The Economic Value of the Precision Disease Management System for Anthracnose and Botrytis Fruit Rot for the Florida Strawberry Industry

The United States is the world’s largest producer of strawberries, and new strawberry production methods can have important implications for the agricultural industry, its consumers, and the environment. Strawberry harvest losses from Anthracnose and Botrytis fruit rots can exceed 50% when conditions favor disease development (Ellis and Grove, 1982). The calendar-based fungicide application method is traditionally used by strawberry producers where fungicides are applied biweekly, and account for nearly 15% of total strawberry production costs (Perez, 2011). Precision fungicide application methods can significantly reduce the number of fungicide applications and related production costs, along with pesticide exposure to workers, consumers, and the environment. In this paper, we evaluate the economic benefits associated with the precise fungicide application for strawberry production in Florida. Anthracnose and Botrytis have been identified as critical diseases that can have significant impacts on the production of strawberries. A precision fungicide application technique for control of Anthracnose and Botrytis was developed at the University of Florida (Peres and Mackenzie, 2009).It calls for fungicide applications only when the risk for disease development is above a predetermined critical risk level. The critical risk level is defined in the literature (Wilson et al., 1990; Peres et al., 2005)as conditions that are conducive to the presence of Anthracnose and Botrytis, which occurs when warm temperatures (25 to 30oC for Anthracnose (Wilson et al. (1990) and around 20 oC for Botrytis (Bulger, 1987)) occur with prolonged strawberry leaf wetness intervals. The data collected from a 3-year strawberry production field experiment (2006-2009) were statistically analyzed to evaluate marketable yield given the two fungicide application methods (i.e. precision application and calendar-based method) and under different weather conditions. The analysis was conducted for two widely used cultivars of strawberry that have different levels of resistance to fruit rot from Antracnose and Botrytis: Festival (more resistant) and Camarosa (less resistant). Data from the production experiments for Anthracnose and Botrytis fruit rots were analyzed separately. The analysis was conducted using SEMITAR© risk analysis software. OLS regressions were utilized to identify the effect on marketable yield of the three explanatory variables: fungicide application method, weather, and the interactive terms of weather and fungicide application. Preliminary findings for Anthracnose production experiments show that given the precision application method (i.e. model based), the number of fungicide applications was reduced by 37.5%, 25%, and 70.5% in comparison with the number of applications in the calendar-based model respectively for the three seasons for both Festival and Camarosa cultivars. Moreover, the number of the Anthracnose affected berries also reduced significantly in comparison with the calendar-based method. Specifically, for Festival variety, the number of the Anthracnose affected berries on average was about 11.35 times lower for the precision based application as compared to the calendar based method. For the Camarosa cultivar it was on average 12.14 times lower. Finally, for the Festival variety, the marketable yield of the crop in the precision application group was 86% larger than that of the traditional calendar-based group (for the Camarosa, the yield was not significantly different for the two fungicide application methods). Overall, the preliminary results imply that precise fungicide application can significantly reduce fungicide use, thus cutting fungicide costs by more than half given warm and rainy weather conditions, with the worst scenario of no loss of yields and best scenario increase the yield of the crop. To complete this study, over the next four months we plan to follow the methodology used in VanSickle (2009) to simulate the production budget for a Florida representative producer given the two fungicide application methods and incorporate the uncertainty in yields, weather, and input and output prices. This analysis will be used to evaluate the difference in estimated 10-year cash flows, the expected net present value, and the distribution of returns for a representative Florida strawberry farm given the two fungicide application methods. The analysis will be completed by January 2012.

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The objective of this study was to examine the economic benefits associated with precision fungicide application system for Florida strawberry production. Given the weather and disease forecast system developed by the University of Florida researchers (Peres, 2010a , strawberry growers can potentially 1) reduce fungicide application rates during cool and dry conditions without affecting yields, thus reducing production costs; or 2) apply fungicide at the precise time of high disease pressure during warm and wet weather, therefore, decreasing disease development and spread, and increasing the yields and profits.

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-22

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