Protecting onions from pests, pathogens, draws USDA attention

Researchers surround a long table examining onions.
Researchers evaluate onions at a WSU Onion Cultivar Trial and Storage Evaluation in Pasco, Wash., part of the 5-year project. Bulbs are harvested, stored, and evaluated for storage qualities and disease.

With a market value of nearly a billion dollars, onions are the fifth most valuable vegetable produced in the U.S. But some farmers have been abandoning the crop due to losses from pests and disease — meaning fewer onions for consumers and a shrinking industry.

Leading national efforts to save the onion industry from destructive pests and pathogens, a team of Washington State University researchers and extension specialists, working in concert with scientists and stakeholders across the country, has received the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Region 2018 Excellence in Multistate Research Award.

The honor recognizes the multistate team’s five-year W-2008 project on management of onion pests and diseases. W-2008 ran from 2012 to 2017.

WSU research members included Lindsey du Toit, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology; Tim Waters, regional vegetable specialist and director of Franklin County Extension; and Hanu Pappu, distinguished professor and Chuey Endowed Chair in the Department of Plant Pathology. Other researchers included colleagues at Cornell University, the University of Georgia, Pennsylvania State University, Colorado State University, New Mexico State University, Oregon State University and Utah State University.

Advances save crops

Onions are susceptible to bacteria, fungi, insects and other pests that cause losses in fields and storage. Pesticide use drives up costs to farmers and the environment.

Lindsey du Toit

WSU researchers have teamed up with colleagues at land-grant universities across the U.S. to solve these challenges, finding effective ways to manage pests and diseases and identifying onion varieties with better resistances and tolerance. Their advances are transforming how onions are grown around the world, making production more sustainable for farmers and ensuring a stable supply of onions for consumers.

“Farmers are counting on us to deliver solutions to these challenges, and we’ve made important strides, developing new tools in disease detection, resistance and productivity,” said du Toit.

“Protecting our onion crops from increasingly costly outbreaks of disease and pests has been a team effort,” she added. “We could not do it without the support of the USDA, industry, and partner institutions here and around the world. We’re achieving results together, and we thank the USDA for this inspiring award.”

Contact:

  • Lindsey du Toit, professor and extension plant pathologist, 360-848-6140, dutoit@wsu.edu

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