“We’re seeing tomato spotted wilt virus levels up to 70 percent in some fields thisyear,” he said. “It’s not that severe in every field. But it’s doing more damage overmore fields over a greater area than in years past.” A virus causes this killer disease that can wipe out peanuts, tobacco, peppers andtomatoes. It’s hit all four crops hard this year. And Culbreath expects the damage tocontinue. “It’s the worst we’ve seen in Georgia,” said Albert Culbreath, a plant pathologist withthe UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. At the UGA Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, CAES horticulture researcherSharad Phatak has found another way to help fight the virus. The reduction isn’t a direct result of conservation tillage. It’s an indirect way to preventthe disease. But it works. Phatak found conservation tillage leads to better quality in peanuts, too. “When the virus hits this hard, as early in the season as it did this year, the impact isgreater than when it hits late, as it did in 1996,” he said. The crop residue provides a place for beneficial insects to live, Phatak said. Thoseinsects feast on insects, including thrips, that can cause damage and yield loss. But farmers can help prevent it next year. He tells farmers to plant resistant cultivars, plant when TSW is least likely to infect andplant a good population to set a good stand. Georgia farmers lost close to $75 million to TSW last year. Culbreath and othersexpect the damage to be greater this year. There’s no cure for TSW once plants are infected. And even some more resistantvarieties are infected, though not as bad as others. “It’s a matter of living with it forthis year,” Culbreath said. University of Georgia scientists are trying to help Georgia farmers stop a virus-bornedisease that has hit crops especially hard this year. John Baldwin, a CAES extension agronomist, said farmers have to workwholeheartedly to reduce TSW. “They have to use every tool available to keep it out oftheir fields,” he said. Baldwin said setting a good stand helps in several ways. Thrips, the insects that carrythe virus, don’t seem to invade thickly planted fields as much as those with fewerplants. And if they do, more plants can mean more yield overall, even if the yield isreduced by disease damage. “We found that in conservation tillage, where you have the residue of rye or wheat orother cover crops on the surface, you can see a reduction on 30 percent in (TSW)virus,” he said. Coffee County farmer Max Carter likes using no-till in his peanuts. “We’re seeing a lotof crop residue building up, making more organic matter in the soil,” he said. “Soilerosion is zero, too, and the water stays clean and clear.” The TSW reduction is only one of Phatak’s findings during six years of research inpeanuts and another 12 years in tomatoes and peppers. But it’s the most exciting tomany farmers.