Farmer Who Grows Potatoes for Herr’s in Nottingham Finally Knows What Destroyed Crops in 2016


Potatoes growing in the ground.
Image via iStock.
Thousands of potatoes were lost to disease in 2016, impacting businesses like Herr's, and researchers now know what caused it.

Michael Brooks, a South Jersey farmer who grows potatoes for Herr’s in Nottingham, finally knows what destroyed his crop eight years ago, writes Alan Yu for WHYY

Like hundreds of other farmers throughout the region, Brooks lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of potatoes in 2016 to a previously-unidentified disease. Nearly all his potato plants withered and died after their lower parts turned black. 

“Once you have it, there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Brooks. “This is the frustrating part.” 

The mystery ailment was the hardest he had been hit by in his decades of being a farmer. 

To find out what caused all the potato plants to die, Penn State researchers collected samples from potato fields across the region. In their recently published findings, they listed the specific types of bacteria responsible, including some that had not been identified in Pennsylvania before. 

That does not mean the bacteria are new, though, said Carolee Bull, professor of plant pathology at Penn State. 

“These organisms have probably been around for a long time,” she said. “As [our technologies] get better, we are able to distinguish bacteria from one another better.” 

Read more about the potato destruction of 2016 and its findings in WHYY


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