May 13, 2021

Win the battle against invasive pests and diseases

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack declared April Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.

Farmers are at the front lines in the battle against invasive pests and diseases.

“Plants produce the oxygen we breathe and give us 80% of the food we eat, so they are critical to our survival, environmental health and economic well-being,” said Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator of the Plant Protection and Quarantine Program. “But, according to the United Nations, invasive pests destroy up to 40% of the world’s food crops and cause $220 billion in trade losses each year.”

Tips For Farmers

• Learn to identify the invasive species in your area.

• Report any sightings to your county extension agent or local U.S. Department of Agriculture office. The sooner invasive species are detected, the easier and cheaper it is to control them.

• Clean your boots, gear, truck bed, tires and harvesting equipment after working a site to make sure you are not spreading seeds, insects or spores to a new location.

• Be sure to control invasive plants along fencerows, ditches and other areas adjacent to fields.

• Always use weed-free hay and feed for your animals.

In the United States alone, destructive insects and plant diseases cost an estimated $40 billion annually in damages.

Whether or not you farm, you can take actions to protect plants.

5 Ways To Protect Plants

1. Familiarize yourself with the invasive pests already found in your area, as well as the telltale signs they leave on wild plants and agriculture.

2. Look for signs of invasive plant pests and diseases and report them to your local Extension office, state Department of Agriculture or your USDA state plant health director’s office.

3. Declare, when returning from international travel, all agricultural items, including soil, to U.S. Customs and Border Protection so they can ensure your items arrive pest-free.

4. Avoid moving untreated firewood. Buy certified, heat-treated firewood or responsibly gather wood where you burn it to avoid unintentionally spreading tree-killing beetles that hide inside untreated firewood.

5. Be careful about where you source your plants and seeds. If you purchase them online, choose reputable domestic suppliers, or import them legally to ensure you don’t also accidentally import exotic pests and diseases.

When in doubt, and before buying seeds or plants online from international vendors, contact your local USDA state plant health director’s office first.

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Erica Quinlan

Field Editor