Expert advises spraying blueberries after studying aggressive dieback

"Blueberries need spraying" is the warning given to growers by Farm Advisory Service Team soft-fruit adviser Graham Moore.

Having led a Horticultural Development Company project to examine the cause of an aggressive type of dieback causing rapid decline or death in blueberry bushes, he said: "It was an unknown strain of Phomopsis. We did not know where it had come from nor how to attack it."

Moore and his team analysed 72 samples from blueberry plants lost to the disease, finding Phomopsis or Phomopsis-like fungi in nearly half. These were then more closely analysed. "We were checking the DNA to see who these guys are," said Moore. "We are no longer in the dark. Several suspects have been identified."

The data will now be exchanged with scientists in other blueberry-growing countries. Research in Chile this year has identified five species of Phomopsis, at least four of which are regarded as primary pathogens capable of causing stem cankers.

But Moore added that these fungi appear to become a threat to plants only when environmental conditions allow it. "They live in the plants harmlessly then certain factors switch them to a pathogenic state," he said.

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