UK growers urged to be on lookout for new tomato virus

UK growers are being urged to look out for symptoms of a potential new virus that could be devastating to UK crops of tomatoes and peppers.

First identified in Israel in 2014, tomato brown rugose fruit virus (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% of stock. If it reaches the UK, it could have a substantial economic impact – the home 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 are also 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.”

Symptoms

The virus is related to Tobacco mosaic virus and Tomato mosaic virus, however, varieties with resistance to those viruses will be susceptible to ToBRFV.

Tomato is the major host of ToBRFV but trials have demonstrated that sweet pepper 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;
  • 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, 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.”

Suspected outbreaks should be reported to the relevant authority. For England and Wales, contact APHA Plant Health.

For Scotland, contact the Scottish Government’s Horticulture and Marketing Unit. For Northern Ireland, contact the DAERA Plant Health Inspection Branch.

More information about the virus and hygiene recommendations can be found on the AHDB website.