As I think back to the start of fiscal year 2020, I remember how we were excitedly preparing to participate in the first-ever International Year of Plant Health. This global initiative, led by the United Nations, would inspire people across all sectors of society to take concrete action and protect the world’s plant resources against invasive pests.
Although we have worked diligently to advance the International Year of Plant Health nationally, for most, 2020 will live in infamy for bringing us the COVID-19 pandemic and all its consequences. That’s certainly true for us in PPQ. The pandemic changed our daily routines and challenged us to evolve our thinking about how we can and should accomplish our plant health protection work. But it also revealed how deeply our commitment to public service runs—a commitment that spawned innovation to overcome every obstacle.
Despite the unprecedented pandemic, PPQ continued to safeguard agriculture and facilitate safe trade without interruption. We deployed more than 1,000 employees to the field daily to combat exotic fruit flies, spotted lanternflies, grasshoppers and Mormon crickets, and other pests that threaten our Nation’s crops and forests. We eradicated Ralstonia solanacearum race 3 biovar 2—a dangerous plant pathogen that we hadn’t seen in this country in almost two decades. And we investigated mysterious seed packages delivered to tens of thousands of households across the United States.
Our work continued overseas. More than 200 PPQ inspectors in 23 countries performed the essential task of inspecting fresh fruits, vegetables, and plant material destined for the U.S. market, ensuring that these commodities were free from pests and delivered to American consumers without delay. In some instances, COVID-19 prevented our ability to travel to other countries. By working with our colleagues in our agency’s International Services (IS) program, we kept key markets open even during the worst of the pandemic. For example, IS’ staff in Vietnam provided interim program coverage for 5 months, allowing a $20 million market for fresh tropical fruit to remain open. On top of this, PPQ worked tirelessly to implement the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement and finalize the plant health requirements for opening China’s markets to U.S. plant products worth nearly $1 billion annually.
You can read about these and many other achievements in the pages of this report.
The lessons we’ve learned and the insights we’ve gained this year will shape our operations and inform our policies for years to come. As we look to the future, I want us all to move forward knowing that no matter what comes our way, we will rise to the occasion and help U.S. agriculture thrive—across the country and around the world.
Dr. Osama El-Lissy
PPQ Deputy Administrator