A year later: Crop industry taking safety issues more seriously


COLUMBUS – Anthrax scares and grounded crop duster planes called for stressful months in the crop industry following last year’s Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

But despite tragic events, the public’s uneasiness caused better crisis preparation for the future.

Pesticide education programs over the past year, in most states, stepped up a notch, reminding applicators about the importance of safety precautions.

Information given in seminars reinforced normal safety regulations to help avoid pesticides and other chemicals getting into the wrong hands, said Joanne Kick-Raack, Ohio State University Extension state pesticide education program coordinator.

“With a boring subject like safety, a lot of times we take it for granted,” Kick-Raack said. “An incident like that brings it home and causes people to recommit to being more vigilant in following safety procedures.”

“Our education programs covered all applicators from those who applied pesticides to highways to landscapes to fields,” Kick-Raack said. “All the applicators were very attentive and paid closer attention because they realized the seriousness of the situation.”

Being aware. Along with highlighting chemical storage and handling, education programs stressed the importance of being aware. Dealers were asked to double check their clienteles’ identification and farmers were to watch for suspicious people around their farm and chemicals, Kick-Raack said.

Since last year, communication has heightened as well as pesticide education. Extension has worked to minimize communication problems through applicator education.

Disseminating information to extension agents and other clientele is important in getting facts to the public, Kick-Raack said.

Federal money. Federal money has been put toward improving communication and equipment at land-grant universities, said Larry Madden, Ohio State plant pathology professor with Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

In specific, funds have recently been put toward improving plant diagnostic facilities at Ohio State for crisis situations.

“Before Sept. 11, we had very good crop protection,” Madden said. “We were, and continue to be prepared. Where we were probably not as strong was in early detection of new disease outbreaks. But the process is changing and we are now better prepared.”

Differing diseases. Crop diseases are different from those of humans and livestock, Madden said.

The most serious animal diseases have been identified and have mostly been eradicated. Crops, however, are grown over large areas, causing eradication to be unfeasible.

The spread of plant pathogens also is highly dependent on weather and the environment, making it hard to determine the most serious threats to the United States.

“There is no scenario where any group could introduce and wipe out a crop,” Madden said. “The real threat is how a disease affects trade. Disease severity could be low, but growers would not be able to export a crop.”

Annually, plant diseases cost the U.S. economy $30 billion, Madden said. This includes reductions in yield and the expense of controlling diseases.

New plant pathogens add to the annual cost through yield loss, eradication efforts and international communication to maintain markets.

Better diagnostic equipment and additional personnel who perform diagnostic services minimize additional costs by finding problems in a more timely manner, Madden said.

Work also has been done to develop eradication strategies for new pathogens introduced into the United States.

In an effort to minimize problems with bioterrorism, the government included agriculture and research institutions in an anti-terrorism law passed in June, Madden said. However, restrictions on research have the potential to cause problems for researchers working to prevent foreign pathogen problems.

“Overall, I think that we’ve made the right kind of progress,” Madden said. “It takes awhile for things to change, but we are slowly moving toward better preparation for the future.”


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