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MOU will help market export potatoes

Seed certification agencies throughout the United States are working toward an agreement that will make marketing potatoes internationally easier.

The State National Harmonization Program Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is an agreement between state seed potato certification agencies and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Plant Protection and Quarantine. The purpose of the document is to establish a baseline for seed potatoes grown in the United States so that all seed potatoes exported meet the same standards.

“It will make things easier for export,” said Amy Charkowski, assistant professor of plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Right now, we keep complicated tables of what other states are doing.”

The MOU doesn’t eliminate the need for states to certify seed grown there and, in fact, the state guidelines often are more stringent than the harmonization standards. But the MOU does identify six uniform requirements that each state agrees to if it chooses to sign the agreement.

1. Seed potatoes are produced from tissue culture potatoes that are free from regulated pests or seed if produced from other entry level materials such as line-selected hill units or parent plants used in stem cuttings that are free of regulated pests

2. They are produced from a limited generation system

3. Fields have been inspected at least twice and comply with the set tolerances (maximum tolerances: 1 percent leafroll, 2 percent mosaic, 3 percent total virus, 0 bacterial ring rot and 0.5 percent variety mix)

4. They are subject to post-harvest testing for recertification

5. They are produced and stored in a cooperating state under the harmonization protocols

6. Shipments out of the state are inspected at the shipping point to verify the lot and ensure compliance with phytosanitary guidelines.

A few states have already jumped on board, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and other states are working toward signing the MOU.

“We have signed it and are abiding by the requirements,” said Jeff Axford, executive director of the Michigan Seed Potato Association.

Axford is working on a quality manual and handbook for APHIS approval, and he hoped to complete that soon.

“I think it’s a positive thing for the industry, and once it’s in place, I think it will just be business as usual,” Axford said.

Wisconsin has completed a draft of its manual, which is being approved by the board before being passed along to APHIS for approval. Charkowski said she worked on it off and on for the last six months, and should have it ready for approval this winter.

While the uniform regulations will be a benefit for marketing seed potatoes outside of the United States, there is some concern it could add more costs onto seed growers. The guidelines require a golden nematode and necrotic virus plan, but there’s nothing that prevents amendments to that list.
Following the 2006 finding of potato cyst nematode in Idaho, there was a national seed acreage survey for the pest and there’s concern that a nematode management plan could be added to the MOU. While a PCN plan isn’t a bad idea, it would add a financial burden on seed certifying agencies and seed growers.

State National Harmonization MOU

Seed growers and certifying agencies in states that sign the State National Harmonization MOU agree to:

1. Recognize seed certification agencies from other states that participate in the program

2. Conform to the six guidelines identified in the MOU

3. Seed certifying entities will maintain adequate records relating to all aspects of the certification regime, including records to enable traceback of the certified seed to its field generation and parent material and to ensure lot identification

4. Any testing uses recognized diagnostic methods and protocols

5. Certification entities will provide APHIS with a quality manual describing procedures, tolerances and methodologies. The manual will include the state’s standards and a handbook that outlines disease testing standards and protocols.

6. The state will have a pest management plan and quarantine program for golden nematode and potato necrotic virus

7. All certified seed from the state meets the requirements of the MOU.

Originally posted Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007

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