Soil-based disease threatens Georgia's Watermelon Crop - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Soil-based disease threatens Georgia's Watermelon Crop

June 20, 2006

Tifton - With an increase in demand for seedless watermelons, farmers are working hard to keep up.  But an old disease, deadly to the plant, has resurfaced and is threatening this crop.  Fusarium wilt is a disease killing seedless watermelon crop in Georgia and all over the country.

"When the watermelon roots grow in the soil, they come in contact with the fungus. The fungus attacks the root and begins to infect the root. It compromises the vascular system of the plant and cause the water intake to shut down which causes it to wilt," Plant Pathologist David Langston said.

Since popping up around the turn of the twentieth century, fusarium wilt is one of the oldest and most destructive soil diseases.  The industry has learned to breed resistant seeded watermelons so the wilt has not posed a major threat for quite some time.

Watermelon eaters now prefer the seedless varieties.  The only problem, they are not resistant to the disease.  Lowndes County Extension Agent Mickey Fourakers says "The old varieties were bred to be resistant to fusarium wilt. This new product has not been bred to be resistant to the disease so now we're seeing a log of fusarian wilt which is becoming a major problem in the watermelon industry."

Industry officials are now charged with creating a wilt resistant variety of seedless watermelons. This process that could take years and could be too little too late.  "It's a very serious part of our industry right now. It really has a tremendous effect on what the watermelon industry in Georgia will be because it takes a long time to breed this resistance," added Fourakers.

Georgia's watermelon crop is still expected to be on target this year.  If a resistant watermelon isn't bred soon, we could see a drastic price increase in the future because production will not meet consumer demand.

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