Idaho Nematode Finding Brings Many Questions

Published online: May 11, 2006
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It may be likened to looking for a needle in a haystack, except the haystack may be 10 miles long.

While that is an anology of the attempt to trace the source of a potato cyst nematode found in eastern Idaho, after three weeks into the effort nothing has been established.

Wayne Hoffman, spokesman for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, said some 2,000 soil samples have been obtained to date and there have been no positive findings.

The positive finding of the very rare potato cyst nematode--never before found in the United States--is beginning to wear on the ISDA, the University of Idaho's nematode laboratory, and officials from USDA's APHIS.

Hoffman says that to this point, because the positive sample was pulled during routine soil tare sampling from a fresh pack plant, officials aren't even sure that it was brought in from a field.

While the first assumption was that it came in on potatoes from growers fields who had been delivering to this fresh packer, that has not been substantiated.
The positive finding could have come from another of several sources such as equipment conveyance, off someone's clothing and other possibilities--not potato-field related.

As of today, restrictions have been put on the movement of tare dirt and equipment that covers seven sites in three eastern Idaho counties.

While planting will go on as usual, the investiation through soil surveying will continue, Hoffman explained.

A tractor-pulled mechanical sampler has been brought to Idaho to help in collecting soil samples. It is run across a field picking up samples. The samples are bagged and labeled. It then makes other passes.

One positive thing that has come out of the finding is that growers are now taking special precautions and using best management practices. They are washing off shoes, clothing, trucks and equipment when leaving fields. They know it will be worth their time to do it.

Hoffman added that finding the source could go back a decade when looking at equipment alone. He says old military surplus equipment from Europe, for example, might be one source to check.