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Tainted Washington Wheat Patch To Be Destroyed State, Federal Officials Scramble To Ensure Safety Of State Grain Crop From Karnal Bunt


A wheat field contaminated with a fungus previously found only in the Southwest will be plowed under or chemically sterilized, state and federal agriculture officials said Wednesday.

The officials acted quickly to stem the spread of Karnal bunt and fears that the fungus could spread and harm Northwest wheat exports.

State Agriculture Director Jim Jesernig visited the tiny patch of newly planted durum infected by the fungus that affects wheat quality, but poses no threat to human health.

The decision whether to plow the field under and leave it fallow for five years - the life of the fungus spores - or chemically sterilize it has not been made, said Bob Gore, assistant director of the state’s Commodity Inspection Division.

The U.S Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will discuss the options with the Montana owner of the four-acre field, he said.

The seed, from a contaminated batch purchased in Arizona before a statewide quarantine went into effect, was planted in a tiny test plot and represents only about one-tenth of the field, Gore said.

Both suppression methods are considered safe and pose no risk of contaminating the rest of the region’s wheat market, he said.

It is believed to be the first time Karnal bunt contaminated wheat has been found outside of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or California.

Karnal bunt ruins wheat quality by discoloring the flour and giving it a fishy taste. Spores are spread by wind, soil or grain-handling equipment.

The plants in the Washington field had grown only an inch or two above the ground and had not flowered, Gore said.

Because the contaminated seed came from out of state, it would not affect shipment of Washington-grown grain harvested in 1995, said Dave Keim, in charge of the APHIS office in Spokane.

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