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Pest discovery unlikely to sour exports

Published on June 9, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on July 7, 2011 9:59AM

Quarantine stretched, but pest remains in same general area


Capital Press

The recent discovery of another Idaho field infested with potato cyst nematode will not derail eradication efforts and is not expected to result in any export restrictions, USDA officials said.

"Our trading partners can be confident that they can go ahead and accept product from Idaho without a problem," said Larry Hawkins, a spokesman for USDA.

Agency officials confirmed in March the infestation of the 164-acre field in Bonneville County.

The latest discovery brings to 10 the number of confirmed fields in Eastern Idaho that have been infested with the microscopic worm-like pest.

Several U.S. trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and Korea quickly banned Idaho potatoes after the pest was first discovered in seven fields in Eastern Idaho in early 2006.

Most of those markets were quickly restored after the USDA established a quarantine area in Bingham and Bonneville counties and began a rigorous soil sampling program along with eradication efforts.

Those efforts are still under way.

Because of the latest pest discovery, the USDA has expanded the quarantine area by about 1,264 acres, bringing the total regulated area to 7,808 acres.

The pest does not pose any human health risk, but it can dramatically reduce spud yields and is considered an international quarantine pest.

Eradication in Eastern Idaho could take a bit longer because of the discovery of another infested field, officials said.

"The good news is that even though we have done extensive sampling throughout the state the past several years, we have still only come up with 10 infested fields," Hawkins said.

"I don't think this is a major setback for the program," he said. "We are making progress toward getting the area deregulated."

The infestation in Eastern Idaho is the first and only confirmed outbreak of the pest in the United States. An estimated $36 million has been spent on eradication efforts the past five years.

"That money has allowed us to keep trade open to other states and foreign countries," Hawkins said.

Finding and eradicating the pest is important not just to Idaho potato farmers, but to the entire U.S. potato industry, said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission.

"It's money well spent to correct and solve it now," he said.

The field recently found to have the pest is about 1.5 miles from the nearest infested field. Had it been farther, it would have been cause for more concern, Muir said.

"It's right in the area that has been suspect all along," he said.

"This hasn't really changed any of our perspective -- how we view our trading partners or how they are viewing us," Muir said.

Potato cyst nematode is a tough pest to eradicate. It can survive in the soil for many years.

Of the countries that have the pest, only Israel has managed to get rid of it.

"There's every indication that we will eradicate it just as they did in Israel several years ago," Muir said. "But it's a challenge."

Despite years of soil survey work, officials still don't know how the pest got into Eastern Idaho in the first place.


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