Successful control of vegetable diseases requires the use of multiple tactics to manage disease problems from transplant production to harvest. Growers cannot rely on only one approach (e.g., chemical control) and expect to successfully cope with the many disease problems that occur in Florida.
A multifaceted approach to disease management is often referred to as integrated pest management or IPM. IPM is a strategy that draws on a range of management tools with the goal of using the least ecologically disruptive techniques to manage diseases within economically acceptable levels.
IPM is knowledge-intensive. A well-designed IPM program is built on a combination of compatible control tactics: including cultural, biological, chemical, and mechanical methods; and should emphasize preventative practices to reduce the need for control tactics.
The cornerstone of IPM is knowledge of the diseases attacking a crop and an understanding of the biology and environmental conditions conducive to diseases that might cause crop damage.
For disease management, it is important to understand the potential of a pathogen to infest and spread in the crop. The development of disease is dependent upon the interactions of the pathogen, plant host, and the environment. In plant pathology, this set of interactions is known as the disease triangle. Environmental conditions play a critical role in determining the nature of plant disease epidemics. Practices aimed at managing crop diseases usually focus one or more of the legs of the disease triangle.
Understanding the biology of the pathogen, host-pathogen interactions, and the effect of environmental factors on this dynamic process in time and space (disease epidemiology), is critical for planning and implementing effective and efficient disease management strategies.
The first step in IPM is correct identification of the disease affecting the crop. Many disease control failures are linked to misdiagnosis of the problem and not to any problem with the control measures implemented. Growers should be aware of which pathogens are present or are likely to appear in a particular field or season. Descriptive and pictorial manuals are helpful for identification of diseases commonly found in Florida. It is important to know the common diseases of a given crop specific to your area.
University of Florida Extension Faculty as well as professional crop advisors can provide assistance in disease diagnosis. Diagnosis can also be obtained by sending samples to the UF/IFAS Plant Disease Clinic in Gainesville.