litchi tomato (copy)

A litchi tomato plant.

The University of Idaho canceled the July 8 Snake River Weed Control Tour at its Aberdeen Research and Extension Center after someone sprayed glyphosate on about 1 acre, destroying plantings in research trials.

University researchers said the herbicide was sprayed from a four-wheeled, all-terrain vehicle during the first week of June, killing litchi tomato and quinoa. Litchi is a promising trap crop for pale cyst nematode, an important pest in potatoes.

Aberdeen-based UI researcher Pamela Hutchinson said it appears someone from outside the university system acted intentionally. Four-wheeler tracks that weaved between plot stakes were found. The center does not have a sprayer on such a vehicle.

An in-house investigation documented damage, said Mark McGuire, who directs the university’s system of nine research and extension centers and six affiliated centers. That investigation did not identify who caused the damage or “who might be interested in destroying these plots,” he said.

UI notified local law enforcement immediately and “just really moved into keeping the research going and determining what we can do to resurrect these plots for current research,” he said.

McGuire said the university will analyze samples and the progress of any future plantings. If only glyphosate were sprayed, new plantings would survive because that herbicide is for emergent plants and does not stay in soil, he said.

Hutchinson said the incident was reported to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture official working on the pale cyst nematode project, and to the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office has a service agreement with local police.

Aberdeen Police Chief Chuck Carroll on July 1 said there is no evidence to identify a suspect, and the investigation is ongoing. People can call 208-785-1234 to offer information.

“We’ve lost a whole year of research,” Hutchinson said. She doesn’t have enough seed to replant the litchi trial for the research needed.

Pale cyst nematode was found in Idaho in 2006. A major eradication effort has made progress, and PCN has not spread outside regulated areas.

Hutchinson, UI’s potato cropping systems weed scientist, said some people worry litchi will spread like a noxious weed. It has not escaped or become weedy since it was first planted in Shelley in 2012 with Idaho Potato Commission funding, she said. And no such problems have occurred in the federally funded Aberdeen project, now in its sixth year. Litchi can be killed the same year it is planted.

The work at Aberdeen involves multiple research partners. Planting litchi requires an ISDA permit so it can be tracked.

Hutchinson said the research shows litchi will cause PCN eggs to hatch, but will not allow them to grow to maturity and produce more eggs.

Weeds must be controlled in litchi, including some that can host PCN to maturity, she said.

Hutchinson said the quinoa research focuses on herbicides that can kill that crop where it is not wanted, and kill weeds that compete with it where it is wanted. A goal is to produce data useful to the IR-4 Project, a longtime USDA effort to assist in identifying and registering pest management products.

She said it appears quinoa was sprayed incidentally. It was in the same block as litchi.

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