Economic Solution for Late Wilt Disease of Corn

The successful treatment protocol is based on changing the cultivation method
March 4, 2019
Economic Solution for Late Wilt Disease of Corn (Enlarge)

Sweet corn, silage and grain crops have been facing the threat of severe corn disease for many years, spreading to various parts of Israel. Over the past few years, we conducted a series of field experiments, with the assistance of Netafim Israel, growers' associations and farmers from the Galilee region.

In 2017-2018, this research led to a historic breakthrough: for the first time, 60 years since its discovery, an economically feasible solution was found for late wilt disease of corn in Israel.

The successful treatment protocol is based on changing the cultivation method, changing the traditional irrigation method used in most corn growing areas in Israel, and the sophisticated integration of pesticide mixtures in a schedule adapted to key points in the development of the disease.

This method can now be widely applied in commercial fields for the protection of sensitive corn varieties.

Late wilt disease in corn is caused by the fungus Harpophora maydis, which is found in the soil and seeds. It penetrates the plant and blocks the water supply to its upper parts. The disease, considered to be the most severe corn disease in our region, was first discovered in Egypt in 1960, where it still persists and causes serious damage. The disease is now reported in 11 countries. In Israel, it has existed for 40 years in the Upper Galilee, especially in the Hula Valley, and in the past decade, has spread to the south of the country. In heavily contaminated fields and in sensitive maize cultivars, the pathogen can cause 100% infection and total yield loss.

The disease is characterized by a rapid wilt of the corn plant, which usually occurs two to three weeks before harvesting. In the past, attempts had been made to control the pathogen using different methods, including agricultural (balanced soil fertility and flood fallowing), chemical, biological, physical (solar heating) and plant compounds. Despite the potential of some of these methods, the only means applied in Israel to date to restrict the disease is the use of resistant corn varieties. However, in Egypt and Spain, virulent pathogen strains that threaten resistant maize cultivars have been found.

 

The research team led by Dr. Ofir Degani from Migal – The Galilee Research Institute and Tel-Hai College, funded and supported by Netafim Israel, the Extension Service of the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and growers' associations, has recently led to a breakthrough development of historical significance.

For the first time, 60 years since the discovery of the late wilt disease, an efficient and economically feasible solution has been found that can be used on a large scale to protect sensitive corn varieties in commercial fields.

 

 

This solution, published in December 2018 in the leading scientific journal PloS ONE, saves about 40% of irrigation costs and combines antifungal mixtures with different mechanisms to prevent resistance development. The new application was tested in field trials in 2017-2018 and included the injection to the irrigation system of  the substances Difenoconazole + Azoxystrobin (of which the commercial name is 'Ortiva-Top', manufactured by Syngenta, Basel ,Switzerland, supplied by Adama Makhteshim , at intervals of 15, 30 and 45 days from sowing, or other fungicide mixtures.

 

Savings in the deployment of irrigation lines was acquired by using a dripline for two adjacent rows (a row spacing of 50 cm instead of 96 cm), a row space that maintains the effective concentration of the fungicide in the soil. A recently developed real-time PCR-based molecular detection system showed that following the treatment of 'Ortiva-Top', the amount of pathogen DNA in the host tissue decreased to near zero levels. The successful treatments using 'Ortiva-Top' resulted in a 100% decrease in dehydration symptoms and a 100% increase in crop yield, together with an approximately 40% increase in crop quality (the yield classified as A class that had a cob weight exceeding 250 g).

 

These results were also obtained in an alternative protocol– the replacement of pesticides based on 'Ortiva-Top' in the first application and the application of pesticides harboring a different mechanism of action in the second and third applications. A remote sensing evaluation of the efficacy of the treatments using a quadcopter equipped with a thermal infra-red sensitive camera carried out by Dr. Assaf Chen’s research team (Migal - Galilee Research Institute) supported the results and showed its effectiveness as a research tool for diagnosing infected fields.

 

These results are the fruits of a decade of research (since 2008), in which a fundamental understanding of the pathogen H. maydis and the generation and development of late wilt disease in Israel was established. During this period, new research methods such as sensitive molecular tests (PCR and qPCR) were developed in order to diagnose fungal virulence and in order to detect the pathogen inside the host plant tissue. In addition, a link was found to plant hormones that regulate the development of the pathogen. Complex field trials that were carried out annually over a full growing season (about 80 days) since 2009 led to this important discovery.

However, the work on late wilt disease does not end here. In the past two years, Dr.Degani's research team identified the presence of H. maydis in secondary hosts, such as cotton, watermelon and green foxtail (Setaria viridis), which could support the survival of the pathogen, developed an environmentally friendly biological control method to control the pathogen, and established a new bio-assay for examining soils suspected of being infected with the pathogen. These new findings, which are currently in the process of being prepared for scientific publication, are encouraging the continuation and enhancement of the research.

 

*Migal - The Galilee Research Institute and Tel-Hai College

Publication
Degani O, Dor S., Movshowitz D., Fraidman E., Rabinowitz O. and Graph S., Effective chemical protection against the maize late wilt causal agent, Harpophora maydis, in the field. PloS ONE (2018), 13(12), e0208353 (Free full text link). 

Related Articles