Keep eyes peeled for new pepper, tomato virus

12/05/2011 08:05:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

As if Florida vegetable growers don’t already have a full plate of plant diseases, a new virus is slowly spreading through South Florida, causing sporadic infections in tomato, pepper, eggplant and tomatillo along the way.

Researchers, such as Scott Adkins, an Agricultural Research Service research plant pathologist, say growers and consultants shouldn’t panic over the discovery of groundnut ringspot virus (GRSV), which is closely related to tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV).

Instead, he and others recommend adding GRSV to the list of pests you or your consultant already scout for.

If you do find something suspicious, the researchers encourage reporting it to your county agent or vegetable Extension specialist so they can confirm identification and map its spread.

And since both GRSV and TSWV are spread by thrips, the researchers say they believe the same management measures growers follow for TSWV also should help control the newcomer.

More questions raised

Charlie Mellinger, a plant pathologist and principal in Jupiter-based Glades Crop Care, had occasionally seen symptoms similar to TSWV on tomatoes in the Homestead area for several years.

Although TSWV is common in North Florida’s tomato production area, it’s uncommon in the southern part of the state, Mellinger says. Most times when he sent in a sample to Adkins’ lab for identification, it came back negative for TSWV.

In 2009, a post-doctoral researcher from Australia, Craig Webster, was working in Adkins’ lab at the U.S. Horticultural Research Lab in Ft. Pierce.

He ran a general test for tospoviruses, the genus of viruses that includes GRSV, TSWV and tomato chlorotic spot virus. When Webster and Adkins analyzed the results, they discovered GRSV.

“We’re trying to resolve plants that we had identified as TSWV in South Florida—we think now they were GRSV,” Mellinger says. “We’re not really sure what our past incidence of TSWV was in South Florida since we find plants that test positive with both [viruses].”

Since the initial confirmation, researchers have more questions than answers about the newly identified disease, Adkins says.

To help address some of those unknowns, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has provided one-time seed money to address issues associated with emerging and new plant and animal pests and diseases, including GRSV.

Representatives from ARS, universities, the private sector and the grower community will work cooperatively in the effort, Adkins says.

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