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Bacterial blight showing up in cotton…..again
Author: Tom Barber, Extension Weed Scientist

Bacterial blight has been positively identified in several fields in Mississippi county over the last week.  So far, the disease seems to be worse in fields that had a high infection level last year, especially under no-till management and in sand blasted areas.  Varieties that the disease has been confirmed in to this point are DP 0912 B2RF, ST 5458 B2RF and PHY 499 WRF.  Several of the varieties that were planted this year are susceptible to the disease, and all fields should be monitored to determine if the disease is present.  There are no control options in regards to a product that can be sprayed to control this disease.  Fungicides will not work because the causal organism is a bacteria not a fungus.   Planting a resistant variety is the best management practice to prevent the disease in 2013.  Infected fields should be documented so tillage can be done to bury the residue and a resistant variety can be planted in 2013.

Fields where the disease has been identified should be managed normally with some precautions.  Last year, the diesease was found early and it infected several leaves as well as squares and small bolls on lower nodes in the plant canopy.  The highest levels of occurance on bolls last year was between 15-20% of fruit on lower nodes.  In most cases yield loss was observed but not severe.  Irrigation should be maintained on a normal schedule for a severe drought year where temperatures reach 100 degrees.  Last year we reduced irrigation on a couple of heavily infected fields and the disease was worse in these fields than where a strict irrigation schedule was maintained.

Below are some pictures and comments from last year’s blog that provide some further information. 

The pathogen can infect all parts of the plant. Symptoms of bacterial blight vary according to the plant part that is infected and the stage of the crop when infection occurs. Early symptoms include small water-soaked spots on leaves that rapidly enlarge to take on an angular shape (Fig. 1). Lesions may coalesce rapidly and follow the main leaf veins (Fig. 2). At this point in the season, lesions on leaves and lesions on squares and bracts (Fig. 3) are likely present in fields. In very susceptible varieties, or where the disease is severe, lesions may form on petioles and stems, and leaf defoliation may occur (Fig. 4). As bolls develop, water-soaked lesions may form (Fig. 5). These lesions are probably of the most concern from a yield loss standpoint because they will result in stained lint and provide entry for secondary boll rot pathogens.

Fig. 1 - Lesions from bacterial blight on cotton leaf

Fig. 1 – Lesions from bacterial blight on cotton leaf

Fig. 2 - Lesions from bacterial blight coalescing along veins

Fig. 2 – Lesions from bacterial blight coalescing along veins

Bacterial blight severity is greatest at high ambient temperatures (86-97 F) and high relative humidity – conditions we have had throughout the state for several weeks. The pathogen is spread most effectively by splashing water, particularly driving rain – also conditions we have had occasionally this summer in certain parts of the state. Bacteria can enter the plant through natural openings like stomates, nectaries, or through wounds. The extent of the bacterial blight problem in a field will depend on the susceptibility of the cotton cultivar, the extent to which the pathogen has spread through the field, and the duration of favorable weather for disease development.

What should growers do now?

The most important thing to do right now is to survey all fields to determine if the disease is present. Scout fields for the presence of leaf symptoms, particularly in the lower to mid canopy. Look for excessive leaf defoliation. Dryland fields and fields that have been stressed from other reasons may show considerable leaf drop due to bacterial blight. Because other factors may cause spots on leaves or squares or defoliation, when in doubt, submit a sample to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Plant Health Clinic for an accurate diagnosis. For help in collecting and submitting samples, contact your local county agent. Also remember when scouting fields that this pathogen can be spread by contact so avoid walking (or driving through) fields when foliage is wet. It is vital that growers identify this disease in their fields this season while symptoms are visible. The bacterium can survive in undecomposed plant debris for at least several months, so knowing where the disease is this fall will allow appropriate cultivation to destroy residue before next season.

Fig. 3 - Lesions forming on bracts

Fig. 3 – Lesions forming on bracts

Fig. 4 - Defoliation from bacterial blight

Fig. 4 – Defoliation from bacterial blight












Fig. 5 –  Bacterial blight lesions on cotton boll.

What can I do if I find bacterial blight in a field?

First, and foremost, do not panic. While this disease can be rather severe under the right conditions, it will not result in a crop failure. The extent of the crop loss in any given field will be determined by the incidence (distribution) of the disease in the field, the susceptibility of the cultivar, and the weather conditions from now until harvest. Here are some suggestions for dealing with fields where bacterial blight is present.

1) Continue to manage the crop for yield. While the disease may hurt, it will not likely hurt nearly as bad as abandoning the field or cutting back on inputs. Abandoning (or severely curtailing inputs) now to save a little money will also eliminate any chance of estimating the actual damage the disease caused.

2) Recognize that the disease can be spread by equipment or people moving through the field when the leaves are wet. Avoid running ground rigs through or scouting fields when the foliage is still wet from rain, dew, or irrigation.

3) Be realistic regarding irrigation. While overhead irrigation may contribute to the spread of the pathogen, lack of irrigation will be of much greater concern. Continue to irrigate as needed to meet crop demands, but do not over-irrigate.

4) There are no chemical control methods for control of bacterial blight in the field. Maintain good insect control to minimize the possibility of infection through wounds created by insect feeding.

5) Do not over fertilize. Lush, rank foliage will contribute to higher humidity in the canopy, a longer period of leaf wetness, and will enhance infection. In fields or cultivars where the crop tends toward rank growth, consider using plant growth regulators to maintain an open canopy.

Remember: bacterial blight has not been a significant disease in Arkansas for over 20 years. Some fields that were infected early and that were in regions with frequent driving rains and summer storms may be damaged considerably. However, in a majority of cases, this disease may hurt but it won’t likely cause crop failure.

Information by Cliff Coker, Tom Barber, Craig Rothrock, and Terry Kirkpatrick. Photos courtesy of Cliff Coker, Extension Plant Pathologist and Amanda Greer, Program Technician, Southeast Research and Extension Center.


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