Last year was one many Georgia tomato growers won’t quickly forget, when whiteflies swarmed over their fields and left a destructive virus to ravage their crop.

Having discovered firsthand the consequences of being unprepared for tomato yellow leaf curl virus, growers are turning to University of Georgia scientists to find solutions.

Researchers at the University of Georgia are working to find out more about the insect that transmits the virus, as well as some solutions that will give growers a marketable crop.

 

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After Georgia growers began finding tomato yellow leaf curl virus in their field several years ago, many have begun spraying every week to reduce the whitefly populations and prevent virus transmission.

Unfortunately, says Rajagopalbabu Srinivasan, a research entomologist with the University of Georgia, spraying often reduces the whiteflies’ natural enemies and increases the populations of the pest.

“Whiteflies have natural enemies, but the sprays are wiping them out,” he says.

“The whiteflies survive the sprays better than their natural enemies. Some whitefly populations are also developing resistance to commonly used insecticides such as imidacloprid.”

Part of the solution, says Srinivasan, is to plant varieties that are resistant to the virus. Growers have had access to several resistant tomato varieties since the early 21st century, but most growers prefer not to grow them.

“Resistant varieties are grown on less than one-third of the tomato acreage in Florida,” he says. “They don’t produce the beautiful tomatoes of the susceptible varieties, and the shelf life isn’t as long.”

But a crop of tomatoes from a resistant variety is better than no crop from a susceptible variety, Srinivasan says.