ARS potato breeders worked during US government shutdown to save clones.

    Units of the National Park System are closed during a federal government shutdown. Shown here is the National Mall closed during the 2013 shutdown

    Scientists with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service potato genetics program in Aberdeen, Idaho, were granted special permission to return to work during the US government shutdown, potentially preventing the loss of unique breeding material, according to ARS sources speaking on background.

    Based on concerns that potato breeding clones could freeze in the field or that roots within flats of experimental spud seedlings awaiting transplant would intertwine, the request was sent Oct. 4 to grant the scientists permission to resume their research. They were allowed to return to work the following week, well before Congress voted to re-open the government on Oct. 17.

    University of Idaho staff aided the federal employees in transplanting 35,000 seedlings and selecting clones from fields to retain in the Tri-State Potato Breeding Program, a partnership of UI, Oregon State University, Washington State University and ARS researchers.

    Jeanne Debons, executive director of the Potato Variety Management institute, is glad no research clones were lost in the field, but she believes the shutdown has affected the program nonetheless.