The tomato industry is on high alert after the highly damaging Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV) was found in the UK for the first time.
The outbreak was confirmed by laboratory testing and reported to the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate (PHSI). The affected glasshouse has taken the necessary steps to eradicate the virus and has destroyed its crop.
ToBRFV has already caused major problems to the tomato sector in Europe and beyond, causing unmarketable fruit, but the UK had hoped to be spared the virus.
Dr Nikki Harrison, AHDB senior scientist and coordinator for the ToBRFV steering group, said: “We are advising the industry to review their production protocols, particularly regarding imports of seed and plants, and crop hygiene. Growers need to be vigilant and look out for symptoms and act promptly if they suspect infection.”
Common symptoms include mosaic staining of the leaves, discoloured fruit with yellow spots and deformation of fruits.
The likely routes of infection of the disease are through seed, propagation material or contact through contaminated tools, hands and clothing. Tomato is the major host of the virus, but trials have indicated it could also infect sweet peppers.
Dr Phil Morley, technical officer for the Tomato Growers’ Association (TGA), said: “By reviewing the experience of growers elsewhere in the world who are managing the virus, gathering available information from experts and by coordinating through the ToBRFV Steering Group with the TGA we have been able to act quickly and inform growers.
“There is much we can do collectively to control any spread and to limit the impact for our industry at a key time of year for British tomatoes.”
Suspected outbreaks of a viroid or virus in a tomato crop or any other non-native plant pest should be reported to the relevant authority, and details on ToBRFV symptoms, biology and crop hygiene measures can be found at ahdb.org.uk/knowledge-library.
AHDB is funding research on crop hygiene for ToBRFV and said that guidelines will be updated as new information becomes available.