PCN Find Puts Crunch On Idaho Lab

Published online: May 02, 2006
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Dr. Saad Hafez, University of Idaho extension nematologist, said it could take up to two weeks to go through 1,100 samples from two fields in eastern Idaho to determine if the potato cyst nematode has made Idaho a permanent home.

Hafez says the Idaho State Department of Agriculture has "loaned" him two lab technicians now in training. Including himself and the two staff technicians already at the Parma, ID,  U of I lab, the five will be working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.each day and through weekends in the testing effort.

Training technicians to identify different nematode species is very challenging. In many cases there are only slight differences in appearance. Hafez says the training will be a challenge by itself.

The potato cyst nematode find was from one grower's fields. It was discovered during routine soil tare sampling from an eastern Idaho packing plant. Because of the find the plant has been shut down. The find was confirmed through USDA testing.

Officials are very aware the tare soil sample could have also come from other growers' fields. If the first fields are found clean, fields from growers who have also shipped will also have to be checked.

Hafez says he expects that after the patterened sampling (one sample from every four paces) from the grower's fields are tested, the range of field testing will be expanded to neighboring fields.

The potato cyst nematode has never before been found in the United States. Its close cousin, the Golden nematode, has been found in Newfoundland in Canada and on Long Island in New York state. Both areas are quarantined with no potatoes allowed outside the quarantined areas.

Keeping Long Island in quarantine has been a very costly program for the USDA with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent since its discovery years ago. The finding there was believed to have come from Europe.

In addition to the commercial field sampling, fields from which seed was obtainted by the grower will also be surveyed. Besides the possibility of seed being grown in Idaho or elsewhere in the United States, Canada is the only country allowed to ship seed into the United States.

Needless to say, the finding could be very costly for the grower and packer involved and any other growers and packers who may have bought potatoes from a suspect area.

The nematode is not a danger to potato consumers. It is harnless as a pest except for the fact it attacks potato plant roots and has a great affect on yield.