A virus in the seedlings imported from Israel is posing a great threat to the tomato cultivation of southern Turkey's Antalya province. The "Israeli virus" that kills all yields is spreading rapidly among tomato seedlings. Experts believe all tomato production could end within three years if necessary precautions are not taken.
Tomato producers in Antalya – Turkey's leading city in greenhouse cultivation – accustomed to finding solutions to various diseases that emerge during every season are fighting a new kind of virus this year. The disease, which is being called the "Israeli virus" because it is seen in tomato seedlings imported from Israel, does not show symptoms until the seedlings grow and start giving fruit.
In the harvest period, the seedlings darken and rot from the top, while the tomatoes rot from the inside and turn brown. The decaying of the product before it matures causes great yield loss.
According to agricultural engineer Abdülhamit Yeter, the Israeli virus is as dangerous as the coronavirus for plants.
"We call this virus 'the tomato corona.' It's a very sneaky virus, it entered our country with seeds and seedlings from Israel. It has spread everywhere with the processes carried out in the greenhouse. Israel had a very difficult time five years ago due to this virus. At that time, Israel could not produce anything, then they imported all tomato seedlings," he said.
Producers fear that the disease could already have infected the majority of the crops as it spreads really fast due to pollination. Only limited options are available for producers wishing to save their crop from the disease.
The diseased plant has to be taken out of the greenhouse and destroyed while ensuring that it does not come into contact with the healthy plants. The soil has to be disinfected afterward with special drugs. The greenhouses, where the disease is detected, as in the coronavirus, are quarantined for 14 days, fully medicated, and the products are destroyed.
"The disease is currently in the initial phase, but if it goes like this, we will not be able to find any tomatoes in three years," Yeter added.
Fresh fruits and vegetables produced in Antalya are exported to more than 40 countries.
Tomatoes constitute the majority of these products consumed in the domestic market. Different types of tomatoes constitute approximately two-thirds of the vegetable production in the city.
According to the Antalya Directorate of Agriculture and Forestry, 2.5 million tons of tomatoes were produced in the city in 2019.