Extension warns growers: Stopping blight before it starts

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FARMINGTON — The late blight scourge that devastated tomato and potato crops from Minnesota to Maine last summer could be back unless growers take precautions, agriculture experts are warning.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 26, in Lincoln Auditorium at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Roberts Learning Center, a presentation on preventing, identifying and responding to the disease will be made by agriculture professional Dave Fuller from the Franklin County office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

There is a $5 fee and pre-registration is required. Call 778-4650 to register or stop in the office at 138 Pleasant St. in Farmington. Fuller said at a similar workshop held in early April, 52 attended and people had to be turned away because of lack of space.

Late blight lives only on live plants and can overwinter on potatoes left in the ground or even in those kept in cold storage. A carrier spud will not necessarily show any sign of infection, Fuller warns.

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Last summer’s epidemic started with infected tomato plants sold at large retail stores. According to the Cooperative Extension’s publication on late blight found at http:extensionpubs.umext.maine.edu, conditions were right for it to spread.

Nighttime temperatures were in the 50s with daytime temperatures in the 70s, accompanied by rain, fog or heavy dew. The fungus spores, when released, are carried by the wind and can land and infect tomato or potato plants 40 miles away, according to the report.

“There are about 200,000 home gardeners in Maine and virtually every one grows tomatoes. My rough estimate is that the late blight caused at least a $1 million loss in the home garden market alone,” Fuller said in an interview.

He suggests people buy locally-grown tomato seedlings; only use certified, disease-free potatoes; and to destroy volunteer potato plants that sprout in the spring.

For information, call the Franklin County Cooperative Extension office at 778-4650.

Blight workshop offered at UMF

What: Workshop on identifying and preventing late blight on tomatoes and potatoes presented by Dave Fuller, agriculture professional in the Franklin County office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

When: 6:30 p.m., Monday, April 26, in Lincoln Auditorium at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Roberts Learning Center. Pre-registration required and a $5 fee is charged to cover the cost of the hand-outs. For information and to register, call 778-4650 or stop by the office at 138 Pleasant Street in Farmington.

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