(June 26) Investigators may have found the needle in the haystack that could lead to the resurrection of exports of Idaho tablestock potatoes.

Lab scientists, working with the investigators, in mid-June detected cysts containing potato cyst nematodes in numerous soil samples from a 45-acre field south of Idaho Falls.

In doing so, they may have determined the soil source of two nematode cysts found the second week of April in dirt from an Idaho dehydrated potato processing plant. The discovery offers hope of locating the next link in the source chain and containing the pest.

Trading partners in Mexico and Japan, both of which halted Idaho potato imports because of the April find, want to resume shipments once the situation is resolved, says Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture deserve kudos for their response to the initial detection of the cysts. They sent in extra investigators, who had to wade through more than 2,500 negative soil samples from numerous fields before coming up with a positive.

The investigators continue their efforts to trace the pest.

At first glance, it might appear that the routine testing that discovered the two original cysts was too slow. After all, nearly two months passed between the time the processing plant sample was collected in mid-February and the time that presence of nematode was confirmed.

But keeping two dozen or more extra investigators on the payroll year-round to reduce the amount of time it takes to do standard processing of samples would be cost-prohibitive.

And the standard process, by which sometimes a University of Idaho lab in Parma has to forward samples to an APHIS lab in Beltsville, Md., for further examination, might not be able to be accelerated that much, anyway, Muir says.

Considering how slowly government and scientific research often move, the system in place to detect potato cyst nematode has worked quite efficiently.