Tobacco Plant Virus Spreading To Connecticut

A tobacco plant virus is spreading into Connecticut from Massachusetts, the latest malady from the chilly, sodden summer that is ruining everything from vine ripe tomatoes to early corn.

“This has been one miserable growing season, with the constant rain and humidity,” said Steven Reviczky, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau.

In Massachusetts, many tobacco farmers are giving up and plowing their fields under after at least four tobacco viruses emerged in the area. One of them, the tobacco etch virus, is believed to have spread from nearby potato crops, which are also suffering from a variety of diseases.

“It got to be more lucrative to grow potatoes again and the Massachusetts guys were equipped for it. They have done it in the past,” said Steve Jarmoc, an Enfield tobacco grower.

But many diseases can be passed between tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco, and the etch virus, which is spread by aphids, jumped between the crops.

“Massachusetts was hurt very bad and they are finding it in some Connecticut fields,” said Jarmoc, whose own tobacco crop has miraculously escaped severe damage.

“It’s not skill, it’s just luck,” said Jarmoc, who grows about 200 acres of tobacco. “I always joke that as a farmer, it doesn’t hurt to go to church.”

But Jarmoc’s 13-year-old son Owen Jarmoc, who has taken responsibility for farming vegetables on Jarmoc Farms, was not so fortunate. The cooler temperatures meant that his early corn crop did not do well and late blight struck his tomatoes.

“It’s a learning experience for him,” said Jarmoc. “Maybe not a good one, but it’s learning.”

The fields where Jarmoc grows his tobacco have a light, sandy soil, which may have offered protection in this summer of blights. Constant rainfall can splash some viruses, like brown spot, from the soil to the leaves, and sodden ground will stunt the plants’ growth because the roots get waterlogged.

Tobacco plants must have unblemished leaves to be suitable for cigar wrappers, which is why viruses that cause spotted foliage are a disaster for growers, said Todd Mervosh, an assistant scientist for the Connecticut Agricultural Research Station in Windsor.

“Tobacco is almost considered an ornamental,” Mervosh said.

The news isn’t all bad. While the corn crop is behind schedule, and the late blight disease hurt tomato and potato growers, leafy green vegetables are doing very well, said Linda Piotrowicz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.

And the state’s blueberry crop is experiencing something like a bonanza.

“It is a fabulous year for blueberries. They are big and heavy-set,” Piotrowicz said. “Blueberries like moisture.”

Copyright © August 17, 2009, The Hartford Courant

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