Canada, U.S. relax PCN testing of potato seed

Canada and the U.S. have relaxed potato cyst nematode testing requirements for seed potatoes traded between the two countries.

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Published on May 30, 2014 4:22PM

The Canadian and U.S. governments have eased potato cyst nematode testing requirements on seed potato exports between the two countries.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency established the PCN guidelines in 2006 after pale cyst nematode was discovered in Eastern Idaho and its close relative, golden cyst nematode, surfaced in Quebec, Canada. The rules were previously revised in 2009.

Prior to the recent revision, which took effect on May 7, every field producing seed potatoes for export between the two countries had to be tested for PCN within a year before or after planting a potato crop. The revised rules allow exports of three seed potato crops without PCN soil testing from a given field, provided that it’s already undergone two seasons of clean PCN testing. Tests will now be required, however, within the year following a potato crop.

The rules have also been relaxed for small samples of 500 or fewer tubers to facilitate seed exchange for research purposes. Small samples from a given field may now be exported in any subsequent year following a single season of PCN field testing.

Alain Boucher, national manager for the potato section with CFIA, said variables make it difficult to estimate the percentage of seed exports that will be excused from testing this season.

“You would hope soil sampling would be reduced significantly over time with a rotation of one crop out of four needing testing,” Boucher said.

U.S. potato industry leaders welcome the change as a means of saving growers time and money while still maintaining adequate safeguards.

Pat Kole, vice president of legal and government affairs with the Idaho Potato Commission, said the revisions were based on a collaborative process with input from the potato industries of both countries.

“It takes a balanced approach that uses what we know to develop a clearer path to more efficiently allocate our resources going forward,” Kole said.

IPC President and CEO Frank Muir believes the recent revision demonstrates that PCN isn’t widespread in either country, and there’s greater comfort that eradication programs are working. He added USDA and Mexico, which recently expanded its imports of fresh, U.S. spuds, are now discussing the next steps regarding PCN testing of Idaho potatoes.

Matt Harris, director of government affairs with the Washington Potato Commission, said his state’s growers rely heavily on importing Canadian seed for commercial planting.

“We’re very supportive of trying to make sure we have the safest seed supply in our industry,” Harris said.

PCN are small roundworms whose eggs can survive in cysts for several years. They feed on the roots of certain plants, including potatoes, and can reduce yields by 60 percent at high concentrations.

Canada exports an estimated $25 million worth of seed annually to the U.S., compared with just over $4 million per year in U.S. exports to Canada. Boucher said the trade balance is more even with the broader category of potatoes, and much of the seed sold into the U.S. is planted commercially and sold back to Canada.


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