The County Ag Report: Seed potatoes strictly monitored

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - Potato farmers are gearing up for another season. In this week's County Ag Report, Kathy McCarty speaks with Maine Potato Board officials who say seed stock is an industry all its own.

Farmers in Maine have the ability to market their seed potatoes outside the state, thanks to a program that allows them to ship seed to farms within the state, as well as other states, Canada and other countries.

Eric Hitchcock, of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, says "We follow a set of standards and tolerances that are more or less common in the industry so that as far as disease testing and those types of things, along with field testing, to ensure that the commercial growers on the other end that are receiving the product have a - have a certainty that the potatoes are gonna meet certain specifications."

Eric Hitchcock, of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, says the main diseases the industry tests for are potato virus Y, potato leaf roll virus, and a new disease called dickeya. He says officials have put together changes in certification rules to better combat dickeya and pectobacterium, which both cause soft rot.

"We've gone away from our post-harvest tests that we used to do down in Florida, and now we're lab testing here in the potato board building - all of our post-harvest test samples which test for PVY and potato leaf roll."

Plant Pathologist Andrew Plant says he tests for certain diseases, whether it's a virus or bacterial. He says PVY is at the top of the list of problems reported. PVY causes black spots on leaves and potatoes with internal black spots.

"It has the most effect on these potato crops. It's been a virus that's been evolving and changing and causing issues with the industry."

It's an ongoing battle as scientists try to develop disease-resistant varieties.

"When we look at trying to manage some of these pathogens or, you know, even insects, it's an integrated approach and so a lot of the focus, or some of the focus, has been on trying to breed for resistance to certain diseases."

Currently a potato variety called Eva has proven resistant to PVY, and other varieties have shown different levels of resistance as well. Plant says there's a high level of scrutiny that goes into each crop, to ensure consumers get a quality product.