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  4. 1997
  5. September

What Does the Future Hold for the World of Agriculture?

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What does the future hold for the world of agriculture? Anyone who knew the answer to that could make a lot of money, even in agriculture. We don't know what the future holds for us, but there are people at work trying to shape a few changes and I have the privilege to try and help some of these come about.

For example, the Noble Research Institute has been working on a cooperative project with scientists from the Department of the Interior on a project that would help growers to be able to use fewer chemical inputs.

Scientists have developed a biological control agent using a fungus to induce disease resistance to certain pathogens. These include diseases important to watermelon and cantaloupe growers such as anthracnose and cucumber mosaic virus. Also, some virus diseases of tomato which are causing epidemics in Europe show promise of being overcome. Research so far has been in the greenhouse and results look very good.

This year we initiated field trials using watermelons as the trial crop. Watermelons were infected as seedlings with a mutant of the fungus Colletotrichum magna (path1) which has lost its ability to cause disease symptoms but retains the ability to infect and grow through host tissue and resist disease. The protective mechanism appears to involve communication between path 1 and the host plant that results in a compression in the time required to activate host defense responses after a disease challenge.

The data collected is preliminary since we only have one year's results, but they were very encouraging. We didn't see much difference in fungal disease but dry early conditions may have affected the trial. We were somewhat surprised however to find the path 1 treated plants infected with cucumber mosaic virus showed about 30% yield improvement over untreated plants infected with the same virus. These are exciting results because virus is difficult for growers to defend against. If subsequent trials bring good results, this system of plant defense could develop to many crops and be an important tool for farmers the world over.