July 09, 2020

Maine potato growers plan strategy to battle mosaic virus

PRESQUE ISLE — The message from the Maine potato industry was clear Monday: it wants to produce a high quality product.

Nearly 200 members met in Presque Isle to consider strategies for reducing viruses. They focused on spread of the mosaic virus in Maine potatoes, particularly in symptomless carrier varieties used for processing.

A report released two weeks ago from the annual test at the Florida seed test farm showed significantly higher levels of the mosaic virus from last year’s crop.

Because the higher levels kept much of the seed out of certification, processors had asked for a waiver of the state’s tolerance level to provide an adequate supply of seed. Without the waiver, they said they would have to import seed.

That issue bothered some industry members who wondered what other diseases would be imported in potatoes from other areas.

In a surprise announcement, Steve Street, manager of Interstate Food Processing Corp., said that Interstate and McCain Foods had agreed they would rather not raise the tolerance level and subject the seed industry to further harm.

Last season’s hot dry weather encouraged the spread of virus by local aphids and melon aphids brought to the area by Hurricane Bob, department officials said. In addition, the relaxation of state virus-tolerance levels last year contributed to the increased spread, they said.

Data from the meeting and other suggestions will be compiled for an official plan later this month, according to Bernard W. Shaw, Maine’s agriculture commissioner.

“Our industry is in jeopardy,” said Shaw. “We’re all going to have to pull together and come up with a tough plan that hopefully we can all live with.”

A plan of strategy outlined by the department included an immediate ban on the Norkota variety, consideration of a ban on Shepody and LaRouge varieties and elimination of the Shepody in two years.

Proposals also included changes in foundation requirements on farms producing nuclear seed, and restrictions on seed imports.

Shaw said he sensed an unusual “togetherness” by all segments of the industry that historically had “gone their own way” on previous issues.

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