Idaho Makes Headlines in U.S., Canada

Published online: May 05, 2006
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Idaho Potato Commission president/CEO Frank Muir says interest has been very high since news of the potato cyst nematode find in eastern Idaho.

While Muir says most of it has been in the agriculture press, he is glad it hasn't been as widely covered in the consumer press. "It hasn't become a major 'consumer' story because there is no risk to human consumption whatsoever," he said Thursday.

Muir says he has averaged 3.5 interviews a day including some from Reuters, the Associated Press, the Canadian media, National Public Radio and Idaho TV stations.

Muir says his message has been consistent that there is no risk to humans and the risk is potentially lower crop yield.

He tells them, "We found the pest because we are aggressively looking for it and any others that may appear...because we are serious about protecting our famous crop."

He also said the Idaho State Dept. of Agriculture and APHIS have worked rapidly and cooperatively in addressing the issue and putting quarantines on the most likely fields, which represent only 500 of Idaho's 350,000 acres.

In addition, he tells the press the Commission has worked proactively in communicating with the state's international trading partners as well as domestic potato-growing states, including inviting their investors to observe the process in Idaho which Canada has already done.

"We believe the issue will be resolved relatively quickly as APHIS completes its investigation and testing and foreign markets now closed will reopen."

To date, Muir says the Idaho Potato Commission is not seeing any reduction in sales orders due to the cyst nematode issue, except for the sales that normally would have gone to Mexico, Canada, Japan and South Korea.

Canadian officials have already visited Idaho, spent considerable time with scientists and returned home favorably impressed by the actions that have been taken and the protocol laid out to complete the investigation, he added.

Muir said he believes the story will quickly fade once APHIS completes its testing and releases its findings and recommendations. He says all indications are that it is a very minor infestation, if it can even be called that. No positive finds have been found in samples tested thus far.

Potato scientists from all over the United States have reportedly arrived in Idaho Falls, ID, to compare notes and share knowledge. However, the word back from that team is that it is too early to tell anything yet.

Two things that have been discovered are that the DNA of the single cyst found is more closely related to the European/Canadian strains than the Central or South American strains.

The other revelation gained from the USDA is that 80 percent of the introductions of this pest--actually the golden nematode (found on Long Island In New York state)--comes from contaminated machinery and that used machinery would be a likely source of introduction.