With planting season just around the corner, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are reminding home gardeners to take precautions to prevent the infection and spread of late blight. Planting clean and disease-resistant seeds is the best way to prevent the spread of late blight to other gardens and potato farms.
What is late blight?
Late blight is a disease caused by an organism that produces a white fuzz on the underside of leaves which releases millions of spores that float through the air to infect other plants. The spores land on a susceptible leaf, germinate, and cause brown oily lesions. The spores splash on the ground and infect potato tubers, which become brown and rusty looking, with a granular texture. Crop losses due to late blight can cost the Canadian potato industry tens of millions of dollars annually.
Protecting the potato industry
AAFC late blight specialist Rick Peters says taking steps to prevent the disease from infecting potato crops is important to help protect the health of the industry. He advises home gardeners to ensure their tomato seeds are resistant to the US-23 strain of late blight. Resistant seeds can be purchased at most garden centres. Certified disease-free seed potatoes can also be found at garden centres or purchased from a local seed potato grower. Peters says potatoes grown from last year’s garden or those bought from the grocery store are not suitable for planting as these tubers have not been tested and certified as disease-free and could be susceptible to a variety of potato diseases.
AAFC has partnered with industry leaders to identify and track late blight strains in production areas across the country. Scientists are also looking at biological characteristics of the different strains including how they respond to treatments. This knowledge allows for better management and control of the strains in Canadian potato and tomato production areas. While scientists continue to study the disease, they maintain that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and home gardeners have an important role to play.
If you spot a suspected late blight infection in your garden this season, please contact the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries at 1-866-778-3762 for information on how to properly dispose of infected plants.