Italy: New Delhi virus affecting courgettes

The courgette campaign is in full swing in south-eastern Sicily, though the New Delhi Virus (Tolcndv), spread by vector Bemisia tabaci, is destroying production.

Open-field courgettes. Signs of the New Delhi virus are visible in the foreground.

We talked to Patrizia Calabrasa, manager of a well-known producer company in the Ragusa province, for an assessment as regards the campaign.

Patrizia Calabrese

"Problems started two years ago. Until then, we produced considerable quantities in our area. Nowadays, however, we are witnessing a drastic reduction of cultivated areas. Courgette producers who planted in open fields had to deal with significant damage. Polytunnel crops are slightly increasing."

Courgette polytunnels. Unofficial sources report that 500 hectares (open fields) used to be dedicated to courgette crops before the arrival of the virus, while now there are less than 100 hectares.

The biggest problem when managing this virus is the fact that the fly infects plants throughout its life cycle and passes on the virus to its progeny, thus becoming an unstoppable vector, especially in the warm Sicilian autumn. The more structured companies have already been organising themselves to tackle this situation.

Above: non-woven tissue over courgette plants in polytunnels.

"The fly cannot be controlled in open fields, so we have developed new agronomic techniques to protect plants. We placed them under non-woven tissue and added anti-insect nets on the ventilation holes in plastic films."

These operations require a lot of materials and work, but they are necessary to contain the problem as treatments alone are insufficient.

Above: nets covering ventilation holes are visible one the left and right.

"Results seem encouraging. Crops are healthy and the percentage of plants showing damage caused by the virus is less than 2%."

"The danger will only be avoided when plants are fully grown, i.e. when the weather gets colder and flies become less active. We are learning how to tackle a relatively new problem unknown to us until a few years ago. Because of the virus, we had to postpone the campaign, which has practically just started despite the fact that demand was already lively one month ago. The average price is currently €1.20/kg."

Peppers have also become available and are less affected by the virus. All the produce grown in south-eastern Sicily is sold on the domestic market, while 60% of courgettes are destined to the European market and mainly to France and Germany.

"Produce grown in greenhouses will be available after those grown in polytunnels and the campaign will continue until June 2018. Quality should be good despite the delay."

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