June 8, 2004
Lowndes County - Harvest season is just a few weeks away for South Georgia tobacco farmers, but this year's crop isn't looking quiet as good as years past. Many plants have been destroyed by a deadly insect virus.
Lowndes County Extension Agent Mickey Fourakers sorts through rows of tobacco plants destroyed by the tomato spotted wilt virus. "This is a very serious disease when it comes to tobacco," said Fourakers.
The virus is caused by insects known as thrips. They bite the plants and inject a deadly toxin into the leaves. "One of the theories is if you have a very wet winter you don't have a lot of thrips," said Fourakers.
But this year's winter was a dry one, and tobacco plants have been bombarded with the disease. "When we transplant tobacco in the spring, this is one of the greenest, most lush plants around, so they go right to it," said Fourakers.
About 30 percent of tobacco plants in Lowndes County have been affected by the virus. There are gaps in planted rows where hundreds of plants have been destroyed. "Everywhere you see a skip there should be a plant but they died right after transplant due to tomato spotted wilt virus," said Fourakers.
Fourakers says the disease has affected just about every tobacco farmer in South Georgia. "I can go in every field in the county and find it," said Fourakers.
Unfortunately, once a plant is infected, there's no way to stop the virus. All farmers can do is harvest what plants are left and hope for a wetter winter next year.
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