A new strain of the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus has created a challenge among vegetable growers, making integrated pest management, or IPM, increasingly critical. Bob Gilbertson, plant pathologist at UC Davis, has insight and advice as to how farmers should tackle this new strain.
“The first thing is to know what’s out in your field. And there’s a good diagnostic test for curly top, spotted wilt, alfalfa mosaic, and other viruses,” Gilbertson said.
After the virus is confirmed, he encourages growers to explore their options of treatment. Prior to the new spotted wilt virus strain, growers could turn to the SW-5 resistance gene to cure their field. Unfortunately, Gilbertson explained, the new strain actually breaks that resistance, which is where IPM becomes even more important.
In the future, Gilbertson hopes to find additional resistance genes to break the new strain. Until that time comes, he wants to use good IPM to manage it.
Gilbertson further added, “Increased sanitation, removing overwintering hosts, weeds, and bridge crops like lettuce, and then timing the applications of thrips management better, to slow down the appearance of adult thrips that carry the virus,” are all examples of good IPM.
Tomato spotted wilt virus is becoming big in the central San Joaquin Valley, according to Tom Turini, University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor in Fresno County for vegetable crops. The virus had earlier been spotted in lettuce, and this has caused some concern in this season’s tomato crop.
“We had some concerns early in the season that we might be looking at a year where it’ll become a challenge, because we were finding it in lettuce back in February and March in the Huron area,” Turini said. “And then we notice that tomatoes were showing the virus symptoms. We had been managing tomato spotted wilt in processing and fresh market tomatoes largely with a resistance gene, and it seemed that the resistance was breaking.”
The virus is spread by thrips, and the gene in the tomato was the biggest deterrent in combating thrips.
“We were also talking about an IPM program, but the industry was leaning on this gene. This gene became a big part of their spotted wilt prevention program,” Turini said. “While sanitation of weeds was practiced, and there was some thrips management, it was really dependent upon this single gene resistance in the tomatoes, and as of 2016, we saw evidence that that gene was no longer performing.”
Because the virus can wipe out entire tomato fields, researchers are scrambling to find a new way to deter the thrip spreading the virus on tomatoes.