“Effects of the COVID-19 Outbreak on Specialty Crop Operations and Markets”



August 5, 2020

Dear Specialty Crop Grower,

I am writing to you today to request your assistance with a study about the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on specialty crop operations and markets. Our purpose is to examine how different groups of stakeholders within specialty crops have been affected, and how different value chain channels were disrupted. For this study specialty crops are vegetables, potatoes, melons, fruit, nuts, berries, flowers, bedding crops, nursery crops, food crops grown under protection, propagative materials, and mushroom crops. Ultimately, the intentions of this study are to generate new knowledge that will guide future extension outreach activities, and to quantify the impact in terms of production losses and reduction in sales. This project is being led by researchers in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State University with internal support.

We realize that your time is valuable and hope you consider participating in this study. To show our appreciation we offer a $10 e-gift card to the first 200 eligible participants. Eligible participants are owners and/or leading operators of specialty crop businesses within the state of Ohio, who choose to inform name and email address at the end of the questionnaire. Participating in this study means sharing your personal experience while playing the role of a leading agribusiness owner/operator. The questionnaire is available through OSU Qualtrics by clicking this link. Qualtrics is a world-class service provider that offers a secure line for internet-based surveys. Numerous universities across the country use Qualtrics to distribute surveys and collect valuable research data. Ohio State, Cornell, Stanford, Notre Dame, Purdue, and University of Illinois are some of the universities using Qualtrics.

The questionnaire is also available in paper format. If you prefer to participate using a paper-based questionnaire, do not hesitate to contact me and I will send you a hard copy of the questionnaire. The envelope will include a consent form with additional details about this study, the questionnaire, and a prepaid return envelope. Please make sure to sign and return the consent form along with the filled questionnaire if you decide to take part in this study. You can contact me by email at signorini.2@osu.edu, by phone at (614) 292-3871, or by postal mail at 2001 Fyffe Rd., 225 Howlett Hall, Columbus, OH, 43210. If you have questions about this study, I will be most happy to answer.

Yours sincerely,
Guil Signorini, PhD – Assistant Professor / Research Scientist Department of Horticulture and Crop Science College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University


You may also contact Gigi Neal, OSU Ag & Natural Resources Extension Educator, Clermont County at neal.331@osu.edu or 513-732-7070 or Brad Bergefurd, OSU Extension Horticulture Specialist, OSU South Centers at bergefurd.1@osu.edu or 740-289-3727.

The Annual Pumpkin Field Day Goes Virtual!

For over 20 years the pumpkin field day held at the Western Ag Research Station in South Charleston has hosted growers from around the state giving them a wide array of production and pest management research, demonstration, tips and tricks. Instead of driving over to the research station, participate virtually from your home, business or favorite coffee house / brewery!

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we won’t be able to hold a field day in person this year, but we are working hard to bring you the results of several demonstration and research projects via a pre-recorded video stream that will air on the OSU IPM YouTube channel on August 27 at 6 PM.

Registration for the virtual event will be necessary so we can send out the viewing links between August 26-27 for the roughly hour long field day. Please register at the link below by the deadline of August 25 at 8PM.


Presentations will include a late season weed screen including an update on the new Reflex herbicide label from Tony Dobbels; Celeste Welty will talk about managing key pumpkin pests; and Jim Jasinski will give updates on powdery mildew fungicides and on the mustard cover crop biofumigation project.

We are also preparing a video to highlight all of the pumpkin and squash hybrids in the variety trial. As a special encore, will be releasing a 3D field scale model of the pumpkin hybrid trial to allow participants to “walk” around in the field virtually, looking at the foliage and fruit of each hybrid in the trial. Here is a small sample of the 3D environment:


3D field scale model of pumpkin hybrid trial – doll house view.

Brooke Beam will help manage the process by stitching together the short video presentations into one coherent movie which will be approximately 60 minutes long. Contact Jim Jasinski (jasinski.4@osu.edu) for more information or details. Hope to see you on August 27!

Rotation Crops in High Tunnel Production

Many growers establish cash and non-cash rotation or cover crops each main season with the percentage of land in cash and non-cash crops varying farm to farm and year to year. Non-cash rotation crops are established to help maintain or improve soil health and nutrient levels, suppress weed growth, break pest and disease cycles, and provide other benefits. Despite these benefits, typically, high tunnel vegetable growers can be understandably reluctant to devote high tunnel space to non-cash crops in summer (main season). Perhaps as a partial consequence, soil health challenges (e.g., declines in organic matter and increases in nutrient imbalances, salt accumulation, compaction, and disease and pest pressure) are increasing in high tunnel soils. Anecdotal reports mention declines in crop yield and/or quality and increases in costs to maintain productivity. It is reasonable to expect that these trends could be be slowed or reversed through the consistent use of non-vegetable rotation crops in high tunnel production much like they have in open field production. However, few conclusive high tunnel-based experiments have been completed on farms or research stations.

This situation was not necessarily front of mind when the VPSL established cowpea, pearl millet, and sorghum sudangrass in many of its high tunnels at the OARDC in Wooster in early summer. Rather, the decision was primarily pandemic-related as vegetable experiments planned for the tunnels were suspended. That said, a summer including non-cash rotation crops is providing us with the opportunity to observe and learn about them and their potential value going forward. Currently, we consider cowpea, pearl millet, and sorghum sudangrass as just three of many potentially useful ‘alternative’ high tunnel crops for main season plantings, regardless of whether their use is planned or unplanned. The pictures below are examples of what we have observed to date. Please contact us (kleinhenz.1@osu.edu; 330.263.3810) if you would like to discuss the plantings or the “high tunnel rotation” question further.

Bacterial Canker Showing Up in Tomatoes this Summer

Bacterial canker in fresh-market tomatoes.

Bacterial canker is a systemic disease of tomatoes caused by the bacterium Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis. It can occur in fresh market and processing tomatoes, in open fields and in protected culture systems like greenhouses and high tunnels. Symptoms are stunting of whole plants, which never reach their full potential, plant death,

Bacterial canker on tomato leaves.

foliar lesions, “firing” on leaf margins and raised scabby lesions on fruit. Seeds are a major means of introducing the canker pathogen into a tomato crop, but the bacteria can survive in the field for several years, as well as on surfaces such as greenhouse walls or floors, tools, stakes, clips or ties, etc. Several cases of tomato canker have come into our diagnostic lab this summer; since the bacteria clog the plants’ water-conducting vessels, the stunting symptom may be more severe in the hot, dry weather we’ve experienced for much of this year’s growing season.

Bacterial canker symptoms inside a tomato stem.

Peppers are also susceptible to bacterial canker, but the disease is not systemic in peppers so the stunting symptom does not occur. However, firing of the leaf margins and leaf and fruit lesions do occur. Symptoms of bacterial canker on peppers are different than those on tomatoes (see figures). The bacteria that infect

Bacterial canker symptoms on pepper leaves.

tomatoes are the same as those infecting peppers, so infected peppers can be a source of bacterial inoculum for tomatoes and vice versa. Bacterial canker is relatively rare in peppers; if you suspect it please consider sending a sample to our diagnostic lab.  The service is free for Ohio vegetable growers.

Bacterial canker lesions on pepper fruit.

There are no bactericides or other products that control this disease once it is in the field or greenhouse. This disease is managed primarily through sanitation.

  • Start with clean seed – For purchased seeds, buy certified, disease-free seed or sanitize seed with hot water (recommended), dilute bleach or hydrochloric acid. It is especially important to sanitize saved seeds, such as for heirloom varieties. Here is a link to the OSU fact sheet for Hot Water and Chlorine Treatment of Vegetable Seeds to Eradicate Bacterial Plant Pathogens. In place of water baths for the hot water treatment, relatively inexpensive Sous Vide – type digital water heaters can be used too heat and maintain the water at the prescribed temperature.
  • Keep transplants clean and healthy – Scout tomato and pepper plants daily and destroy plants with canker symptoms once a plant disease diagnostic laboratory has confirmed the disease. Apply one or two preventative copper fungicide applications and one application of streptomycin (conventional systems) to the plants before transplanting them into the field.
  • Use clean equipment and tools – Clean and disinfect all tools and farm equipment prior to working with the transplants or plants. Good sanitation practices are critical to prevent contamination and cross contamination of plants by the bacterial canker pathogen. Quaternary ammonium products and 10% chlorine bleach are suitable disinfectants.
  • Start with a clean field – The bacterial canker pathogen can survive in the field as long as there is infected crop debris present. Rotate with a non-host before re-planting the field with tomato. Ideally a 3-4 year out of crops in the same family as tomato (pepper, eggplant) should be implemented. Plant into a field free of weeds or volunteer tomato plants.
  • Use best cultural practices – Use management strategies that maintain reduced-stress growing conditions. Provide plants with adequate but not excessive nitrogen, improve the organic matter content of the soil through the use of composted green or animal waste or cover crops, use well-drained soil and avoid overhead irrigation if possible.








Wayne County IPM Notes for July 26 – August 1

Vegetable Pests

Heavy foliar feeding by flea beetles on a young cole crop transplant. F. Becker photo.

Flea beetles continue to be a problem in both young, recently transplanted crucifer crops, as well as cabbage and kale either in harvest or near harvest. Feeding damage from flea beetles on the younger crops can cause stunting and reduced yield. This damage can be especially impactful on heat stressed transplants. The foliar feeding being done on maturing crops can affect the visual appearance of the crop and may result in a less desirable product.

In sweetcorn, the European corn borer trap counts have shown some moth activity. A trap in Wayne County had a catch of 22 ECB moths this week. Corn earworm traps have shown little moth activity over the last few weeks. Regarding damage being done to the plants, I have started to notice increasing damage being done by armyworms. The damage I am finding is typically being done in the whorls on the young tender leaves. Another sign of armyworm feeding is large areas along the leaf edges that have a ragged appearance.

Squash bug eggs are starting to hatch, and I am starting to find various stages of larva out in pumpkin fields and squash plantings. Currently most feeding is being done on the leaves; however, the focus of the feeding can shift to the fruit and cause scarring to the skin resulting in decreased marketability. The squash bug has also been found to be the vector of a bacterium that causes the disease Yellow Vine Decline.

Vegetable Diseases

            Downy Mildew is in Wayne and Medina counties and likely in surrounding counties as well. Cucumber growers need to be spraying for downy mildew.

The aborted pumpkin on this plant resting on top of the first pumpkin set shows that environmental stress is limiting the amount of pumpkins the plant is capable of sustaining. F. Becker photo.

Powdery mildew can be just as destructive on squash as downy mildew is on cucumbers. I have been finding powdery mildew consistently in younger squash plantings. Unfortunately, the earlier the plant is infected with powdery mildew, the shorter the life span of the plant. With an infected plant having a short life span, the yield for the plant can also be expected to decrease.

Although not a disease by definition, “fruit drop” is something that I am seeing in a lot of crops. Non-irrigated open field crops seem to be the most affected right now. Specifically looking at pumpkins, the first fruit set seems okay. The newer fruit sets are what is being impacted the most. The young fruit are being aborted by the plant, as well as the blossoms that have come on after the most recent fruit set. High temperatures and drought conditions have brought about the poor fruit set on pumpkin plants. With high temperatures affecting the viability of the pollen and the flower combined with low nutrient uptake due to limited soil moisture, the plant simply can’t sustain a heavy fruit set, at least not until we get some more consistent rain.

Fruit Pests

Japanese beetles are still feeding in nearly every crop that I am scouting. They are doing damage to apple leaves, peach leaves, grape leaves, blueberry leaves and blueberry fruit. It is important to watch the populations of Japanese beetles because they can transition from only feeding on the leaves to doing significant damage to the fruit.

After a few weeks of high numbers in both oriental fruit moth and codling moth traps, the trap counts have started to back down a bit.

Woolly apple aphid clusters on apple trees. F. Becker photo.

On apple trees, I am starting to find some woolly apple aphids. Mature trees do not often face major damage from these infestations; however, young trees typically suffer from the damage that the woolly apple aphids cause to the roots. Continued feeding can damage or kill roots, resulting in reduced yield, growth, and tree vigor, and even death of some trees.

Fruit Diseases

            Overall, disease pressure has been fairly limited this year. Hot and dry conditions have prevented favorable conditions needed for disease development. As fruit continues to ripen and be harvested, we continue to move forward through the growing season without many disease issues in our area.

Grape clusters beginning to ripen. F. Becker photo.

Grapes should be starting to get some color to them as the clusters are starting to increase in size. At this point, most varieties of grapes should be resistant to black rot. Although symptoms of black rot may be showing up on untreated grapes, it is too late to do anything.

Growers with varieties of grapes that are not resistant to downy mildew should consider a spray program. Grape growers should also keep an eye out for powdery mildew, as this is the time of year when powdery mildew is typically found on grapes.

Apple and peach growers should continue their spray programs to manage fruit rots and diseases such as flyspeck and sooty blotch in apples and brown rot in peaches. Alternaria leaf blotch can be found on some apple trees right now. This can be made worse by red mite infestations. With high populations of mites and the leaf blotch, severe defoliation can occur.

Optimizing Soil Moisture in Drip-irrigated Soils

When a lot must get done and crop needs for water are high, fine-tuning irrigation is usually an afterthought. Still, consider a few issues when working to get the most from drip-irrigated crops. This is one thought that came to mind when I returned to an article published by Drs. Michael Dukes, Lincoln Zotarelli, and Kelly Morgan of the University of Florida. The article is available at https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/20/1/article-p133.xml?rskey=f046lk. Do not be thrown by the title, there is something for Ohioans and others to gain from the summary. Sections on verifying and optimizing soil moisture distribution in drip-irrigated soils (especially within plastic-covered raised beds) are one example.

Of course, distribution is influenced by soil type, irrigation frequency and duration, loss (ET, drainage), and other factors. Sampling using a soil probe or other approach can reveal unexpected and, possibly, damaging surpluses and deficiencies which is a first step in correcting them. My team and I have experienced this firsthand many times over the years, including this season. Taking 10-15 minutes to pull soil samples has told us we can or cannot afford to delay an irrigation and where it is least or most important relative to crop need, weather, other tasks, etc. Also, the article from the Univ of FL includes pictures depicting desirable and undesirable distributions of soil moisture and effects of under-and over-watering. For example, the team used dye to track the movement of water and fertilizer through and outside the rooting zone. Seeing the pictures helps illustrate what is rarely seen (so must be imagined) but can be seen with a spade or shovel and a little time and care.

The Dukes, Zotarelli, and Morgan article (Use of irrigation technologies for vegetable crops in Florida; HortTechnology 20(1):133-142) is highlighted here. However, there are many other similarly excellent irrigation guides and resources. All contain bits of information we can act on. I am also glad to help resolve irrigation-related questions; just let me know if I can help (kleinhenz.1@osu.edu; 330.263.3810). Regardless of how you proceed, recall that in addition to the sunlight, air, nutrients, and protection crops require, the right amount, timing, location, and quality of water is also very important. As far as nutrients are concerned, recall that fertility experts often say root zone moisture strongly influences whether their levels, etc are optimal.