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TOP STORY, Aug. 30, 2016

Researchers try better ways to grow cantaloupes

By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Associate Editor


QUEENSTOWN, Md. —
University of Maryland researchers are studying better ways to grow cantaloupe in the Mid-Atlantic where weather, plant diseases and insect pests have limited its production.
Human foodborne pathogens are a major concern in melon production, and researchers, including professor and Extension plant pathologist Dr. Kate Everts, are also studying cultivar resistance and bio-pesticides for management of anthracnose, powdery mildew and downy mildew.
The research was briefly detailed in a report distributed at the university’s horticultural crops tour at the Wye Research & Education Center on Aug. 24.
“Cover crops and green manures (cover crops that are tilled into the soil) have been used with other fresh produce commodities such as pepper and watermelon as a strategy to suppress plant disease-causing microorganisms and to increase soil organic matter and improve soil health,” the report said. “The potential suppressive activity of cover crops and green manures on human pathogens, however, has not been investigated in field studies.”
Among the group’s early findings: Netted types of melon are better able to support Salmonella survival.
The group, which includes assistant professor Dr. Shirley Micallef and graduate student Robert Korir, is also working to better understand Salmonella bacteria behavior in or on cantaloupe fruits by investigating the interaction between the presence of Fusarium species causing fruit rot and Salmonella, the report said. A survey of melon infected with Fusarium species in Maryland and Delaware will help the team develop good field management practices to curtail fruit rot that reduces yield and promotes human pathogenic bacteria.
The research has also revealed treatments such as copper alternated with Serenade or Regalia resulted in lower downy and powdery mildew compared with untreated plants.
The study also included evaluation of cultivar resistance on eight melon cultivars, including Athena, Dulce, Eden’s Gem, Escorial, Juane, Sivan, Snow Mass and Sunbeam. Of five cultivars advertised to be resistant to powdery mildew, only Athena and Dulce had consistently low foliar ratings, the report said.
Sivan and Escorial varieties had less downey mildew than other cultivars. To prevent foliar disease, a good strategy in organic production, the report said, is to plant a diversity of cultivars.
The study is ongoing.