A fungus called Basil downy mildew is rapidly spreading throughout basil crops all over the country. Though the fungus is not known to negatively effect human health, it does turn basil an unnatural yellow color with a occasional brownish-black mold appearing later on.
This particular type of fungus was first seen in the United States back in 2007. It has been spreading with increasing speed ever since. Today crops on the East Coast have been hit the hardest, and the fungus has been found infecting plants as far west as California.
Some farmers are being harder hit than others. Large industrial farmers have access to different types of fungicides that can stave off the fungus, but organic and small farms have less ability to prevent the disease.
Francesco DeBaggio of DeBaggio’s Herb Farm in Virginia reported that he killed about $18,000 worth of plants since May, reported FoodManufacturing.com. “It’s huge for us,” he said. “We’re so small it’s fairly significant. We would have sold 100 percent of those that were destroyed.”
Margaret McGrath, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, suggests planting herbs in areas that receive the most sunlight, and spacing plants apart from each other to minimize spreading of the fungus. Experts have also suggested planting varieties of basil that are more resistant to the fungus, including many darker leaf varieties.
Basil is an important ingredient in a number of different types of food, including Italian and Thai food.
Though the fungus does not harm human health, it severely effects sales.
DeBaggio has decided against trying to grow Basil again this year. “We’re just not going to take any chances,” he said. “To have another season like this, that would put us out of business. We couldn’t survive that again. Once you ruin your reputation, you can’t get it back.”