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Search warrants for potato pest ordered at E. Idaho farms

Potato field. File photo.

Potato field. File photo.

A federal judge has approved search warrants to take samples from fields in southeast Idaho after farmers refused to allow federal authorities to check for a microscopic potato pest.

The Post Register reports that U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale on Nov. 18 denied a motion by farmers seeking to delay the testing until a related lawsuit is settled. Some sampling was already carried out before Dale’s ruling, and additional soil samples are expected to be taken this week at the farms in Bingham County.

“We’ve done what we could,” said Bill Myers, a Boise attorney representing the farmers, which include Mickelsen Farms, CVRH Farm and several others. “The court’s allowed those search warrants to go forward.”

The discovery of the pale cyst nematode in Bingham and Bonneville counties in 2006 was the first detection of the pest in the United States, and several countries temporarily stopped shipment of Idaho potatoes. Japan still doesn’t allow them.

The worms feed at the roots of potato plants and can reduce crop production by 80 percent. Officials say the pest is not harmful to humans.

Idaho’s plan to eradicate the pest includes quarantine and treatment of infected fields as well as special regulations for some associated fields.

In early 2015 a group of eastern Idaho potato growers and a shipper filed a lawsuit seeking to end a quarantine and field testing imposed by state and federal authorities.

The group in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Idaho cites the 10th Amendment concerning state’s rights in arguing that the federal government is illegally imposing regulations in Idaho through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group also said authorities failed to follow federal environmental laws in imposing actions without proper study, such as an Environmental Impact Statement.

The 12 fields federal authorities want to test now are next to a field known to have the pale cyst nematode, or PCN, and were farmed with the same equipment as the infected field.

“It is imperative that the PCN Program obtains immediate access to these fields in order to prevent the further spread of PCN, and before harsher weather makes surveying impossible,” Brian Marschman, Idaho Plant Health Director under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, wrote in a letter in support of the search warrants.

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