[tomato] [Fwd: No Tomatoes in 1998?]

Tue, 01 Apr 1997 12:43:06 -0800

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Date: Tue, 1 Apr 1997 10:22:25 -0800 (PST)
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From: Robert Beer <bbeer@u.washington.edu>
To: Medit-Plants@ucdavis.edu
Subject: No Tomatoes in 1998?
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People who like to grow their own tomatoes and peppers had better enjoy
them this year, because next year, the seed may not be available on the
racks. This is the latest strategy in the long running attempt by
Department of Agriculture scientists to eradicate, or at least control,
certain new plant viruses that cause enormous economic losses each year to
commercial factory farms across the country.

Last year alone, the most troublesome of the viruses, tomato wilt virus,
caused nearly one third of the tomato crop in California to produce at a
level dramatically below average, and unless drastic measures are taken,
the farming corporations will not be able to survive. The virus can
remain active in the soil for several years, so crop rotation is
insufficient to destroy it. The current method is to sterilize the soil
with a deep steam treatment, which though effective, is expensive, as it
needs to be repeated due to repeated re-infections from home gardeners
crops. Home gardeners typically do not have the money or resources to
perform soil sterilization on such a scale, and many are reluctant to do
so because of concerns about soil ecology. Therefore the only course is
to keep host plants from being planted so that the virus can die out on
its own. This process takes from five to ten years.

The bans will affect all the solanaceous crops; that is, plants in the
nightshade family. This includes tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, peppers,
and eggplant. Several more obscure food plants will also be affected by
the ban, including "garden huckleberry," and goldenberry, also known as
ground cherry. Ornamentals would also be affected, such as Datura and
Brugmansia, Morning Glory (Ipomea and Convolvulus species). A full list
of forbidden species will be issued later this year.

The ban is sure to elicit widespread outrage from gardeners around the
country, being decried as draconian. There is also serious doubt on the
part of many horticulturists/agricultural scientists as to the
effectiveness of the measure, especially as Canada and Mexico are unlikely
to consider such a ban. Chief USDA Phytosanitation officer Melvin
Dremper, however, is optimistic that the ban will do some good. "There
will be some resistance," said Dremper, "and thats understandable; but I
believe in the long run gardeners will appreciate the result. It should
take only about ten years to eradicate the virus, and when this is done,
they wont have to be concerned with it any more. As for Canada and
Mexico; Im fairly confident that they will follow suit when they see the
positive results in the U.S."

Those concerned about the culinary effects of the ban neednt worry;
commercially-grown tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant will remain on the
market as the commercial farms will raise them in sterilized soil.
Dremper noted that "...there are so many other good food plants available,
and we will encourage people to grow them instead. Parsley, for example,
is an under-used vegetable."

There is concern that many people will ignore the rulings and plant
tomatoes using saved seed or left-over seed from past years. Because of
this, the U.S.D.A. has received several million in federal funding to
train dogs to recognize the odor of tomato plants. Dremper commented,
"Tomato plants have such a powerful and distinctive smell, that the dogs
are able to recognize and locate plants at nearly half a miles distance.
Those who are considering growing the banned plants should keep this in
mind. Indeed they should; the fine for possession of home-grown
solanaceous plants will be $500 per plant, which should deter even the
most dyed-in-the-wool vegetable gardener.