By SEAN ELLIS
The discovery of tuberworm moths near Ontario, Ore., has led Idaho officials to be on alert for the pest, which can cause extensive damage to potatoes in the field and in storage.
The moths were found in small numbers near the Oregon State University research station in Malheur County, Ore., last week.
Idaho officials haven't monitored for the moths since 2008 because they were only found in very small numbers in southwestern Idaho in the past.
Idaho State Department of Agriculture and University of Idaho officials don't believe there are any tuberworm infestations in Idaho but have opted to deploy pheromone traps and let growers and crop consultants know the pests are present in the region.
"We just want to monitor the situation ... and let everybody know the things are around," said Mike Cooper, bureau chief of ISDA's plant industries division.
OSU entomologist Stuart Reitz began monitoring for the pest in Malheur County within the last year and found some in pheromone traps recently.
There is no indication the moth is a problem in eastern Oregon, he said, but he wants to monitor the situation to ensure it doesn't become a problem.
"Better to understand what the situation is now than to be sorry later," he said. "We want to stay on top of it and see what's happening."
The moths have caused significant economic damage in some potato fields in Washington and Oregon over the past decade but have only been found in very small numbers in southwestern Idaho.
"They've never been an issue in Idaho before but we decided to keep an eye on it and make sure that's still the case," said Erik Wenninger, assistant professor of entomology at UI's Parma research station.
None of the insects has ever been detected in Idaho east of Elmore County, which means the state's main spud-producing regions in eastern and southcentral Idaho are free of the pest.
The moth's larvae can mine the plant's leaves and stems and excavate tunnels through potato tubers, rendering them unmarketable.
Only adult moths have been found in Idaho in the past and no foliar or tuber damage has been detected.
Wenninger said there is no evidence to suggest the moths are a problem in Idaho.
But the proximity of the Oregon find -- the OSU research station is less than 20 miles from UI's Parma research center -- caused Idaho officials to decide to be extra cautious, he said.
"Just because they found some in Oregon, we thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep it on people's radar screen," he said. "We decided based on what they found in Oregon to put out a few traps to see if we find anything here."
The tuberworm is a major potato pest in tropical and sub-tropical regions and doesn't like the hot, dry summers and cold winters common in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon, Cooper said.