Sodium N-methyldithiocarbamate (metam sodium) and 1,3 dichloropropene are widely used in potato production for the control of soil-borne pathogens, weeds, and plant parasitic nematodes that reduce crop yield and quality. Soil fumigation with metam sodium has been shown in microcosm studies to significantly reduce soil microbial populations and important soil processes such as C and N mineralization. However, few published data report the impact of metam sodium on microbial populations and activities in potato production systems under field conditions. Fall-planted white mustard (Brassica hirta) and sudangrass (Sorghum sudanense) cover crops may serve as an alternative to soil fumigation. The effect of metam sodium and cover crops was determined on soil microbial populations, soil-borne pathogens (Verticillium dahliae, Pythium spp., and Fusarium spp.), free-living and plant-parasitic nematodes, and C and N mineralization potentials under potato production on five soil types in the Columbia Basin of Eastern Washington. Microbial biomass C was 8–23% greater in cover crop treatments compared to those fumigated with metam sodium among the soil types tested. Replacing fumigation with cover crops did not significantly affect C or N mineralization potentials. Cumulative N mineralized over a 49-day laboratory incubation averaged 18 mg NO3-N kg−1 soil across all soil types and treatments. There was a general trend for N mineralized from fumigated treatments to be lower than cover-cropped treatments. Soil fungal populations and free-living nematode levels were significantly lowered in fumigated field trials compared to cover-cropped treatments. Fumigation among the five soil types significantly reduced Pythium spp. by 97%, Fusarium spp. by 84%, and V. dahliae by 56% compared to the mustard cover crop treatment. The percentage of bacteria and fungi surviving fumigation was greater for fine- than coarse-textured soils, suggesting physical protection of organisms within the soil matrix or a reduced penetration and distribution of the fumigants. This suggests the potential need for a higher rate of fumigant to be used in fine-textured soils to obtain comparable reductions in soil-borne pathogens.
Keywords: Soil fumigation - Cover crops - Microbial populations - Pathogens