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Illinois plant pathologist reports good news for pumpkins, apples

Illinois specialty crop growers have reason to celebrate the end of the 2019 growing season, according to plant pathologist Mohammad Babadoost of the University of Illinois.

After a questionable start, the Illinois pumpkin crop is looking good in time for fall. The pumpkin industry in Illinois is worth approximately $200 million, and produces about 90% of the country’s canned pumpkin supply.  

“Even though our processing (canning) pumpkins couldn’t get started until late May due to repeated rainfall events, and harvest was a few weeks late, the yield turned out good," Babadoost, professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I, said in a news release from the university.

"But more importantly, the product is very good. There’s more flesh than water because late-season conditions have been dry."

He adds that Jack-o-lanterns have had an average year, but says “everybody should have a pumpkin to enjoy this Halloween.”

Babadoost also has good news for apple growers, especially those growing honey crisp. As the new variety came to dominate the market in recent years, growers discovered a weakness.

“It’s a very popular, pricey, and great apple, but honey crisp is so susceptible to bitter rot, which can wipe out an entire crop,” Babadoost said in the release.

Bitter rot is a fungal disease that affects fruit in the late summer. The disease was rampant in central and southern Illinois orchards in 2018, particularly in honey crisp, empire, gala, and several other varieties.

In some cases, growers experienced almost 100% losses. The 2019 season was better, especially for growers in northern Illinois, but Babadoost didn’t want to leave anything to chance for future seasons.

“We set up an experiment at the University of Illinois Fruit Research Farm in Urbana, and it turned out excellent," Babadoost said in the release. "We identified some good fungicides that are less harmful to applicators and the environment, and they’re very effective against all fruit rots,”

Because there is no resistance to bitter rot or its cousins, white rot and black rot, fungicides and cultural controls are the only option.

Babadoost’s research also tested cultural control methods including removing wood piles, as well as apple mummies on the ground and on the tree. These efforts were highly successful.

“With both control methods, I’m hoping we will bring this disease under control,” Babadoost said in the release.

He is optimistic, but emphasizes that his results are only from a single year and orchard. He plans to apply the practices in commercial orchards next year.

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