US: Late blight threatens Carolina tomatoes

Late blight, the dreaded disease that wiped out the East Coast tomato crop in 2009, has shown up again in North Carolina.

First identified in late June on potatoes growing in the Coastal Plain, it has also attacked a field of tomatoes in the mountains near Hendersonville.

Dr. Lina Quesada-Ocampo, plant pathologist with N.C. State University, warns that the late blight pathogen can travel long distances and lurk in gardens and fields until environmental conditions are right, then destroy crops virtually overnight.

“Time to protect your potato and tomato crops, no matter what part of the state you are in,” said Debbie Roos, sustainability agent for the Cooperative Extension at NCSU.

Quesada-Ocampo explained that nights in the range of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and days in the 80s, accompanied by rain and high humidity, are ideal conditions for late blight.

The disease typically starts with irregular, water-soaked lesions, sometimes with a “halo” along their edge, on green healthy leaves high on the plant. The disease can progress very rapidly, turning leaves brown and destroying fruit. It spreads readily via wind, farm equipment, irrigation water and other vectors.


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