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Category: Plant and Animal Health

Help USDA Stop Invaders that Could Devastate U.S. Crops and Forests

The coconut rhinoceros beetle, a new invasive species to Hawaii, can grow up to 2 inches long. Photo Credit: Chris Kishimoto, Hawaii Department of Agriculture

The coconut rhinoceros beetle, a new invasive species to Hawaii, can grow up to 2 inches long. Photo Credit: Chris Kishimoto, Hawaii Department of Agriculture

Big, creepy, and horned, the coconut rhinoceros beetle (CRB) loves to feed on—and kill—coconut and other palms, banana plants, and more.  This invasive species, detected in Hawaii in December 2013, makes the perfect poster child for USDA’s Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month—a child only its mother could love.

How did it get here? And how can we prevent the spread of damaging, invasive species like this unwanted, oversized beetle?  These are great questions to consider as USDA kicks off Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.  Throughout April, we’re raising public awareness about the threat of invasive species and informing people how to prevent their spread—so we’ll face fewer surprises like the CRB. Read more »

USDA’s National Centers for Animal Health Makes an Impact on Agriculture

Under Secretary Avalos is shown buildings of the south campus by Dr. Elizabeth Lautner

Under Secretary Avalos is shown buildings of the south campus by Dr. Elizabeth Lautner

In February, I had the opportunity to visit USDA’s National Centers for Animal Health in Ames, Iowa. This campus hosts employees from both APHIS and ARS, who work together with tremendous collaboration.  ARS employees conduct research on diseases of economic importance to the U.S. livestock and poultry industries. APHIS employees work to protect and improve the health, quality, and marketability of our nation’s animals, animal products, and veterinary biologics.

Their critical work in research, biologics, diagnostics, training, and coordination with stakeholders is impressive. It is a true science center where the work is intricate, precise, and timely. The scientific research conducted on the campus supports policy decisions, sets international standards and assures the country and the world that U.S. livestock and livestock products are safe for consumers. Read more »

An Airport is No Place for an Owl

USDA airport biologist Bobby Hromack holds his first captured short-eared owl. Although it weighs no more than 16.8 ounces, the species can pose an aviation safety hazard due to its 33-43 inch wingspan and low, rolling flight style.

USDA airport biologist Bobby Hromack holds his first captured short-eared owl. Although it weighs no more than 16.8 ounces, the species can pose an aviation safety hazard due to its 33-43 inch wingspan and low, rolling flight style.

Seeing a short-eared owl in November on the Pittsburgh International Airport, where I work as an airport wildlife biologist, was a unique occasion. However, as the number of owls grew to eight, I recognized the challenge ahead:  Like all birds of prey, short-eared owls are a recognized potential aviation hazard. Their low rolling flight and difficult-to-disperse reputation means they pose an aviation safety threat.  From 1990-2012, short-eared owl strikes with aircraft in the United States caused over $1 million in damage, and often are fatal to the birds.  Convincing them to leave would be difficult but important.

The task would be harder because short-eared owls are listed by the State as an endangered species.  Common in many areas globally, Pennsylvania is the southernmost edge of their breeding range.  These owls likely migrated from Canadian breeding grounds to winter in Pennsylvania. Read more »

APHIS Reaches Out to Tribal Extension Agents

FRTEP extension agents and a Colville Confederated Tribe representative in Washington State with invasive Scotch thistle. Infestations of this noxious weed can reduce forage production and land use by livestock. Photo by Daniel Fagerlie, Washington State University Extension Tribal Relations Liaison Regional Specialist and Project Director of APHIS PPQ

FRTEP extension agents and a Colville Confederated Tribe representative in Washington State with invasive Scotch thistle. Infestations of this noxious weed can reduce forage production and land use by livestock. Photo by Daniel Fagerlie, Washington State University Extension Tribal Relations Liaison Regional Specialist and Project Director of APHIS PPQ

Helping American Indians develop profitable farming and ranching businesses, engaging tribal youth in 4-H, enhancing natural resources on reservations, and reaching out to tribal communities about topics that are of interest to them are just some of the activities supported by the Federally-Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP). FRTEP is administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and conducts education programs on Indian reservations and Tribal jurisdictions through partnerships with the 1862 Land-Grant institutions. FRTEP extension agents serve as liaisons between the Tribes and USDA programs and services. The purpose of the FRTEP program is to support extension agents who establish extension education programs on the Indian Reservations and Tribal jurisdictions of Federally-Recognized Tribes. Program priorities reflect the following areas: 1) Development of sustainable energy; 2) Increased global food security; 3) Adaptation /mitigation of agriculture and natural resources to global climate change; 4) Reduction of childhood and adolescent obesity; and 5) Improved food safety.

Later this month, FRTEP agents will meet in Fort Collins, Colorado, to receive an overview of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), its programs, and expertise.  APHIS is a multi-faceted Agency that is responsible for protecting U.S. animal and plant health, and animal welfare. Read more »

USDA Scientist Eager to Lead New Initiative to Combat a Devastating Citrus Disease

Mary Palm, Ph.D., who is leading USDA’s multi-agency response to combat Huanglongbing (citrus greening) disease.

Mary Palm, Ph.D., who is leading USDA’s multi-agency response to combat Huanglongbing (citrus greening) disease.

When I learned I was chosen to lead USDA’s new emergency, multi-agency response framework to combat one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world, I felt both humbled and honored.  I relish the opportunity as a scientist to partner with other federal agencies, states, and industry to combat a disease—huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening)—that has devastated so many citrus groves in Florida and threatens other citrus-producing states.

When Secretary Vilsack established this new framework—USDA’s HLB Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group—he directed us to fund the most promising, practical research to give growers tools to use against HLB as quickly as possible.  USDA provided $1 million in funding, and the 2014 Federal budget includes an additional $20 million for HLB research, which the Group will collectively determine how best to spend. Read more »

Celebrate the Chinese New Year While Being Citrus Smart

If you are sending citrus gifts, learn how to do it responsibly by visiting www.saveourcitrus.org

If you are sending citrus gifts, learn how to do it responsibly by visiting www.saveourcitrus.org

Out with the snake, in with horse! January 31 marks the start of the Chinese New Year. Many people will be enjoying the rich cultural traditions of this holiday such as food, parades and exchanging gifts. One traditional Chinese New Year gift is citrus fruit, such as mandarin oranges and tangerines. This fruit is said to bring luck, wealth and prosperity.

However, without proper precautions citrus can also bring something else that may not be so favorable—the Asian citrus psyllid. This pest carries citrus greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), a disease threatening the commercial citrus industry and homegrown citrus trees alike. Although it is not harmful to humans or animals, the disease is fatal for citrus trees and has no known cure. Read more »