BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Progress is being made eradicating a microscopic pest that has been threatening Idaho's $900 million potato industry the last decade, federal officials say.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said viable potato cyst nematodes can no longer be detected in three additional fields. The agency on Friday released the first quarter report for 2017 on the Pale Cyst Nematode Eradication Program that said 20 of the 27 infected fields have now reached that step in a lengthy process to return to production.
About 9,300 acres (3,700 hectares) are being regulated because of the pest in southeastern Idaho. Canada, Mexico, and Korea initially banned Idaho potatoes when the pests were discovered in 2006, and Japan banned all U.S. potatoes. Japan still bans Idaho potatoes.
The report said that extensive surveys have not found the pale cyst nematode, or PCN, in Idaho beyond the 27 confirmed fields. "The general opinion by our trading partners is that potatoes produced outside regulated areas do not pose the biological risk for introduction of PCN," the report said.
Nematodes feed on potato roots and can reduce crop production by 80 percent, but experts say they aren't harmful to humans. Idaho produces about 30 percent of the nation's potato crop
Federal officials didn't respond to calls from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
There are two related fronts involving nematodes.
A federal lawsuit filed by farmers seeking to have their fields removed from a federal quarantine continues to work its way through the court after a judge denied the government's request to dismiss the case.
Also, a supplemental environmental impact statement currently in a comment period lists as the preferred alternative for dealing with the nematodes one that doesn't use methyl bromide. The chemical treatment, which was stopped in 2014, has been highly effective at killing nematodes but concerns have been raised that it has sickened livestock.