Innovating for a Healthy Fruit Harvest
February 20, 2013
Food Quality & Nutrition
Plant diseases pose a serious threat to the world’s fruit crop production. In the U.S., it’s estimated that without the use of fungicides to control plant diseases, yields of most fruit and vegetable crops would decline by 50 to 95 percent. By mitigating the effects of plant diseases, U.S. farmers are able to produce 97 billion pounds of additional food and fiber, providing a sustainable supply of fruits and vegetables that are necessary to a healthy and varied diet. Plant biotechnology can be another tool to reduce losses to diseases. While disease resistant traits are commonly added to crops like soybeans and corn, research is also being conducted to apply this technology to protect fruits from emerging pests. Here are some examples of how innovations in crop protection and plant biotechnology are helping ensure a reliable supply of healthy fruits:
Fungicide sprays reduced the percent of diseased tomatoes from 22 percent to just 0.1 per cent.
Sigatoka is the most prevalent disease of bananas worldwide. The infection destroys leaves, produces toxins that appear to cause premature ripening of the fruit, and is one of the greatest causes of yield loss. First recognized in Fiji in 1912, the disease spread to all banana-growing countries over the next 40 years. Sigatoka infection is now effectively controlled in banana export plantations with fungicides. Without the use of fungicides, banana plantations would be unable to produce profitable quantities of high quality fruit, causing serious impacts to world banana exports. Recent research in Africa to develop a biotech banana with built-in resistance to sigatoka disease is also showing promise.
Late blight is the most dangerous disease of tomatoes in Italy – Europe’s top tomato producing country. Heavy epidemics of this fungus result in leaf lesions that can kill all the plants in a field within just one to two weeks. By using protective fungicide applications, growers are able to control the disease. Recent research trials at the University of Bologna showed that fungicide sprays reduced the percent of diseased fruit from 22 per cent to just 0.1 per cent.
In 1995, the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) was widespread in Hawaii’s Puna district, putting the industry in a crisis situation. Without virus control options, numerous fields were abandoned by farmers as the disease quickly spread and destroyed crops. Fortunately, researchers developed a biotech papaya resistant to PRSV and in 1998 the first varieties were released to farmers. These varieties allowed growers to directly reclaim their farms, and in just one year, healthy fields of biotech papaya were a common sight, as opposed to previous years when it was difficult to find a healthy papaya field in Puna. Virus-resistant papayas are now widely grown in Hawaii and are credited to helping save Hawaii’s papaya industry from devastation by PRSV.