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US (ID): Crops contaminated by potato pest treatment

In 2006, pale cyst nematode, a rare potato pest, was found in Idaho for the first time in the USA. The U.S. Department of Agriculture used methyl bromide, a highly toxic fumigant, as part of a treatment plan to eradicate the pest, but it has consequently had nasty side effects for several eastern Idaho farmers, officials said this week.

Now, some farmers have found that the pesticide contaminated a number of their crops grown on the treated fields, and also caused severe health issues for some cattle, Idaho Department of Agriculture officials told the Legislature’s budget committee this week. Agriculture officials are asking for $250,000 to conduct research on the problem, as well as dispose of 2,000 tons of contaminated hay in a local landfill.

“It is a mess,” Agriculture Director Celia Gould told the committee Monday. “What the research hopes to show is, how do we get (the methyl bromide) out of the soil?”

A number of farmers filed a lawsuit against state and federal agriculture officials last spring that said the pale cyst nematode regulations, including methyl bromide treatments, had been “ad hoc” and “overreaching,” and had cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The microscopic parasite attacks potato plants’ roots, and has been known to decimate potato fields in Europe. State and federal agriculture managers took aggressive steps to stop the pest from spreading after its discovery, including applying the rarely used methyl bromide, and then covering those treated fields with tarps.

Lloyd Knight, the Idaho Ag Department’s administrator of the Plant Industries Administration, said Friday 29 January, that the state was first notified of the bromide problem last February. Farmers noticed that cattle that had eaten hay grown on methyl bromide-treated fields had an array of health issues, including illness, trouble calving and abscesses. Several cattle died, he said.

“Alfalfa seems to be something that picked up bromide more than any other crop,” Knight said.

The research, which is already underway, will focus on looking at a number of different crops to see which ones pick up the bromide more than others, Knight said. That will help the state give farmers “a menu” of what they can safely grow in contaminated fields, he said. Outside the $250,000 in state funding, officials also have applied for about $350,000 in research funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nearly 10,000 acres of farmland remain under quarantine for pale cyst nematode, and close to 3,000 are still classified as being infested with the pest. State and federal agriculture officials have agreed to not apply any more methyl bromide treatments “until we know what we’re up against,” Knight said.

The Environmental Protection Agency, USDA and Food and Drug Administration are all monitoring the situation, he said. Knight said officials don’t believe there’s a food safety issue and initial testing of well water near the treated fields did not find any levels of bromide. The research plan calls for additional water sampling in the area.


Source: magicvalley.com

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