Tomato growers and their consultants are tickled about the progress of this year’s processing tomato crop.

Processing tomatoes in the Central Valley showed good stands and great yield potential. Planting was expected to continue through May, and sources said more and more of the crop this year is being planted with transplants.

Statewide, contracted production is forecast at 12 million tons in 2007, up about 20 percent from 2006. Planted acreage was estimated at about 305,000 acres in California, a 10 percent increase from the contracted area planted in 2006.

Warm weather was inflating thrips pressures this year and PCAs were keeping an eye on those pest populations in light of last year’s increase in thrips-vectored spotted wilt virus.

Tomato spotted wilt virus plagued California processing tomato fields in 2006, mostly on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, and University of California researchers are busy forging IPM strategies to manage it.

Michelle LeStrange, UCCE farm advisor for Tulare and Kings counties, says she and others are evaluating controls of host plants that support the virus or its thrips vectors, direct controls of thrips themselves, use of resistant tomato varieties, and combinations of the above.

“We have seen it here and there in fields for the past few years, but incidence of the virus is becoming more severe,” she said. “We want to find out where it’s hanging out and what its reservoirs are, whether in weeds, or annual or perennial crops.”

The virus is detected on tomatoes as bronzing of young foliage that later develops into necrotic spots. The leaves may cup downward, and some dieback may be seen. On ripe fruit, it causes chlorotic spots and blotches, often with concentric rings.

Further north, UCCE Farm Advisor Gene Miyao reported that Sacramento Valley processing tomatoes were also showing strong stands from an early planting and harvest.

“There’s been some early planting because of generally good weather and not a lot of rainfall into the early spring. Direct seeded stuff was started in early to late February and early March followed by transplants in mid-March,” Miyao said.

With warm weather and high moisture conditions, however, weeds were growing fast in tomato fields and pressures were reportedly above normal, though consultants there were reporting very little bacterial speck or spot or other moisture related early spring time diseases. Miyao said there is some ground beetle activity and wireworm feeding on seedling tomatoes.