U.S. crops are being wiped out by the Irish famine blight which is now being called an epidemic in the Northeast.
The virus, which largely affects tomatoes and potatoes, has become so powerful that the Northeast Organic Farming Association has labeled it an epidemic.
The group called an emergency meeting on Sunday in Massachussetts to discuss farmers’ and gardeners’ concerns about the disease.
It’s theorized that the spread of the destructive “late blight,” the same virus responsible for Ireland’s Great Famine, first showed up in seedlings shipped to megastores around the northeast, including Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot and K-mart.
Home gardeners purchased the infected seeds, and the disease quickly spread to farms in the area.
The stores have since issued a $1 million recall of possibly infected tomato plants.
The famine disease first showed up in crops in Rhode Island, causing the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to warn all growers to be aware of the problem and use fungicides to counter it.
The destructive infection then hit other states such as New York, Ohio and now Massachusetts.
The fungus, Phytophthora infestans, is extremely dangerous because the spores are dispersed by the wind, potentially destroying nearby commercial crops.
Once the spores arrive, there is no way to prevent the spread of the disease.
Farmers lost entire crops to the blight, which has the telltale signs of brown spots on leaves and a white fungus growth under leaves after humid weather.
The “Irish famine” epidemic is especially causing a dilemma for organic growers who cannot use the copper fungicides needed to fight the blight.
Late blight caused the deaths of more than 1 million people in Ireland in the 19th century because it totally destroyed the potato crop. More than 1.5 million Irish emigrated in the worst case of famine seen in Europe.