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A virus is wiping out Utah's tomato harvest

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SPRINGVILLE — A virus is wiping out large portions of tomato crops in Utah farms.

According to the Utah Farm Bureau, it's impacting tomatoes grown all over the state and could make them scarce at some farmer's markets.

Farmer Jake Harward said it's his worst harvest in 20 years of growing tomatoes.

"Normally this plant would be, you know, up to the top of these stakes," Harward demonstrated. "And the problem is we've put all the expense into laying the plastic, putting the irrigation lines down. We stake our tomatoes up to trellis them."

Costs that are now in the ground at this Utah County farm are gone. So is about 90% of his crop, all lost to disease.

The curly top virus is the suspected culprit, likely spread by a fly-like bug called the beat leafhopper.

And that's not the only factor. "Probably the roots just, you can see they don't really have anything going on here," he said. Dry and brittle plants were likely affected by the cooler spring.

"A lot of the disease that we have is from the soil. It's a root-borne disease that happens when you plant in cold soils," he explained.

All of that has added up to about 18,000 plants that Harwood said can't be saved.

"Yeah, it's hard to drive by the field, because normally, you know, the field is full and loaded with tomatoes and we were picking hundreds of boxes every day and now we're picking 30 or 40 a day if we're lucky," the farmer said.

But to keep customers happy with orders and to make sure they can find tomatoes at their stands, he said they've resorted to buying from other farmers out of state. He's heard from other growers that are doing the same.

"We're just doing mostly to have some tomatoes for people. It's not a big moneymaker for sure," he added.

It's making for smaller profit margins. Luckily other crops turned out well, but Harward said between obstacles like this, the drought, and the pandemic it's been hard.

"It's always something. You're dealing with Mother Nature and farming and being out here and trying to do the best you can."

Just one more challenge to add to the many that come with this life.

"It's a pretty big hit financially. But that the risk of farming I guess is, you know, sometimes you lose and sometimes you win," he said.

According to USU Horticulture expert Taun Beddes, a large number of plants may have been affected by different route funguses that came as a result of a cool spring, followed by an early summer.

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Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson often doubles as his own photographer, shooting and editing most of his stories. He came to KSL in April 2011 after working for several years at various broadcast news outlets.


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