U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored research at the University of Georgia campus in Tifton is looking into the potential of using a cover crop system to improve soil and prevent tomato spotted wilt virus.

According to Stuart Reitz, a research entomologist with the USDA, tomato spotted wilt virus is one of the most devastating insect-transmitted vegetable diseases. In the Southeast it affects everything from peppers to peanuts and can cause complete crop failures in the field.

“You certainly can’t grow tomatoes in this part of the country without trying to take some kind of management method to try to reduce the tomato spotted wilt incidence,” Reitz said.

In fact, after being in the Southeast for about 25 years, it’s becoming a global problem. The vectors for the disease are tiny, moisture-sucking insects called thrips. The primary culprits in the Southeast are Western flower thrips and tobacco thrips.

Cover crops to limit thrips

Reitz is investigating the potential of a cover cropping system to deter these species of thrips. Cover cropping is also used to build soil fertility, limit erosion and suppress weeds. Reitz is partnering with University of Florida Extension specialist Steve Olson and UGA entomologist Rajagopalbabu Srinivasan.