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Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ:

Lettuce Wilting Disease Research Presented at Southwest Ag Summit

Maya Springhawk Robnett
Arizona Science Desk; KAWC
Michael Matheron, PhD in Plant Pathology

Southwestern agriculture experts are focused on a plant disease that threatens American lettuce fields. Researchers presented methods to combat the disease at a recent conference in Yuma. Maya Springhawk Robnett of the Arizona Science Desk reports…

Fusarium wilt is a fungus that lives in soil and affects a lettuce plant’s ability to absorb water.
For more than fifteen years, Michael Matheron, a plant pathologist at the University of Arizona Yuma Extension, has looked for ways to mitigate the disease and its costly impact.

At the Southwest Agriculture Summit in Yuma, he presented a few strategies, including laying a plastic cover over a field during the summer to raise the soil temperature and kill the disease.

“Basically, every day when the sun comes up and shines, it will heat that soil under the plastic," Matheron explains. "We could exceed temperatures of 150 or 155 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Matheron says while this process, called "soil solarization," reduces the organism’s population in a field, it is nearly impossible to eradicate the fungus. Proper sanitation techniques are the key to preventing its spread.