AG Watch

Virus threatens Valley tomato crop

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A virus affecting tomatoes grown in Western Fresno County could eventually impact the cost of processed products like ketchup and tomato paste.

Farmers say shriveled up tomato plants have been infected with the curly top virus. From a distance a tomato field in Five Points in looked nice and green but up close you can see some plants are dying.

Paul Brooks has been growing tomatoes for 30 years. He said, "This is the definitely the worst I've ever seen since I've been out here. Normally we'll have a little bit or have one field affected somewhat but never like this."

The curly top virus is carried by the beet leafhopper. It passes along the virus as it feeds.

Brooks showed us the plant damage, "You can tell this it really didn't get started or get any growth as all on it. This is something that is probably a little bit later got infected. You can see it's in the early stage with the purpling in the veins. The leaves starting to curl up."

Brooks finds more damage every time he checks on the 2,000 acres he manages. He said some farmers suffered complete losses and had to re-plant fields. "We've got fields from three-percent all the way to 23-percent so I think it's all over the board."

Brooks believed some of the beet leafhoppers came down from the nearby foothills, where they had been feeding on tumbleweeds and wild mustard.

"They'll tend to stay up there longer, as long as that stays green but this year with little rain that we got they came early," said Brooks. "They had to come in the early part of April."

The processing tomatoes won't be harvested until August. If the infection rate grows, a smaller crop could result in higher consumer prices.

(Copyright ©2014 KFSN-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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