Late wilt is a destructive disease of corn: outbreaks occur at the advanced growth stage and lead to severe dehydration of susceptible hybrids. The disease's causal agent is the fungus Magnaporthiopsis maydis, whose spread relies on infested soils, seeds, and several alternative hosts. The current study aimed at advancing our understanding of the nature of this plant disease and revealing new ways to monitor and control it. Two field experiments were conducted in a heavily infested area in northern Israel seeded with highly sensitive corn hybrid. The first experiment aimed at inspecting the Azoxystrobin (AS) fungicide applied by spraying during and after the land tillage. Unexpectedly, the disease symptoms in this field were minor and yields were high. Nevertheless, up to 100% presence of the pathogen within the plant's tissues was measured using the quantitative real-time PCR method. The highest AS concentration tested was the most effective treatment, and resulted in a 6% increase in cob yield and a 4% increase in A-class yield. In the second experiment conducted in the following summer of the same year in a nearby field, the disease outbreak was dramatically higher, with about 350 times higher levels of the pathogen DNA in the untreated plots' plants. In this field, fungicide mixtures were applied using a dripline assigned for two coupling rows. The most successful treatment was AS and the Difenoconazole mixture, in which the number of infected plants decreased by 79%, and a 116% increase in crop yield was observed, along with a 41% increase in crop quality. Evaluation of the effectiveness of the treatments on the plants' health using a remote, thermal infra-red sensitive camera supported the results and proved to be an essential research tool.
Keywords: Azoxystrobin; Cephalosporium maydis; Harpophora maydis; Real-Time PCR; crop protection; field assay; fungicides; fungus; pesticides; remote sensing.