Making News, Spreading Rumors By Bridget White

As we were putting together the March issue of GPN, the newscame about an outbreak of Ralstonia solanacearum biovar 3 race 2 (southernbacterial wilt) on Americana geraniums (please see page 60 for moreinformation). The first rumblings of trouble were heard late in January whengrowers started reporting wilted geraniums. Within days, everyone was talkingabout the incident, sharing information about recent developments andspeculating about the future. But then it happened — updates and ideas turnedto panic and sensationalism.

I would like to think that everyone just wanted to stop thespread of what could be a devastating pathogen for both floriculture andagriculture, but…

For example, look at the February 19th cover of the Lawrence,Kan., Journal World. By the time this newspaper hit the streets, allgreenhouses receiving potentially infected cuttings had been identified andquarantined. But it made for a great headline: “Terror questionsblossom.”

To my knowledge, USDA and APHIS never considered thisimportation of R. solanacearum a bioterrorist attack. They recognized it forwhat it was: the unintentional importation of a serious pathogen. An occurrencethat could have happened to any imported floriculture or agriculture product.The article was pure sensationalism.

Industry Action

By the time you read this editorial, the whole Ralstoniaissue will most likely been resolved, as USDA, SAF, ANLA, OFA and a bevy ofconcerned growers, rooting stations and breeders have worked diligently for notonly control but eradication. From the first detected symptom, the appropriatepeople instituted the necessary quarantines and disposals. They acted asquickly as possible — just like they did during the first outbreak in 1999 –and every indication is that we have stopped the establishment of thispathogen.

In other words, the news side of this story is already”old hat.” It was old even before it was widely known in theindustry; the only reason we are covering it is to keep you informed about whathas been happening in the industry.

Should we all know about R. solanacearum biovar 3 race 2?Absolutely. Just like we should know about all the other diseases, insects andmites out there. But this is not something that growers should spend their daysworrying about. Symptoms are obvious, transmission is difficult, and breedersand importers are taking all possible precautions to limit exposure. And that’sall we can do, except communicate.

Communication is Key

People do have a tendency to overreact. Unfortunately, insituations like this, you can’t afford for rumors to be spread, because it endsup costing everyone. In this case, rumors caused cuttings to be dumpedunnecessarily, costing lost production time and profit.

Was this necessary? I don’t think so. Before most of us evenknew that Ralstonia had been imported into the country, the breeder,propagators, growers, USDA, APHIS and SAF were already meeting and developingan action plan. We can take a lesson from this initial information exchange. Itcreated a workable action plan that, at press time, had controlled the pathogenwith minimum crop loss.

While I was at the National Floriculture Forum (NFF) (seepage 22 for more details) and then again at the Toledo Area Flower andVegetable Growers Association, both groups were asked to identify the numberone problem our industry is currently facing; both groups said communication.

All of the different parts of the industry have informationthat would benefit someone else. Breeders know how a new flower introductionwill behave under given conditions; vendors know how well a certain crop soldat retail; tag manufacturers know what information consumers want on planttags; and so on. But it’s also more than just communicating within our small circleof professional floriculture.

One of the great things about the NFF is that academics,breeders, allied trades, government and associations meet together to discuss a topic and how all segmentscan contribute to a solution. Contribute being the optimum word here.

As with last month’s calibrochoa mottle virus, there isoften more hype about a situation than there is actual substance. I suppose thegood thing about the current over-reactive climate is that we are able toquickly control problems such as the importation of Ralstonia. The bad thing isthat many growers were needlessly alarmed, leading to panic, dumping andelevated cost.

So we’re reminded to communicate with each other and to relyonly on official sources for our information. The world we live in has becomemuch tougher than it was pre-9/11, and that means we have to work a lot harderto protect the things we love about our industry.

Bridget White

Bridget White is Editorial Director of GPN. She can be reached at (847) 391-1004;

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