Even with all of the efforts established by geranium breeding companies and the USDA/APHIS, Ralstonia has made its way through to the United States again. On December 31, 2003, a USDA testing facility positively identified an outbreak of Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2. According to the USDA/APHIS and Goldsmith Plants, there is currently just one U.S. greenhouse with a confirmed diagnosis. The cuttings came from only one of Goldsmith Plants’ greenhouses in Guatemala, and at this time, three cultivars, two which have been identified as ‘Americana Bright Red’ and ‘Americana Coral’, are thought to be involved in the outbreak.
At this point, the USDA/APHIS and Goldsmith Plants are working on plans of action for dealing with the problem. According to Richard Goldsmith, president of Goldsmith Plants, it is not currently known how widespread the disease is in the United States or their Guatemalan facility or how long it has been there. “We just don't know a lot yet. It has all happened so quickly,” Goldsmith said. However, he did believe that the new tracking methods recently adopted helped identify and track the infection more quickly.
Goldsmith Plants has voluntarily halted all geranium shipments from Guatemala until more information about the scope of the problem can be found. This hold is expected to last 2-3 weeks, and growers are encouraged to seek another supplier source for geraniums during those weeks. Representatives from Goldsmith Plants, USDA/APHIS and select pathologists are headed to Guatemala this week to investigate the problem and to determine what steps to take next.
Though there has been no formal announcement yet from the USDA/APHIS, Goldsmith expects that quarantines will be handled similarly to the last outbreak, in that all growers and/or rooting stations that have received any shipments of the three infected cultivars will be quarantined until a USDA inspection can clear the facility of infection.
Goldsmith believes “the last Ralstonia outbreak taught everyone, including USDA, a lot about the disease and the process for dealing with it. When the last outbreak occurred, there was not a process in place, and USDA had to develop one and deal with the outbreak at the same time.” Since then, USDA/APHIS has been working with the Geranium Bacterial Disease Control Initiative to formulate an inspection/certification process and an outbreak process. Goldsmith expects that the USDA will do a great job of carrying out this process and that growers can expect improved cooperation and communication from the USDA because the inspectors are more able to deal with the disease and know the symptoms better than they did during the last outbreak.
Under the current inspection process, Goldsmith Plants has passed multiple USDA/APHIS inspections and is “certified clean” to ship geraniums into the United States from Guatemala. It is currently not known how this most recent outbreak will affect the newly adopted inspection/certification process.
“We're going to expend all of our energies to track this down and sort it all out” said Goldsmith. “Until then, we are urging growers to cooperate fully with inspectors. Early detection will actually help everyone. We also want people to be aware that the problem does not spread rapidly and that they should look at their geraniums regularly, regardless of the supplier.”