Making News, Spreading Rumors

March 21, 2003 - 08:40

As we were putting together the March issue of GPN, the news
came about an outbreak of Ralstonia solanacearum biovar 3 race 2 (southern
bacterial wilt) on Americana geraniums (please see page 60 for more
information). The first rumblings of trouble were heard late in January when
growers started reporting wilted geraniums. Within days, everyone was talking
about the incident, sharing information about recent developments and
speculating about the future. But then it happened -- updates and ideas turned
to panic and sensationalism.

I would like to think that everyone just wanted to stop the
spread of what could be a devastating pathogen for both floriculture and
agriculture, but...

For example, look at the February 19th cover of the Lawrence,
Kan., Journal World. By the time this newspaper hit the streets, all
greenhouses receiving potentially infected cuttings had been identified and
quarantined. But it made for a great headline: "Terror questions

To my knowledge, USDA and APHIS never considered this
importation of R. solanacearum a bioterrorist attack. They recognized it for
what it was: the unintentional importation of a serious pathogen. An occurrence
that 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 Ralstonia
issue will most likely been resolved, as USDA, SAF, ANLA, OFA and a bevy of
concerned growers, rooting stations and breeders have worked diligently for not
only control but eradication. From the first detected symptom, the appropriate
people instituted the necessary quarantines and disposals. They acted as
quickly as possible -- just like they did during the first outbreak in 1999 --
and every indication is that we have stopped the establishment of this

In other words, the news side of this story is already
"old hat." It was old even before it was widely known in the
industry; the only reason we are covering it is to keep you informed about what
has 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 and
mites out there. But this is not something that growers should spend their days
worrying about. Symptoms are obvious, transmission is difficult, and breeders
and importers are taking all possible precautions to limit exposure. And that's
all we can do, except communicate.

Communication is Key

People do have a tendency to overreact. Unfortunately, in
situations like this, you can't afford for rumors to be spread, because it ends
up costing everyone. In this case, rumors caused cuttings to be dumped
unnecessarily, costing lost production time and profit.

Was this necessary? I don't think so. Before most of us even
knew that Ralstonia had been imported into the country, the breeder,
propagators, growers, USDA, APHIS and SAF were already meeting and developing
an action plan. We can take a lesson from this initial information exchange. It
created a workable action plan that, at press time, had controlled the pathogen
with minimum crop loss.

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

All of the different parts of the industry have information
that would benefit someone else. Breeders know how a new flower introduction
will behave under given conditions; vendors know how well a certain crop sold
at retail; tag manufacturers know what information consumers want on plant
tags; and so on. But it's also more than just communicating within our small circle
of 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 segments
can contribute to a solution. Contribute being the optimum word here.

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

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

About The Author

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

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