Feral swine, nutria dominate invasive species hearing
The Hagstrom Report
A lot of attention has been paid in recent years to plants that come in with imports and then invade farm territory, but when the House Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee held a hearing on Nov. 14 titled “Safeguarding American Agriculture from Wild, Invasive, and Non-Native Species,” invasive animals, and especially feral swine, dominated the conversation.
Josh Gaskamp, technical consultant manager for Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma, noted that swine were introduced into North America by European colonists developing the pork industry, but that swine which have escaped or were released intentionally as game species have expanded in such great numbers that they endanger livestock by spreading disease and parasites.
“If left unchecked, feral swine could have devastating impacts on our nation’s food supply, agriculture industry and environment,” Gaskamp said, calling for research on the causes and impact of feral swine and how to prevent their spread.
It’s become an issue large enough that House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, attended the hearing for a subcommittee of which he is only an ex-officio member and said, “Farmers, ranchers and landowners have been dealing with the destruction caused by wild pigs for decades.”
“Most estimate that feral swine cause over $1.5 billion in damage each year with $800 million of that amount attributed directly to agriculture,” Conaway said.
“But the problem is growing so much that it is not just affecting those in rural areas — in 2017 the Dallas City council authorized a three-year service contract for the control and abatement of feral hogs on city property.”
Conaway noted that the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program, which allotted $75 million to fight the problem, was included in the 2018 farm bill.
Gaskamp also lauded the introduction of this new program, saying that the new funding will “result in truly innovative programs designed to educate producers and increase efforts to control feral swine.”
The concerns come against the backdrop of a Texas woman who was killed by feral hogs on her way to work tending for an elderly couple this past weekend, The Washington Post reported.
Ricardo Ortega, general manager of the Grassland Water District in California, called for funding to help abate the spread of nutria, a semiaquatic rodent, that is ravishing his state’s marshlands. The nutria is native to South America but was brought to North America by fur farmers.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif, the subcommittee chairman said, “In California, expanding nutria populations damage wetlands and farmlands, and wild birds have played a role in introducing Newcastle Virus into poultry flocks, while in other states, these animals have been linked to similar damage and disease.”
The most exuberant moment of the hearing came when Rep. Josh Harder, D-Calif., showcased a poster that explained the threat of nutria in California’s Central Valley. Harder asked for equal consideration in comparison with the feral swine.
“We need Washington to listen to the needs of Valley farmers — and that means giving us some support in the fight against the nutria,” Harder said. “We’re spending $75 million over five years to fight feral hogs in the South — and we could’ve spent a fraction of that had we acted earlier. We don’t want to make that same mistake with nutria in California.”
House Agricultural Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., was is also ex-officio on the subcommittee, attended and raised concerns about swine.
But he also asked Beth Thompson, state veterinarian of Minnesota, why a pair of positions with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that were created in the 2018 farm bill are left unfilled.
“There has been some movement, but the states are looking at those two positions,” Thompson said. “We would like to have those filled as soon as possible.”
Thompson added that she’s “very excited about this opportunity” with the additional funding for APHIS from 2018.
Other witnesses did note the problems associated with invasive plants.
Bret Erickson, senior vice president for J&D Produce Inc., which grows, packages and ships produce for companies like Wegmans, Publix and Wal-Mart, asked the subcommittee “to find a way to secure additional resources that will put more manpower at our ports of entry.”
Specifically, Erickson said APHIS needs more insect identifiers and Customs and Border Protection needs more agriculture specialists.
Erickson endorsed the Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act (H. R. 4482/S. 2107) sponsored by Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, which authorizes Customs and Border Protection to hire, train, and assign 240 new agricultural specialists a year until they meet the requirements established by the Agriculture Resource Allocation Model.
“The bill ensures that the assignment of such specialists be done based off need and the predictable surges that occur at certain ports of entry during certain times of the year. This legislation represents a significant step in the right direction,” Erickson said.
Noting that his own company has operations in Peru and Mexico that provide products for the United States, Erickson added “The increase in imports does create a positive economic impact for our country.”
“It also means that U.S. consumers are able to purchase whatever item they want, be it strawberries, celery, cilantro, or cantaloupes every single day of the year,” Erickson said.
“The downside is that the ports are overloaded with product, which has grown by leaps and bounds. Not only have the volumes exploded, but the variety of products, new exciting items that we have not seen before, which are coming from new regions of Mexico and other parts of the world bring with them new pests and diseases that we have never seen.”
Though Erickson said labor is his No. 1 problem, “trade, water, food safety, and transportation are not far behind.”
“I would be remiss if I did not mention how badly we need labor reforms and I must take this opportunity to ask you all to support the American Farm Workforce Modernization Act,” he said.
“We desperately need these changes as our business and many others like us are suffering from a severe labor crisis that threatens our ability to maintain let alone grow a sustainable farming business.”
Kurt Reichert, fumigation director for Western Fumigation in Lester, Pa., said that his firm fumigates perishable commodities such as grapes, citrus, blueberries, asparagus, kiwi, pineapples and bananas to eliminate invasive species which may be hidden within the shipment and non-perishable cargo such as imported tile, machinery, military equipment and cocoa beans.
“Fumigation is often the only treatment method which can effectively eliminate these pests without damaging the cargo,” Reichert said.
“Without fumigation, the availability of certain imported fruits and vegetables grown in South America would be significantly reduced during the winter, potentially leading to shortages and high prices for American families.”
He called on Congress to support land and maritime ports across the county that “stand as our nation’s first and only line of defense against invasive species.”
Reichart also advocated for more funding for APHIS and CPB as they pertain to limiting invasive species.
“Current staffing cannot reasonably be expected to be able to examine the amount of cargo they handle in a thorough manner,” he said. “The ever increasing amount of goods imported from China are of particular concern, as most of the recent invasive species have originated from there.”
Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., the subcommittee ranking member, noted, “Invasive species present serious and wide-ranging threats to agriculture production across this country.”
“In order to combat these pests, it’s critical that we continue to improve our coordinated response and control efforts to minimize the impacts on production agriculture and ensure that we are able to remain good stewards of the land,” Rouzer said.
“We took steps to address these issues in the 2018 farm bill such as the establishment of the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, directing USDA to work with states and local stakeholders to fund targeted efforts to safeguard American agriculture from invasive species. This issue also gives us another reason to quickly ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, so that we can work in concert with our neighbors to quickly detect and eradicate invasive species.”