Fungus might provide the solution to a disease that strikes tomatoes. Scientists from the University of Florida are working on this method as a means to help control Fusarium wilt. Tomatoes represent Florida’s main vegetable crop, with 28,000 acres commercially harvested in 2017, worth US$262 million. Funded by a three-year grant from the USDA, associate professor of plant pathology, Gary Vallad, is working with colleagues from other universities to develop an approach using a fungus called trichoderma to combat Fusarium wilt. It is hoped that the trichoderma could eventually replace chemical pest-management methods currently used to fight the disease.
Trichoderma fungi can be found in soil and on plants have previously been used biological control agents in agriculture. Other researchers have tried and failed to use trichoderma as a means of controlling pathogens. However, this current research is intended to develop an understanding of what factors limit the fungus’ benefits as a biological control agent. The focus is on tomato production in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania.