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Alberta, Canada safe from potato bacterium this year

Staff Writer |
Alberta’s potato industry is worth more than $1 billion but is threatened by a tiny bacterium.

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This year, however, a Lethbridge scientist reports, it hasn’t shown up.

“That’s good news,” says Dan Johnson, a biogeography professor at the University of Lethbridge.

He explains the bacteria are linked with zebra chip disease – already affecting crops in the U.S., Mexico and New Zealand. It turned up as early as May in Idaho this year.

Potatoes infected by the bacteria develop unsightly black lines when they’re fried, making them unfit for sale. The bacteria are carried by an insect, the potato psyllid.

“We found hundreds of potato psyllids last year, but we have found under 10 so far this year,” Johnson says. “None have the bacteria that cause zebra chip.”

Last year, he points out, the insects were found in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. So this year, nearly 50 Alberta potato fields are being monitored.

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