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Plant Protection Today - APHIS Turns 50—and PPQ Turns 48!

APHIS Turns 50—and PPQ Turns 48!
April 28, 2022

50 Years of Protecting the Health and Value of America’s Agricultural and Natural Resources

By April Dawson

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) celebrated a major milestone—50 years of serving the public as a Federal agency! USDA established APHIS on April 2, 1972, as its lead agency for safeguarding the health of American agriculture.

Did You Know? APHIS' Plant Protection and Quarantine got our current name in 1974 after APHIS created the Agricultural Quarantine Inspection program.


Fifty years ago, the world was changing rapidly. Consumer demand for foreign products and commodities was rising. World agricultural trade was expanding rapidly. Although these changes accelerated economic growth and helped to propel the globalization of business and industry, they also left the United States more vulnerable to foreign plant pests and animal diseases that could enter the country on the goods we imported.

APHIS was created to consolidate animal health, plant health, and inspection duties under one roof. The new agency focused on protecting American agriculture and natural resources, along with ensuring the humane care of certain animals.

PPQ Delivers Successes Decade After Decade

As we look back at the past 50 years, let’s take a stroll down the PPQ memory lane.

  • 1974—APHIS launches the agricultural quarantine inspection program. Prior to 1974, inspections at U.S. ports of entry were handled separately by APHIS’ animal and plant health divisions. To streamline operations and improve efficiency, the new Agricultural Quarantine Inspection program joined animal and plant quarantine inspection activities.

  • 1976—The North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO) is created. Under NAPPO, Federal plant protection officials from the United States, Canada, and Mexico joined together to develop consistent standards for plant protection and quarantine activities within their respective countries.

  • 1978—APHIS launches the boll weevil eradication program. Since first entering the United States from Mexico in the 1890s, the boll weevil had destroyed cotton harvests and the economies built around them. APHIS and cooperators started a trial program that quickly eradicated boll weevil in Virginia and North Carolina.

    An adult boll weevil walks on the surface of a cotton boll. Photo by F. Benci,
  • 1980 — APHIS expands its international role by launching a cooperative Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly) program in Guatemala to address the threat to agriculture posed by the pest in both countries. 
  • 1984—APHIS forms the “Beagle Brigade.” With international travel increasing around the world, APHIS took additional steps to address a growing risk: Travelers might inadvertently carry food items harboring a foreign pest or disease that could threaten our Nation’s crops, livestock, or poultry. APHIS trained dogs to sniff out fruits, vegetables, and meats in travelers’ baggage and carry-on items.  

  • 1985—APHIS begins using insect pheromones to trap and control exotic pests. An extensive Medfly outbreak in California led APHIS to develop non-toxic, insect traps that used pheromones—chemical signals used by insects and animals to communicate with each other—to attract Medflies. These traps help find potential infestations early, before damage occurs, and can also help determine whether eradication efforts are effective. 
  • 1986—Widescale grasshopper outbreaks tend to occur every few years, impacting millions of acres and requiring costly treatments. But a particularly large outbreak in 1985 – 1986 prompted APHIS’ holistic and visionary change. The Grasshopper Intregrated Pest Management Project involved the coordinated use of sustainable, economical pest control methods to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage, with the least possible risk to people, property, and the environment. 
  • 1988—The boll weevil eradication program expands into Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. A decade after APHIS launched its boll weevil eradication program in Virginia and North Carolina, the Agency expanded its cooperative efforts to include three new States: Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.
  • 1991—APHIS institutes user fees. In the 1990s, government agencies faced pressure to balance increasing workloads with shrinking budgets. As a result, APHIS instituted user fees for some activities in 1991. Individuals and companies who used certain APHIS exclusion and safeguarding services began to pay for those services. 
  • 1996—APHIS responds to the first U.S. detection of Karnal bunt in Arizona. Through a successful quarantine and national survey program, APHIS maintained foreign market access for U.S.-origin wheat certified to be from areas free of Karnal bunt. Every year since 1996, APHIS has coordinated a cooperative Karnal bunt national survey in wheat-producing counties outside of the regulated areas in Arizona. 

  • 1999—APHIS implements areawide use of sterile insect technique for Medfly. During the 1990s, APHIS shifted its strategy for dealing with Medfly infestations. Instead of focusing eradication efforts around specific areas where Medflies had been trapped, the Agency began massive releases of sterilized Medflies over large areas.
  • 2000 and 2002—Culminating a decades-long effort, Congress passed two important laws in the early years of the decade: the Plant Protection Act in 2000 and the Animal Health Protection Act in 2002. Together, these two acts consolidated dozens of USDA’s plant and animal health authorities, some dating back to the late 19th century.

  • 2003—APHIS eradicates Ralstonia solanacearum race 3, biovar 2 in nurseries. This pathogen poses a severe threat to plant health, causing a wilt disease in several important agricultural and nursery crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and geraniums. In early 2003, APHIS detected a particularly harmful strain of the pathogen in geraniums grown from infected cuttings from another country. In all, APHIS and its State partners detected the pathogen in 127 individual greenhouses in 27 States. Within a year, APHIS had eradicated the disease.

    A geranium wilts due to infection with Ralstonia solanacearum race 3, biovar 2.
  • 2006—APHIS establishes the Citrus Health Response Program (CHRP). Following the introduction of citrus greening into the United States, APHIS worked with State officials and industry to establish CHRP to combat this and other diseases threatening U.S. citrus, such as sweet orange scab, citrus canker, and citrus black spot. Through this program, APHIS provided key scientific support for the development of diagnostics, survey, risk assessments, commodity treatments, and management methods to address these threats to U.S. agriculture.
  • 2008—The 2008 Farm Bill establishes the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program. The Farm Bill created a new program that allows APHIS to provide funding for projects that enhance the Agency’s ability to safeguard agriculture and facilitate safe agricultural trade. Cooperators nationwide use this funding to strengthen our pest exclusion system, optimize domestic pest management and eradication programs, keep commodities moving in commerce without spreading pests and diseases, and expand market opportunities abroad for U.S. products.
  • 2013—APHIS stands up a multi-agency coordination group to help combat citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB). This devastating disease causes citrus trees to produce fruits that are green, misshapen, bitter, and unsuitable for sale. The tools available to fight this disease were proving ineffective at stopping the severe economic impacts to U.S. citrus producers. APHIS helped establish and leads the HLB multi-agency coordination group (MAC).

    HLB causing color inversion on fruit in Texas.
  • 2016—APHIS eradicates the European grapevine moth from the United States. The European grapevine moth was first detected in a Napa Valley vineyard in 2009. Subsequent surveys detected the moth in 11 California counties, representing a serious threat to California’s $4 billion grape crop. APHIS and its partners designed an eradication program that closely involved growers and the community—resulting in eradication in only 7 years. To date, the United States is the only country to eradicate this pest.
  • Pink bollworm moth. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, University of California. 2018—APHIS eradicates pink bollworm from the United States. For more than 100 years, the pink bollworm cost growers tens of millions of dollars in losses every year. However, by 2018 a cooperative effort led by APHIS had eliminated the pest from all commercial cotton-producing areas in the continental United States. 
  • 2018—APHIS inspects 1 billion plant units at the Miami Plant Inspection Station. Each year the United States imports billions of plants, plant cuttings, and seeds. That is why APHIS requires most imported plants and seeds to enter the United States through one of 16 USDA Plant Inspection Stations. That year, APHIS’ Miami Plant Inspection Station processed 60 percent of all plants, plant cuttings and seeds imported into the United States. 
  • 2019—APHIS eradicates plum pox from the United States. Plum pox is the most devastating viral disease of stone fruit worldwide. After a 20-year battle, APHIS declared the United States free of the plum pox virus. 
  • 2020—International trade agreements provide greater opportunities for producers. That year, two major international trade agreements went into force: the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the U.S.-China Phase One Agreement. Together the new agreements provide greater market access and opportunities for U.S. agricultural products. 
  • 2021—APHIS, in partnership with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, successfully eradicated giant African snail from Florida, officially declaring it eradicated in September 2021. Over 168,000 snails and innumerable eggs were destroyed from over 700 properties during this effort, protecting the State’s multi-billion dollar nursery industry and many of its valuable fruit and vegetable crops.

Looking Ahead to the Next 5 Decades

“The key to APHIS’ and PPQ’s many successes over the last 50 years is the talent, innovation, and dedication of our employees,” said Acting Deputy Administrator Mark Davidson. “As we look ahead to the next half-century, I have no doubt our workforce will deliver even more impressive accomplishments.”

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