Plant scientists are asking home gardeners in the region to check their tomato plants for a disease that could wipe out much of this year's crop.
In spite of its name, late blight has appeared early in the tomato growing season, which runs from April to October, and threatens not just homegrown fruit but commercial crops, said Jerry Brust, an expert on vegetable pests at the University of Maryland's cooperative extension service.
If the disease takes hold, consumers might see "a little less quantity and a higher price" for tomatoes as growers spend extra on fungal sprays, said Meg McGrath, a plant pathologist at Cornell University. So far, outbreaks have been sporadic but spread over a wide geographic area, with infected plants reported from South Carolina to Maine and west to Ohio. Late blight is the same fungal disease that wiped out potato crops in Ireland in the 1840s, leading to the infamous potato famine.