'Trap' crop saves Texas cross timbers melon production

STEPHENVILLE -- Mark Allison, Comanche County farmer, first noticed a few yellow vines in his watermelon crop in the late 1990s but didn't think much of it.

There are a number of diseases that cause melon vines to yellow, but this one thumbed its nose at conventional treatments. The next year, it struck again, turning half his crop into a mass of yellow, wilted heap of vines, leaves and unmarketable fruit.

At war with diseases, often besieged by unpredictable weather, melon farming is a high-investment, high-risk crop. With tens of thousands of dollars in production costs at stake, Allison called his first line of defense, Bob Whitney, Texas Cooperative Extension agent for Comanche County.

Whitney brought in Dr. Forrest Mitchell, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station entomologist. Mitchell, who is based at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Stephenville, got right to work. Mitchell had been involved in the hunt for the cause of yellow vine disease since the mid 1990s.

In 1991, yellow vine disease made its premier performance in Texas and Oklahoma, striking melon and cantaloupe fields with a vengeance. Some fields were completely wiped out. By the mid-1990s, it was clear the melon industry throughout the region was at risk.

In response to the threat, Mitchell joined a multi-disciplinary task force that included Texas A&M System scientists, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists at Lane, Okla., and Oklahoma State University researchers. Work proceeded on various fronts, as some theories about the disease were proven and others discarded.

For example, in 1997, Mitchell and his colleagues at the Stephenville center were the first to positively identify a rod-shaped cell bacterium-like organism that was at work in yellow vine disease.

The scientists knew an insect had to be spreading the disease, but which one remained a mystery for some time. At first the chief suspect wa

Contact: Robert Burns
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

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