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How Copper Sprays Work and Avoiding Phytotoxicity

June 26, 2013

How Copper Sprays Work and Avoiding Phytotoxicity
Copper has been widely used in both conventional and organic production for some time. Copper was one of the first elements used as a plant fungicide (the other was Sulfur). Its discovery can be traced back to the famous origin of Bordeaux mixture, containing a mixture of copper sulfate (CuSO4) and slaked lime, and used for downy mildew control in French vineyards.

Recently, growers have asked me questions regarding the mode of action of copper and had  concerns about phytotoxicity. First, let's begin with how copper controls pathogens. Copper is usually applied in the fixed form which lowers its solubility in water. Fixed coppers include basic copper sulfate (e.g., Cuprofix Ultra Disperss), copper oxide (e.g., Nordox), copper hydroxide (e.g., Kocide, Champ), copper oxychloride sulfate (e.g., COCS), and copper ions linked to fatty acids or other organic molecules (e.g., TennCop, Cueva). The spray solution is actually a suspension of copper particles, and those particles persist on plant surfaces after the spray dries. Copper ions are gradually released from these copper deposits each time the plant surface becomes wet. The gradual release of copper ions from the copper deposits provides residual protection against plant pathogens. At the same time, the slow release of copper ions from these relatively insoluble copper deposits reduces risks of phytotoxicity to plant tissues. Copper ions denature proteins, thereby destroying enzymes that are critical for cell functioning. Copper can kill pathogen cells on plant surfaces, but once a pathogen enters host tissue, it will no longer be susceptible to copper treatments. Thus, copper sprays act as protectant fungicide/bactericide treatments, but lack post-infection activity.

Because different formulations have different properties when used as spray materials, growers need to learn how to read and interpret labels. The effectiveness of copper sprays is highly correlated with the amount of elemental copper that is applied. The metallic copper content varies widely by product. Potency also varies by how the product is prepared. Finely ground copper products are more active than coarsely ground ones. Professor Tom Zitter of Cornell University suggests that for vegetable crops. Begin by choosing a copper product with at least 20% or more copper as the active ingredient to insure the greatest release of copper ions.

There are several suggestions for avoiding phytoxicity (or plant injury) with copper sprays. Limit the copper ion concentration on plant surfaces by using copper products that are relatively insoluble in water, i.e. fixed copper. Copper can accumulate to high levels on plant tissue when sprayed repeatedly to cover new growth and there is no rain. In this situation, after a rain event, a large amount of copper ions may be released leading to phytotoxicity. Solubility of fixed coppers increases under acidic conditions. Copper sprays will become more phytotoxic if they are applied in an acidic solution. Most copper products are formulated to be almost insoluble in water at pH 7.0. As the pH of water decreases the solubility of the copper fungicides increases and more copper ions are released. If the water used is too acidic (below pH 6.0-7.0 depending on the copper formulation) excessive amounts of copper ions could be produced which may cause damage to fruit and foliage. Formulations vary in solubility hydroxides are more soluble than oxychlorides which are more soluble than tribasic copper sulphates and cuprous. Less soluble formulations are usually more persistent. Check the pH of your water source. Copper sprays generally cause more phytotoxicity when applied under slow drying conditions, such as when it's wet and cool.  Always read the label instructions follow the Copper and tank mix partner labels.
For a comprehensive list of Copper Products Used for Vegetable Disease Control see
http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/NewsArticles/CopperFungicides2012.pdf


Sources: T. A. Zitter, Cornell University Department of Plant Pathology & Plant-Micrbiology and David A. Rosenberger, Professor of Plant Pathology, Cornell University's Hudson Valley Lab


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Upcoming Events

NYS Processing Vegetable Industry Roundtable Meeting

March 18, 2024
Batavia, NY

Processing vegetable industry members who grow, manage, or support crop production for Farm Fresh First/Nortera Foods, Seneca Foods and/or Love Beets, are encouraged to sign-up for the 2024 NYS Processing Vegetable Industry Roundtable! You will:

  • Network at this in-person meeting.
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  • Earn 3.25 DEC pesticide applicator recertification credits
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View NYS Processing Vegetable Industry Roundtable Meeting Details

Oswego Muck Onion Growers Pre-Season Meeting: Stop the Rot, Nematodes and SLB Fungicide Resistance

Event Offers DEC Credits

March 20, 2024
Phoenix, NY

Christy Hoepting and Frank Hay will get growers ready for the season with updates on managing Stemphylium Leaf Blight fungicide resistance, progress made towards understanding and managing bacterial bulb rot of onion, and results of the 2023 nematode survey and research project. 2.5 DEC recertification credits will be offered in categories 1A, 10 and 23.

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2024 NYS Dry Bean Meeting and Cutting Event

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March 22, 2024
Geneva, NY

The NYS Dry Bean Meeting will be paired with the annual Dry Bean Cutting Event again this year! The morning meeting will include presentations on the latest dry bean research in New York, with topics including market updates, white mold management, western bean cutworm management, dry bean variety testing, and incorporating NY dry beans into schools. 1.5 DEC credits will be available in categories 10, 1a, 21, 23. CCA credits will be available too.

The Dry Bean Cutting will follow the meeting and showcase the canned dry beans from the 2023 Dry Bean Variety Trial. 

View 2024 NYS Dry Bean Meeting and Cutting Event Details

Announcements

Management Practices for High Organic Matter Soils

We are exploring management practices for vegetable farmers with high organic matter soils. These soils are usually found in urban growing areas as urban farmers typically grow in imported soil mixtures that have been constructed over time and in high tunnels where leaching events are limited. In both cases, we see that soil pH and calcium levels can increase due to alkaline irrigation water and with grower inputs such as high levels of compost and/or fertilizer. We commonly see limited plant nutrient uptake due to high soil pH. We have produced four "Management Practices for Urban Soil Health" case studies sharing project updates in our urban cover crop, pH adjustment, and bulk density adjustment work. In each case study, we are looking at the effect of the management practice on soil and crop health. 

Management Practices for Urban Soil Health: Cover Cropping
Management Practices for Urban Soil Health: pH Adjustment
Management Practices for Urban Soil Health: pH Adjustment in NYC
Management Practices for Urban Soil Health: Correcting Nutrient Test Results for Soils with High Organic Matter

2023 Year in Review and 2024 Preview

As the Cornell Vegetable Program reflects on 2023, we want to thank you for your partnership and continued support of our team and the work we do to address issues impacting the commercial vegetable industry in the western and central portion of NYS. Our 2023 Year in Review and 2024 Preview report highlights of some of the many research and outreach programs led by our team members over the last year plus a look ahead to some of our plans for 2024.
  • Use of Ground Barriers as a New Strategy for Swede Midge in Brassicas for Small Organic and Urban Farms
  • Cornell Vegetable Program Responds to Late Blight in 2023
  • Working Groups Help to Improve the Western NY Food System
  • Field Trials Completed to Test Lasers as a Bird Deterrent in Sweet Corn
  • Increased Monitoring of Western Bean Cutworm in Dry Beans
  • Sweet Potato Varieties Suitable for Western NY Production?


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