TYLER, Texas — Many people have experienced the brown potato chip. It looks spoked or ringed and usually tastes bitter.
It can be natural or the result of being chilled, but it also comes from a disease which is being spread by bugs from the southern United States and Mexico.
Now, using funding from two grants received this year, University of Texas at Tyler is working to stop the spread of zebra chip.
In the past decade farmers from Central America to the U.S. have lost millions of dollars from failed crops because of the disease.
Funded by the Zebra Chip Specialty Crop Research Initiative, biology professor Dr. Blake Bextine is working on a management plan to save the potatoes.
He said the potato psyllid, the insect carrying the bacteria, spreads the disease to the plant, which hits the plant hard as it matures.
“All along you're thinking that your crop is fine and then a few weeks before your harvest you start to have collapse in your plants, and you have fruit that's small and misshapen and stuff like that," he said.
"So farmers definitely know when they have it. They see it. They try to rogue out those potatoes and tomatoes (it affects tomatoes) and they do the best they can, but sometimes you don't understand how bad the problem is until the end of the season,” Bextine said.
He cut into potatoes grown by his team and found very few problems. A few had brownish or clear areas that indicate the starch turned to sugar, which is how the disease affects the potato. When that is fried, brown areas appear. The insect is all over the South, but Bextine said the group is making progress.
“We're making a lot of headway. The large group that I work in that has scientists from all over the country and all over the world have come up with a lot of management techniques that are being put in place now, and limiting it to where we actually have had some successful years strung together in a row," he said.
"And so our management techniques, right now, are having a really positive impact, but we are still trying to find that long term strategy that's going to really solve the problem,” Bextine continued.
In Tyler and all across the country growers and researchers are working toward a goal that will result in evenly colored blond chips and happy potato growers.
Dr. Bextine has been researching zebra chip for 10 year, and said the psyllids have moved to California, the Midwest and south into Central America.
Source: KLTV Channel 7