Agriculture Canada battles tomato blight on P.E.I.

Agriculture Canada has launched a campaign to encourage Prince Edward Islanders to grow blight-resistant tomatoes this summer.

Tomato blight is a threat to P.E.I.'s potato industry

Agriculture Canada has launched a campaign to encourage Prince Edward Islanders to grow blight-resistant tomatoes this summer.

Agriculture Canada research scientist Rick Peters is working to convince home gardeners on P.E.I. to only plant blight-resistant tomatoes. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A new aggressive strain of late blight devastated tomato crops last season.

"You've probably heard the last couple of years home gardeners saying I just can't grow tomatoes any more because of blight," Agriculture Canada research scientist Rick Peters told CBC News.

"This new strain is really aggressive on tomatoes."

Peters said even though the new strain – US 23 - primarily attacks tomatoes, it is also a concern for the province's billion dollar potato industry. Peters said some of the outbreaks of late blight in commercial potato crops can be traced to gardens where spores from infected plants were carried by the wind.

US 23 arrived in Canada three years, but struck gardeners on P.E.I. particularly hard last year.

Peters is speaking to garden clubs and industry groups this winter, encouraging them to grow blight resistant tomatoes this season. He's also handing out free packages of blight resistant seeds.

"We've tested all of these in our lab against US-23 and they've shows excellent resistance against this new strain," said Peters.

Peters said in the two years since US-23 has shown up on P.E.I, he has received more than 200 calls from gardeners looking for advice after losing their tomatoes to late blight.

Adam MacLean managed the Legacy Garden in Charlottetown last summer. Late blight was a big issue there, and everyone growing tomatoes had to pull out their plants. This season the legacy garden has new rules.

"The only varieties of tomatoes that would be permitted will be the blight resistant varieties," said MacLean.

A growing number of garden centres across P.E.I. say they will be selling more blight resistant tomato seedlings in 2015.

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