Three more Idaho potato fields are coping with the pale cyst nematode this year. That brings the number up to fifteen since the pest was first found in 2006.
The pale cyst nematode is about the size of a pinhead, but its effects can be devastating. It attacks the roots of potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants. The nematode can also reduce plant yields by as much as 80 percent.
Larry Hawkins is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He says the pest doesn’t pose a health risk. "PCN or pale cyst nematode has zero human health impact so you can eat potatoes to your heart’s content and there’s no risk at all."
Hawkins says Idaho is the first and only place in the U.S. where the nematode is found. They were first discovered in seven fields in 2006. That number has grown to fifteen this year, all within a few miles of each other in Bonneville and Bingham Counties. No one is sure where they came from. "Because of the way this particular plant pest exists dormant, potentially in soil for a long time, there is no smoking gun here," says Hawkins. "Or if it were, it’d be years and years old."
Hawkins says five of the original seven fields are showing positive signs. Recent tests showed only dead nematodes. It will take several more years of monitoring to ensure they’re wiped out. He says the USDA has spent an average of $7 million a year to pay for eradication.
Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio.