Blight Affecting Tomato Plants Across The State

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Months of watering, weeding and waiting and Harry Huntoon is left with a garden full of tomatoes he can't use, thanks to a blight that wiped out his crop.

"Took two, three days before it really took effect then all the plants went down and the tomatoes started getting blotches on them," Huntoon said.

The disease is called late blight, it typically affects potato plants but can move through air currents to tomatoes if the conditions are right.

"It's the cool temps, it's the abundant rainfall, it's these dark overcast days, the fog and the extended dew periods," said Mary Hausbeck,
Professor and Extension Specialist at Michigan State University. "A water mold likes its water and it had plenty of it this year."

That's why the disease is widespread across the state, with 14 counties reporting cases of it including Clinton and Ingham.

Dark spots on the plant's leaves are the first sign of the blight, which quickly spreads to the tomatoes.

"You can think that my tomato plant has become blighted almost overnight," said Hausbeck, who works in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. "It can seem that way because it can move very, very rapidly."

Food safety experts warn that once a tomato has the blight it should not be eaten or canned.

The best way to prevent the blight is treating with fungicides early in the season, but once a plant has it there's not much that can be done

"The situations that I have seen are pretty far gone and in that case I suggest pick the fruit that still appears healthy, pick your fruit that will ripen inside the house," Hausbeck added.

Now Huntoon is left with a garden full of tomatoes that won't ever make it inside a can.

"I'm going to pull them all up and put them in a bag and they're going to a landfill," he said.

The blight is mainly happening in backyard gardens since commercial farmers treat their crops with strong fungicides at the beginning of the season.

Hausbeck says affected plants should never be composted, just throw them away.