Local News

Tomato-Spotted Wilt Virus Threatening N.C. Tobacco Crop

Posted May 8, 2002 5:22 a.m. EDT

— Wake County is the state's sixth largest tobacco-producing county and generates $1 billion a year in farm production. However, a pest is threatening to wilt this year's tobacco crop across the state.

Tobacco farmers and extension workers are finding bad news when they venture out into the fields. Tomato-Spotted Wilt Virus is spreading across the state rapidly. There is no cure for the virus, and it appears this is the worst case ever in the state's history.

The virus could deal a big blow to the state's ecomomy.

According to U.S. census figures, there are now more than 89,000 tobacco farmers in the United States. At least, 12,000 of them are in North Carolina. The state is generating over $814 million in tobacco a year.

The disease is already causing major losses in Georgia fields and more cases are being reported every day. It is spread by tiny insects called thrips, which infect plants as they move through a field.

The virus seems to be worse in the earlier-planted fields and will kill every infected plant.

Experts say there is no cure for the problem and growers are warned not to fall for schemes offering a solution. The virus got its name because it attacks tomato plants as well as peanuts.