Progress seen on spud pest
Laboratory trials report absence of pale cyst nematode
By JOHN O'CONNELL
USDA officials say five of the original nine fields where pale cyst nematode was discovered in Eastern Idaho may soon be planted again in potatoes and sampled to confirm the pest has been eradicated.
It's one of many examples of progress made in Idaho's bid to rid the state of the pale cyst nematode, USDA spokesman Larry Hawkins said following a five-year review of the program.
Hawkins said affected growers, processors, chippers, Idaho Potato Commission officials and others participated in the review, hosted March 20-22 at the IPC's Idaho Falls office.
In a laboratory, potatoes have been planted in soil from the five fields to ensure no cysts hatch before the fields themselves can be replanted. Hawkins said the fields may still be a few years away from commercial production.
Fifteen fields with 1,756 combined acres are classified as infested under the program due to nematode detection. Another 14,455 acres in Bingham and Bonneville counties are regulated and face special sanitation and other requirements because of ties to infested fields.
Funding for the program has averaged $7 million since 2006, and $5.5 million has been allocated for fiscal 2012.
"The growers they feel like the communication between the program and the industry has improved, in particular in the last year or two," Hawkins said. "I think we're doing a better job of learning from each other and jointly working to get rid of the PCN. Looking at the success we've had so far, we still think PCN can be eliminated in Idaho."
The crop pest was first discovered in Idaho in 2006 at a Blackfoot grading facility. The discovery led to multiple foreign markets banning imports of Idaho spuds -- and in some cases U.S. spuds in general -- during 2006 and 2007. All of those markets, aside from Japan, have renewed trade based on Idaho's aggressive eradication program, Hawkins said.
Hawkins said some of the tactics used by the program may be tweaked, though he said it would be premature to specify specific changes. However, the review retained all of the original goals of the pale cyst nematode program: prevent the spread of the pest, determine the boundaries of the current infestation, eradicate the current infestation, restore lost foreign markets and preserve all current markets.
"These things can survive in soil for many years, and an eradication program is a long, drawn-out affair," Hawkins said. "There was a consensus, I think, among the industry people that we have made progress, and we met our goals in the first five years."
Grower Steve Christensen, who has been part of the program, agreed "the fields are getting cleaner."
"They're all making progress," he said. "It's an uphill battle every year. We don't know yet what this year is going to look like. We're optimistic, and everyone involved is trying to work together."