Basil crops attacked by fungus

Basil crop attacked by fungus.
Basil crop attacked by fungus.

Consumers who enjoy the taste of fresh basil in their cooking might find it more challenging to buy -- particularly if they prefer the organic variety. Some basil growers around the country say a fungus is damaging their crops and making it impossible to sell.

Known as basil downy mildew, the fungus causes lesions and spots on the plant but doesn't kill it. It does, however, reduce the quality of the plant.

"That's pretty much a loss for the grower," said Steve Koike, plant pathology farm adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Koike told Consumer Ally that he's heard from some growers who say the fungus has damaged about one-fourth to one-third of their crops. Other growers, however, have reported a loss of less than 10%. He said organic growers are likely the hardest hit because they're unable to use a fungicide on their plants.

Richard Raid, professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, described the outbreak as serious because basil is the most commonly grown herb. He estimated the loss in the U.S. to be in the millions of dollars. A field of basil, for example, can be worth more than $10,000 an acre, he said.