In a couple of years, producers around the world will have a major new biopesticide technology tool in their disease-fighting toolbox that has been shown in trials over many years to combat some serious diseases of potatoes, sugarbeets and other crops.
That bio-control technology is a naturally occurring bacterium called bacillus mycoides isolate J, or more commonly, BmJ, according to Nina Zidack, director of the MSU Potato Lab. Her lab certifies that seed potatoes grown in Montana meet strict disease tolerances.
“The preference on seed potatoes is that growers keep the virus level below the 2 percent threshold,” she said.
Zidack said Montana seed potato growers will be the first ones to be able to use BmJ in their tank mix to broadcast on their potato crops.
The Montana Department of Agriculture recently approved a Section 18 emergency exemption for the use of BmJ WG to control potato virus Y (PVY) on potatoes grown for seed.
Growing potatoes is a $38 million industry in Montana, Zidack said, and it is also an important industry for North Dakota, Minnesota and Idaho.
“This is another tool potato seed growers will have this year to help achieve low disease levels,” Zidack said. “The reemergence of PVY in potato seed stock is a concern to producers, because insecticides used to control the aphids that vector PVY have not decreased transmission of the disease effectively.”
The EPA felt the issue was so important that they granted the Section 18 for 2012.
Zidack said PVY could disrupt the cycle of production in the certified seed potatoes. Growers begin the four-year cycle of seed potato production with what is called nuclear generation seed – a product that has been certified as free of any virus or bacterial diseases by Zidack’s lab.
Tim Damico, executive vice president of NAFTA for Certis USA, said the product is currently being packaged and sent to potato seed growers in Montana.
Certis USA signed a global license agreement for the product with Montana State University and Montana BioAgriculture Inc., of Missoula, Mont., in December 2011 to develop and commercialize new plant disease control technologies based on BmJ.
“We recognized the importance of BmJ for producers around the world,” Damico said. “BmJ has a very unique mode of action. It prevents the spread of virus within the plant itself. Insecticides help but they don’t fully prevent the spread of disease. BmJ will be an additional tool for producers.”
Ideally, producers should use a foliar application of BmJ in the three to four leaf stage, which usually occurs around the middle of June, Damico said. However, the product will still be helpful now in mid-July, he added. BmJ was discovered in the mid-90s by Barry Jacobsen, MSU plant pathologist.
Jacobsen said in 1994, he wanted to search for biologically based solutions to pest problems not completely covered by conventional products. Cercospora leaf spot in sugarbeets was a major problem that was devastating sugarbeet growers in the Sidney, Mont., region at the time.
“BmJ was one of several bacilli identified and it quickly showed promise in control of Cercospora leaf spot of sugarbeet. Growers at that time were spending more than $5 million per year to control the disease and fungicide resistance was becoming a problem,” Jacobsen said.
He said at MSU, they worked on identifying more resistant varieties and found that BmJ was as good as conventional fungicides in providing control on these varieties.
“When used with low rates on fungicides, the cost of the spray program could be reduced by 50 percent or more while preventing fungicide resistance,” Jacobsen said. “We have also shown excellent control of early blight, sclerotinia white mold and PVY on potatoes.”
Jacobsen added that it has been “extremely gratifying to bring a new tool to the market place for growers to use in confronting their disease problems.”
In addition to potatoes and sugarbeets, Jacobsen and other scientists were able to demonstrate economic control of diseases of other crops such as wheat, cucumbers, melons, tomato, peppers, pecans, and bananas.
“We did all of this through understanding how plants defend themselves and how we can use microbes like BmJ to turn these defenses mechanisms on before the plant is infected,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen credits the “vision and hard work” of his students and technicians, support from MSU, along with the financial support of the sugarbeet and potato industries, USDA, and other granting agencies for helping BmJ as a biopesticide become a reality.
Damico said BmJ “turns on specific genes found in most plants.
These genes induce the plant to produce defensive reactions that make it more difficult for a pathogen, such as PVY, to infect the plant. BmJ is a systemic acquired resistance (SAR) activator with no direct effect on the plant pathogen itself.
That characteristic makes BmJ a potentially valuable tool for use in fungicide resistance management programs.”
He added Certis feels the new technology will really benefit producers.
The BmJ products will be registered and made available for producers, probably for the 2013 or 2014 crop year, said Salicia Gillen, Certis USA marketer. Gillen said Certis has a global market reach and plans to market BmJ around the world.
“Biological disease control that works with systemic acquired resistance represents an area of the market that we are very interested in and we think the trends there are really very good,” Damico said.