Systems based pest management in action
Two very good cultural practices used for disease management include placing containers on gravel to minimize soil contaminants, including fungal pathogens that cause root rot, and spacing plants in a way that allows for air movement, which will speed drying of foliage and minimize leaf spot diseases. Photo of a Tennessee nursery by A. Windham, courtesy UTIA.
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Borrowing from procedures prevalent in the nation’s food processing industry, nursery professionals across Tennessee are beginning to implement systems-based pest management to help them prevent the spread of introduced invasive pests and diseases like sudden oak death.

Systems-based pest management, or SBPM, is based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system widely used by the food processing industry. Currently regulatory agencies are incorporating SBPM into their guidelines, a move that is expected to affect international and national plant commerce.

“Prevention of problems up front rather than detection of problems in the finished product is the key,” said Amy Fulcher, University of Tennessee Extension specialist for sustainable ornamental plant production and landscape management. “SBPM begins with identifying key points of vulnerability to diseases or pests in a nursery’s operations, and then assessing and implementing steps to reduce the risk from pests.”

Recently some 50 growers from across the region attended a UT training session on SBPM. In data they provided when registering for the event, nearly half of the growers admitted they fail to sanitize pruners, bench tops, flats, floors and other surfaces routinely, and fewer than 10 percent of the growers in attendance said they sanitize used containers before reusing them for the next crop.

“Sanitizing surfaces and containers is an important management practice in
systems-based pest management because weed seeds, disease-causing organisms and insects can be lying in wait to infest or infect the next crop,” said Diana Cochran, a post doctoral research associate with the UT Department of Plant Sciences. Cochran collected and reported on the growers’ responses to questions about their management practices.

Other management tips were highlighted by Fulcher and UT experts Frank Hale and Alan Windham
an entomologist and plant pathologist, respectivelyincluding practices related to irrigation, field production and substrate and container management. “Root rot is the number one nursery disease in the southeast according to a five-state pest management strategic plan. More Phytophthora root rot pathogens were found in irrigation water and substrates than any other point of contamination sampled,” Fulcher said. She discussed with growers the importance of cleaning irrigation water with chlorine and how keeping plants too wet can compound a problem, especially when the water supply is contaminated with disease inoculum. “Sensor-based irrigation can aid in applying just the right amount of water,” she said.

Another important component of SBPM is employee training. An interpreter was at the program to help train nursery employees whose first language is Spanish.

One positive note from the event was that 100 percent of the growers attending reported that they inspect incoming plants for disease and pests, which Fulcher noted is a good start. She also noted that much more industry education is needed to prevent the spread of disease and pests. Growers who would like more information are requested to contact Fulcher or Cochran at the UT Department of Plant Sciences, 865-974-7152.

The educational event was funded by the
Southern Risk Management Education Center through a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.



Amy Fulcher, UTIA Department of Plant Sciences, 

Diana Cochran, UTIA Department of Plant Sciences,


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