Tomato-killing disease spreads explosively

Those of us who bought our fledgling tomato plants from big box or home improvement stores may be involved in spreading a highly contagious tomato-destroying fungus throughout the country.

Plant pathologists at Ag programs across the country are tracking the spread of the disease called “late blight,” as there are often small outbreaks late in the growing season.  But now, USDA experts says, the rate of infection is explosive and it destroys tomatoes before they have a chance to ripen.

USDA researchers.   USDA photo

USDA researchers. USDA photo

So far the tomato-killing fungus has been confirmed from the Northeast to Illinois and beyond. The USDA says it’s concerned that the disease could spread faster and further.

Cornell University experts says that never before has such an extensive distribution of infected plants occurred.

“The (pathogen) is exceptionally contagious, spreading on garden center shelves to tomato plants not originally contaminated at the source,” the university reported.

The Cornell scientists point out that “Many families have taking up vegetable gardening, given the tough economic times, and tomato is the most important crop in gardens.”

In a very detailed story, The New York Times today reported that the outbreak spread in part from the hundreds of thousands of tomato plants bought by home gardeners at Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Kmart stores starting in April.

The wholesale gardening company Bonnie Plants, based in Alabama, had supplied most of the seedlings and recalled all remaining plants late last month, the paper said.

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