A Clemson University plant disease researcher has disturbing news for Southeastern strawberry growers.

Research data show that the fungus causing gray mold in strawberries has become completely resistant to some important pesticides that producers have been relying on for years.

“If the wrong products are used during weather conditions suitable for gray mold disease we will experience the ‘perfect storm,’” said Guido Schnabel, research and Extension plant pathologist at Clemson University.

Gray mold is a serious disease affecting the plant and fruit of the multibillion-dollar crop.

“I will have to let growers know that some products we have been using are no longer effective and resistance to other products is already emerging,” said Schnabel, who presented his research Saturday at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah.

“There are several chemical classes available to control botrytis blight, crown rot and gray mold disease. The ones that have been used frequently are now quickly selecting for resistance in the pathogen,” said Schnabel.

Gray mold is one of the most common and serious diseases wherever strawberries are grown. The fungus, botrytis cinerea, causes crown rot, tissue blight and fruit rot. During wet seasons on unsprayed plants, losses of up to 90 percent of flowers and fruit can occur.

Schnabel believes growers are unaware of the problem because control failure has not yet occurred. Recently, there have been a lot of years of dry weather that would not support a widespread outbreak of the pathogen. Still, growers applied fungicides unknowingly selecting for resistance.

“Growers may think they are controlling the disease with weekly sprays, but in reality it is the relatively dry weather that prevented the pathogen from taking off,” he said. “Resistance has built up to such levels that the use of some chemicals is no longer justifiable. It’s just going to take one wet year and the wrong chemicals and we are going to have a big problem. I really am glad we caught this early to be able to counteract.”