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Michael Brooks has been farming in South Jersey his whole life. He grows potatoes for local chip companies like Herrs and Utz. In 2016, he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of potatoes to a potato disease.
The potato plants withered and died. The lower parts of the plants turned black.
“Once you have it, there’s nothing you can do about it. This is the frustrating part,” he said. “A lot of times in agriculture … if you see a plant get a disease or have an insect issue, there are remedies … this you couldn’t do anything with.”
A stunted potato plant is next to a healthy plant. (Courtesy of Robert E. Leiby)
Brooks said the mystery ailment that wrecked his potato harvest was the hardest he has been hit by a single plant disease in decades of experience as a farmer. To make matters worse, it hit after he had dealt with the damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“That really devastated us. We were finally getting back on our feet and then  and  come around,” he said. “It seems like sometimes in agriculture you’re playing catch up from things that are out of your control.”