White Rot Poses Threat to California Garlic and Onions

Research Committee Works to Prevent White Rot

 By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

The California Garlic and Onion Research Committee was established in 2005 as a state marketing order under the supervision of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.  Bob Ehn is the CEO & Technical Manager for the committee.  The organization’s main goal is to organize onion and garlic growers to develop white rot management programs.  “Once we find a white rot field, we mark it. We then prepare a white rot list that we hand out every fall to our processors or handlers for them to be able to know not to go back into a field,” Ehn said.

Once infected with white rot pathogens, leaves of the plant will begin to show yellowing and wilting.  Leaf decay will also occur starting at the base, with older leaves collapsing first.  Plants can become infected with white rot at any stage of growth, but symptoms typically appear from mid-season to harvest.  “It has a window of where it’s viable. It’s stimulated by organosulfur oxidate or odor that comes off the roots. … That sends out a message like ringing a dinner bell,” Ehn said.

One of the reasons white rot pathogens are so dangerous to California growers is because of their longevity in the soil.  “If you had a field that had light damage, you go back into that field another time and that 10 percent is probably going to turn into 50 percent because of the ability to reproduce,” Ehn explained. “They are hardy little critters. They’re still viable [in] we know, we’ve documented, 20 years. And anecdotally, we have information that it’s been there 30 years.”

California is the leading producer of garlic and onions in the country, growing more than 90 percent of the commercial garlic in the U.S.  Ehn described how white rot destroys the bulb from the inside out.  “The sclerotia virtually wake up and send out a germination tube looking for that source of the organosulfur compounds, find it, enter the roots, and then can enter the base plate of the garlic. Once it’s inside the base plate, it will reproduce.”

Each year, garlic and onions contribute between $150 to $300 million to the overall farm gate value.  If white rot is found in a field, there is still a chance that the land can remain viable.  “If we could GPS a corner or a piece of ground where the white rot was, and it wasn’t in the rest of the field, we will then map that. By mapping that, we ultimately could come back and treat only that area, thereby not having to do the cost of treating the entire field,” Ehn said.

Spice World Garlic is Largest Domestic Grower/Supplier

Spice World Garlic Supplies Consumer Needs


By Patrick Cavanaugh, CaliforniaAgToday.com Reporter

Founded in 1949, Spice World farms in the San Joaquin Valley for coast-to-coast distribution of garlic products. Today they are the largest supplier of garlic to America’s supermarkets in all 50 states. This is all part of the bounty that Central Valley farmers supply consumers around throughout the U.S.

Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing at Spice World’s corporate headquarters in Orlando, Fla., noted that farming garlic in the Central Valley is tough with the lack of water availability. “We have a big challenge in finding water and we are moving to different parts of the state where water is,” said Hymel. “We have moved to production areas in the north. It is a challenge for the whole industry.”

“We hope to have more rain and snow this season as we definitely need it,” said Hymel.

Garlic is an interesting back-to-back crop; it was harvested in late summer and the 2015 crop has already been planted. “We never stop from the point of harvesting our seed up in Oregon, then transporting it down, then cracking it for replanting in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Hymel. “We also need to decide on how much to replant in Oregon for the next year’s seed production. Finding the areas where we need to plant for next year’s production it important.”

Spice Word is very diversified in their garlic product line, noted Hymel. “We produce garlic in every form possible from the whole bulbs to whole peeled to ready-to-use garlic to squeezed garlic. We look to what the consumers are looking for in terms of convenience.

“We try to make it so consumers get the garlic in the form that they want and we also provide a lot of recipes,” Hymel said.

Fresno County Crop Value Drops to $6.43 Billion

For the first time in history, Fresno County has two $1 billion crops, and for the first time in 11 years, grapes are not the #1 crop. Now almonds are the top crop produced in Fresno County with a value of $1.1 billion, with grapes coming in second at $1.03 billion. However, despite these highlights, Fresno County crop value in 2013  was $6.436 billion in gross production—a decrease of 2.28 percent of 2012.

Fresno Ag Commissioner Les Wright
Fresno Ag Commissioner Les Wright

As it stands now, Fresno County loses it’s #1 position as top agricultural county in the nation, dropping behind Tulare County, which recently announced a $7.8 billion 2013 crop year. It could get worse when Kern County releases their report in August.

“Much of the decrease can be attributed to the shortage of water,” said Les Wright, Fresno County Ag Commissioner. “The impacts of drought began to show on our 2012 crop report with decrease of 2.29 percent from 2011. Producers are feeling the affects of the water shortage more in 2014 than in the previous two yeas.”

Water shortages in Fresno County with a large part of the West Side dependent on both state and federal surface water deliveries have meant the annual crop report’s gross value of production has dropped three years in a row.

Details of the 2013 report include an increase of fresh vegetable production in 2013 by 3.8 percent in value led by garlic and fresh market tomatoes, while livestock and poultry decreased in value by more than 16 percent.

Field crops, representing barley, wheat, corn silage, cotton an alfalfa declined nearly 42 percent, while fruit and nut crops increased more than 8 percent.

Wright noted that Fresno County growers exported nearly 26,000 shipments to 99 different countries. “This tells us that we are still feeding the world,” said Wright.

“Once we get water back, we are going to see our ag economy rebound,” said Wright. “Just give the farmers water and they will do the rest.”