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Two more southeast Idaho fields infected with microscopic potato pest

Two new infestations of a microscopic wormlike pest that attacks potato plants have been discovered in eastern Idaho, state and federal agriculture officials say.

Lloyd Knight of the Idaho Department of Agriculture said that both infestations of the potato cyst nematode are in the Shelley area. Department spokeswoman Pam Juker said the infestations were found in August and September. The most recent discoveries follow the report last spring of another infected field.

The nematodes were initially discovered in Bingham County in April 2006.

“None of those original infected fields that were taken out of production in 2006 have been released for production,” Knight told the Post Register.

The nematodes feed at the roots of potato plants and can reduce crop production by 80 percent. Officials say the pest is not harmful to humans and doesn’t have any effect on the potatoes themselves.

Tina Gresham, director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s potato cyst nematode program in Idaho Falls, declined to identify the landowners of the most recently infected fields.

She said workers have been taking soil samples from fields that are being sent to the University of Idaho lab for analysis. She said wet weather stopped work, but recent dry weather has allowed sampling to resume.

She said U.S. Department of Agriculture considers about 1,500 acres infected, and another 15,500 acres are being regulated because it’s possible soil from infected fields might have been transferred. Knight said the agency is still trying to determine the extent of the infestation.

“We’re still trying to deal with those associated acres and get those acres narrowed down,” Knight said.

Officials say it’s unclear how the nematodes entered the state. Experts say nematodes are typically transported on contaminated soil, one possibility being on farm equipment that moves from field to field. But nematodes can also be transported on workers’ shoes or clothing. Workers in the regulated or infested fields in eastern Idaho are required to clean their boots and pants before leaving a field.

Knight said it’s unclear when the fields that are infested or regulated might be returned to potato production.

“We’re still finding some of those infested acres,” Knight said, “but we’re making progress on the associated acres.”

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