(thedenverchannel.com) LASALLE, Colo.-Colorado's potato crop is taking a devastating hit this year, all because of a bug that literally blew in on the winds from Mexico and south Texas.
On the Strohauer farm, east of LaSalle in Weld County, the potato harvest is in full swing. And if you've ever heard the expression "small potatoes," it turns out there's some meaning behind it.
"We've got a problem with the psyllid. It's an insect that came in on the south winds, that came up out of Texas," said Harry Strohauer, owner and operator of Strohauer Farms. "The bugs don't allow the potatoes to size up."
Strohauer is the largest potato producer in Weld County, and this year the tiny psyllid insect is causing tubers to grow too close together, among other problems.
"So when they have psyllid problems, all the potatoes are clumped right in a mass, right around the seed piece. They won't even size up when they're like that," said Strohauer.
"These probably flew all the way up from Mexico in a day or two sometime in June," said Colorado State University professor and agriculture extension specialist Whitney Cranshaw.
The psyllid is also attracted to tomato plants and peppers.
"It caught us totally off guard," said Strohauer.
Farmers have tried to kill the psyllid, but this year in particular, it seems incredibly resilient. Strohauer said they have sprayed insecticide and tried burning the vines off the organics, but nothing seems to work.
Next year, he said they plan to attack the psyllid early to keep it under control.
"But this year, it just got away from us. This field right here, it probably reduced our yield by 40 percent," said Strohauer.
He also expects to lose money on some varieties in some fields.
Colorado is the fourth-largest potato producing state in the nation, behind Idaho, Washington and Wisconsin. But this year, Colorado seems to be small potatoes compared to what the state typically produces. The good news is that most Colorado potatoes are grown in the San Luis Valley, which appears to have suffered only a minimal impact compared to the eastern plains.
"This is the worst year in a long time. Many years you don't even see the insect," said Cranshaw. "The south winds were just very significant this year."
"It has really screwed up the plants," said Strohauer.
The bug also turns the potato vines yellow.
"So here's the obvious yellowing, but you can also sometimes see a purpling," said Cranshaw showing a potato field on the Colorado State extension horticultural campus. "The way that this insect damages the plant is through the affects of its saliva. They do an extraordinary amount of damage. And the damage caused by the potato psyllid is really unique. It's produced by the saliva that's introduced as this insect sucks on the sap of the plant."
Psyllids also cause potatoes to sprout prematurely while they are still in the ground. They can also prevent vines from delivering nutrients to the potatoes.
Strohauer grows gourmet Russet and Fingerling potatoes among other varieties.
"The psyllid picked on certain fields and certain varieties differently," he said.
Potatoes do not want to detach off the vine as a result of the psyllid. Strohauer said they had to vine kill three and four times this year which adds to his costs.
"This is a bad year," he said. "Every year has its challenges."
-Source, AgLine News (Sept. 8, 2010)