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Crop vulnerability and phytosanitation

One of the advantages of the Open Plant Breeding Foundation is that it can operate internationally with various members exchanging information and genetic material between countries. It is a great idea for amateur breeders to cooperate internationally but, before they do so, they must respect their countries’ phytosanitary regulations, which exist to protect against crop vulnerabilities.

Crop vulnerability means that a crop is susceptible to an epidemiologically competent pest or disease which is absent from the area in question. If that pest or disease is introduced, the vulnerability becomes real, and potential damage becomes actual damage. For example, although it has epidemiological competence in the United Kingdom, the Colorado beetle does not occur there, and the potato crops of that country are highly susceptible to it. This is a fairly extreme crop vulnerability. An even greater vulnerability is the area of wheat that is susceptible to the Ug99 strain of stem rust (see knowledge base)

The term phytosanitation (Gk. Phyto = plant; L. sanita = health) refers to the use of healthy planting material as a means of restricting the spread of dangerous crop pests and diseases. The primary purpose of phytosanitation is to prevent vulnerability threats from becoming reality. Phytosanitation can be used at the international, regional, and local levels, and it is usually backed by the force of law.

International phytosanitation involves international treaties and official certification of planting materials being transported across national boundaries. Your agricultural department can tell you the certification requirements for the material you wish to import. Bear in mind that some imports are totally forbidden.

International phytosanitation functions best with island nations, such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Eire, Madagascar, and many smaller, islands, both tropical and temperate. Most of these islands are isolated from much natural dispersal, and they have complete control of all their air and sea ports. Understandably, their phytosanitationary regulations are usually quite strict.

The general rule is that true seeds are relatively safe, while vegetative propagation material (e.g., cuttings, tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, corms) are the most dangerous, particularly if they have soil adhering to them. Accordingly, vegetatively propagated crops are generally risky, while seed propagated crops are considerably less so.

Organic farmers should appreciate that many phytosanitationary regulations insist on seeds being dressed with a fungicidal and/or insecticidal seed dressing. If this flouts the organic status of their farms, they should arrange for that seed to be multiplied on a conventional farm.

Regional phytosanitation is the least effective because it is not feasible to check every car, plane, and train moving from one part of a country to another. Even when an international land border is involved, such as that between Canada and the USA, or that between France and Germany, an effective control of the transport of plant material is extremely difficult, and natural dispersal cannot be prevented.

Local phytosanitation functions best on an individual farm, because the individual farmer has control of everything that is brought on to his land. For example, he can take great pains to ensure that his new seed is not carrying a dangerous pest or disease that is absent from his farm.

Whatever amateur breeders may choose to do, they must stay legal. Quite apart from getting into trouble with the law, infringement of phytosanitationary regulations could cause devastation because of serious crop vulnerabilities that most people do not even know about. Please be responsible and consult your agricultural department.