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UK - 'Devastating' virus threatens tomato sector

The UK tomato industry is on red alert over a devastating new virus that has now reached Europe.

UK growers are being urged to look out for symptoms of tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), which can wipe out entire crops of tomatoes and also damage peppers. First identified in Israel in 2014, ToBRFV has now been confirmed in Germany, posing a potential risk to UK production.

The virus results in unmarketable fruit and can affect up to 100 per cent of stock, AHDB warned, which could have a substantial economic impact. The domestic production market value of UK tomatoes was £104.9 million in 2017.

AHDB has issued information to help growers, glasshouse and packhouse staff to identify the symptoms in anticipation of its arrival in the UK. Recommendations on preventing infection and spread through hygiene measures have also been made available.

Nathalie Key, knowledge exchange manager at AHDB, said: “While the virus isn’t yet in the UK, we are mobilising resource to make sure that the industry are aware of the possible symptoms. It’s important growers are aware of hygiene protocols to minimise the risk of infection.”

The virus is related to tobacco mosaic virus and tomato mosaic virus, however varieties with resistance to those viruses will also be susceptible to ToBRFV.

Tomatoes are the major host of ToBRFV but trials have demonstrated that sweet peppers can act as a minor host, showing slight symptoms. Symptoms to look out for include mosaic staining of the leaves, discoloured fruit with yellow spots and deformation of fruits.

Adrian Fox, senior plant virologist at Fera, said: “Tomato brown rugose fruit virus has the potential to spread rapidly by plant handling and cutting and also via bumblebees during pollination.

“We are monitoring the situation in Europe but UK growers need to be vigilant for symptoms. Applying good hygiene measures should help to reduce the risk of spread within a glasshouse, should an outbreak occur.”

Phil Pearson, group development director at APS Group, said: “As an industry we need to work together to prevent crops suffering business-damaging crop loss and I’m delighted that the AHDB and Fera have responded very quickly to our call for help. Collectively we must leave no stone unturned.”

AHDB said suspected outbreaks should be reported to the relevant authority, which in England and Wales is APHA Plant Health. For Scotland, contact the Scottish government’s Horticulture and Marketing Unit, and for Northern Ireland, contact the DAERA Plant Health Inspection Branch.

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