Tobacco Thrips Infestation Can Result in Spotted Wilt Virus in Tobacco

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch
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Over the last few years, it has seemed like thrips have been making greater headway on tobacco in the southern part of Sampson County. For some reason with the weather and life cycle of thrips, these small insects have really gorged out this season in many fields of tobacco. This is becoming one of the forefront issues in tobacco, along with black shank disease.

Thrips is an insect that feeds on lush healthy nutrient enriched tobacco plants. Tobacco is not the only plant species they feed on. From a crop standpoint, they desire the foliage of peanut plants as well. The thrips larvae feed on infected plants and once they mature they move on to more desirable plant material such as tobacco, which is one of Sampson County’s largest crops. Tobacco thrips is the vector of tomato spotted wilt virus or commonly referred to as TSWV.

TSWV can affect the marketable quality of the tobacco leaf, uniformity throughout a field, thus causing a loss in yield and unmarketable leaf. In severe infestations, complete plant death can occur. Researchers have worked to find ways to help manage tobacco thrips; however, have been unsuccessful at finding a complete control for this issue.

An internet tool, The TSWV and Thrips Exposure Tool for Tobacco was developed and uses data to predict thrips flights. The purpose of this tool is to help guide growers in decision making regarding the best optimum time to make management applications for thrips. This tool uses temperature and rainfall data in an effort to predict the seasonal thrips flight. The ultimate goal is to minimize the thrips exposure to tobacco plants.

Any grower who uses this tool, just has to enter a field location, type of tobacco grown, estimated transplant date, and any protective greenhouse treatments that will be made. From what the grower enters, will help to predict if a thrips flight will take place within two weeks and also provide some possible management options. This tool is as only good as the forecast data availability, which is why it can only provide a prediction two weeks out. TSWV has also been reported in other counties as well, with varying severity.