The salad bowl of Lancashire could be under threat from a killer virus which has been detected at two county farms.
Lettuce growers have been urged to be alert for any signs of the aggressive infection in their crops.
The two cases are the first ever detected in the UK of the devastating lettuce Fusarium wilt, for which there is no known treatment.
It has already spread across parts of Asia, America and mainland Europe. Thre are concerns locally because in parts of the country, including West Lancashire, lettuces are a major glasshouse crop.
John Jackson, Managing Director at Seven Oaks Nurseries, in Hesketh Bank, near Preston has not been affected. But he warned the virus could have a major impact on growers’ livelihoods.
He said: “If the disease spreads significantly, we may be in a situation, as in Holland, where lettuce cannot be grown in the soil. This would put many growers in a very difficult situation, looking for alternative crops, most of which would need significant capital expenditure at a time when margins are already tight.”
He added: “Glasshouse lettuce growers are extremely concerned about the outbreak and their future as lettuce growers.
“In 40 years of growing lettuce, I have never had a disease that could not be controlled by chemical application, soil sterilisation and environmental control.”
Outdoor crops are less susceptible to the disease which can flourish in warmer conditions but at this time of year UK glasshouse growers have been put on alert.
Growers who suspect lettuce Fusarium wilt in their crops can send samples for a free of charge diagnosis to Dr John Clarkson at the University of Warwick as part of an AHDB review due to report back in February. See horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/lettuce-fusarium-wilt-and-root-rot for further information.
Plant Pathologist Tim O’Neill will give an advice talk in Lancashire on December 14 and tickets can be booked at horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/events