Plant disease under the homeland security microscope

rapid processing of diagnostic requests and information among these units.

As regional bio-security activities have increased, Rush and his associates, Dr. Jeff Stein, plant pathologist, and Kim Maxson, plant disease diagnostician, have briefed government congressional and state legislative officials, including those from USDA Plant Health and Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine Division and Texas Department of Agriculture.

Stein said the introduction of invasive species in this country isn't new, but with increased international commerce, the risks are likely to become more common. Two recent arrivals in the U.S. citrus canker and plum pox prompted "zero tolerance" quarantines where the affected fruit trees had to be destroyed.

"If an orchard has either disease, the site is essentially gutted and the grower is left with a huge economic loss," he said.

The Great Plains produces 95 percent of the nation's sunflower acres, 84 percent of the sorghum, 73 percent of the wheat, 55 percent of the dry beans, 42 percent of the cotton, and 35 percent of the sugar beets. The region also grows much of the corn, soybeans, potatoes, alfalfa and canola-rape seed.

Wheat also takes a large slice of this regional production pie. Karnal bunt, among other pests, is an very unwelcome visitor. Texas was one of only three U.S. states with a confirmed threat within its boundaries. From karnal bunt's arrival in 1996 until last year, the disease caused an estimated $350 million loss nationally.

"We're not only concerned over natural occurrences, but now worry about agroterrorism," said Stein. He pointed to Rush's work on many significant plant diseases including sorghum ergot, wheat streak mosaic virus, and rhizomania, a soil-borne virus affecting sugar beets. Federal and state agencies monitor national borders for plant pest introductions. Still, on occasion, new ones will slip through. Growers often spot these anom

Contact: Pam Dillard
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

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