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Cover Crops to Combat Bacterial Diseases in Squash

Bacterial diseases affect a number of vegetable crops, including squash, which is susceptible to loss of yield due to angular leaf spot. Squash and zucchini combined provided $38 million in farm gate receipts in 2016, so fighting these diseases is important, but no easy task, as bacteria can multiply at a phenomenal rate, and solutions are limited. Dr. Vicky Toussaint, a research scientist in plant bacteriology at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Research and Development Centre, has discovered that cover crops may offer a much-needed solution.

A problem with bacteria can usually be solved with bactericide; however, even if the bacterial population is significantly reduced by a bactericide, the surviving bacteria will replicate rapidly and could still affect the crop. Furthermore, bactericides also destroy beneficial bacteria. When Dr. Toussaint was searching for innovative solutions to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria and improve the management of bacteria that cause plant diseases, she turned to cover crops. A cover crop is a plant or mix of plants that is sown before, during or after the growth of the main crop, thus reducing soil erosion and certain diseases, suppressing weeds, and improving general soil health.

The crops that Dr. Toussaint's team focused on were rye and fall wheat. In the spring, these cereals grow rapidly and produce a large amount of plant material. The squash was sown on the thick mat of vegetation created by flattening the cereals to the ground with a roller-crimper. This practice helped reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria on the surface of the squash leaves up to 10,000 times more than the traditional system.

There are certain aspects that still need to be explored in order to better understand this cultural practice. However, this approach has already caught the attention of several producers, who have started using it for its many advantages.

Cover crops and zone tillage for reduced risk weed management in field vegetables in eastern Canada: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

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