Organic growers have few seed treatments in their arsenal to fight soilborne seedling diseases, such as damping off.
So they end up planting up to 30 percent more seeds to make up for those that die, according to a news release.
As a result, they pay up to $55 per acre more for seed.
Lindsey du Toit, an associate professor and vegetable seed pathologist at Washington State University in Mount Vernon and graduate student Ana Vida Alcala are trying to find ways to manage damping off, also known as seedling blight.
The pathogens Pythium, Rhizoctonia and Fusarium are responsible for the disease.
The organisms thrive in cool moist soil found during the early planting season.
But organic producers must plant early to reduce competition with weeds and ensure a early harvest before conventional crops so they don't have to clean processing equipment in betweem.
Early planting also allows for double-cropping.
One organic product, Nordox—a copper-based fungicide, provided promising results when used as a seed treatment.
But Alcala cautioned the data are from only one season, so it's too early to say for sure.