By Clint Thompson
Florida vegetable farmers are struggling to manage high whitefly pressure amid trying to produce this year’s crop. According to the South Florida Vegetable Pest and Disease Hotline, tomato growers in central Florida are really struggling with heavy whitefly pressure.
It noted, “Some growers have already experienced whitefly and virus issues in spring crops and have pulled up entire first plantings due to very high incidence of Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus. Respondents indicate that whiteflies are also increasing in melons. Whitefly pressure is also high in green beans.”
Around Southwest Florida, in the Immokalee, Florida area, pressure has been extreme for the acreage that remains to be harvested. These include for watermelons and other cucurbits.
On the east coast, respondents report that whitefly have become out of control in many tomato and eggplant fields. They’re also high in cucumber and pepper.
The South Florida Vegetable Pest and Disease Hotline is in its 23rd year and reaches more than 1500 individuals and businesses and covers more than 120,000 acres representing all major South Florida vegetable production areas.
Already in Georgia
Whiteflies are already a concern in Georgia. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension vegetable specialist Stormy Sparks confirmed the pest has been observed in vegetables in the South Georgia area.
The mild winter is a key reason why whiteflies are already a problem. While colder temperatures don’t eliminate whiteflies, they do kill many of their wild hosts. They also slow population development in cultivated hosts. Warmer temperatures this winter allowed for larger whitefly populations to overwinter and become mobile earlier.
Whiteflies cause feeding injury issues in vegetables and transmit two viruses: cucurbit leaf crumple virus and cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus. Vegetables like squash, zucchini, cucumber, cantaloupe and snap beans are highly susceptible to these viruses. Commercial cultivars that have resistance or tolerance to these pathogens are not available.
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For additional information about whiteflies, see UGA CAES News.