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Friday, February 25, 2011


Plants are susceptible to pests and diseases from various infection and attack by foreign organism such as Bacteria, Virus and Fungi. The intruder may attack through contact, wind, injection or through root system. Soil-borne diseases result from a reduction of biodiversity of soil organisms. Restoring beneficial organisms that attack or repel or otherwise antagonize disease-causing pathogens will render a soil disease-suppressive. Plants growing in disease-suppressive soil resist diseases much better than in soils low in biological diversity. Beneficial organisms can be added directly or the soil environment can be made more favorable for them through use of compost and other organic amendments. Compost quality determines its effectiveness at suppressing soil-borne plant diseases. Compost quality can be determined through laboratory testing. This article I would like to share knowledge in "Anim Agriculture Technology" on sustainable management of soil borne plant disease based on my experience and knowledge and references from few books and website.

Agriculture in Malaysia contribute third level in contribution to Gross National Product (GNP) every year from industrial crop such as oil palm, rubber and many type of food crops. The food crops especially paddy and vegetables among popular crop among 176,000 commercial farmers in Malaysia for domestic and export market. There are many factors involved in crop production include farm management, pest control, disease control, manuring and post harvest activity. Among important activities for Malaysian farmers are to control plant disease. So Why Disease? ...

Plant diseases result when a susceptible host and a disease-causing pathogen meet in a favorable environment. If any one of these three conditions were not met, there would be no disease. Many intervention practices (fungicides, methyl bromide fumigants, etc.) focus on taking out the pathogen after its effects become apparent. This article I emphasizes making the environment less disease-favorable and the host plant less susceptible. The are few high intensive vegetable growing such as at Cameroon Highland, Kundasang, Sengkang, Johor Bahru district monitored the occurance of plant disease.

Plant diseases may occur in natural environments but they rarely run rampant and cause major problems. The threat of disease epidemics in crop production is constant from many years. I believe the reasons for this are becoming increasingly evident. The general principle is to add the beneficial soil organisms and the food they need for the ultimate goal being the highest number and diversity of soil organisms. The higher the diversity so there are more stable in the soil biological system such as in Malaysian Tropical Jungle. These beneficial organisms or pathogen will suppress disease through competition, antagonism and direct feeding on pathogenic fungi, bacteria and nematodes. I think we cannot restore the balance of organisms that was present under native, undisturbed circumstances but we can build a new stable balance of soil organisms that will be adapted to the altered soil conditions. This is a proactive plan that moves us toward the desired outcome of disease prevention.

There are two types of disease suppression that are Specific and General. Specific suppression results from one organism directly suppressing a known pathogen. These are cases where a biological control agent is introduced into the soil for the specific purpose of reducing disease incidence. General suppression is the result of a high biodiversity of microbial populations that creates conditions unfavorable for plant disease development. A good example of specific suppression is provided by a strategy used to control one of the organisms that cause damping off caused by Rhizoctonia solani. Where present under cooler temperatures and wet soil conditions, Rhizoctonia kills young seedlings of crops like melon, bitter gourd, long bean and others. The beneficial fungus such as the Trichoderma spp. will locates then attacks Rhizoctonia through a chemical released by the pathogen. Some beneficial fungal strands (hyphae) entangle the pathogen and release enzymes that dehydrate Rhizoctonia cells and eventually killing them. This process I believed been in the natural cycle to balance the ecosystems.

The introduction of a single organism to soils seldom achieves disease suppression for very long. If not already present the new organism may not be competitive with existing microorganisms. If food sources are not abundant enough the new organism will not have enough food to eat. If soil conditions are inadequate the introduced beneficial organism will not survive. This practice is not sufficient to render the soil "disease suppressive". It is like planting flowers in the desert and expecting them to survive without water. With adequate soil conditions the inoculation with certain beneficial should only be needed once.

General Suppression:
A soil is considered suppressive when, in spite of favorable conditions for disease to occur, a pathogen either cannot become established, establishes but produces no disease, or establishes and produces disease for a short time and then it will declines .Suppressiveness is linked to the types and numbers of soil organisms, fertility level, and nature of the soil itself (drainage and texture). The mechanisms by which disease organisms are suppressed in these soils include induced resistance, direct parasitism (one organism consuming another), nutrient competition, and direct inhibition through antibiotics secreted by beneficial organisms.

Mycorrhizal Fungi (Left photo) and Disease Suppression is among the most beneficial root-inhabiting organisms, mycorrhizal fungi can cover plant roots, forming what is known as a fungal mat. The mycorrhizal fungi protect plant roots from diseases in several ways:
By providing a physical barrier to the invading pathogen.
By providing antagonistic chemicals.
By competing with the pathogen.
By increasing the nutrient-uptake ability of plant roots.
By changing the amount and type of plant root exudate.

Crop Rotation and Disease Suppression Avoiding disease buildup is probably the most widely emphasized benefit of crop rotation in vegetable production. Many diseases build up in the soil when the same crop is grown in the same field year after year. My visits to commercial leafy vegetable are at Kg Solok Tangkak confirm the issue. The Crop Rotation to a non-susceptible crop can help break this cycle by reducing pathogen levels. To be mre ffective I normally advice the farmers thet the rotations must be carefully planned. Since diseases usually attack plants are related to each other it is helpful to group vegetable rotations by family such as Leguminoceae, Cucurbitaceae or Cruciferae crops. The susceptible crop within the related plants and alternate host plants for the disease must be kept out of the field during the rotation period. Since plant pathogens persist in the soil for different lengths of time so the length of the rotation will vary with the disease being managed.

From my observation to effectively plan a crop rotation it is essential to know what crops are affected by what disease organisms. In most cases I found that the crop rotation effectively controls those pathogens that survive in soil or on crop residue. Crop rotation will not help control diseases that are wind-blown or insect vectored from outside the area. So it will help control pathogens that can survive long periods in the soil without any host such as Fusarium for example. Crop Rotation by itself is only effective on pathogens that can infested in the field or be introduced on infected seeds or transplants. The disease-free transplants or seed should be used in combination with crop rotation. The period of time between susceptible crops is highly variable and it also depending on the disease. Some will takes seven years without any cruciferous crops for clubfoot to dissipate. Three years between parsley is needed to avoid damping off, and three years without tomatoes to avoid Verticillium wilt on sweet potatoes.

Plant Nutrients and Disease Control related to Soil pH (soil acidity), calcium level, nitrogen form and the availability of nutrients. This condition can all play major roles in disease management system. I believe healty plants mre tolerant than waek plants. That is important to sensure an adequate crop nutrition that makes plants more tolerant of or resistant to disease. My study shows that the nutrient status of the soil and the use of particular fertilizers and amendments can have significant impacts on the pathogen's environment. Fast release fertilizer and foliar fertillizer among the best solution on this issue.

Liming is a best alternative on the other hand will increases disease severity (Left photo) . Liming is strongly recomended in Malaysia as important activity to improve soil fertility. While lowering the pH is an effective strategy for sweet potato scab the increasing soil pH or calcium levels may be beneficial for disease management in many other crops. Adequate levels of calcium can reduce clubroot in crucifer crops (broccoli, cabbage, cucumber etc.). The disease is inhibited in neutral to slightly alkaline soils (pH 6.7 to pH7.2) .A direct correlation between adequate calcium levels or higher pH and decreasing levels of Fusarium occurrence has been established for a number of crops, including tomatoes, banana, melons and several ornamental as observed in Air Hitam Agriculture Station in Johore.

Compost and Disease Suppression is another way to manage soil borne disease. Compost has been used effectively in the nursery industry and in high-value crops and in potting soil mixtures for control of root rot diseases. Adding compost to soil may be viewed as one of a spectrum of techniques including cover cropping, crop rotations, mulching and manuring to add organic matter to the soil. The major difference between compost amended soil and the other techniques is that organic matter in compost is already "digested." Other techniques require the digestion to take place in the soil, which allows for both anaerobic and aerobic decomposition of organic matter. Properly composted organic matter is digested chiefly through aerobic processes. These differences have important implications for soil and nutrient management, as well as plant health and pest management. Chemicals left after anaerobic decomposition largely reduce compost quality. Residual sulfides are a classic example.

Successful disease suppression by compost has been less frequent in soils than in potting mixes. This is probably why there has been much more research (and commercialization) concerning compost amended potting mixes and growing media for greenhouse plant production than research on compost-amended soils for field crop production. Why Compost Works in the management system ? The study shown that compost is effective because it fosters a more diverse soil environment in which a myriad of soil organisms exist. Compost acts as a food source and shelter for the antagonists that compete with plant pathogens for those organisms that prey on and parasitize pathogens and for those beneficial that produce antibiotics. Root rots is caused by Pythium and Phytophthora that are generally suppressed by the high numbers and diversity of beneficial microbes found in the compost. Such beneficial prevent the germination of spores and infection of plants growing on the amended soil . To get more reliable results from compost than the compost itself needs to be stable and of consistent quality. I teach compost subject to many local farmers in Johor and Melaka as part of the agriculture extension system by Department of Agriculture.

Systemic resistance is also induced in plants in response to compost treatments. Hotlink has now established that composts and compost teas indeed activate disease resistance genes in plants . These disease resistance genes are typically "turned on" by the plant in response to the presence of a pathogen. These genes mobilize chemical defenses against the pathogen invasion although it often too late to avoid the disease. Plants growing in compost however will have these disease-prevention systems already running . Induced resistance is somewhat pathogen-specific but it does allow an additional way to manage certain diseases through common farming practices.

It has become evident that a "one size fits all" approach to composting used in disease management will not work. Depending on feed stock, inoculum and composting process. Composts have different characteristics affecting disease management potential. For example a high carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) tree bark compost generally works well to suppress Fusarium wilts. With lower C:N ratio composts Fusarium wilts may become more severe as a result of the excess nitrogen which favors Fusarium. Compost from sewage sludge typically has a low C:N ratio. This I learn from Kyusei Nature Faming Institute at Saraburi, Bangkok , Thailand in 2005 for 10 long days.

Three approaches can be used to increase the suppressiveness of compost. First, curing the compost for four months or more; second, incorporating the compost in the field soil several months before planting; and third, inoculating the compost with specific biocontrol agents. Two of the more common beneficial used to inoculate compost are strains of Trichoderma and Flavobacterium, added to suppress Rhizoctonia solani. Trichoderma harzianum acts against a broad range of soil-borne fungal crop pathogens, including R. solani, by production of anti-fungal exudates. As the compost matures, it becomes more suppressive. Readily available carbon compounds found in low-quality, immature compost can support Pythium and Rhizoctonia. As these compounds are reduced during the complete composting process, saprophytic growth of these pathogens is dramatically slowed . Beneficial such as Trichoderma hamatum and T. harzianum, unable to suppress Rhizoctonia in immature composts, are extremely effective when introduced into mature composts.

Rhizoctonia is a highly competitive fungus that colonizes fresh organic matter. Its ability to colonize decomposed organic matter is decreased or non-existent. There is a direct relationship between a compost's level of decomposition and its suppression of Rhizoctonia - again pointing to the need for high-quality, mature compost. Like immature compost, raw manure is conducive to diseases at first and becomes suppressive after decomposition. In other words, organic amendments supporting high biological activity (i.e., decomposition) are suppressive of plant-root diseases, while raw organic matter will often favor colonization by pathogens.

Determining and Monitoring Compost Quality also discuss in this topic.
It is clear that compost maturity is a key factor in its ability to suppress disease. The challenge involved in achieving and measuring that maturity is the primary reason that compost is not more widely used. Certainly, immature compost can be used in field situations, as long as it is applied well ahead of planting, allowing for eventual stabilization. However, good disease suppression may not develop due to other factors. For example, highly saline compost actually enhances Pythium and Phytophthora diseases unless applied months ahead of planting to allow for leaching .

Direct Inoculation with Beneficial Organisms is another set to manage soil borne disease. There are a number of commercial products containing beneficial, disease-suppressive organisms. These products are applied in various ways including seed treatments, compost inoculants, soil inoculants and soil drenches. Among the beneficial organisms available are Trichoderma, Flavobacterium, Streptomycetes, Gliocladium spp., Bacillus spp., Pseudomonas spp., and others. Trichoderma and Gliocladium are effective at parasitizing other fungi, but they stay alive only as long as they have other fungi to parasitize. So, these fungi do a good job on the pathogenic fungi that are present when you inoculate them, but then they run out of food and go to sleep. In soils with low fungal biomass (soils with low organic matter and plenty of tillage) these two beneficials have nothing to feed on. Compost is a great source of both the organisms and the food they need to do their jobs. A great diversity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and beneficial nematodes exists in good compost.

Soil-borne diseases result from a reduction in the biodiversity of soil organisms. Restoring important beneficial organisms that attack, repel, or otherwise antagonize disease-causing soil organisms will reduce their populations to a manageable level. Beneficial organisms can be added directly, or the soil environment can be made more favorable for them with compost and other organic amendments. Compost quality determines its effectiveness at suppressing soil-born plant diseases.

I belive most scientists aware about the importance of knowing soil borne disease as subject to be studied. The occruance ot soil borne disease in Malaysia are under control with adequate suiveilance done by commercial farmers and DOA personels. Oil Palm, Rubber, Paddy and vegetables are important crops in Malaysia contribute huge income to the nation and involve millions of farmers. It has to be ways to reduce the loss of income due to soil borne disease.

Thanks to ASTRA for the information.

M Anem
Senior Agronomist

Agriculture Department of Malaysia
(October 2010)

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