AgWatch


Insect, Disease Management Critical As Ag Exports Increase



 Bill Spitzer, the outgoing U.S. Department of Agriculture state plant health director, speaks about international trade and plant health on April 30 at the LSU AgCenter’s  Global  Agriculture Hour.
 Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter






BATON ROUGE, LA.
   As foreign countries and the U.S. demand more of each other’s agriculture products, new economic opportunities that may benefit Louisiana are growing.
   So are challenges to plant health, said Bill Spitzer, Louisiana plant health director for the Plant Protection and Quarantine division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. His division is responsible for containing domestic diseases and insects and preventing the spread of exotic pests into the U.S.
   Spitzer, an entomologist by training, retired on May 1 after 39 years with USDA. During that time, the international agriculture economy has changed considerably, he told attendees of the April 30 Global Agriculture Hour hosted by LSU AgCenter International Programs.
   “Everybody is global business-wise,” he said.
   U.S. agriculture exports support 1 million domestic jobs and were worth $152.5 billion in 2014, Spitzer said. Between 60 and 70 percent of U.S. grain exports leave through Louisiana ports.
   Growing international trade prompted the widening of the Panama Canal, which is set for completion in 2016. Larger ships will be able to move more goods faster to ports in the southeastern U.S., Spitzer said. The down side is that “pests will come here quicker.”
   A number of foreign pests have entered Louisiana in the past two decades, including the giant salvinia weed, Asian soybean rust, citrus canker and the Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads citrus greening. Just last month, the emerald ash borer, which is native to Asia, was found in Webster Parish.
   The two citrus diseases originated in Asia and likely were blown into Louisiana by hurricanes, Spitzer said. Citrus trees in the greater New Orleans area have been infected.
   Technological advances are making it easier to identify and take action against pests, Spitzer said. Alternatives to fumigation with methyl bromide are being developed. DNA analysis offers more accurate detection, saving money and time that would be spent on destroying suspected plants that are not actually infected.
   Still, inspectors – especially those in different countries – have different perceptions of risks.
   For example, the cactus moth was successfully used to control prickly pear weeds in Australia in the 1920s. But the moth, a native of South America, later spread to Florida and Mexico, where it is considered a pest.
   “My pest may be your biocontrol agent, my weed may be your crop,” Spitzer said.
International cooperation through trade agreements and uniform plant health standards will be important as the global agriculture economy continues to grow, Spitzer said. ∆
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