Disease management strategies are very similar for both organic and conventional small fruit production systems in the Midwest. In both systems it is important to develop and use an integrated disease management program that integrates as many disease control methods as possible, the more the better. Major components of the disease management program include: use of specific cultural practices; developing knowledge of the pathogen and disease biology, use of disease resistant cultivars, and timely application of organically approved fungicides or biological control agents or products when needed. These guidelines have been written for caneberries (raspberry and blackberry), strawberry, blueberry and grape. Specific information is provided for each crop in its respective chapter. Most disease control methods or strategies are identical for both conventional and organic production systems. Perhaps the greatest difference between organic and conventional production systems is that organic growers are not permitted to use synthetic “conventional” fungicides. If disease control materials are required in the organic system, growers are limited to the use of “inorganic” fungicides such as sulfur (elemental sulfur and lime-sulfur) or copper fungicides (Bordeaux mixture and fixed copper products). In addition, there are several new “alternative” disease control materials and biological control products that are currently available and are cleared for use in organic production.
There are several problems associated with the use of these inorganic fungicides and “alternative” products in small fruit disease control programs. Among the most important are 1) Phytoxicity, which is the potential to cause damage to foliage, fruit set and fruit finish (this is a concern primarily with copper and sulfur fungicides); and 2) their limited spectrum of fungicide activity, which means they may not be capable of providing simultaneous control of the wide range of fungal pathogens that can cause economic damage to the crop. For example, sulfur is highly effective for controlling powdery mildew on most fruit crops, but provides little or no control of most other diseases.
In a climate like the Midwest, environmental conditions during the growing season are generally very conducive (warm and wet) to the development of several important diseases, insect pests and weeds. Limitations in relation to which pesticides may or may not be used, present the organic grower with some unique and very demanding challenges. Whereas the use of various cultural practices and disease resistance will be the “back bone” of the organic disease management program, the limited use of organically approved pesticides or biocontrol agents will probably be required at times.