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Tomato growers must remain vigilant for tomato brown rugose virus

Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV) is a recently discovered species that emerged in Israel around 2014. Since then outbreaks have been seen all over the world including a recent outbreak in the UK.

ToBRFV is a member of the Tobamovirus that are robust and contact transmittable and can therefore be spread through mechanical contact such as direct plant to plant contact, tools, clothing and even bumblebees.

The virus is a great concern as there are no known commercially available tomato varieties that are resistant to ToBRFV. As the virus is highly contact transmittable, once it gets into a glasshouse it can spread rapidly.

The European Commission have recently established emergency measures to prevent the introduction and the spread within the EU of ToBRFV that will apply from 1st November 2019.

Once plants are infected, they cannot be cured so spotting the signs early is vital. Growers must be vigilant and look out for:

  • Brown wrinkled (rugose) patches
  • Chlorotic marbling
  • Brown (necrotic) streaks on stems

Due to the plant resistance of ToBRFV growers have limited actions they can take. Fera Science Limited world-renowned plant health experts recommend good hygiene measures to minimise spread. 

Advice to reduce risk of tomato brown rugose virus
Early findings from the research conducted by Fera Science Ltd. has shown that the virus, which affects tomato and pepper plants, will survive on hands for at least two hours and on glasshouse surfaces for at least four weeks.

The project has been investigating how well hygiene measures work to help growers take steps to reduce the risk of the virus entering glasshouses and to limit the spread of the virus, should an outbreak occur. The hygiene approaches would also help inform post-outbreak clean-up procedures.

Nathalie Key, Knowledge Exchange Manager at AHDB, said: “While the research project continues, the findings from Fera are critical for the industry and important for growers to begin to adopt. The research will continue to look at which products and protocols are the most effective for disinfection.”

Hands and gloves
Recommendations to limit the spread around the glasshouse:

  • Wear gloves when handling plants and change them often
  • Consider zonal working where foliage in plant rows is in contact with hair and clothes

ToBRFV can survive on both skin and gloves for at least two hours. Washing hands, including with medicated hand wash and post-wash alcohol hand gel did not eliminate the virus. While washing hands for a minimum of one minute reduced the spread of the virus, it wasn’t completely effective. The virus is also likely to survive on hair and clothes.

Glasshouse surfaces
The virus survived on glass, aluminium, stainless steel, hard plastic (e.g. picking crates) and polythene for at least four weeks and on concrete for at least seven days.

Further research in the project will look at disinfectant treatments to decontaminate common glasshouse surfaces.

The virus was reported for the first time in the UK on a tomato crop in the summer, no further outbreaks have been reported.

The affected glasshouse was cleared voluntarily and Formaline, bleach and hydrogen peroxide were used. Service areas were cleaned with Virkon, bleach and menno florades. No ToBRFV has been detected in the glasshouse from tested swabs.

The research project will conclude in December 2019.

For more information:
+44 (0)300 100 0321
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