FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Many a Coloradan looks forward to that first, juicy bite of a Palisade peach every summer. Demand for the famous Western Slope fruit never runs dry, but the state’s $40 million peach industry is under increasing threat from an insidious pathogen that destroys peach and other fruit-bearing trees.
Researchers in Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences aim to turn the tide against the tree-killing fungal pathogen Cytospora, which for decades has wreaked havoc among peach orchards across the Western Slope, cutting the lifespans of trees in half and costing farmers millions of dollars each year.
Plant and fungal biologist Jane Stewart, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Biology, is leading a series of studies to arrive at a deeper understanding of the molecular biology that governs this harmful pathogen, and to devise an arsenal of best practices to ward off infections and help growers stay in the peach business. Such strategies could range from choosing cultivars that are less susceptible to the fungus to changing how trees are cared for and pruned to limit the fungus’s spread.
New funding streams
Stewart and colleagues are recent recipients of three streams of federal funding all aimed at various aspects of tackling Cytospora canker on behalf of fruit growers across Colorado. The National Institute of Food and Agricultural Research is supporting Stewart’s team to study cultural practices currently used in peach orchards. They aim to determine if infected, pruned and mulched branches placed under trees leads to increased incidence of Cytospora infections; to better understand the epidemiology of the pathogen; and to determine Cytsopora species diversity. The telltale sign of a Cytospora infection is a canker wound visible on the bark or branches of a tree.