© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tiny Pest Attacking World's Biggest Crop

A highly destructive insect that attacks tomatoes is spreading around the world. Plant Pathologists at Virginia Tech are warning it could cause total crop loss in places where it gains a foothold if preventative measures are not taken.  Robbie Harris reports.

By last fall, the tiny “South American Tomato Leaf Miner” had already taken a huge bite out of the world’s tomato crop, chewing up around 40 per cent.

“It is expanding now.  It probably went about 50 per cent.”

Professor, Muni Muniappan is director of the Integrated Pest Management Lab at Virginia Tech.

“Whenever this pest gets into a new country in the absence of its natural enemies and other controlling factors, the population just explodes and it becomes a very serious problem.

He is working with them on early warning systems to detect the bug if it shows up.  Then it’s a matter of trapping the males to prevent procreation and using appropriate pesticides such as neem oil and other environmentally friendly weapons against them.

The pest is spread when the plants are shipped.  Because the insects are found in the leaves and stems, the U.S. requires all imported tomatoes to arrive as fruit only, no other parts of the plant allowed in.  Tomatoes are the largest crop on the planet, but Leaf Miner infestations are driving up their price in places like Nigeria, where virtually the entire harvest has been destroyed