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Research: Disease-free mushroom cultivation

July 20, 2020

Good casing soil is at the foundation of successful mushroom cultivation. How can that contribute to disease-free cultivation? The results of a four-year study conducted by Wageningen University and Research (WUR) will allow the sector to put a number of pieces in the right place in the jigsaw that looking for these answers is. However, the puzzle is far from complete.

The study “Health-resistant Mushroom Cultivation” is a leading example of cooperation in this sector. In addition to BVB Substrates, the participants are fellow producers CNC, Sterckx and Legro, compost supplier Walkro, spawn producers Amycel and Lambert Spawn and research institute NIOO. In collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, they are funding the project through a public-private partnership (PPS). ‘Taking a joint approach to research and innovation will take us forward faster. Broad spectrum knowledge development contributes to greater sustainability in the mushroom chain. This will keep our sector at the forefront internationally’, is how Guido Linders, Director of Business Unit Professional Growing at Kekkilä-BVB, explained the importance at the start of the project in 2016.

Multiple factors affect disease pressure

Now, four years later, new knowledge has certainly been developed, concludes Jan van der Wolf, bacteriologist and project lead at WUR. Together with Jos Amsing of Research & Development at Kekkilä-BVB, he talks about the project at the Wageningen campus. Jos Amsing explains the main research goal first: ‘Mushroom growers want to produce without disease pressure. Ginger blotch, in particular, a bacterial disease of cultivated mushrooms, can cause severe production losses. The bacterium Pseudomonas gingeri causes this disease, which sometimes appears out of nowhere. The reason is unknown. That is what we would like to answer.’

Jos Amsing researcher at Kekkilä-BVB

Jos Amsing, Kekkilä-BVB, Researchs BVB Substrates casing soil

However, van der Wolf adds that part of the answer has been identified. ‘We now know that various factors affect the disease pressure. The type of peat used in the casing soil appears to have little influence. However, the disease pressure may be lower with certain mushroom varieties or under certain growing conditions. The composition of the casing also plays a role. The fact that there are multiple influential factors means there is not one simple solution to prevent the disease.’

Peat type does not influence mushroom disease pressure

How did the researchers arrive at these results? WUR started the study by testing peat excavated from three locations, both from the airier upper layer and the more compact lower layer. This peat was of course supplied by the casing soil specialists. Researcher Tanvi Taparia, a PhD candidate who hopes to obtain a degree with this study in 2020, performed all experiments together with test farm Unifarm.

Van der Wolf: ‘We examined the samples for microorganisms. In peat of all origins there appears to be a naturally very low density of the pathogenic bacteria. These bacteria do not generally cause any harm. If we artificially add the pathogen, we do not notice any difference in the resistance of peat from different origins. The disease only manifests when the concentration of bacteria exceeds a threshold. For Pseudomonas gingeri this threshold is lower than for Pseudomonas tolasii, which causes “brown blotch”.’

Humidity and varieties have effect

Step two was a test under growing conditions. The beds of mushrooms were contaminated with the pathogen. Some of the beds were sealed with plastic. That had an effect, says van der Wolf: ‘A higher humidity level directly results in a higher incidence of bacterial blotch.’ Jos Amsing adds: ‘That corresponds to what mushroom growers see in practice.’ The researchers also tested four white mushroom varieties and two chestnut mushroom varieties. In one variety, there were higher levels than in others, van der Wolf explains. ‘The difference was more marked between the white mushroom varieties. Growers can base their choice of variety on this information.’

Hunt for beneficial microorganisms

This trial also yielded an unexpected insight. During the first flush (harvest) there was extensive infection by ginger blotch. However, in the second and third flush the researchers saw few affected mushrooms, even though the concentration of the pathogen in the successive flushes increased further. ‘Apparently there are other microorganisms that can counteract the bacteria. Naturally we are very eager to know which these are. Tanvi Taparia is now carrying out a so-called microbiome study. This will identify all the microorganisms. She will be continuing the data analysis this year’, explains van der Wolf.

Jos Amsing of Kekkilä-BVB adds: ‘That was an interesting outcome for us. Beneficial bacteria can make casing soil more resistant in the future, but further research. Is required’

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