L.I. Tomatoes Facing Blight For 5th Straight Year

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It’s not exactly the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but a tomato blight threatening crops and gardens has once again been discovered on Long Island.

A Cornell University agriculture lab in Riverhead found evidence of mold spores on a sample of tomatoes sent in by a farm on the East End.

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The confirmation makes this the fifth year in a row a tomato blight has surfaced on Long Island.

“We are looking at the pathogen growing on these leaves,” Dr. Meg McGrath, a plant pathology professor at Cornell University, told CBS 2’s Dick Brennan on Monday. “This is a little later than past years, which suggests the pathogen has been wind-dispersed onto Long Island as opposed to having started here.”

The recent rainy conditions likely helped spawn the blight, McGrath said. She said it could be killed off by some hot, sunny days.

Detection of the tomato plant killer has some farmers anxious just as the local crop is beginning to ripen.

Jeff Rottkamp’s family has run a farmstand off Sound Avenue in Riverhead since the 1950s. He said he lost part of his crop last year to the tomato blight.

With this latest discovery, Rottkamp said he has no choice but to spray fungicide on his six-acre crop of tomatoes.

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“It is a devastating disease for those crops, so we have to be very cautious and we have to apply some crop protectants or we’ll lose our entire crop,” he told Brennan.

Dr. McGrath said she is studying different tomato plant types that are more resistant to the disease.

She added the public shouldn’t be too worried about any health threat.

“They’re not unsafe to eat if the tomato fruit itself is infected, but it’s going to break down very quickly,” she told Brennan.

However, some Suffolk County farmers who rely on their summer sales said they are worried about this year’s blight.

The pathogen can also infect potatoes. It’s believed it often begins in potatoes and spreads to other plants.

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