Zebra chip meeting moves to Portland

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

A major fall conference on zebra chip disease will be moved from Texas to Portland, Ore.

An annual meeting usually hosted in Texas that draws roughly 150 growers, agricultural industry experts and the world’s top researchers on zebra chip disease in potatoes will be moved to Portland, Ore., this fall.

The meeting will be Nov. 9-12.

Zebra chip, which creates bands in the flesh of potatoes that darken when fried, is spread by potato psyllids and was first identified in the U.S. in Texas in 2000. Zebra chip researchers have hosted the annual zebra chip meeting since 2009 with funding from a five-year, $6.9 million multi-state USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant.

The disease was first detected in the Pacific Northwest in 2011, and has significantly increased production costs for the region’s growers, who have stepped up their pesticide programs.

Charles Rush, the lead of the zebra chip grant and director of the research program in plant pathology at Texas A&M AgriLife in Amarillo, Texas, said the meeting is being moved to provide PNW residents an opportunity to participate and learn more about the disease.

“It’s been valuable for growers from different parts of the country to exchange different experiences and ideas and management techniques,” Rush said.

Rush said the collaborative grant, involving more than 40 researchers, expires on Aug. 31, and he’s writing a new five-year proposal.

Rush plans to request more funding than before due to the arrival of zebra chip in the PNW. Though research in the PNW has already benefited from grant funding, Rush expects the region to receive a much greater share during the next five years, assuming the application is approved. It’s due June 20, and he expects to know if it has been approved by late August or early September.

Rush said there are no guarantees, as competition for the funding has grown.

“The program needs to continue. There’s a lot of industry support,” Rush said. “We’ll either be celebrating in November in Portland, or people will be in a pretty sour mood.”

Rush said a primary focus of the next application will be making zebra chip management more “sustainable economically and environmentally for growers.” Another point of emphasis will be learning about development of the disease under storage conditions, especially when infections occur late in the season and aren’t apparent at harvest.

“To guys in the PNW where they store about 85 percent of their potatoes, this is a big deal,” Rush said.

In South Texas, where zebra chip is especially troublesome for potato growers, Rush explained growers are now wrapping up their harvest season. The disease has been much less of a problem for growers this season than in years past, Rush said.

“Early on, there were really high psyllid numbers, and that had everybody really concerned about the potential damage they were going to cause, but the growers did a really good job of managing psyllids,” Rush said.



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