Are you helping to keep Florida green? We are.

March 18, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day marks the sight of people wearing green everywhere, either to celebrate or avoid being pinched. St. Patty’s Day is associated with a number of religious and cultural traditions, and the luck of the Irish, of course. However, there was a time when the Irish were not so lucky. Ever heard of the Irish Potato Famine? Let’s go back to the 1800s.

More than 150 years ago, Ireland was a largely agricultural nation, many Irish people were tenant farmers and the potato, imported from South America, was a staple crop. In the mid-1800s, potato plants started to show signs of a strange, new disease that rotted potatoes and made them inedible. This disease spread across Ireland, drastically reducing Ireland’s potato production, causing mass starvation, devastation and what is known today as the Irish Potato Famine.

The culprit behind the famine was Phytophthora infestans, a fungus-like airborne microbe not native to Ireland. The Irish Potato Famine is just one example of how invasive species can devastate the environment and agricultural systems in an area, consequently affecting the lives and livelihoods of people in that area.

Closer to home, in 2004, another fungus in the Phytophthora family, sudden oak death (Phytopthora ramorum), was found in a North Florida nursery.

Florida is a sentinel state for invasive pests and diseases, as it serves as an international hub for travel, trade and tourism. Left unmanaged or unregulated, Florida could easily become a major port of entry for undetected plant pests and diseases. However, agencies like USDA and FDACS/DPI serve to protect citizens and the environment and agriculture industries that play such a large role in their daily lives by monitoring, regulating and researching pests and diseases. Just last year, Florida was affected by citrus black spot, Mediterranean fruit flies, laurel wilt and the redbay ambrosia beetle, the Oriental fruit fly, Mikania micrantha, the peach fruit fly and the European pepper moth, among so many other plant and apiary pests and diseases.

Don’t just wear green. Help keep Florida green by supporting USDA and FDACS/DPI efforts. You can help by becoming aware of invasive pests and diseases threatening Florida, and by making sure that when you travel, you don’t pack a pest. Learn more about Florida’s plant and apiary industries at http://www.freshfromflorida.com/pi.

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