Impact of foliar diseases on photosynthesis, protein content and seed yield of alfalfa and efficacy of fungicide application

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Foliar pathogens attack alfalfa wherever the crop is grown, but their impact, especially on seed production, is poorly understood. In greenhouse trials, leaf spot injury caused by inoculation with various pathogens reduced the crude protein content of infected alfalfa leaves by 22% compared with a healthy control. There was a negative relationship between disease injury and the photosynthetic efficiency of alfalfa plants, as determined by measuring chlorophyll fluorescence in leaves from inoculated vs. non-inoculated seedlings. In field trials at two sites in Alberta from 2001 to 2003, inoculation with Phoma medicaginis increased disease incidence in four of six trials, Phoma sclerotioides increased incidence in four of five trials, and Leptosphaerulinatrifolii and Stemphyliumbotryosum increased incidence in two of six trials. There was a trend for inoculation treatments to reduce seed yield, despite high levels of background infection by indigenous pathogens. The fungicides benomyl and propiconazole inhibited radial growth of Phoma spp. in vitro and reduced disease incidence in inoculated greenhouse experiments. In field trials, applications of benomyl and propiconazole reduced disease incidence, but did not always increase seed yield.

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