I recently returned from our magazine's annual tour to Brazil, where we visited several large and small soybean farms as well as beef cattle operations — even a couple of feedlots. I think it was one of our best trips, yet.
Each of the soybean farms had or was about to spray for Asian soybean rust. It's a disease that's been relentless for growers in that part of the world and it's now common practice for them to spray with fungicides. We walked into fields and saw the disease close up.
We also toured cattle farms and saw their heat-tolerant breed called Nelore. They're big, humped animals that could have foot and mouth disease (FMD), called aftosa fever in Brazil.
FMD was discovered in October 2005 in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the Paraguay border. Later, government officials reported 41 additional municipalities “at risk” for FMD. The disease hasn't been found in the U.S. since 1929.
Everyone on the trip was concerned about carrying diseases back to this country and wanted to do everything possible to lessen that risk. So, as in past trips, we asked travelers to check the “been on farms” box on the customs form when they returned to the U.S.
We also asked everyone to carefully clean their shoes and be ready to walk through a disinfecting foot bath upon arrival in New York. Several in our group even left their farm shoes behind.
And, we asked everyone to be sure and wash their clothes — at least once — immediately when returning home. We even suggested putting shoes and clothes in the freezer for a couple of days to kill any possible rust spores.
For me here in Minnesota, of course, that simply means putting them on the back step.
I was the first in our group of 25 to pass through the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) plant protection and quarantine area at the airport in New York. That's where technicians interview, X-ray and hand inspect selected luggage. And they disinfect suspicious shoes and confiscate contraband.
I explained to the agent that I was leading a group of 25 who had all been on soybean and cattle farms and were willing to do whatever was required to help avoid transmitting any pathogens.
She said all she had to do was check the bottom of shoes worn on farms to see if there was any soil or fecal material. That's it.
“Really, this group is more than happy to walk through a foot bath, spray or open their luggage for inspection,” I said. “In fact, they're counting on being asked to do that.”
Again, she replied that it wasn't necessary, even after I again explained that the group would be extra cooperative with inspections.
“No need,” she replied again.
How can this happen? How can we trust news reports that USDA agents are doing everything possible to keep disease pathogens from entering this country? I'm concerned and I think you should be, too.
It's especially worrisome when you horriblize the situation and think about potential for biological terrorism by foreign interests and/or governments bent on disrupting the U.S. economy by attacking agriculture.
If you're traveling abroad, please be careful when returning to U.S. shores. Do whatever you can to keep foreign disease from entering this country. Apparently, it's up to you to police yourself.
Check Out Special Reports
Don't miss our two special reports in this issue:
New Uses, beginning on page 25, provides a detailed look at the newest and brightest products out this year that are made from soybeans.
Soybean Weed Control Guide, beginning on page 46, lists the latest products and chemistries available to fight your nastiest weeds.