A little-understood bacteria is bringing back an older potato disease and threatening the reputation of Maine seed potatoes, which farmers up and down the U.S. East Coast buy to grow their own spuds.
Since last summer, Tim Hobbs, the Maine Potato Board’s director of development and grower relations, has been spending a lot of his time on Dickeya, a bacteria that was responsible for an outbreak of the potato disease blackleg in the Mid-Atlantic region last year.
“For some individuals, it was quite bad,” Hobbs said of the blackleg, which leads to rot in the potatoes. Some farmers in Pennsylvania and Maryland growing Maine seed potatoes lost as much as half their crop.
Blackleg is caused by a number of bacteria, but the disease has been kept under control in Maine seed farms for well over a decade, making its emergence in the south a bit of mystery until the cause was identified as Dickeya by Steve Johnson, a crops specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Presque Isle.
“This isn’t your daddy’s blackleg,” he warned farmers at the Maine Potato Conference in January.
Dickeya species have been a problem for European potato growers for decades, and the less noxious of them, Dickeya dianthicola, has been in the U.S. living among ornamental plants since the 1950s and recently started transitioning to potatoes and other crops, according to Hobbs.
For the first time in Hobb’s memory, last year the Maine Potato Board asked the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to note the presence of blackleg in their field surveys of seed lots and include the findings in their North American Certified Seed Potato Health Certificate.
Eighty-three per cent of seed lots had no blackleg symptoms last year, and about eight percent of had more than a quarter of a percent of the disease, Hobbs said. But “there’s isn’t a seed supplier that I know of that’s willing to sign a guarantee that they don’t have Dickeya in their crop.”
The Maine Potato Board is asking the Department of Agriculture to note blackleg symptoms again this year and to do three readings during the summer. Dickeya symptoms include non-emergence of potatoes, blackened stems and wilting plants.
While the emergence of Dickeya has put a lot of pressure on the Maine Potato Board to help protect the quality of a key agricultural export, Hobbs said they are lucky no potato growers in North America are dealing with Dickeya solani, the more active species of the bacteria found in Europe that causes huge crop losses and is grounds for a quarantine.
“But we’re not under any illusion that it could never get here,” Hobbs said.
Source: Bangor Daily News
Million Dollar Picture
Photographer Kevin Abosch recently sold a photograph of a potato for 1 million euros, equivalent to just over US$1 million.
The photograph, titled “Potato #345,” was taken in 2010 as part of a series, according to media reports. It’s a portrait of an Irish potato on top of a black background, a distinguished trademark of Abosch’s that is exceedingly sought after by his wealthy, and often well-known, admirers. The 46-year-old artist generally commissions photographs for at least US$280,000.
Aside from spuds, Abosch also photographs portraits of influential figures. Potato #345 joined a portfolio that included shots of Steven Spielberg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
The recently sold potato photograph is one of three in existence. Abosch keeps one in his own private collection and he donated another to a Serbian art museum. The third was bought by an unidentified European businessman.
Bangladeshi scientists have successfully field-tested a genetically modified potato resistant to late blight.
After completing its last trial in February, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) will now seek regulatory approval of the RB (blight resistant) gene-infused potato. BARI officials are calling the GM potato the farmers’ answer to late blight once it’s released.
Late blight affects more than three million hectares of potato crops globally and causes economic losses estimated at US$2.75 billion a year, according to the International Potato Center.
With an annual output of nine million tonnes, Bangladesh is the seventh largest potato-producing nation in the world. Its farmers spray 500 tonnes of fungicide each year to protect the major tuber crop.
Breeders involved in developing the GM potato since 2006 at BARI said the RB gene was taken from wild potato varieties and was infused into a potato variety called Katahdin in the United States. They said it was crossed with Diamant and Cardinal, two popular potato varieties in Bangladesh.
BARI is developing the late blight resistant potato in co-operation with the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), a consortium of public and private sector institutions supporting scientists, regulators, extension workers, farmers and the general public in developing countries to make informed decisions about agricultural biotechnology. The consortium is funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
ABSPII officials say it will soon be up to the Bangladeshi regulators to decide when they would release the variety. If that happens, the new blight resistant potato will be the second commercially released GM food crop in South Asia after Bt Brinjal, which was also released by Bangladesh in 2013.
Source: Daily Star