The cost of controlling plant diseases

by Tyler Swanson, Sustainable Plant Systems – Agronomy major

I am a fourth year student at Ohio State. This past semester I took an introductory plant pathology class that opened my eyes to how prevalent plant diseases are.

Every calorie we eat ultimately came from a plant.  Think of something you eat that can’t be traced back to a plant.

Crop plants are essential to the existence of mankind and the diseases that are threatening them do not get enough attention.

In “Tracking wheat rust requires $108 million a year, study shows,” Philip Pardey, a professor in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota, makes an argument for perpetual funding for wheat rust research.

He mentions the Red Queen hypothesis (Through the Looking Glass), you must run as fast as you can, and how it applies to plant diseases. Pradey says in the article, “the very seeds of success of wheat breeders sow their own destruction” – meaning you can spend millions of dollars to develop a resistant cultivar or new fungicide, but eventually that disease will overcome that resistance.

Pardey found that it would take a 108 million dollars spent on research to stay on top of the three major rust diseases on wheat.  If that $108 million  is divided by the area of wheat planted, it adds up to $.51 per hectare.

$108 million dollars might sound like a lot, because it is, but Pardey determined that rust causes about 2.9 billion dollars in damages every year.  Rust and all other plant disease aren’t just going to disappear, there needs to be ongoing research to have any chance of prevention a catastrophic event.

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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