Published online: Jun 01, 2011 Potato Storage, Potato Harvesting, Herbicide, Insecticide, Fungicide, Seed Potatoes
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Another southeastern Idaho field has been infected with a microscopic wormlike pest that attacks potato plants despite $36 million spent on eradication efforts over the last five years, officials say.

Larry Hawkins of the USDA says the discovery earlier this year of a 10th infected field is mainly due to the resilience of the potato cyst nematode.

"The big question is, how did it get here in the first place? That's the $64,000 question," Hawkins told the Post Register. "I would love to know how it got here."

The nematodes were initially discovered in Bingham County in April 2006. Quarantine and fumigation efforts on the 1,100 infected acres have been carried out ever since.

Hawkins said the nematodes likely made it to the new field while attached to dirt from an infected field. He said it's unclear how that happened. Officials have not been able to determine when or how the nematodes arrived in the state.

"It's an extremely difficult pest to get rid of," Hawkins said. "The thing can last in the soil for decades, and so the process that you go through to get rid of it is extremely long."

Officials have not named the growers whose fields have been quarantined.

Mike Cooper, the Idaho Department of Agriculture's division of plant industries bureau chief, said the growers have been allowed to grow cover crops but not produce anything from the fields.

The nematodes feed at the roots of potato plants and can reduce crop production by 80 percent. Officials say the pest is not harmful to humans and doesn't have any effect on the potatoes themselves.

Since the nematodes appeared, area agriculture workers have been taking special precautions to avoid spreading them.

"From a farming standpoint, proper care of equipment, cleanliness of equipment and that sort of thing, as it goes from area to area, is important," said Stephen Abend, director of procurement for Nonpareil Corp. in Blackfoot. "More often than not, your problems come from growers that are spread out across the valley."