Had California’s 2013 tomato crop not been hit so hard by the Beet curly top virus (BCTV) it could have been a banner year for growers. The drought and water challenges for 2014 could prove interesting as tomato processors say they will contract for a record 13.5 million tons in the coming season.

Bob Gilbertson, plant pathologist with the University of California, Davis, estimates last year’s tomato crop was reduced by about a million tons because of BCTV, which is vectored by the Beet leafhopper.

The disease “is perplexing to work on,” Gilbertson told growers and industry officials at the California Tomato Growers Association (CTGA) annual meeting in Modesto in late January.

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BCTV is one of several diseases affecting processing tomatoes in California, but is the only one Gilbertson says is transmitted by the leafhopper. Aphids, thrips and whiteflies still transmit more diseases in tomatoes.

Combating the Beet leafhopper in California is not easy, Gilbertson said.

Leafhoppers tend to migrate quickly. Even though tomatoes are not a favorable host for the pest, they can stop just long enough to quickly feed and transmit the disease with great efficiency through phloem feeding.

“This is one of the challenges, because growers will come into their field and not see any leafhoppers in their fields,” Gilbertson said. “It’s because the leafhopper has come down, landed in the field, fed briefly and moved on,” he said.