Growers who have received Red Fox brand petunia cuttings from the Dümmen Group’s Las Mercedes, El Salvador stock plant facility should inspect unrooted petunia cuttings and Red Fox petunia plants for any symptoms of tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). Since week 51, Dümmen has sent a series of four letters to customers, detailing incidences of TMV in select petunia mother plants. To find out what to look for and what you should do if you find symptoms, read “Scouting And Preventative Measures For Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) On Petunia.”
In a February 21 letter, the Dümmen Group announced it has been working with its broker partners and customers to identify, test and destroy infected Red Fox petunia cuttings shipped from Las Mercedes. As a result, Dümmen has determined the incidences of the virus exceeded the initial assessment and halted all shipments of Red Fox petunias from Las Mercedes. As of week 8, all supply comes from alternate clean locations.
The letter also announced the Dümmen Group will issue a credit to all North American customers who purchased Red Fox petunias sourced from Las Mercedes and shipped between weeks 51 and 7, regardless of whether cuttings have tested positive for the virus. The El Salvador facility produces more than 20 million Red Fox petunia cuttings annually. Growers should contact their brokers to learn more.
“We strive to grow world-class products of the highest quality and to safely deliver them to our customers,” the letter stated. “Our decision to continue shipping Red Fox petunias from El Salvador fell short of this commitment. We are extremely sorry and apologize for the disruption this has caused our broker partners and customers. Although we know that that the majority of Red Fox petunias were not infected, any incidence is unacceptable and inconsistent with our high standards of quality.”
TMV: How It Started
The Dümmen Group’s General Manager Perry Wismans told Greenhouse Grower that the problem originated at the company’s Las Mercedes facility in El Salvador in week 51, when Dümmen detected TMV in one particular variety, petunia ‘Sweetunia Johnny Flame,’ a bicolor petunia. At that point, Wismans says, Dümmen informed its customers and took the variety off the market. The mother plants were uprooted, along with mother plants in the beds adjacent to the diseased plants.
“Quite frankly, at that point, we thought we had the problem under control,” Wismans says. “We had informed our customers, uprooted the areas affected and moved forward.”
But in week 2, mother plants adjacent to where Dümmen had uprooted plants tested positive for TMV, so the protocol was repeated.
“We took the same steps but to a larger extent that we uprooted about 20 percent of our mother plants, which of course put a hole in our availability and we started to reallocate orders to our production partner, Cohen Nurseries in Israel, and our stock farm in Ethiopia, where we had availability of petunias,” Wismans says.
The plants from Cohen Nurseries, the Red Fox Ethiopia farm and Oro Farms Guatemala have all tested clean, he adds.
“After that, we were confident we had the situation under control [in El Salvador]. But it turned out we did not as we got reports that our customers were finding cuttings with TMV,” Wismans says. “At that point, by the end of week 7, we decided to stop shipping petunias 100 percent out of Las Mercedes and reallocate all production to Cohen Nurseries, Red Fox Ethiopia and Oro Farms Guatemala.”
Petunias account for about 15 percent of spring production at the Las Mercedes facility, where it produces more than 200 million cuttings of spring annuals, which are located in separate greenhouses. While petunia is a significant crop there, the facility continues to produce other spring annuals. By now, all petunias at the facility have been uprooted and destroyed, Wismans says.
Recommendations For Handling Red Fox Petunias From El Salvador
For any growers who still have unrooted Red Fox petunia cuttings that have been shipped from Dümmen’s Las Mercedes, El Salvador facility, Wismans says Dümmen recommends those cuttings be thrown away and that growers try to find new product, either unrooted or rooted cuttings. Dümmen and its broker partners will work with customers to do this.
“Now when people decide to destroy those cuttings on the rooting bench, they are sourcing on the market for rooted material with the help of the brokers, so what we do is help them in doing that,” Wismans says. “Dümmen has discussed with our broker partners how to deal with price differences.”
To growers who decide to continue with their Red Fox petunia cuttings from El Salvador, Dümmen recommends scouting and monitoring those plants for any evidence of TMV symptoms. See “Scouting And Preventative Measures For Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) On Petunia” for information on what symptoms to look for and how to scout for TMV, or visit Dümmen’s website for more information.
“Once a plant is affected, that plant cannot be cured,” Wismans says. “That’s why we say when you can and you have not transplanted it, we absolutely recommend that you throw those young plants away. However, sometimes people have already transplanted them and they’re in baskets. It’s not like 100 percent of our cuttings have TMV — the majority of the cuttings are not infected. And some of those plants are already close to finish. So then you want to go out and look at the plants and scout for those diseased plants and pick those out and throw them away and ship what is good.”
Because TMV is contagious and transfers through mechanical handling, the disease can spread to healthy cuttings. But the milk solution detailed in the handling protocol will isolate the virus particle and keep it from spreading. Dümmen recommends that growers who have already rooted their Red Fox petunias and plan to keep them and continue monitoring their crop should spray the milk solution when working with the crop, during spacing and other functions, Wismans says. The incubation period for the virus is such that if a finished plant does not show the symptoms, it most likely does not have the virus.
“That is more for the people who have decided they want to keep on going with the crop, who are further in the process,” Wismans says. “At this point, we are just in peak shipping, so most people are replacing their cuttings with healthy material, either cuttings or rooted liners.”
Dümmen Is Working To Prevent Future Outbreaks
“This is the first time a disease of this magnitude has hit our organization,” Wismans says. “You always think your protocols are good enough. They always worked in the past. Obviously now, in hindsight, they should have been different.”
The Dümmen Group is taking measures at its Las Mercedes facility to step up sanitary protocols and prevent future disease issues, including reducing the size of production compartments within each greenhouse, Wismans says.
“Our farm is very big with large compartments, which means if you have an infection in the compartment, it immediately has a large impact on the production,” he says. “Next year, the size of the existing compartment we have now will become eight different compartments. All of those compartments will be self-sufficient so they will have their own clothing, their own knives and their own disinfectant. Nothing will switch between those compartments. And further, we will establish these compartments with concrete floors so we can bring it to a much higher standard.”
Wismans says the Dümmen Group is sorry for any problems that the TMV issue has caused, and he hopes the Dümmen Group’s willingness to face the problem head on, communicate with customers and provide a general credit for all Red Fox petunia cuttings from El Salvador will help the industry through this challenge.
“Most of all we [want growers to know we] are very sorry that this happened to them,” Wismans says. “We know that it has had an impact on their businesses and we are aware of that. It’s not what we want, or what we stand for as a company and at this time we are doing everything to limit the damages for our customers.
“We built up a reputation the last 15 years in the U.S. of being a very reliable supplier and being clean and having good order fill. The incident is very unfortunate, but we want to stay shoulder to shoulder with our customers to overcome this.”