Washington officials Wednesday closed the borders to wheat seed from the Southwest to avoid repeating an incident in which a fungus in Moses Lake threatened the state’s $500 million wheat industry.
Department of Agriculture director Jim Jesernig said the state will not allow the entrance of wheat, rye and triticale seed from Arizona, and parts of California, New Mexico and Texas. Triticale is a wheat and rye hybrid.
Federal officials quarantined these areas in March after discovering Karnal bunt, a fungus that damages crops and flour and is banned by nearly a dozen foreign buyers.
Jesernig said the emergency action will ensure overseas customers that Washington wheat is not contaminated. The restrictions will last through Aug. 23.
Although Karnal bunt poses no danger to humans, it reduces crop yields, discolors flour and leaves a fishy taste. The spores can live in the soil and on equipment and may be spread by wind. The disease is named after a city in India, where the fungus was first discovered.
Seed brought into Washington in violation of the ban must be destroyed, returned or treated, Jesernig said.
A patch of contaminated wheat grown from Arizona seeds was found last month near Moses Lake. Diane Dolstad, state plant protection specialist, said the crop has been destroyed and the ground fumigated.
She said the department is testing for Karnal bunt in California seed that was shipped earlier this year to Washington and Idaho farmers.
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