By Clint Thompson
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants help in identifying invasive species that threaten our food supply and cause plant diseases. Especially since April is designated “Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month”
Samantha Simon, USDA’s Executive Director of Emergency and Domestic Programs, says invasive species can threaten agriculture and many farming operations, especially in the Southeast.
“In the Southeast, there are many that like to call the Southeast home. That includes the Asian citrus psyllids, which is this little bug that likes to attack citrus plants. It can also spread citrus greening. There’s also the emerald ash borer beetle. It attacks our ash trees, resulting in the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees in 35 states throughout the United States. There’s also the imported fire ant,” Simon said. “It travels in the soil, can travel in hay and can travel on equipment.”
Time is now to be on the lookout
Simon emphasizes that since it’s springtime, invasive species or “hungry pests,” are on the move and looking for sources of food. These can range from a wide variety of trees to various food crops. These pests need to be reported to the USDA if they’re spotted.
“Hungry pests are emerging and they’re going to be out there moving around. We’re out there moving around as well. It’s a great time for us to look around for unusual signs of the pest or disease in the trees, in our plants, in our own backyard,” Simon said. “The hungry pests can, they can hurt from citrus growers to wine producers.
“There’s always a risk for exotic fruit flies, which of course, will impact fruits and vegetables and nuts as well. Thankfully, at the moment, we do not have any of those. We’re actively working to keep those out of the southeast. It’s important to know, the things we move, whether it’s bean plants, or fruits or vegetables or untreated firewood, may include these hungry pests.”
To learn more about Asian citrus psyllids, see psyllid management.
“It’s devastated millions of acres of citrus in Florida as well as Texas and California. We are working actively with the citrus industries to help prevent the spread of citrus greening,” Simon said.
The United Nations (U.N.) designated 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. The goal was to raise awareness about the devastating impact invasive pests have on the environment, food security and global economy. The U.N. estimates that each year, invasive pests destroy up to 40% of food crops. They can also cause $220 billion in trade losses worldwide. This trade, worth nearly $1.7 trillion annually, is crucial for human survival and economic growth in rural areas.