Inside the Maine Potato Disease Testing Lab

Published online: Jul 07, 2017 Articles Katie Zarrilli
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The Maine Potato Disease Testing Lab is located in the basement of the Maine Potato Board building in Presque Isle, Maine. This is where they conduct the state’s seed certification testing for viruses and bacterial pathogens.

“With seed, whenever you replant it if you have a small percentage of virus or bacteria, whatever you plant is going to become a lot more the next year,” says lab technician Jaylee Fox. “So what could be a small amount of virus infection one year could become a significant problem.”

The lab also does some voluntary testing for growers. Right now plant pathologist and lab manager Andrew Plant estimates they work with about 1,000 disease samples per year—but that number is about to increase significantly, as the seed certification process requires that all post-harvest testing be full lab testing. Right now the lab sends its samples to be grown on a farm in Florida for virus testing. When the certification process changes, all samples will come to this building. That could be as early as 2018.

“Being able to test stuff with a machine and being able to say with absolute certainty how much virus is in there is very important,” says Fox. “As opposed to just looking at it and saying, ‘I reckon that’s PVY.’ I think lab testing is a lot more rigorous, and it’s definitely the way of the future.”

“It would stand to improve our seed industry and marketability, and that passes down the line to our seed customers and their getting a better product,” says Plant.

The Maine Potato Board is already preparing for the transition by purchasing equipment and making storage rooms. The board is also planning on hiring a few temporary full-time employees for that post-harvest period when the lab will be especially busy. Fox says other labs across the country will be watching this facility and perhaps following suit.

“I really want to prove to them that we can do it and it’s feasible and this is the way forward,” says Fox.

Plant and Fox say the transition may be tough on growers at first, but will benefit them in the long run.

“What may have passed visually in the past, may not pass here,” says Plant.

“We’re showing that we’re really, really invested in what we’re selling, and we’re doing the best we can to make sure everybody gets exactly what they’re paying for and that we know what’s going on with our own product,” says Fox.

 

Source: WAGM-TV