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Agriculture Commissioner alerts growers of presence of late blight

By WKTV News

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine alerted home gardeners and commercial growers of the potential introduction of late blight this growing season, as it has been confirmed in Suffolk County. Late blight is a plant disease that spreads rapidly from plant to plant in wet, cool weather that causes tomato and potato plants, primarily, to wilt and die.

“To help protect the State’s potato and tomato crops, the Department has once again initiated a concerted strategy to enhance the State’s detection and eradication efforts for late blight this growing season,” the Commissioner said. “While the recent hot and dry weather patterns should reduce the spread of this plant disease, commercial growers and gardeners should always be on the lookout and take the recommended precautions to protect their plants.”

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has trained horticultural inspectors that are currently surveying plants, in particular transplant tomatoes, at the retail level and in commercial greenhouses. Collectively, they have inspected more than 1,600,000 tomato plants and seen no signs of late blight detected in tomatoes. In addition, the Department continues to work with Cornell Cooperative Extension to conduct outreach and follow up in the field with both growers and gardeners. As a result of those efforts, three cases of late blight in field potatoes have been confirmed in Suffolk County.

Late blight is a plant disease that mainly attacks potatoes and tomatoes, although it can sometimes be found on other crops, weeds and ornamentals, such as petunias, nightshades, and tomatillos. Late blight was a factor in the Irish potato famine in the 1840’s, during which millions of people in Ireland starved or were forced to emigrate. Late blight is caused by an oomycete pathogen that can produce millions of spores from infected plants, spreading readily with wet weather and high humidity. Spores travel through the air, land on plants, and if the weather is sufficiently wet, cause new infections. Once infected, plants may wilt and die within three days.

New York has battled strains of late blight in 2009 and 2011 that were particularly devastating to tomatoes. Presence of the disease, combined with wet weather those years led to a quick and devastating spread of the disease. Organic growers struggled with the disease as they have few approved control measures to use, and commercial tomato growers were challenged to apply crop fungicides in time to prevent the outbreak.

For more information about identifying late blight and how to control it, please visit "http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/factsheets/Potato_LateBlt.htm

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