Lowndes County - Tobacco farmers are preparing for a possible setback in this year's crop. The recent rains have created perfect conditions for an outbreak of blue mold.
Fred Wetherington is one of Georgia's largest tobacco farmers. "We've farmed in four counties, which are Lowndes, Brooks, Colquitt, and Cook," said Wetherington.
He's prepared to tackle a tobacco disease new to South Georgia, known as blue mold. The fungus is caused by rainy, soggy, conditions and is spread by microscopic spores blown by the wind. "It's been in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, then made its way up to Florida and now to Georgia," said Wetherington.
Blue mold starts at the base of the tobacco plant, which is good news for farmers. "We get more money for the leaves at the top of the crop, so if it starts at the bottom, we can catch it and contain it before it spreads to our more valuable area," said Wetherington.
Wetherington farms about 550 acres of tobacco. Some of that has been affected by blue mold, but he hopes he caught it in time to spare much of the damage. "We noticed the blue mold in time, and probably less than two percent of my crop was damaged," said Wetherington.
Lowndes County Extension Agent Mickey Fouracres says blue mold could easily destroy much of South Georgia's tobacco crop. "They can stunt the growth, disfigure the leaves, and eventually kill the crop," said Fouracres.
But farmers can protect their plants with a few safety precautions. "There're several fungicides, such as actiguard, and if you look at your crop often and catch it in time, you can spray and contain the blue mold," said Fouracres.
With harvest time less than a month away, Wetherington hopes he's seen the last of this deadly disease.