A new monitoring and surveillance program will be launched in the spring of 2018 for potato psyllids in Alberta. Thomas McDade, agricultural director, Potato Growers of Alberta says this plan responds to the discovery of a very small number of potato psyllids that tested positive for the Lso bacteria in late 2017. Although follow-up testing of tubers and plant material by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has not detected any incidences of the zebra chip disease in Alberta, the detection of the Lso bacteria in potato psyllids is concerning.
The Potato Growers of Alberta -- in partnership with Cavendish Farms, McCain, Lamb Weston, Old Dutch and PepsiCo - Frito Lay, assisted by the technical expertise of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Promax Agronomy -- are planning to run this program for the next five years. Weekly reports will be circulated throughout the upcoming growing season. These reports will show not only potato psyllid numbers, but also the numbers of the overall insect population present in the fields. Many of these other insects are referred to as “beneficials” as they are natural predators to psyllid insects. Additionally, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and the University of Lethbridge are exploring ways to collaborate on the research component of the potato psyllid impact and management, in the Alberta potato growing regions.
The monitoring program is welcome news for all Canadian potato growers who are closely watching this pest which can carry the Lso bacteria, the vector for zebra chip disease. The zebra chip disease causes the accumulation of sugars, rather than starches, in potatoes. The sugars burn, when fried, causing unsightly dark brown stripes that make the potatoes unmarketable in the processing sector.
Although no evidence of potato psyllids has been found east of the prairies, all growers are wary of the potential havoc of this pest. With climate change, new invasive species such as spotted wing drosophila have totally changed the dynamics of crop protection for fruit growers in just a decade. No one underestimates the potato psyllid since it was discovered in Texas as recently as 2000.
In Canada, research groundwork on potato psyllids is thanks to Dr. Dan Johnson, University of Lethbridge as well as Larry Kawchuk, AAFC Lethbridge Research Centre and Scott Meer, insect monitoring for Alberta Agriculture. Dr. Johnson provided an in-depth report on page B6 of the March issue of The Grower.
Johnson says, “I’ll be working with some other provinces on their surveys, and have time for developing these topics:
- using weather to predict timing, stages, movement, and overwintering
- looking at pathogens, psyllids, and alternate host plants with Larry Kawchuk at LRC
- looking at a dozen species of natural predators present in potato fields in Canada
- mapping psyllid genetics and races with Larry Kawchuk at LRC