Salinas Valley crop disease causing lettuce shortage

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Inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain problems have caused the prices of common commodities to skyrocket. But if you’ve noticed that the price of lettuce at Bay Area grocers has also gone up, it’s actually for a completely different reason.

A new crop disease has hit the Salinas Valley, an area that accounts for more than half of the nation’s lettuce and is worth more than $1 billion, according to the East Bay Times. It has shown limited success, and organic crops cannot by law use chemical sprays.

The disease is known as impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV) and is primarily spread by insects known as thrips. These millimeter-long creatures can travel from an already infected host plant to other crops, spreading the disease, according to the Central California Growers and Shippers Association, which warned about INSV in November.

According to the association, INSV-infected plants show dark spots and yellowing, resembling the natural effects of sunburn on the leaves. Withers or completely collapses.

The sharp rise in INSV that has existed since 2006 may be related to climate change.

“In 2022, disease pressure was exacerbated by a stretch of unseasonably warm weather that caused prolonged stress on plants, making lettuce more susceptible to disease,” the association wrote.

Richard Smith, a vegetable researcher at the University of California Cooperative Extension in Monterey County, echoed these sentiments.

“Could global warming have something to do with this?” Smith told the East Bay Times.


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