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Epidemics in agriculture
Dr. Victor Martin

The Drought Monitor remains unchanged from last week and all but extreme western Kansas is in good shape with moisture. Wheat is showing the benefits of this moisture and warmer temperatures with aggressive growth. Producers have made excellent progress covering winter wheat fields with nitrogen and herbicides. Wheat growth is behind for the end of March but overall fields appear to have tillered well with excellent color. This week promises to be at or above normal temperatures with chances for precipitation which is good news. The cold snap last Friday shouldn’t have caused any damage. The six to ten day outlook (March 25 to 29) has normal to below normal precipitation and normal to above normal temperatures. Looking out eight to 14 days (March 27 to April 2) indicates above normal to above normal precipitation and normal to above below normal temperatures. The 30 day outlook is for equal chances of above or below normal temperatures and normal to above normal precipitation with the 90 day outlook predicting above normal temperatures and equal chances of below or above normal precipitation. With everything happening regarding COVID-19, it might be interesting to look at what agriculture does or would do under these circumstances.

Perhaps the most recent example involves pork production and ASF (African Swine Fever), an extremely serious virus. It isn’t present in the U.S. but in many other parts or the world and significantly affected Chinese pork production. Without going into details, protocols along the lines of COVID-19 were enacted. However just as with the current pandemic, the virus was spread, vectored, as the problem was emerging.  How has the U.S. so far avoided ASF in our herds? Mostly from the aggressive efforts of APHIS with the cooperation of pork producers. APHIS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is part of the USDA. Their webpage states: “The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is a multi-faceted Agency with a broad mission area that includes protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. These efforts support the overall mission of USDA, which is to protect and promote food, agriculture, natural resources and related issues.” In English, their mission is to insure a safe food supply, both plants and animals, and keep out things like ASF or other diseases.

And planning is in place with groups like APHIS, state agriculture departments, county governments, and producers to prevent or contain potential diseases. This planning ramped up after 9/11 and the concerns over bioterrorism. An extreme example is hoof and mouth disease which has been eradicated from the U.S. and would be devastating if it infected the beef herd. This includes everything from shutting down all movement of livestock across county and state lines to having places identified to bury carcasses and most importantly safety/security procedures to prevent a bioterrorist from introducing the disease. If you want to see how serious security is, go out to Ford County and try to see how far you get without being stopped and questioned.

The same applies for plant based crops and products. If you have returned from overseas, especially from certain areas, you know they make sure what possible food products you may have returned with.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.