Zebra Chip Vector Hunt Is On In Idaho

Psyllid monitoring becomes more important as growers work to prevent rise of crop-destroying disease.

Published on: Jul 23, 2013

Those pesky little potato psyllids that cause big problems for spud farmers are finding out that growers are no longer  misters nice guys.

Following a special potato pest identification workshop in Parma,  Idaho in May, growers are armed with new determination to hunt down and do in the cause of zebra chip disease.

The insects may create some major losses for growers if not controlled, University of Idaho researchers warned producers at the session. The cicadea-like pests are targeted by the Oregon and Washington potato commissions as well as the Idaho Commission as a most wanted pest.

"These workshops really help," says Andy Jensen, the Idaho Commission's regional research director. "When you're out in the field looking for it (psyllid), it can be very tough to recognize."

Zebra stripping on potatoes render final products bitter and unmarketable.
Zebra stripping on potatoes render final products bitter and unmarketable.

This is not the first time special Idaho have been held focusing on the pest. A similar session was held by U I in Parma, Rupert and Idaho Falls, with others in Washington and Oregon.

The psyllid carries a bacteria which leads to zebra chip disease, a malady which renders infected crops useless. But the potato psyllid was not a problem in the region until 2011, when zebra chips – so named for their stripes – began to show up. The disease causes dark stripes to develop in tubers that turn darker once sliced and fried. While there is no known health or nutritional problem with zebra stripes, tastes are bitter.

Jensen discovered the overwintering biology of psyllids in 2011 on bittersweet nightshade in and around Boise, Idaho. The finding revealed that the pest remains in certain parts of the Pacific Northwest year-round.

"We don't  know for sure what caused the sudden outbreak," he says, "and we can't say for sure that it is going to stay, either.

"For now, we're assuming it will stick around."