LIBERAL, Kan. - When it comes to emergency management in the United States, agriculture has been a relative newcomer to the table. But efforts are under way to bring agriculture into emergency plans - right down to the county level.

"Many counties in states across the country have a plan that includes agriculture, but many more don´t," said Billy Dictson, who is director of the Office of Biosecurity in the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at New Mexico State University. Speaking at workshops in Wichita and Liberal, Kan., the week of March 22-26, Dictson said, "One of the things that really concerned us was that in 3,000-some counties across the country, most of them are silent on agriculture."

The "Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Planning" (S-CAP) workshops brought agricultural producers, county emergency managers, veterinarians, law enforcement, Extension agents and others together to identify agricultural assets in counties and make sure those assets were addressed in county emergency plans.

The workshops were presented by the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN), a collaborative multi-state effort by Extension services across the country to improve the delivery of services to citizens affected by disasters. The workshops were brought to Kansas by K-State Research and Extension, a member institution of EDEN.

The S-CAP workshops are funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and are being presented in states across the country. Farm Credit Associations of Kansas supported both Kansas workshops.

The workshops were designed to build capacity to handle agricultural issues during an emergency or disaster, to improve networking among stakeholders who can plan for and respond to emergencies, and to develop community agrosecurity planning (CAP) teams who will establish or enhance agrosecurity components within existing local emergency operations plans.

"After 9-11, greater concern surfaced about the safety of our food supply," Dictson said. "Remember, every plane, including crop dusters, was grounded for several days after 9-11. At that time, ag didn´t really have a place at the national `table.´ I would submit that if we ever have a foreign animal disease incident introduced, it will far surpass the devastation caused by 9-11."

At stake in Kansas alone, is a wheat industry that in 2008 ranked No. 1 in the United States at 856 million bushels or 14.2 percent of U.S. wheat production, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Kansas also ranked No. 1 in flour milled (32.8 million hundred weight), No. 1 in sorghum grain produced (214 million bushels) and No. 3 in cattle and calves on farms (6.3 million head) and cattle slaughtered (6.5 million head).

The threats to agriculture can be accidental, natural or intentional, Dictson said. He cited notes found in a cave in Afghanistan that had lists of plant and animal diseases, including foot and mouth disease, hog cholera, rice blast and maize rust.

"Information about how to attack the U.S. food supply has been known for some time, but so far, state-sponsored groups or individuals have not chosen to attack our food supply," he said.

"I submit that if those kinds of lists of agents that can be used against the food and agriculture industry in the U.S. are in the hands of state-sponsored terrorists, they are there for no good reason," Dictson said.

The U.S. also runs the risk that disease might be brought in, intentionally or not, via illegally imported livestock, Dictson said.

"Animal smuggling is second only to drug smuggling in this country," the biosecurity specialist said.

Andrea Husband, agrosecurity program coordinator at the University of Kentucky, reminded workshop participants about the financial and emotional toll of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001.

The direct economic impact from that incident totaled about $3.3 billion (in U.S. dollars) and another $8.3 billion in lost tourism and related industry revenue, she said. By the end of the 221-day outbreak, more than 6 million animals were euthanized.

"But it doesn´t take a big outbreak to have a huge economic impact," Husband said. She cited the financial impact sparked by one cow confirmed to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Washington, including beef export losses that ranged from $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion.

"Domestic cattle prices dropped 16 percent in the first week alone and international trade restrictions still exist," she said.

More information about the EDEN S-CAP project can be found online at http://www.eden.lsu.edu/s-cap. More information about emergency preparedness and disaster recovery resources available through K-State Research and Extension is available at http://www.kseden.ksu.edu.

Source: Kansas State University Research and Extension