Researchers at North Carolina State University will use funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to help southern strawberry growers battle some common plant diseases.

Anthracnose and Phytophthora pathogens cause nearly $6 million in strawberry crop losses every year. This past year, growers had particular problems with new plants that were already infected before the plants arrived at nurseries.

Both pathogens can be present on a plant without showing symptoms for several days. As rain or water from daily watering splashes from the plants, pathogens can spread to uninfected plants.

Frank Louws, a plant pathologist in North Carolina State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, recently received a $169,851 USDA Southern Regional IPM (Integrated Pest Management) grant to develop an integrated pest management program for strawberry growers that focuses on preventing plants from being infected.

For plants already infected, Louws, who directs the National Science Foundation Center for Integrated Pest Management at North Carolina State, and his colleagues are working on treatment options.

Anthracnose infects the plant itself, so Louws and Virginia Tech University plant pathologist Charles Johnson are developing real-time diagnostic tests that will detect the pathogen at low levels.

Anthracnose can be treated with a fungicide root dip before the plant goes into the field. The pathogen spreads quickly if left untreated before planting, causing either crown rot or fruit rot. Both diseases can destroy a strawberry crop.