Now, while I don't normally fall for the 'OMG! Global warming is killing 300,000 people each year' crap, this story struck me as worth noting, to say the least.
It's been my understanding that grain stockpiles are low currently (not critically, but not the levels held on average over the last couple decades or so). If this spore were to be introduced to America's bread basket by people who don't like us (bioterrorists), then we could be in for MUCH higher food prices and shortages. And overseas, in third world shitholes? There's gonna be a lot of death from starvation and disease because of poor nutrition (Mother Nature taking corrective action).
Just another reason to consider getting yourself some hard red winter wheat, I suppose.
ETA: Just think to yourself, "What would even a 40% reduction in wheat production do for the individuals living in Africa, N. Korea, Asia, India, China, and the Middle East?" 80%? God help us all.
Fungus called 'time bomb' for worldwide wheat crop
By Karen Kaplan
June 15, 2009
The spores arrived from Kenya on dried, infected leaves ensconced in multiple layers of envelopes.
Working inside a bio-secure greenhouse outfitted with motion detectors and surveillance cameras, government scientists at the Cereal Disease Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn., suspended the fungal spores in a light mineral oil and sprayed them onto thousands of healthy wheat plants. After two weeks, the stalks were covered with deadly reddish blisters characteristic of the scourge known as Ug99.
Nearly all the plants were goners. Crop scientists fear the Ug99 fungus could wipe out more than 80 percent of worldwide wheat crops as it spreads from Eastern Africa. It has already jumped the Red Sea and traveled as far as Iran. Experts say it is poised to enter the breadbasket of northern India and Pakistan, and the wind will inevitably carry it to Russia, China and even North America –– if it doesn't hitch a ride with people first.
"It's a time bomb," said Jim Peterson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis. "It moves in the air, it can move in clothing on an airplane. We know it's going to be here. It's a matter of how long it's going to take."
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico estimates that 19 percent of the world's wheat –– which provides food for 1 billion people in Asia and Africa –– is in imminent danger.
American plant breeders say $10 billion worth of wheat would be destroyed if the fungus suddenly made its way to U.S. fields.
"A significant humanitarian crisis is inevitable," said Rick Ward, the coordinator of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
The solution is to develop new wheat varieties that are immune to Ug99. That's much easier said than done.
"All the seed needs to change in the next few years," said Ronnie Coffman, a plant breeder who heads the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project. "It's really an enormous undertaking."
The new strain of stem rust was identified on a wheat farm in Uganda in 1999.
Research efforts in the U.S. and Kenya have turned up only a handful of promising resistance genes, which crop breeders such as Brett Carver at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater are trying to import into vulnerable strains of wheat.
The oldest of the plants Carver bred for Ug99 resistance are only 3 years old, but one of the strains has been planted in the field in case the fungus hitches a quick ride to the U.S. on an airplane or in a shipping container.
Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune
I sent this article to a college professor that traveled the world working on seeds he said:
Thanks for the article. I think the risk of this wheat rust killing off the wheat crop worldwide is greatly overstated. I know Marty Carson, the head of the Cereal Rust Lab in Minnesota. He is a really good guy and knows his stuff. The lab tests rusts from all over the world to keep track of arising new and known races of the rust fungus. Fortunately, climate has more to do with the amount of rust occurring in an area and epidemic development than the actual presence of the fungus. I suspect they will be keeping track of this fungus in Africa and monitor its movements to other countries. This is not the first time something like this has arisen and not gone anywhere, but there is always the potential for a problem if it comes unnoticed. I think this is the least of our problems we need to worry about in the US.