Ready Pac Foods Inc. sponsored a symposium on the sustainability of organic spinach, hosted by The United Vegetable Growers Cooperative. The event was held June 24 in Seaside, CA, and spotlighted the growing threat of Downey Mildew to organic spinach yields to help raise awareness within the industry and among fresh-cut produce consumers.
During the symposium’s state of the industry address, a panel of experts presented options to address issues and needs to improve prevention practices going forward. Members of the panel included Jim Correll, from the department on plant pathology at the University of Arkansas; Steve Koike, plant pathology farm advisor from the Universityof California Cooperative Extension in Salinas, CA; and Steve Klosterman, USDA Agriculture Research Service in Salinas.
The organic produce industry continues to grow, and organic spinach commands a large share of that market. However, due to invasive Downey Mildew, growers have not been able to meet consumer need this season, despite overplanting by 10-30 percent to meet intensified demands. Organic spinach yields are down to 50 percent, and scientists predict the situation will only worsen.
Fungicides are currently available to treat Downey Mildew for conventional spinach, but there is no known solution for organic spinach. The mildew is a global pathogen that only grows on spinach. It favors cool and wet weather but can also be found in hot, dry weather. One leaf of spinach can produce 10,000 spores of Downey Mildew, which then become airborne and spread to nearby spinach crops. It is prevalent and increasing in some of the largest growing regions of the country, including prime growing regions like the Salinas Valley in California and Yuma, AZ.
Panelists expressed that options to treat Downey Mildew on organic spinach are limited and will take time. Acreage used for spinach crops can be expanded to prevent spreading, or scientists can work to find new resistant seeds. While finding new resistant seeds seems to be the best long-term option, it takes six years to make a new seed and another three to four years for testing.
In the short-term, growing acreage will likely be expanded, but it even that takes time — another three years for any new organic ground to become certified. Overall, the consensus of the symposium was that solutions can’t come quickly enough, current conditions will likely continue, and the Downey Mildew problem will grow.
As a consumer-focused company with a history of quality and innovation, Ready Pac is committed to maintaining a keen understanding of the industry in order to keep consumers safe and well-informed. The company said it will continue its work with the United Vegetable Growers Cooperative and its efforts to raise awareness and help bring an end to this unfortunate spinach crisis.