U of I potato scientists tackle Zebra chip disease threat
Image by Wsu.edu
In October, the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences confirmed that Idaho’s potato growers faced a new challenge to the state’s most famous crop with the arrival of Zebra chip. The potato disease, named for the dark bands it produces in fried potato products, was
initially found last summer in research plots and fields in Jerome and Twin Falls counties. It poses no known health, safety, or nutritional problems.
In mid-January, Phil Nolte, University of Idaho Extension seed potato specialist at Idaho Falls, told growers that it’s too soon to know whether Zebra chip’s appearance in Idaho last year was a curiosity or the first sign of a coming scourge. He spoke during the 44th Annual Potato Conference in Pocatello, held with the 33rd Annual Ag Expo.
Monitoring by growers, inspectors, and researchers showed Zebra chip was widespread in some areas of southcentral Idaho but at low levels, perhaps a 1% infection rate where it was found. So far, eastern Idaho’s fields appear free of the pest. Western Idaho had one confirmed report. In the Columbia Basin of Washington and Oregon, infection rates were as high as 50%, a major economic cost to growers. Idaho researchers and state inspectors are now monitoring potatoes in storage for Zebra chip.
Intensive sampling last summer at the Kimberly Research and Extension Center by UI Extension potato specialist and storage researcher Nora Olsen first showed the insects had infected several varieties in Idaho. Nolte has tracked Zebra chip elsewhere for several years. He wrote about the disease and psyllids carrying the bacteria in 2009. “All that remains,” says Nolte, “is figuring out how to manage the problem.” Last year’s weird weather may mean Zebra chip was a one-time problem, or monitoring may have revealed the front line of an invasion in progress.
The discovery led to a quick response by Idaho State Department of Agriculture, Idaho Potato Commission, and University of Idaho Extension potato specialists. They worked to determine the extent of Zebra chip’s presence in Idaho and began work to control it if necessary.