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Experts focus on fighting disease in beans
November 13, 2015 Frank Marquez   

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Photo by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Farmer Jerald Meisner harvests a bean field north of Scottsbluff in early September. Treatments using hydrogen peroxide on area bean crops have been getting a closer look by agriculture experts.

Leaving little to chance when it comes to dealing with Mother Nature, farmers fight a constant battle with the elements and disease to grow a season’s worth of crop. A combination of hail storms and bacteria can wipe out an entire field. Therefore, minimizing risk and being selective about anti-bacterial solutions or fungicides becomes even more important.

Recently, crop analysts and marketers have been following the use of hydrogen peroxide on the local bean crop, specifically to control the spread of bacteria and fungus, and experts try to determine if this method compared to others is the most practical.

“Back in the 1990s, they were trying this, and everyone thought it was snake oil. Then, it kind of went away,” said Dan Smith, chief agronomist at Kelley Bean in Scottsbluff, “Right now, money is being spent on (copper) chemicals. So, hydrogen peroxide is trying to gain a foothold in the market. Normal applications aren’t being sold yet. If the big chemical dealers start selling it, hydrogen peroxide sales will take off.”

So far, only a handful of farmers have taken note of the method and bought the solution, but the Gering Citizen could reach only one farmer in west Nebraska. “This method covers a wide range,” said the Panhandle farmer who requested anonymity, adding the reasons he uses it are because, it has been “approved by the organic farming industry. It’s half price, and safer.”

UNL Plant Pathologist Dr. Bob Harveson at the university’s extension office north of Scottsbluff said, “Bacteria are much more difficult to control once they become established. The most effective method for bacterial control is genetic resistance in the host (bean crop).”

Harveson has been working with a dry bean breeder to develop better resistance in crops. “In the meantime,” he said, “We need something as a stop-gap to help out.”

One of the biggest factors in treating crops has been the cost. Careful to avoid overruns with respect to damage, farmers must determine if chemical applications could potentially cause harm to the plants, on top of the equipment and tools used to spread the chemical.

Others wonder if the harvested crop could end up being harmful to the consumer, a common concern.

Traditionally, farmers have used a copper based solution.

In the past five years, BioSafe Systems LLC has produced and sold a Paracetic Acid-based microbiocide called SaniDate 12.0. The company which has recently modified its formula to make it stronger, includes 18-percent hydrogen peroxide.

“It seems to be working really well on bacterial and fungus diseases,” Smith said.

With regard to cost, “We have a grower, in previous years, he spent more than $170,000 dollars on chemicals,” Smith said. “This year (2015), he went strictly to the hydrogen peroxide treatment, and it was about $40,000 dollars. If you’re a big grower of 2,200 acres of beans, it’d be easy to save $100,000 dollars on chemicals.”

Harveson, in agreement with the reduced cost of using hydrogen peroxide, said it’s about a quarter of the price.

Smith added, “It also works effectively on white mold. And, that’s big for the bean industry because it’s human consumption. Any time we can eliminate chemicals residue into the plant, you know that’s something we look for. It goes on, it kills what’s out there, and then it’s gone. It doesn’t leave any type of chemical in the field which makes it (environmentally sound.) That’s the main reason we’ve been pushing it.”

At the same time, Harveson cautions farmers to proceed carefully. “There are two that have shown the most potential – there is one called eco-agro 300, which is some type of plant derived fatty acid. Another is SaniDate,” he said. “It is basically hydrogen peroxide – what you would find on the store shelf in a brown bottle. What I have found and what others have relayed to me is that the formulation of SaniDate is extremely caustic, and burns. You take the lid off the container and it just overwhelms you. My assistant said she spilled some on the lab floor and it started eating through the concrete. You don’t mix much with water – basically, its 1-part solution to 1,000 parts water, or 1 milliliter of the product into 1 liter of water. That’s less than half a teaspoon.”

Smith said, “Any time we can do it cheaper in these littler markets, might get us more acres. People might lower their production costs.

That’s a good thing in these markets where the margin is pretty slim.

Also, as selling point for the market, it’s just good to show that the bean industry is trying to do stuff more environmentally safe, and trying to get a good safe product for the people, for the consumers.”

Smith added, “The copper approach isn’t so bad, but it’s the fungicides that leave some residues that our end users don’t want. We have to do residue testing on our beans, and some of the products they look for are products in the white mold treatments. So, the peroxide is something we want to see used on the beans.”

Harveson said hydrogen peroxide can be used on other crops. “Yeah, I think it is,” he said. “I think it’s good for the popcorn growers. It probably would work on corn as well. You wouldn’t see the type of yield increase that would make it pay. Beans just have a lot more disease issues. That’s why you see them used more in beans.”

So far, the method has yet to take a foothold in the market, though it has proven to be cheaper for the producer, and has less chance of leaving a chemical residue.

Harveson explained that antibiotics, an alternative, are much more expensive to produce. The only antibiotics used in bacterial control start with seed treatment. That will help establish the seedling, and get it going, but it will not protect (the crop) for the entire season. “You just can’t do that on a commercial scale, go out and spray a 100-acre field,” he said.

Harveson said copper-based treatments have been around for years and consist of copper sulfate, or copper hydroxide. “You mix it with water and you spray it on the plants. It’s only going to hit the bacteria on the leaf surface. So, it’s not going to get into the plant and provide a long-term systemic protection. It’s just going to stop it from moving from Point A to Point B,” he said. “In my experience, it’s somewhat inconsistent – sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and we don’t really understand why.”
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