07/14/04 — Fungus decimates cucumber crops

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Fungus decimates cucumber crops

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on July 14, 2004 2:01 PM

Wayne County farmers have seen a drastic reduction in their cucumber yields this summer due to a devastating airborne fungus that has caught them by surprise.

Elton Harrison watched all of his 80 acres of cucumbers in LaGrange get wiped out by the fungus called downy mildew.

The fungus traveled farther north this year due to the warm weather.

"The weather conditions were ideal for it to happen," he said.

The fungus thrives in temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees at night and high humidity. It can also affect cantaloupes, squash, watermelons and other crops.

Jimmy Herring, who grows watermelons behind his house in Walnut Creek, said he was looking at one of his best crops ever when the fungus hit. Within a week, the vines turned brown and the melons started rotting.

The first symptom is usually the appearance of pale green spots, which become more yellow in color. Lesions form on the leaf.

Harrison said his farm has rarely been affected by the fungus, and he did not see it in any of his other crops. It was the most severe case in cucumbers he had ever seen. It can wipe out the entire field within a week or so, and there is nothing you can do about it, he said.

He expected to have a net profit of $500 per acre for his cucumbers. There is no way to make up that income loss, he said. He has planted soybeans on the same land, but he can't make as much with them.

Bill Jester, an extension specialist in Wayne and Lenoir counties, said that farmers were unprepared for the early arrival of the fungus.

Ronald Lancaster has 38 acres of cucumbers on N.C. Highway 222 in Wayne County. He noticed the fungus during his first harvest in June. He had never dealt with the fungus before. He said that once affected, his entire crop just got worse, until he was only able to salvage half of it. It did not affect his melons, though.

Frank Howell has 140 acres of cucumbers, along with other crops, in Wayne and Johnston counties. All of the cucumbers were affected, but he was able to salvage a third of his crop in June. He threw the rest out.

He had never had the fungus in his spring or summer crop, but had dealt with it in the fall. He will plant more cucumbers soon and is preparing for the fungus by spraying different fungicides early and often. He said it will provide some protection.

But, he added, "there still is no guarantee."

He hopes to have good yields with his other crops: sweet potatoes, tobacco and cotton. It would provide some relief from the loss of income from cucumbers.

"You have to look to make it up somewhere else," he said.