Quarantine issued for sweet potatoes

Fresh market products won’t be affected

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State officials have declared an internal quarantine on sweet potatoes used for planting. It takes effect immediately and won’t affect the sweet potatoes you buy fresh in grocery stores and other fresh produce markets.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services has established the quarantine for all 100 counties for the guava root knot nematode or in scientific terms meloidogyne enterolobil. Under the action, regulated articles, in this case sweet potatoes to be used for seed purposes, are prohibited from movement to non-quarantined states.

Currently the only other state with such a quarantine is Florida. The nematode has been reported in several countries outside the United States. China, Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, Kenya and Nigeria have all reported its presence.

According to the NCDA&CS, the nematode can also affect several other crops. Cotton, soybeans, tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and watermelons are some of the agricultural crops which can suffer from the nematode.

It is unknown how the nematode entered the United States; however, it has been identified in eight North Carolina counties and impacts both crop quality and yield.

“Basically, this nematode that we commonly referred to as Enterolobil was found in Johnston County around Princeton several years ago,” said Johnston County Extension Agent Bryant Spivey. “Since it infects roots, it is easily moved around with sweet potatoes.”

Mr. Spivey said the sweet potatoes for human consumption are the fresh market variety, it’s the variety farmers use to grow more sweet potatoes that’s under the quarantine.

“The seed that growers bed for growing plants are roots,” Mr. Spivey said. “Seed can be easily infested if they were grown in an infested field. If those seed were moved out of state, they would move the nematode.”

He said because the root of the plant is removed before being transplanted, the odds of moving the nematode are small.

“We typically cut plants removing all the roots before transplanting,” he said. “But still there is some risk of moving a minor amount of root and soil in this process.”

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