Autumn is the time in Japan where people young and old enjoy the wholesome taste of a sweet potato. Eaten straight from a stone grill or processed into a Starbucks Frappuccino, they are a hearty treat whose taste embodies the season.
However, this year a “foot rot of sweet potato” pandemic has been sweeping the nation. Despite sweet potatoes having no feet to speak of, the parasitic fungus that causes this disease first damages the leaves and stems of the plants, depriving them of nutrients and stunting their growth, but can also progress into the potato itself.
This year 22 prefectures have reported foot rot and the chain of supply has already been experiencing the effects of it. The Kawasaki Nikko Hotel Pastry Shop was all set to make some very special Mont Blanc pastries made with premium naruto kintoki sweet potatoes from Tokushima Prefecture. However, due to the disease, the hotel could not get as many Naruto Kintoki potatoes as they initially wanted.
Supermarkets are currently reporting a 20 percent reduction in sweet potato stock and in some cases prices have gone up by 20 percent. This is because over the year, about 70 percent of farms in Japan have reported cases of foot rot that have affected their supply.
Even farms that haven’t been affected are taking preventative measures that also affect yield. Much like it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing is being advised for all potatoes in the field. Seed rows are being planted about 10 centimeters further apart than previous seasons in order to avoid transmission of foot rot between potatoes. Unfortunately this also creates less space to grow potatoes and thus fewer delicious Mont Blancs.
▼ News report on the pandemic and its effect on Mont Blancs and prices
China has also been hit with foot rot of sweet potato epidemics in the past year and researchers there are currently racing to decode the fungus’ genome to help find ways to combat it. In the meantime, we’ll have to protect these versatile tubers by relying on conventional control measures such as distancing, maintaining a healthy environment, and putting tiny masks on all the potatoes.
That last one probably won’t help at all, but why can’t we at least have a little fun during all these non-stop problems?
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