Nematode Finding Stumps Scientists

Published online: May 16, 2006
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Friday, May 19, will mark a month since the USDA's APHIS and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture announced detection of a potato cyst nematode in routine tare dirt sampling in eastern Idaho.

Since then a force of 30 personnel, based out of a command center in Idaho Falls, ID, have continued sampling and investigatory work to solve the mystery of where the cyst could have come.

So far the team has found no conclusive evidence that the nematode came out of a potato field. They are also exploring the possibility that the finding at a potato grading station could have come off of machinery, clothing, through wind, wildlife or other means.

All of the possibilities are under review by ISDA and APHIS scientists. However, because of the possibility that the PCN did originate from a Idaho potato field, ISDA and APHIS continue to explore seed sources but so far, that search has only yielded negative results, according to the ISDA.

APHIS emergency action notifications (EANS) and ISDA restrictions have been imposed at suspect sites in Bingham, Bonneville and Jefferson counties.

These state restrictions and federal actions restrict the movement of soil, plants, plant material and farm equipment which may have been exposed to the PCN. They are intended to prevent the introduction and dissemination of the pest.

The restrictions are limited to seven sites which include fields, storages, and potato-handling facilities. A previously restricted fresh packer product has been released to move to commerce. The ISDA states that potato product is moving normally to domestic commerce.

The ISDA states that trading partners have reacted in various ways after announcement of the dectection of PCN. While it is harmless to consumers and it only limits root growth of a potato plant, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore have asked for information but have taken no action to suspend imports from the United States.

Japan has suspended all potato imports from the United States. Canada, Korea and Mexico have suspended potato shipments from Idaho.

To date 2,500 samples have been collected. There have been no positive findings. Nematode specialists and lab technicians at the University of Idaho's Parma, ID, Research and Extension Center, are putting in 12-hour days including weekends in efforts to detect possible microscopic pests in soil samples. There have been no positive findings. 

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