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Environment

Florida Tomato Study Could Prevent Spread Of Damaging Disease

The disease bacterial spot in tomatoes shows up on leaves and makes them susceptible to the elements, ultimately reducing the annual harvest. Courtesy/UF-IFAS
The disease bacterial spot in tomatoes shows up on leaves and makes them susceptible to the elements, ultimately reducing the annual harvest. Courtesy/UF-IFAS

A recent study by the University of Florida may help prevent the spread of a disease that's damaging tomatoes globally.

Florida's tomato industry generates $520 million a year, but a disease called bacterial spot is lowering the crop's immune system, and decreasing the overall yield. It’s caused by the bacteria Xanthomonas.

Plant pathologist Gary Vallad, with UF-IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, led a study that determined these bacterial outbreaks are starting at transplant facilities. That's where tomato seedlings are grown to then be planted in the fields.

Click here to view the study. 

"This transplant environment's an ideal environment for the bacteria to kind of blow up, if you will,” he said. “You're using overhead irrigation, it's really warm. The plants are… really close to each other so typically, less than an inch, to an inch away from each other.”

He said once the bacteria is in the field, it's hard to manage.

"We've done lots of work trying to manage the disease out in the field, and what we find is that there's not really very many good strategies that work out in the field... just because Florida has such an ideal environment for it,” he said.

Vallad hopes this study will help change the way transplant houses eliminate infected tomato seedlings, and he said the next steps in research will be bacteria resistant tomatoes.