New rules for Idaho potato field quarantines

USDA officials have released a new plan to deal with a microscopic pest in south-eastern Idaho that threatens the state's billion-dollar industry. Last week, the US Department of Agriculture released the final rule that takes effect at the end of January. It sets out years-long criteria for killing off the pests and reopening quarantined fields to production.

The new rule follows a 2018 court decision in a lawsuit filed by potato farmers that found the US government illegally quarantined some Idaho potato fields infested with the pale cyst nematode first discovered in 2006. Farmers with quarantined fields aren’t allowed to sell potatoes grown in them.

When the pests were first discovered, Canada, Mexico and Korea would not accept Idaho potatoes, and Japan banned all US potatoes. The countries ultimately lifted their bans, the latest coming late in 2017 when Japan opened its market again. Still, the nematodes are turning out to be difficult to eradicate.

“To date, no infested fields have met the testing requirements to be fully deregulated,” the USDA said in its publication of the new rule. “At this stage in the eradication testing process, the fields remain regulated, with measures in place to mitigate the movement of soil off the field until or unless three crops of potatoes have been grown on the field and no viable nematodes are detected following harvest of each crop.”

According to¸ Idaho led the nation in 2019 by producing just over 13 billion pounds of potatoes, according to the Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service. The agency said the state had about 308,000 acres in potato production in 2019, producing a crop valued at just over $1 billion.


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