A Devastating Insect Pest Is Getting Closer To American Crops

October 27th, 2017

A Devastating Insect Pest Is Getting Closer To American Crops

Insect pests have always been a problem for agricultural workers, and now another pest may start infecting potatoes in the United States. Experts in southern Alberta, Canada have recently noticed an increase in an unwanted type of insect known as a potato psyllid. Potato psyllids spread a pathogen among potatoes that is referred to as Liberibacter solanacearum (Lso), or the zebra psyllid pathogen. This pathogen has infected potato crops that are located as far south as Mexico and all the way up into Canada. Crops in Texas, Oregon, Washington and Idaho have all become infected with the Zebra pathogen. Despite, experts in Alberta finding potatoes infected with the pathogen, not many psyllids have been spotted in Alberta this year. Most of the psyllids that were found were later discovered not to be carrying the pathogen.

The pathogen causes dark stripes to appear on potato tubers, and infected potatoes cannot be processed or sold to the public. Potatoes are routinely tested for zebra psyllid infection, and most of the time, results come back negative. But recently some tests have been coming back positive, which has agricultural professionals concerned. Zebra psyllids have cost millions of dollars to the American economy alone, and Canada has its own agency that is tasked with monitoring and controlling the spread of the pathogen and the psyllid pest that spreads it. According to Dan Johnson of the Canadian Potato Psyllid and Zebra Chip Monitoring Network, there is no reason to become alarmed yet as Canada is still free of potato psyllids. However, Canada only started inspecting potatoes for the pathogen on a large scale in 2013. Johnson believes that the infected potatoes were only found because inspection authorities were “looking too hard”. This is a good thing of course, as close monitoring keeps the public safe and allows farmers to prepare for the worst. By inspecting the potatoes closely and thoroughly, authorities are given time to prepare strategies aimed at containing the spread of the pathogen.

Had you ever heard of the potato psyllid or the zebra psyllid pathogen? Could experts know if potato crops were threatened by the zebra pathogen if the Canadian agency responsible for controlling the spread of the pathogen was only recently formed in 2013?



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October 2017