In February 2006, Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health kicked off a grass roots program called SC Ag-Watch: Protecting South Carolina's Agriculture through Awareness and Response Training.
SC Ag-Watch is modeled after the local police Neighborhood Watch program. The SC Ag-Watch program will work with animal, plant/crop, and food producers and processors to increase awareness of agricultural threats and ‘all-hazards’ catastrophic events, to counter terrorism and to integrate these entities with the county and state’s emergency response plan. Incorporating the SC Ag-Watch program into the existing county and state emergency response plans will reduce the risk to agriculture and foster rapid and effective response if a terrorism event should occur. Agricultural emergency response is a nontraditional area of emergency response. There have been limited opportunities for producers, processors and responders involved in agriculture to train for possible terrorism events, particularly in cooperation with traditional response agencies. This program will broaden the scope and number of trained responders to protect South Carolina’s agriculture and food production.
SC Ag-Watch is designed to be implemented in phases:
Educating stakeholders, increasing awareness, recognizing agricultural and food production threats, advocating biosecurity measures, and knowledge of county and state response plans are covered during the initial phase.
Production of manuals, training courses, promotional materials (CDs, decals, signs) are scheduled next.
The final phase is to initiate an on-site biosecurity certification program to increase readiness of agricultural producers and processors to prevent or to recover more quickly from an agroterrorist event.
The introduction of an agricultural WMD, such as a foreign animal disease, exotic plant pest or a widespread food contaminant could have implications spreading from local to national levels. Without appropriate training and practice through exercises, it is unlikely that agroterrorism would be initially recognized by the agricultural producers or response community. Without early detection and intervention, quarantine and movement restrictions will have a negative impact on all industry, not just agriculture.
In South Carolina, approximately 25% of the population lives in rural areas. Almost five (5) million acres is farmland and 24,000 farms directly contribute $2.3 billion to the state’s economy. An attack against agriculture could potentially affect the economy of the entire state including tourism as it did in Great Britain during their Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak of 2001. The impact of SC Ag-Watch will be vital in protecting this critical infrastructure.
SC Ag-Watch is a collaborative effort of four state agencies in which regulatory and/or expertise exists in each of the agricultural segments of animal and plant/crop production and food processing. The agencies include Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health Division, Clemson University Cooperative Extension Services, Clemson University Regulatory & Public Service Programs, and the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.