. However, it should not be compared with Citrus Greening, the disease that has devastated the state’s citrus industry, believes University of Florida/IFAS strawberry breeder Vance Whitaker.
“When you talk about citrus greening, you’re talking about a long-lived crop that you can’t take out and put in year to year. The annual nature of strawberries definitely allows some flexibility in trying to combat the disease, trying to figure out how to reduce the inoculum in the soil from season to season, for example,” Whitaker said. “Also, we know that we definitely have resistance that we know that we can work with, which is something that, for greening, it’s very difficult to find. It’s been a long road to find tolerance. In terms of breeding the crop, we have such a much quicker generation cycle for strawberry; just because the breeding cycle for strawberry is so much quicker than citrus. I think we can make progress at a different rate as well.”
The strawberry disease was first discovered during the 2018-19 season and was attributed to one nursery source in North Carolina. Now, it’s been attributed to multiple sources and was discovered this year in fields that had it the prior season.
Another key difference in Neopestalotiopsis and Citrus Greening is that greening is vectored by Asian citrus psyllids.
“We’re also not dealing with insect vector (in strawberries) we have to control as well. It’s just a fungus without an insect vector. That makes it different as well,” Whitaker said. “Personally, I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to ultimately solve it. It’s going to take time. I don’t think we should be looking at it like citrus greening, like it’s definitely going to take a huge chunk out of the industry. At least not yet.”