Southern Blight Hammering Louisiana Industrial Hemp Crop

Southern Blight - Industrial Hemp
Image: LSU AgCenter

The first (legal) industrial hemp crop to be planted in the U.S. state of Louisiana in modern times is being severely impacted by a fungal disease.

What was one the USA’s hemp holdout states finally jumped on the nation’s industrial hemp revival bandwagon in June last year when Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed off on legislation recognising the crop as an agricultural commodity and authorising its cultivation, processing, and transportation.

In October, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF)  submitted rules and regulations for the state hemp program with the State Register’s office and then in December, Louisiana was among the first states to have its hemp plan approved by the USDA.

It’s been a long road to this point with many challenges – now different challenges have presented.

LSU AgCenter says the state’s first hemp crop has been severely impacted by Southern Blight, a fungal disease that impacts hundreds of plant species including economically important vegetables such as potatoes, peppers and eggplants; along with woody ornamental and other types of plants.

Infection with southern blight, caused by the soil borne fungus Sclerotium rolfsii that thrives in hot and humid weather, initially causes wilting and plants affected then turn brown and eventually die. Good sanitation is key to preventing the spread of the disease – and this needs to be an ongoing effort as the fungus can persist in soils for several years even without a host.

“Management of southern blight warrants an integrated disease management approach,” said LSU AgCenter plant doctor Raj Singh. “Growers must plant disease-free, healthy transplants and avoid physical injury to roots and lower stems while handling and transplanting the seedlings.”

Some valuable advice for hemp farmers on thwarting southern blight is offered in this LSU AgCenter article. The are no fungicides currently available for industrial hemp growers to manage southern blight.

While hemp is a hardy crop compared to some conventional crops, it certainly faces its share of harmful fungi, bugs and other critters – learn more about insect pests of hemp.