Published online: Nov 19, 2007 Alan Harman
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A test has been developed to help growers identify in their fields potato crops that will not store as long as others--a  breakthrough that may result in fewer crop losses.

For potato growers, a good harvest doesn't automatically mean a good year. Every year, about 8 to 9 percent of the crop goes bad sitting in storage lockers while waiting to go to a chip or fry factory.

In an effort to curb this type of loss, University of Wisconsin researcher Zahi Atallah has developed a test to allow growers to better separate potatoes fit for long-term storage from those that are not.

The test, which will be offered through a Wisconsin company specializing in plant disease diagnostics, involves collecting healthy-looking tubers from the field before harvest, cleaning and juicing them, and then extracting their genetic material.

Using a technique known as polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, a technician can look at the DNA contained in each sample and detect foreign microbial agents that cause storage losses, including late blight, pink rot and fusarium.

The results will tell growers, on a field-by-field basis, which potatoes have high levels of these microbes.

"Instead of storing the good with the bad, now growers can do triage," Atallah says.

The potatoes that have a high risk of spoiling in storage can be sent for processing immediately or stored for a short amount of time. The ones that look good, on the other hand, can be put into long-term storage.