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Dogwood Blight in Maryland Mountains Could Portend Epidemic

January 31, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The dogwoods may not be blooming at Camp David this spring because of a devastating fungus disease that the Agriculture Department says could become a national epidemic among the native trees.

USDA plant geneticist Frank S. Santamour said Monday that the disease has swept through native dogwood seedlings at a test site near the presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. The seedlings were from 17 states and proved highly susceptible to anthracnose disease.

″They all declined in vigor, and after two years 75 percent were dead,″ Santamour said. He predicted that all of the test seedlings will be dead by the end of 1989.

Santamour, who works for the department’s Agricultural Research Service at the National Arboretum in Washington, said no North American flowering dogwood trees of the species Cornus florida are known to resist the disease.

Asiatic or Chinese dogwood, Cornus kousa, which produces flowers similar to C. florida, showed some leaf spotting from the disease but otherwise were said to have performed well in Santamour’s study.

The fungus that causes dogwood anthracnose has not been identified exactly, he said. But there appears to be no insect carrier of the fungus, as with Dutch elm disease. The dogwood fungus depends on wind and water to spread from tree to tree.

Santamour said the origin of the disease outbreak is obscure. It began in the late 1970s on the West Coast among C. nuttallii dogwoods and the C. florida on the East Coast, he said.

″However, we can probably rule out environmental stress as a casual factor,″ Santamour said.

A 1984 survey of nearly 50,000 dogwoods in Catoctin Mountain Park by the U.S. Park Service and USDA’s Forest Service confirmed scattered reports of the new devastating disease among the native dogwoods.

Santamour there is probably little hope for finding native dogwoods resistant to anthracnose.

Dogwoods in the study were grown from seeds from Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia. ---

WASHINGTON (AP) - It’s long past time for scoffing at so-called low-input farming and its reduced use of fertilizers, pesticides and weedkillers, say a growing number of experts, including senior Agriculture Department officials and many others.

Will Erwin, an Indiana farmer and a member of the federal Farm Credit Assistance Board, said Monday that so-called low-input, sustainable agriculture - called LISA by advocates - does not mean returning to the era of horse power and manual labor on the farm.

″We cannot look back, we cannot look at it as going back,″ Erwin told the conference.

But there are some good reasons - economic and environmental - for faricals and fertilizer to produce more and more - and we want lower cost programs and a safer environment,″ he said.

The concept of low-input, sustainable agriculture has been around for a long time. It has grown since the energy crunch of the 1970s, and as environmental issues such as soil and water pollution have taken a deeper hold.

Congress in the 1985 farm law authorized USDA to conduct research and education programs in ″alternative farming systems,″ often referred to as low-input or sustainable agriculture. In 1987, Congress appropriated $3.9 million to push the LISA concept.

The two-day conference at the department attracted about 150 registrants to hear farmers and other talk about their experiences with low-input production methods. More than 100 of those registered represented special interest groups, USDA agencies and other federal offices.

Vivan Jennings, deputy administrator of the Extension Service, called LISA ″an issue whose time has come″ but cautioned that no one should expect miracles.

″We should recognize it’s not a panacea,″ Jennings said. ″It’s not going to solve all of our problems, and we need to remember that as we move ahead.″

Luther Berntson, a North Dakota farmer who uses the low-input approach for years on his 2,000-acre operation, said that federal farm programs helped put production agriculture into a rut.

″I don’t need to remind you that the government farm programs of the past have not rewarded the best management practices,″ he said. ---

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Agriculture Department says the nation’s egg production totaled 5.82 billion eggs in December, down 4 percent from a year earlier.

Fewer hens were on hand in December, some 273 million birds against 286 million in Dec. 1987, a report said Monday. But those worked harder, averaging 2,131 eggs per 100 hens, compared with 2,116 a year earlier.

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