Growers and extension professionals from five states attended

Tennessee Greenhouse

Two very good cultural practices used for disease management include placing containers on gravel to minimize soil contaminants, including fungal pathogens that cause root rot, and spacing plants in a way that allows for air movement, which will speed drying of foliage and minimize leaf spot diseases. Photo of a Tennessee nursery by A. Windham, courtesy UTIA.
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McMINNVILLE, Tenn. – Borrowing from procedures prevalent in the nation’s food processing industry, nursery professionals across the region are beginning to implement systems-based pest management to help them prevent the spread of introduced invasive pests and diseases like sudden oak death. A recent day-long program helped to educate regional growers and nursery professionals about the benefits of systems-based pest management.

More than 50 nursery and extension professionals from Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia attended the program, which was conducted by University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture extension experts in collaboration with Tennessee State University, Tennessee Department of Agriculture and members of the nursery industry. The group gathered at Hale and Hines Nursery in McMinnville, Tenn., to learn the basics of systems-based pest management.

Systems-based pest management, or SBPM, is based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system widely used by the food processing industry. Currently U.S. regulatory agencies are incorporating SBPM into their guidelines, a move that is expected to affect international and national plant commerce.

In data they provided when registering for this first-of-its-kind event in the Southeast, nearly half of the growers in attendance admitted they fail to sanitize pruners, bench tops, flats, floors and other surfaces routinely, and fewer than 10 percent of the growers in attendance said they sanitize used containers before reusing them for the next crop. “Sanitizing surfaces and containers is an important management practice in systems-based pest management because weed seeds, disease-causing organisms and insects can be lying in wait to infest or infect the next crop,” said Diana Cochran, a post doctoral research associate with the UT Department of Plant Sciences. Cochran collected and reported on the growers’ responses to questions about their management practices.

“Prevention of problems up front rather than detection of problems in the finished product is the key,” said Amy Fulcher, UT assistant professor for sustainable ornamental plant production and landscape management and one of the project leaders. “SBPM begins with identifying key points of vulnerability to diseases or pests in a nursery’s operations, and then assessing and implementing steps to reduce the risk from pests.”

Oregon State University’s Jennifer Parke, who has worked closely with West Coast nurseries trying to prevent the spread of sudden oak death, was also a presenter at the event. Parke, along with her colleagues, is credited with adapting HACCP to
systems-based pest management for nursery production. She explained to attendees that “systems-based pest management emphasizes prevention at each step of plant propagation and production where there is opportunity to spread pests.” She noted that only about 72 percent of plants infested with foreign pests are caught at U.S. ports, so threats from new pests that can devastate the nation’s nurseries and natural landscape exist every day. Parke discussed case studies of how SBPM was used to fight the spread of sudden oak death, which is caused by caused by the pathogen P. ramorum. Sudden oak death was introduced into the northwestern U.S. and it threatens the nation’s mixed oak forests.

Parke gave the growers in attendance tips on simple steps they can perform to prevent the spread of sudden oak death or a similar disease. One example she recommended is placing plants on overturned flats. The purpose is to raise plants off of the ground, which prevents plant contact with contaminated soil. She also suggested removing leafy debris.

Other management tips were highlighted by Fulcher and UT experts Frank Hale and Alan Windham
an entomologist and plant pathologist, respectivelyincluding practices related to irrigation, field production and substrate and container management. “Root rot is the number one nursery disease in the southeast according to a five-state pest management strategic plan. More Phytophthora root rot pathogens were found in irrigation water and substrates than any other point of contamination sampled,” Fulcher said. She discussed with growers the importance of cleaning irrigation water with chlorine and how keeping plants too wet can compound a problem, especially when the water supply is contaminated with disease inoculum. “Sensor-based irrigation can aid in applying just the right amount of water,” she said.

Another important component of SBPM is employee training. An interpreter was at the program to help train nursery employees whose first language is Spanish.

Jerry Lee of Monrovia in Cairo, Ga.
one of the largest nurseries in the U.S.talked about how Monrovia has implemented systems-based pest management and the benefits that operation is experiencing. He discussed his experience with sudden oak death and he gave a grower's perspective on how SBPM can help increase trade opportunities, hasten plant shipments and, perhaps most importantly, why adopting SBPM is inevitable due to changing plant commerce regulations and budget reductions.

One positive note from the event was that 100 percent of the growers attending reported that they inspect incoming plants for disease and pests, which Fulcher noted is a good start. She also noted that much more industry education is needed to prevent the spread of disease and pests.

This educational event was funded by the
Southern Risk Management Education Center through a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant. For more information contact Fulcher or Cochran at the UT Department of Plant Sciences, 865-974-7152.


UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.



Amy Fulcher, UTIA Department of Plant Sciences, 

Diana Cochran, UTIA Department of Plant Sciences,