The federal government is providing $109,000 for the University of Idaho to study an emerging plant disease the school says “poses a substantial threat to the state’s potato industry.”
The money will be used to monitor potato fields for the presence of psyllids, which spread a crop disease called zebra chip. The grant also will allow research into effects of the disease on tubers during storage – a topic about which little is known.
Zebra chip reduces yields and causes bands in potato flesh that become dark when fried. It makes potatoes unmarketable, but there is no health risk to humans.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be received late this year and used during 2013 and 2014. It will allow programs currently under way with Idaho Potato Commission money to expand significantly, said Erik Wenninger, an assistant professor of entomology at the university who is currently working at the Kimeberly Research and Extension Center.
Wenninger and colleagues have surveyed Idaho fields for psyllids this summer. They reported finding them in the Kimberley center’s field and in a commercial field in Twin Falls about six weeks ago. Early this month, they saw a sharp increase in potato psyllids, according to a posting on the Pacific Northwest Pest Alert website.