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Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Friday, 27 August 2010 16:10 UK
Tomato industry faces new threat from foreign pest
Tomatoes on the vine
Guernsey tomato growers have turned to speciality varieties

A caterpillar measuring no more than 5mm could spell the end for a once dominant Guernsey industry.

The export of tomatoes once employed thousands of islanders and led to much of Guernsey being under glasshouses.

However, in the summer of 2010, a government department voiced concern about a potentially devastating pest: the Tomato Leaf Miner.

Exporter Robert Plumley told BBC Guernsey he feared for the trade, should the insect arrive via imports.

He said: "This is a non-indigenous pest and there's absolutely no reason why we should allow it to be established in Guernsey."

The island's Commerce and Employment Department announced in August 2010 its intention to put before the States of Guernsey a proposal to limit imports from Spain and Morocco, where the Leaf Miner, or "Tuta Absoluta" has been found.

The insect mines into the leaf of the tomato plant and breaks down its tissue. It also bores tiny holes in the fruit, causing any affected produce to be rejected by supermarkets.

Growers harvesting tomatoes
Guernsey once provided the UK with 15% of its tomatoes.

Mr Plumley is particularly concerned about the threat of infestation because he believes the insect would be impossible to control without undermining recent developments in growing techniques.

He said: "If it takes hold, then there are three chemical control options for this pest, but if you go down the chemical control route, then you're disrupting the integrated pest management programme we're following."

Guernsey growers now avoid using chemicals where possible and instead make use of natural solutions. The species macrolophus is used to control whitefly, for example, and other insects such as bees and wasps are also employed.

The attempt to get away from chemical solutions reflects a wider economic aim to specialise in niche markets.

'Sunset industry'

Whereas Guernsey once boasted 1,100 growers who provided the UK with 15% of its round tomatoes, there are now just five exporters sending minor quantities.

Guernsey growers are no longer able to compete with some European exporters who have been receiving subsidies ever since the severe oil price increases of the 1970s. So instead, the island has turned to more highly valued varieties, such as midi-plum, small plum and vine tomatoes.

Mr Plumley explained: "With these smaller speciality tomatoes we can get approaching a £1,000 worth of produce on a pallet."

This means the considerable transport costs form a lesser percentage of turnover. However, despite such innovations Mr Plumley said he believed the tradition of growing tomatoes in Guernsey was destined to disappear.

"I think we're a sunset industry," he said. "The tomato trade will cease in terms of exports from Guernsey."

Move to ban some tomato imports
20 Aug 10 |  Guernsey
Grower's concern over minimum pay
29 Sep 09 |  Guernsey



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