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Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus Makes Life Difficult For N.C. Farmers

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A plant virus carried by tiny insects is causing giant losses for farmers across North Carolina.

Ron Lee farms in Johnston County. He has watched a number of his crops either die or develop unsightly spots due to the tomato spotted wilt virus.

"It's pretty much devastated us this year," he said.

The virus is carried from plant to plant by tiny insects called thrips. It kills some plants and leaves unsightly spots on the fruit of others, making them worthless.

"You're looking at about $4,000 an acre that's wiped out on the ones that's a total loss," Lee said.

The virus strikes plants in the morning glory family, tomatoes, peppers, Irish potatoes and tobacco.

"Here in this county, we've had probably about 5 percent tobacco infection and then in some spots of the field, it could be 60 percent to 80 percent losses," said Tiffany Harrelson, an extension agent in Johnston County.

Farmers have seen the virus for years, but they said they have never such an explosion. This year, weather conditions lined up perfectly with the insects and created a disaster over a wide area.

"[From] Georgia to North Carolina, the guy we sell to in Virginia told me on the eastern shore around Chesapeake, there was one farmer up there with 80 acres that was wiped out," Lee said.

Officials estimate the virus could end up costing farmers tens of millions of dollars.


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