Though Idaho growers fear the arrival of a record-setting heat wave could stress crops, it may have come with a silver lining for potato farmers, according to Andy Jensen, regional research director for the Washington, Oregon and Idaho potato commissions.
Laboratory research has found neither potato psyllids nor the Liberibacter bacterium they harbor, which causes the spud disease zebra chip, fare well in intense heat.
"There have been lots of lab experiments to show potato psyllids don't reproduce well, if at all, in hot weather, and Liberibacter doesn't survive well in psyllids in hot weather," Jensen said. "They really start to do less well in the low 90s. It's possible the heat will slow down the psyllids."
Jensen offered the caveat that psyllids are also mobile and adept at finding more moderate temperatures.
During June, 16 heat records were set at the five Idaho locations in which records have been kept for at least 30 years, according to the National Weather Service. Pocatello set five record highs, Idaho Falls broke four records, Challis and Stanley each set three records and Burley set a record.
On June 30 alone, Pocatello recorded a 98-degree high temperature and Idaho Falls reached 97 degrees, both breaking records set in 2008, and Stanley's 88-degree high broke a record set in 1976. National Weather Service predicted temperatures would drop closer to normal beginning July 4 and stretching through the weekend before returning to record levels again on Monday and Tuesday.
Zebra chip first arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 2011 and creates bands within tuber flesh that darken when fried.
SOURCE: John O'Connell, Capital Press