When a virus or virus-like agent infects a vegetatively propagated crop, the negative consequences can go far beyond a disappointing yield, appearance, taste, and plant longevity. If the difficult-to-find disease goes undetected inside the propagation material, the problem could be passed on to a new farm, establish itself, and spread even further.
Since 2008, the National Clean Plant Network has brought together growers, scientists, and government agencies with the shared goal of safeguarding clean plants and ensuring a sustainable source of disease-free, vegetative propagation materials (such as cuttings, slips, scionwood, etc.). No less than the long-term viability of farmers and feeding a hungry planet are at stake.
With a new grant from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a group of CTAHR Extension agents and researchers on Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Maui, and the Big Island have joined the network’s sweet potato group. For their first project, Amjad Ahmad, Rosemary Gutierrez, Roshan Manandhar, Susan Miyasaka, Sharon Motomura-Wages, and Jensen Uyeda, along with Dr. Jon Suzuki from the USDA ARS, DKI US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo, will focus on ‘Okinawan,’ the purple-fleshed sweet potato variety that is a primary commercial cultivar in Hawaiʻi.
“During the first year, we hope to produce a total of 100 virus-tested ‘Okinawan’ plantlets in the tissue-culture laboratory of the Komohana Research and Extension Center, then distribute to Extension agents across the state,” Susan says.
The plan calls for these Extension agents to multiply the clean material to produce 500 cuttings, and distribute them to growers. The agents will use either pot or hydroponic cultures under conditions that will minimize any re-introduction of disease, while Dr. Suzuki will test for major sweet potato viruses in order to ensure that the propagating materials are clean. If all goes well, by the second year of funding, the agents will be able to ramp up production to distribute 2,500 clean cuttings to growers.
Read more about the National Clean Plant Network.