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New Mexico State University

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Chile Disease Succumbs to High Temperatures

LAS CRUCES -- Hot weather has halted the spread of an incurable plant disease that most recently attacked commercial chile fields, a New Mexico State University plant pathologist said.


Curly top virus is spread by a tiny insect called the beet leafhopper, which died off in large numbers as temperatures rose, said Natalie Goldberg with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.

"The good news, if you can call it that, is that curly top virus is about as bad now as it's going to get," Goldberg said.

Curly top symptoms include yellow, curled leaves and stiff, thickened stems that break with a snap. Infected plants produce a few dull, wrinkled peppers that ripen prematurely. Once plants are infected there is no treatment to help them recover.

Earlier this season, curly top swept through home and truck gardens, infecting tomatoes, eggplants, beans, squash and cucumbers, as well as chile.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of curly top, Goldberg said. "One thing you have to realize about curly top is that plants may not develop symptoms until four to six weeks after infection," Goldberg says. "The `new' cases of curly top we're seeing now actually started much earlier in the season."

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of Some chile growers say this year's outbreak of curly top is the worst since 1977. The disease is cyclical, peaking every 10 to 15 years when an especially cool spring follows a mild winter, Goldberg said.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of Curly top virus has subsided just in time for another chile disease to take its toll on the crop. Phytophthora root rot or chile wilt kills mature plants toward the end of the growing season, sometimes claiming up to 25 percent of the crop, Goldberg said.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of "Chile wilt will hit anytime after the summer rains start," Goldberg said. "We're seeing a little of it now from those early rains we had in July but you don't usually see a whole lot of it until early to mid-August. We had a light year last year, but we don't know how much wilt we'll have this year."

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of Chile wilt is at its worst when water stands in fields following summer thunderstorms and irrigation, Goldberg said.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of From the start, the 1995 chile crop has been plagued by diseases. Cool spring weather created a climate for seedling diseases known as "damping off," which took a toll on early stands of chile, Goldberg said.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of The same cool weather allowed leafhopper populations to build, setting the stage for the curly top virus outbreak.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of "Adding the losses from all three diseases, I think we could see anywhere from 10 to 50 percent crop loss, depending on location and the type of chile that's grown," Goldberg said.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of In southern New Mexico, chile prices at roadside stands have doubled after two years of record-setting yields that pushed prices down. A 40-pound bag of fresh green chile now sells for $20, compared with $10 last year.

Previously infected plants will continue to show symptoms of Even if there is less chile in 1995, the quality will still be high, Goldberg said. "Plants that are not diseased will produce fine chile," she said.