Fighting back: Researchers battle potato disease

POCATELLO — Potato growers from throughout Idaho learned about the re-emergence of the Potato Virus Y and what research is being done to prevent the spread of the disease during a special symposium at the 2011 Potato Conference Wednesday.
A variety of scientists presented the beginning stages of their research during the conference. They are from the University of Idaho, the University of Wisconsin and the United States Department of Agriculture. Many of the presenters have been a part of a large group of individuals researching PVY to determine ways to comprehensively manage the disease which affects potato production in the United States .
Project leader Stewart Gray said PVY has begun to shift and is less noticeable in foliage. Two primary strains of PVY have combined to form hybrid strains that cause tuber necrotic ringspot disease, something not seen in earlier strains.
“We’re seeing a shift from the common strain to the tuber necrotic strain,” Gray said. “PVY can become a major, quality disease for the entire potato industry.”
If unchecked, PVY can result in seed shortages and yield impacts, Gray said.
PVY can be spread by various species of aphids and infects potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers and many varieties of weeds including nightshades.
Gray said everyone industry-wide must be on board to reduce PVY including seed producers and commercial producers.
A website dedicated to the project,, lists several items that producers can do to prevent the spread of PVY. Things farmers can do is plant only certified seed, practice sanitation with cutting and planting equipment, destroy cut piles and remove any unwanted potato plants growing from the previous year’s crop.
Certain potato cultivars are more resistant to disease, however PVY is a changing virus that can develop new strains to adapt to a resistant plant. Methods to control and reduce aphids from fields will also deter the spread of PVY.