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Can Grafting Help Organic Farmers Reduce Plant Disease?

April 10, 2012 | Northwest Public Radio
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Courtney Flatt

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  • Researchers are using grafting in heirloom tomatoes and eggplants to fight off soil borne diseases. They splice off the top of a fruit-producing plant and attach it to roots that can resist diseases in the soil. credit: Wikimedia Commons: Caryrivard
  • After grafting heirloom tomatoes, researchers place them in a "healing chamber" for about one week before transplanting them into the ground. The "healing chamber" allows the two pieces of plant tissue to join together, Miles says. credit: Wikimedia Commons: Caryrivard
Researchers are using grafting in heirloom tomatoes and eggplants to fight off soil borne diseases. They splice off the top of a fruit-producing plant and attach it to roots that can resist diseases in the soil. | credit: Wikimedia Commons: Caryrivard | rollover image for more

RICHLAND, Wash. — A centuries-old farming technique could soon help organic farmers in the United States. Researchers are using grafting to fight common soil diseases that cause crops to wilt and die.

Heirloom tomatoes and eggplants are often susceptible to common pathogens in the soil. Diseases seep in through the plants’ root system and destroy the crop.

For a long time, chemicals have been the only way to control some soil borne diseases. But Washington State University researchers are working to find an organic solution: grafting.

Grafting sounds a bit like plant surgery. Researchers splice off the top of one plant – the part that grows the tomato or eggplant. Lead researcher Carol Miles says they then attach it to specially grown roots that resist the disease.

“So the pathogen is not able to enter the plant at high levels. So the plant is able to not get the disease,” Miles says.

Grafting is used on large- and small-scale farms worldwide to prevent plant disease. Miles says it’s just now making its way to the United States.

Next, Miles says, researchers will work to find better ways to graft watermelon seedlings.

© 2012 Northwest Public Radio
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