Crop scientists share in $4 million grant to stop onion pathogens


Colorado State University agricultural scientists are sharing in a four-year, $4 million award aimed at helping onion growers combat the threat of crop-killing bacterial diseases.

Mark Uchanski, CSU Specialty Crops Program coordinator and associate professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and Michael Bartolo, director of the Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford, will work with more than 20 scientists nationwide to research bacterial pathogens that cost onion growers more than $60 million in crop losses every year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative is funding the work, which includes $4.2 million in matching funds from onion growers, universities and seed companies.

Uchanski and Bartolo will partner with Christine Hoepting of Cornell University to develop trials that evaluate and optimize management strategies for onion bacterial diseases.

Onion bulb crops are grown on 140,000 acres in the U.S. annually at an estimated value of $925 million, according to the project proposal. Losses can be particularly severe for stored bulbs, as bacterial rots typically develop in storage after production costs have been incurred.

Capacity for the onion industry to mitigate those losses is limited by poor scientific understanding of the diversity of bacterial and fungal pathogens that attack such crops. The project’s overall goal is to develop practical, economically sound strategies for pathogen detection and management, and thus improve profitability and sustainability of onion production.

Other researchers on the grant include principal investigator Lindsey du Toit of Washington State University; Bhabesh Dutta and Brian Howard Kvitko of University of Georgia; and Brenna J. Aegerter of University of California.

About the program

The Specialty Crops Research Initiative is a part of the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture. It addresses critical needs of the specialty crops industry by awarding grants to support research and extension. Research is aimed at solving key challenges of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems.