April 11, 2003
Irradiation is an effective way to
meet quarantine regulations for interstate shipment of sweetpotato roots that
can harbor weevils that feed on the roots, an
Agricultural Research Service study has
Exposure sterilizes but doesn't kill the weevils, according to entomologist
Guy Hallman at the ARS Kika De La Garza
Subtropical Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas. The weevils may
remain on the roots until they die a few weeks after being irradiated, but they
can't reproduce and they do only negligible damage.
Sweetpotatoes are one of the world's most widely grown crops, with a total
harvest of more than 133 million metric tons every year. That translates to
about 47 pounds for every person on the planet, with people in the United
States consuming four pounds each on average.
But the sweetpotato weevil, Cylas formicarius elegantulus, threatens
the popular sweetpotato. It causes serious damage by laying eggs at the base of
plants in the field. The larvae that hatch burrow into the roots, causing them
to rot. Among food plants, C. formicarius attacks only sweetpotatoes and
continues to damage roots after they have been harvested and put in storage.
To prevent the spread of weevils, growers in southern Florida irradiate
boniato-type sweetpotatoes that are shipped out of state. The boniato, a
white-fleshed sweetpotato, is popular with immigrants to the United States from
the Caribbean and other areas and also represents a valuable export.
In 2000, the first year the technique was used to treat boniatos, 193 tons
were irradiated and shipped. By 2001, the total had grown to 208 tons. The
technique has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service for use in Florida and Hawaii.
Read more about this research in the
April issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is USDA's chief scientific research