Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2015 2:00 am

The list of summer’s simple pleasures is long. There is one perennial favorite. To-ma-to, to-mah-to. Our lives would be less without it. Debate the definition of fruit vs. vegetable and cast off the Supreme Court ruling of 1893. Embrace the food politics of the incorrect by lathering white bread with mayonnaise and dropping a thick cut of Big Boy with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

To my palate, homegrown tomatoes are priceless. But let’s put a number on it: Tomatoes in America are a two BILLION dollar business in farm cash receipts. We love tomatoes, we love money. What if both went away?

There is a real and present danger from an insect so insidious, it is invading continents, destroying native tomato crops. It is a danger so real the U.S. government is waging a multistaged war on multiple fronts to keep the insect known as Tuta absoluta from invading America.

“The United States is very worried,” says Muni Muniappan, the director of the Virginia Tech-led Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab. He’s made the fight against this invasive pest his personal crusade. “T. absoluta is spreading and decimating tomato crops in Africa, India, Senegal, Europe, Asia…” his list of countries and continents under assault continues. In fact of the seven continents, the insect known as the tomato leafminer is moving across four with the speed of a Panzer division through Poland. Of the other three, Antarctica is safe, for obvious reasons, Australia and North America are engaged in both defensive and offensive tactics.

Lest you think this is just bother over a moth, the USDA’s topline on T. absoluta reads like a Cold War preamble to a Defcon 2 alert: Any new detection may require the establishment of an Incident Command System to facilitate emergency management. This document is meant to provide the necessary information to launch a response to a detection of the tomato leafminer.


“We’ve issued a federal order to keep it out of the U.S.,” says Devaiah Muruvanda, the senior risk manager for the USDA. “We’ve initiated a systems approach with more than one measure in place to combat T. absoluta.” He’s taken the aggressive approach one step further — he’s banned scientists from even bringing the pest into the U.S. for research. “I will not allow them in,” Devaiah says emphatically.

Think about that. In government and private laboratories across the country, research and experiments exist on some of the most pathological bacteria and viruses known to man; botulism, anthrax, ebola – but not T. absoluta.

“The threat of Tuta absoluta for North America is very real — and very close, as the pest has been found in Costa Rica in 2014,” says Abbey Powell with the USDA. “There are huge trade issues associated with this pest threat.”

Trade involves imported tomatoes. Some countries are completely banned from exporting to the U.S. Others export only fruit with all stems and leaves removed. That is where the moth can hide. The import trade requires one level of vigilance, inspections of foreign packing, shipping and storage facilities. The same occurs at U.S. ports.

Is it time to pull out Dante and “Abandon all Hope” as we enter tomato season?

Not yet. Muniappan, with his USAID-funded research, and Muruvanda at the USDA know things about T. absoluta that they can’t confess. But Muruvanda grows his own tomatoes at home. “Do I worry? Not about my garden. I think we have good tactics against the tomato leafminer. But when I’m in Home Depot buying my plants, I look at the tags to see where they came from.”

Semper vigilantis. Enjoy your summer tomatoes.


Innovation Lab’s work cuts crop losses

Halting climate change-induced crop losses could relieve pressure on farmers who are trying to satisfy burgeoning populations, according to IPM Innovation Lab researchers. With world population projected to hit nine billion in 2050, two factors in addition to climate change require dramatic responses – invasive species and loss of biodiversity caused by pesticide misuse.

Adopting integrated pest management practices could reduce food-crop losses by 50 percent, writes Muni Muniappan, who directs the IPM Innovation Lab. He and co-author Elvis A. Heinrichs, the Asia program manager, share their recommendations in a piece in the August edition of the journal Outlooks on Pest Management.

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The Virginia Tech press release on this research may be found here.

The article itself, in PDF format, may be found here. This article appeared in Volume 26, the August issue of Outlooks on Pest Management, published by Research Information Ltd., and is made available here with the publisher’s permission. Copies of OPM articles are available on the IngentaConnect platform at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/resinf/opm .


Aquarium & Pond Plants of the World, Edition 2.1
ITP Tool Collaborators: California Department of Food and Agriculture, North Carolina State University, and Colorado State University
Announcement Release Date for Edition 2.1: August 6, 2015
Authors: Shaun Winterton, Julia Scher, and Amanda Redford

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Identification Technology Program (ITP) is pleased to announce the release of Aquarium & Pond Plants of the World, Edition 2.1 (APPW). APPW includes fact sheets, images, an illustrated glossary, and an interactive key to support the identification process for over 140 genera of plant and plant-like organisms grown and used in the aquarium and pond plant trade, many of which have become major aquatic weed problems. Edition 2.1 has a new design with new functionalities to enhance and support the user’s experience with the tool.
 Aquarium & Pond Plants of the World can be accessed at: http://idtools.org/id/appw/
 Visit http://idtools.org/ to view other ITP tools
 Visit ITP Android Lucid Mobile Apps and ITP iOS Lucid Mobile Apps to view ITP’s Lucid Mobile apps

Innovation Lab’s work cuts crop losses, helps feed world’s population, researchers say

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Muni MuniappanMuni Muniappan

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 11, 2015 – Halting climate change-induced crop losses could relieve pressure on farmers who are trying to satisfy burgeoning populations, Virginia Tech researchers say. With world population projected to hit nine billion in 2050, two factors in addition to climate change require dramatic responses – invasive species and loss of biodiversity caused by pesticide misuse.

Adopting integrated pest management practices could reduce food-crop losses by 50 percent, writes Muni Muniappan, who directs the USAID-funded Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech. He and co-author Elvis A. Heinrichs, the Innovation Lab’s Asia program manager, share their recommendations in a piece in the August edition of the journal Outlooks on Pest Management.

With more hungry mouths to feed, the world will require a 60 to 70 percent increase in food production, the authors say. But not enough land is being set aside across the globe for this purpose, and such great gains cannot be achieved merely through better handling of harvests or increasing yields per acre. The solution is to adopt integrated pest management practices, which would ensure that the projected 60 to 70 percent jump in needed food production would shrink to 30 percent, the authors say.

For more than 20 years, the Virginia Tech-led international research effort has designed and spread environmentally friendly practices to fend off emerging pests and disease problems that plague farmers in developing countries. The work is managed by the Office of International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs. The lab recently received an $18 million extension of a USAID-funded grant to continue its work.

The Innovation Lab recently held a three-day course in India to promote the use of Trichoderma, called a “fighting fungus” because of its strengths as a biological control tool for farmers worldwide. For instance, Trichoderma kills fusarium wilt on tomatoes, clubroot on broccoli, and pink root in onion. Last year the Innovation Lab led an international workshop to train researchers, scientists, and agriculture experts in the use of the inexpensive, environmentally friendly bio-agent.

Earlier this year, Muniappan and colleagues began to put measures in place in Nepal in advance of a tiny moth, Tuta absoluta, that has caused millions of dollars of crop losses in Europe, Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, and North Africa. Their preventive education work was the first time Virginia Tech scientists – who’ve battled the pest for years – were able to take action before the moth invades.

For a decade, scientists confronted the South American tomato leafminer only after the fact, watching it ravage crops in one country after the next after it jumped from its native South America to Spain in 2006. Now, when the pest enters Nepal – as it inevitably will –  farmers will be better able to confront a pest that can destroy 80 to 100 percent of a tomato farmer’s yield, Muniappan says. Tomatoes aren’t the only targets. The moth can also lay waste to eggplant, potato, pepper, and other food crops.

Last year, in the journal Crop Protection, Muniappan and a team of coauthors demonstrated that the Innovation Lab’s work to halt crop destruction in India saved the government, consumers, and farmers in India up to $309 million the first year and more than $1 billion over five years.

The IPM concept emerged from the 1960s when it became clear that toxic pesticides not only were becoming less effective because of organisms’ ability to develop resistance, but also toxic chemicals created harmful impacts on many unintended targets, Muniappan and Heinrichs write.


IPM research featured in Tanzanian newspaper

In July, 2015, the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab held a two-day workshop to help raise awareness of the danger of the invasive pest Tuta absoluta, or tomato leafminer. This tiny moth attacks tomatoes, the world’s most commercially valuable horticultural crop. In Tanzania, the pest is set to destroy thousands of acres of tomatoes if not checked.

The workshop in Arusha drew 103 participants from all realms of agriculture-related work in Tanzania.

The Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen reported on the workshop in its July 23rd, 2015 issue. While a link to the article is not available, the article has been reproduced below.

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Institute, US college, unite to defeat pest

By Filbert Rweyemamu, The Citizen Correspondent

Arusha. Tropical Pesticide Research Institute (TPRI) is collaborating with experts from Virginia Tech in the US to deal with Tuta absoluta, a tiny moth that is threatening to wipe out production of tomatoes in the country.

The tomato leaf miner is an invasive pest first spotted in October, last year, at Ngarenanyuki area in Arumeru District, Arusha Region.

Besides tomatoes, the pest also attacks other crops from the same family of solanaceous including potatoes, pepper, eggplant, and a favourite vegetable for Arusha and its environs popularly known as mnafu.

Dr. Epiphania Kimaro, the TPRI director general, said the pest could destroy between 80 and 100 percent of a tomato farmer’s yield and that it could spread through twigs of the plant, and by flying to other areas, or hiding in tomatoes that are already in the market.

TPRI and Virginia Tech are under the auspices of the US Agency for International Development-funded Integrated Pest Management Control programme employing pheromone traps, biological, and plant-based insecticides, and the pest’s own natural enemies for the fight against the moth.

Virginia Tech’s presence is felt in three African countries, namely Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, professor Muni Muniappan from the Polytechnic Institute and State University said.

Mr. Maneno Chidege, the coordinator of the research on the moth, said: “TPRI has received reports from various parts of the country on the invasion of the pest and that deliberate measures against it ought to be taken.”

The researchers were speaking during a workshop which attracted agricultural officers and extensionists from Babati in Manyara Region, Hai in Kilimanjaro Region, Arumeru in Arusha Region, and the city-based Selian Agricultural Research Institute, among others.

A smallholder farmer at the Ngarenanyuki, where the crop is grown four times annually, producing over 26,000 tonnes a season, and about 104,000 a year, complained over the pest for robbing him of his tomato harvest toward the end of last year.

The moth, which the African Insect Science for Food and Health expert, Dr. Brigitte Nyambo, said must have penetrated into the area much earlier than last October when it was first spotted, had already spread to Kilimanjaro, Manyara, Morogoro, and Tanga regions then.

According to the Tanzania Horticulture Association (Taha) executive director Jacqueline Mkindi, about 45,000 smallholder farmers engage in the production of fruits, vegetables and tomatoes in the affected regions.

“The more we delay to act, the more the pest spreads, devastating the crop at the expense of poor farmers,” Ms. Mkindi said.

Ms. Mkindi said an appropriate management plan for suppressing the pest was required and that Taha was in collaboration with other stakeholders carrying out pest management control trials in the Northern Zone.

MORE INFO: TUTA ABSOLUTA PEST Tuta absoluta is a species of moth in family Gelechiidae known by the common names tomato leafminer and South American tomato moth. The larva feeds voraciously upon tomato plants, producing large galleries in leaves, burrowing in stalks, and consuming apical buds and green and ripe fruits. It is capable of causing a yield loss of 100 percent.

article in The Citizen

See article in: www.oired.vt.edu/ipmil/ipm-research-featured-in-Tanzania-newspaper/

Article in The Citizen, July 23, 2015


Tanzania tomato price soars

28th February 2015

Tomato prices in the country have soared by 375 percent in just a month, pushing the commodity beyond the reach of majority poor folks due to scarcity of the product resulting from tomato leaf miner pest outbreak.

The pest (Scientifically known as Tuta absoluta) that first hit the horticulture sector at Ngarenanyuki area on the slopes of Mount Meru mid-2014 and later spread to Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Manyara Regions have led to the price of a carton of tomatoes hovering at Sh60,000 ($35.3), up from Sh16,000 ($9.4) in January 2015.
Michael Barnaba, a tomato grower at Ngarenanyuki said the infestation had cut the harvests by more than 80 per cent with only a fifth of the harvest being realised in the last season at his farm.
He said Ngarenanyuki growers, where the crop is grown four times a year, producing over 26,000 tonnes per season and about 104,000 tonnes a year have so far opted to grow other crops.
Meru District Council trade officer Nuru Mollel said, the pests will affect production and income to both farmers and the government because tomatoes grown in the area were consumed locally in the major cities but also exported to Kenya and other Europe markets.
Experts in the sector have repeatedly warned that should the pest continue devastating tomatoes, the country stands to lose nearly Sh300 billion ($176.5 million) in export this year alone.
They say, in the worst cases, the pest infestation could lead to 100 per cent loss of the crop, as it  was feeding on different kinds of crops (highly polyphagous ) and could attack a wide range of (solanaceaous) crops sharing a family with tomato including potatoes, brinjals, and Mnafu.
Dr Brigitte Nyambo from African Insect Science for Food and Health said the disease which was first reported in the northern Tanzania’s, have spread to the coast regions in Tanga and Morogoro.
According to him, an estimated 45,000 smallholder farmers in Arusha, Manyara, Kilimanjaro and Tanga Regions are engaged in the production of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes.
The recent survey by Tanzania Agriculture Sample Census indicates that tomato growers are producing 518,312 metric tonnes per year, representing 51 per cent of the total fruit and vegetable production.
Contacted for comment on the spread of the disease, the Tanzania Horticultural Association (TAHA)’Chief Executive Officer, Jacqueline Mkindi said her association had financed the survey whose scientific findings it shared with the government for a joint pest control plan.
 “Basing on information from tomato growers, the pest, which does not respond to existing control measures, is new to the areas,” she said.
Ms Mkindi said concerted efforts to identify an appropriate management plan are required in curbing the pest, as survey show the damage arising from the disease is considerably high.
She also blamed the government and stakeholders for the delays in controlling the pest since it was first reported mid last year.
Vivian Munisi a trader at Arusha central market said there has been a high demand of tomatoes since January this year because of low production resulting from tomato leaf miner destruction, saying the prices are expected to rise even more.
Tertius Luanda, a farmer from Morogoro region said as of Wednesday, the tomato farm gate prices in the region stood at Tsh50,000 ($29.41) per carton, up from Tsh5,000 ($3) before the pest struck.
Esther Urassa, a tomato consumer in the region says she is compelled to skip tomato in some meals due to spiraled prices.
As of last week, the government was still tight-lipped over the control measures, as Magole farm, the biggest commercial producer of tomato based in Morogoro counting loses following the pest destruction to its 14 hectares.
 “We have lost nearly 1,000 metric tonnes of tomato worth Tsh700 million ($411,764),” the Assistant Farm Manager, James Murege said.
Tomato leaf miner is an invasive foreign pest from South America to affect the country since independence and is so far threatening to wipe out the country’s crop dubbed ‘red gold’.


By Kim Kaplan
July 30, 2015

Escherichia coli O157:H7, a bacterium that causes foodborne illness in humans, is more likely to contaminate lettuce when downy mildew is already present, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

Downy mildew, a lettuce disease caused by the fungus-like water mold Bremia lactucae, is one of the biggest problems that lettuce growers must deal with.

But microbiologist Maria Brandl, with the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit in Albany, California, has been investigating why so many E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks can be traced back to lettuce fields when E. coli O157:H7 sources are as diverse as undercooked beef, sprouts, raw dairy, shelled walnuts, fruits and vegetables. ARS is USDA’s chief in-house research agency.

Lettuce leaves are actually a harsh place for microbes to survive. But the epidemiological evidence is indisputable about how often lettuce is the source of E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

In earlier research, Brandl found that E. coli O157:H7 preferred cut, injured and younger leaves to undamaged and older ones. Then, she collaborated with ARS geneticist and lettuce breeder Ivan Simko from the Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit in Salinas, California.

They found that under warm temperature and on wet leaves, E. coli O157:H7 multiplied 1,000-fold more in downy mildew lesions than on healthy lettuce leaf tissue. Even on dry lettuce leaves, where most bacteria struggle to survive, E. coli O157:H7 persisted in greater numbers when downy mildew disease was present.

The researchers also found that E. coli O157:H7 did not grow as well in downy mildew lesions on the lettuce line RH08-0464, bred by Simko and a colleague to be less susceptible to the lettuce disease, as the bacteria did on Triple Threat, a commercial variety that is highly susceptible to downy mildew.

The exact factors that caused less growth of E. coli O157:H7 in the more resistant line still need to be carefully explored. But if a genetic hurdle to E. coli O157:H7 colonization could be bred into commercial lettuce varieties along with downy mildew resistance, it would add a new defensive line to contamination of lettuce, helping farmers to improve the microbial safety of their crop as well as control their number-one plant disease problem.

Read more about this research in the July 2015 issue of AgResearch magazine.


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