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Environment

Florida Strawberries Attacked By Aggressive Fungus

Green strawberry foliage overtaken by brown fungus.
Experts say Pestalotiopsis is not a new fungus, but this seems to be a "different species of fungus." It's reported to be a lot more progressive than what has been seen before. Credit: Natalia Peres/UF IFAS

A fungus has taken over some strawberry fields in Florida. One grower lost as many as 80 acres in Manatee County.

Pestalotiopsis affects the foliage and fruit, down to the root of strawberry plants.

Gary Wishnatzki, CEO of Wish Farms, said it has been widespread since Christmas.

"At this point in this season, we've lost about 40% of the crop to the fungus that we've just abandoned the fields because it got so bad. The good news is the fields that are still good are doing fine,” he said. “So we will have berries, but it'll just impact our yields and our profitability this year."

Wishnatzki said it mainly affected the organic strawberry crop because farmers are limited on what fungicides they can use on organics.

Natalia Peres, a plant pathologist studying the fungus for the University of Florida IFAS, said nurseries outside the state -- where local growers get their plants -- are likely the source.

Florida gets its plants from Canada, California and North Carolina, but Peres said it's too early to say where exactly it came from.

"We really don't want to point fingers to the nurseries because we suspect that it has to do with other plants around the nurseries that this fungus jump around to infect strawberries. So it's really nobody's fault" she said.

A row of green strawberry tops that are browning due to a fungus.
Credit: Natalia Peres/UF IFAS

Peres said researchers are working with nurseries to solve the problem.

“It's spread by water and in December we had a lot of rain," Peres said. "The fungus is also favored by warm temperatures, which is pretty much what we had in December. So it just had the perfect conditions for it to spread."

Peres said researchers will be watching the fungus to make sure it does not find another host plant to establish itself in Florida.

Growers had another potential threat this week, as they prepared for a freeze with temperatures in the low 30s Tuesday night. 

Wishnatzki said his berries survived the cold.

"The cold weather sweetens the berries and the berry quality right now is at peak and I think you'll find the flavor is outstanding right now,” he said.