Research advancing in alfalfa-disease battle
CHAZY — In 2013, a Cornell University research team funded by the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP) is taking a proactive approach to brown root rot (BRR), a fungus that damages alfalfa crops. The disease was first discovered in the eastern U.S. in Northern New York in 2004 at Chazy.
“We have begun breeding BRR-resistant alfalfa to identify the most commercially viable varieties under Northern New York field conditions,” research leader Dr. Julie L. Hansen with the Cornell University Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics said.
Hansen, Cornell plant breeder Dr. Donald Viands and research support specialist Jamie Crawford are using cuttings of plants that survived significant 2011-12 winter ice-sheeting and BRR at Miner Institute in Chazy to breed a genetic capacity for BRR resistance into future generations of alfalfa.
“Based on data from western Canada where brown root rot has long been a problem for alfalfa producers, the breeding of BRR-resistant alfalfa varieties can help growers stem stand losses and regain yield and profitability,” Hansen said.
BRR, primarily active in winter and early spring, is associated with slow emergence, alfalfa-stand decline and yield loss.
Field trials with BRR-resistant alfalfa varieties in Saskatchewan showed 23 to 65 percent higher yields over BRR-susceptible varieties. New York-specific development of BRR-resistant varieties is needed because the BRR-resistant Peace alfalfa grown in western Canada does not grow well in New York. Because BRR can persist in soil year-round and has a broad range of host plants, crop rotation is not a successful strategy.
To learn more about brown root rot research, visit the NNYADP website at www.nnyagdev.org. The farmer-driven organization funds research, technical assistance and outreach for agricultural producers in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.