Gummy stem blight can be a tough foe for watermelon farmers to tackle.

With the ability to cause lesions on leaves and turn stems into gooey mush, the plant disease can cripple watermelon production.

“It can wipe out an entire field. It can cause 100 percent losses,” University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences plant pathologist Katherine Stevenson said. “This pathogen loves warm, wet conditions. Like last year when we had a week of rain and it was 90 degrees, the gummy stem blight just took off. We had field plots of watermelons planted and it just wiped them out completely.”

Finding the right fungicide application is critical to the future of one of the state’s top vegetable crops. According to the 2011 Georgia Farm Gate Report, watermelons generated $98 million, considerably less than the $139 million in revenue tallied in 2009. The drop in value can be attributed to gummy stem blight’s impact, which Stevenson is trying to alleviate.

Gummy stem blight is caused by the fungus Didymella bryoniae and leads to losses for growers every watermelon season.

The ideal scenario for Stevenson and watermelon farmers everywhere would be the development of disease-resistant watermelons, which is currently being researched in Athens.