Safeguarding American Agriculture – One State at a Time

Contributor: Matthew A. Travis, State Plant Health Director MD/DC, USDA APHIS

Every day, goods enter our country from all over the world. With these goods come non-native species that could be the next big invader. Few of us see the behind-the-scenes actions taken by agencies such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stop these invasions. For this reason, the USDA is our topic for this month’s Invader of the Month article.

On January 6, 1910, a shipment of 2,000 Japanese flowering cherry trees arrived in Washington, DC and were inspected by the Bureau of Entomology of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   To everyone’s dismay, an inspection team from the Department of Agriculture discovered that the trees were infested with insects and nematodes, and were diseased. To protect American growers, the department concluded that the trees must be destroyed.  The trees were burned on the National Mall.  These events would lead to the PlantQuarantine Act of 1912 authorizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to inspect agricultural products, to organize border quarantines and to restrict entry of infested agricultural goods.

Port of Baltimore, twitter.com/portofbalt

For the last 100 years, the United States has relied on port-of-entry inspections to protect ourNation’s agriculture and natural resources against the introduction of invasive pests and diseases. Today, Customs and Border Control (CBP) carries out the frontline inspection of all cargo, commodities, and passengers.  Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ)  conducts inspections of regulated garbage, conducts compliance, treatments, certifications, identifications, and provides guidance on methods/policy development.  All with one Mission – Safeguarding American Agriculture!                                                                                   

PPQ Agricultural Quarantine – Every day in every state and ports around the country, like the port of Baltimore, PPQ and CBP officials decide the fate of hundreds of agricultural imports based on inspection and operational risk management. What they find—or don’t find—determines whether a shipment will be allowed to enter our country, or whether it must be treated, destroyed, or sent back because it is infested with plant pests or animal diseases. In Baltimore, imported cargoes include tile, spices, wood pulp, metals, Niger seed, wood products and lumber, which arrive every day presenting agricultural risks. Likewise, at Baltimore-Washington-Thurgood-Marshall International Airport, passengers from all over the world bring plants, animals, snails, cultural artifacts – including wooden masks, reed baskets, fresh snails, bush meat, and rare plants.

USDA APHIS PPQ, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

PPQ MarylandPlant Health Safeguarding Specialists (PHSS) collaborate with many partners to protect plant health in Maryland and the region. To help keep PPQ on the leading edge, they constantly use and test scientific mitigation methods, screen new plant protection methods, new treatment methods and use technological advancements that safeguard our agricultural and natural resources while facilitating the safe global trade of agricultural products.

Pest Identification – In Baltimore, the PPQ port identifier coordinates the identification of plant pests in support of USDA’s regulatory programs for the region, helping to prevent the spread of invasive plant pests and diseases.  The port identifier collaborates PPQ’s National Identification Services (NIS) who in-turn works with scientists who specialize in various plant pest groups, including weeds, insects, mites, snails and plant diseases. These scientists are stationed at institutions around the country, including federal research laboratories, plant inspection stations, land-grant universities, and natural history museums.

Pest Treatment – Once the pests are identified, USDA APHIS determines type(s) of treatments when a pest of quarantine significance is prevalent in the country and/or for those which are difficult to inspect. Treatments can be chemical or non-chemical. There are various approved chemical treatments: fumigants, dips and spray. Non chemical treatments include cold treatment, hot water immersion, vapor heat treatment, steam sterilization and irradiation.

Cooperative Work with State Partners – PPQ Baltimore works with partners in the scientific community, other Agencies in USDA, government entities, State departments of agriculture, universities, and industry partners.  APHIS and its State cooperators carry out surveys for high-risk pests through a network of cooperators in the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) program.

Agriculture is our country’s largest industry and employment sector, adding more than $330 billion to the economy. USDA’s Economic Research Service projects that the value of U.S. agricultural trade alone will likely exceed $250 billion this year. Our forests and natural resources provide economic value, contribute to human and environmental health, and provide untold enjoyment for millions of people. PPQ Baltimore works to support this vital mission in support of American Agriculture.