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New weapons for tracking late blight

Potato News Today

by Jorge Luis Alonso G., an information consultant specializing in potatoes

A North Carolina State University team has developed quick diagnostic tests to detect plant diseases before they show symptoms in the field. In particular, they have worked on technology for identifying Phytophthora infestans, which causes late blight in potatoes and tomatoes. This article highlights how that technology works and describes the benefits for producers.

Potato was the most widely grown crop in Ireland in 1845 when late blight arrived. The disease wiped out half of the potato crop that year and about three-quarters of the crop for the next seven years. As a result, about one million people died, and a similar number had to emigrate to other latitudes.

Today late blight is still one of the most destructive diseases of tomato and potato. Globally, economic losses approach US$6 billion each year. Due to its rapid rate of spread, this disease poses a significant threat to food security around the globe.

Although some countries have implemented decision support systems and other tools to manage late blight, smallholder farmers in lower-income countries continue to use fungicides to control this disease at a high frequency. Excessive fungicide use increases production costs and creates severe risks to the environment and the farmers and families. In these areas, chemicals are almost always applied without adequate protection.

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