"We say the virus is ‘vectored’ by the nematode,” Assistant Professor Axel Elling of the Department of Plant Pathology at Washington State University said to me when I was first learning about CRS disease. 

Elling and his scientific colleagues are starting to look into CRS disease. A lot hinges on their work because if only a small percentage of potatoes shows a lot of CRS symptoms, a farmer’s entire shipment can be rejected – meaning the poor grower has nothing to sell after his investment of labor and costly inputs like fuel and seed. 

"CRS is a major challenge for the potato industry,” Elling told me.

Just the beginning

And research into CRS is just getting off the ground. The hope is that a more thorough understanding of how the virus interacts with the nematodes to infect the potato plant can help in the management of the disease.

Agricultural scientists do a lot of work that benefits us each day. They are in the front lines fighting against diseases in plants and livestock that threaten our food supply. When they are successful, we just adapt to our good fortune and think next to nothing about it.

Back in the old days when most of us lived on farms we had a pretty clear picture of how various diseases threaten crops and livestock. But now that most of us get our food from the grocery store and don’t even tour the places where it is grown, we can be quite ignorant of what affects the wide range of crop plants on which we really do depend.

But those of us who like to eat three squares a day have a vested interest in agricultural research — the sort of work Prof. Elling and others do each day and that is almost never publically celebrated.

Pass the spuds, please — and wish the ag researchers well.

E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Planet Rock Doc, a collection of Peters’ columns, is available at bookstores or from the publisher at wsupress.wsu.edu or 1-800-354-7360. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.