In a 2-year assessment carried out on tomato crops of Central and Southern Italy, a high incidence of Rhizoctonia solani and Sclerotium rolfsii was found. These fungal pathogens attack horticultural crops and are responsible for severe crown and stem rot. Because of technical, economical and environmental issues their chemical control is an arduous task. To find alternative and eco-compatible control methods, the effectiveness of two new antagonistic bacterial isolates (Burkholderia cepacia, T1A-2B, and Pseudomonas sp., T4B-2A), previously selected from suppressive organic amendments, were tested on tomato plants grown under both growth chamber and field conditions. The potential antagonists were compared with two commercial biofungicides, based on Bacillus subtilis (BSF4) and Trichoderma asperellum (TV1), and four synthetic fungicides (tolclofos-methyl, azoxystrobin, fosetyl-Al and fosetyl-Al + propamocarb). In 2-year field experiments carried out on tomato plants, the biocontrol bacteria as well as the other treatments were applied to the soil, proximal to the plant crowns and main roots, by means of an effective and specific system of drip irrigation. In all the experiments the novel selected biocontrol bacteria significantly reduced both incidence and severity of the diseases caused by S. rolfsii or R. solani, with results demonstrating effectiveness equal to TV1, better than BSF4 and comparable with the synthetic fungicides, except for tolclofos-methyl which was the most effective treatment. In field experiments, carried out for two consecutive years, isolate T1A-2B reduced up to 58.33% and up to 63.8% the severity of the diseases caused by S. rolfsii and R. solani respectively; whereas isolate T4B-2A gave reduction of S. rolfsii and R. solani diseases severity up to 73.2% and up to 62.7%, respectively.This investigation provided insight for the development of novel antagonistic bacterial isolates and, particularly, a suitable method for a more efficient antagonist's distribution in the field in order to better control fungal crown and root rot of horticultural crops. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
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