A biological pesticide developed at Montana State University will enter the fight this month to control a threat to Montana's $38 million seed potato industry after receiving a provisional approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA's emergency exemption for Certis USA's product, BmJ WG (cq) will allow Montana growers to use the agent discovered by researchers with MSU's College of Agriculture to combat potato virus Y, or PVY.
The virus has shown resurgence in seed potatoes in the U.S., says Nina Zidack, MSU Potato Laboratory director. The lab certifies that seed potatoes grown in Montana meet strict disease tolerances.
"Growers are certainly very enthusiastic for the arrival of any new tool to reduce infection from PVY," says Zidack.
The exemption for the use is under a Section 18 EPA rule that helps spur products badly needed by industry onto commercial markets. For Montana growers, this means the product has become available for them to use months earlier than the conventional EPA process would have allowed.
Section 18 is designed to deliver EPA-approved products to growers quickly if there exists industry urgency for the technology to be used.
Barry Jacobson, a plant science and plant pathology professor at MSU, discovered BmJ in 1994 during efforts to tame outbreaks of cercospora leaf spot in northeast Montana.
By isolating from the healthy plants in otherwise devastated fields, he discovered a bacterium he dubbed Bacillus mycoides isolate J, or BmJ, that he found could trigger the plant's immune response to various pathogens.
In his research, Jacobson has shown what is considered by others to be "astonishing" abilities to control plant diseases caused by fungi, bacteria and viruses.
A biological control, as opposed to a chemical-based pesticide, BmJ induces what scientists call "systemic acquired resistance" in plants. The bacterium has the potential to be an important disease-control tool for growers of a wide variety of crops, Jacobson believes.
Certis license the technology last year and is in the process of clearing the EPA regulatory hurdles required for the product's commercialization in the United States.