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Researchers in Yuma work to find new ways to fight plant disease

Growing crops is a year round business in the Desert Southwest. For many people who live here it is their livelihood. News 11 talked with executive director of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture (YCEDA), Paul Brierley, on the number one agriculture problem they are working on.

At this University of Arizona center, located in Yuma, and partly funded by the farmers themselves; they have meetings where farmers can discuss what some of the biggest problems they are facing.

“We’re working on a lot of things, but plant disease being the most important … in particular fusarium wilt of lettuce,” Brierley said. “We’re still putting all the same amount of land, labor, water, chemicals, everything into the crop and then we are only getting 70 percent of what we should,” he added. This creates a problem for farmers who try to be as productive with their resources as possible. That’s where Brierley and his team step in to help conduct research to better help farmers and agriculture as a whole. But the topic of plant disease isn’t an easy one to tackle. Plants contract different diseases at different times of the year. “We’ve pulled together researchers in international symposiums where we can share information about what we’ve done and what we’re doing and what needs to be done on these diseases,” he shared. One of the unique ways, which they are currently using to fight against disease in citrus plants are by using wasps. “There’s a citrus disease called Citrus Greening and it’s a big concern,” Brierley said. “We grow a lot of citrus here and there’s a particular bug called the Asian Citrus Psyllid that carries that disease between the trees and infects the trees,” he added. “The USDA has a program here with sterile wasps that basically kill those bugs,” he said. But the big questions farmers are asking is, “Where is the best and most productive place to plant?” Brierley works year-round to find answers to that question. “The growers find they’ll have a field here and another one a mile down the road, very similar circumstances, growing the same crop. One will be super healthy and productive and the other will be hit by disease,” he said. There are many causes for plant disease. Some reasons being that they are soil born, if there is a fungus in the soil. They could also be air born diseases, being blown in with the wind. Some diseases are caused by mildew that grows in certain temperatures or another cause is disease that was actually on the seed. But the need to fight disease only increases. “As we have more and more people we need to feed on less and less land and water you need to be productive,” Brierley said. Brierley described Yuma as the winter salad bowl of not only the country but all of North America. We help supply food to so many people all over and that is why it is so important to be as productive as possible and help fight plant disease so that we can continue to bring the healthiest food to tables all over the world.

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