In Fall 2012, the Pacific Northwest suffered from one of the outbreaks of bacterial ring rot (BRR) that appear periodically. In an effort to combat this current flare-up and keep this dreaded disease at bay in the future, we have reinstated the Idaho BRR Task Force and expanded it to include other concerned industry and university personnel from throughout the PNW. This group will coordinate efforts on BRR recognition, tracking, management and other activities.
One of the first activities of this new iteration of the Task Force will be to reinstate a BRR monitoring program. The monitoring program seeks to keep track of where and how much BRR is occurring within the PNW production region. The program couldn’t be simpler: just send any tubers you suspect are infected with BRR to one of our University Laboratories. We will use laboratory testing procedures to determine if the pathogen is present in any suspected tubers that we receive.
An earlier version of this monitoring program operated in Idaho for five or six years in the early 1990s and was very effective. Current plans are to follow-up any positively confirmed samples with educational efforts and materials outlining what to do if the disease is found on your farming operation.
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with BRR is that the periodic outbreaks of the disease are, for the most part, due to relaxed attitudes regarding clean-up and sanitation. A great many growers have confessed to us they are not as diligent as they used to be regarding their basic sanitation practices, with many of them not even sanitizing seed cutters between seed lots! BRR is very contagious and spreads from one seed lot to another during cutting is a frequent occurrence.
One fact concerning these periodic flare-ups of BRR in the past is that the industry has responded to several of them by voluntarily making some fairly dramatic changes in attitudes and procedures. One of the most important of these changes was the implementation of a mandatory flush-out of all seed on a seed farm when BRR was found on that farm. This change was suggested by the National BRR Task Force back in 1988, but it took an outbreak of the disease in the early 1990s to galvanize the industry to take this necessary action.
This current BRR outbreak has the potential to incorporate another game changer into the mix: seed-lot testing using real time PCR (polymerase chain reaction). BRR has been able to remain a threat to the potato industry because it has the disturbing ability to remain symptomless—we often call this characteristic “latent”—in seed potatoes. The new real-time PCR methods give us the ability to detect these latent infections with increased sensitivity, allowing detection of the BRR pathogen at levels we could only dream about in the past.
In the near term, seed-lot testing will be completed with current protocols, but it is the hope of the BRR taskforce the industry will take a closer look at the new PCR technology and push for implementation of this technology for seed-lot testing and seed certification.
Who knows what the future will bring? Perhaps, like polio and measles, BRR can be a disease of the past, allowing for a brighter future for potato production.
Contact any of the BRR task force members listed below for instructions on submitting samples.