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International Year of Plant Health 2020

The UN General Assembly has declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health in order to raise global awareness about how protecting plant health is vital to ending hunger, protecting the environment and boosts our economies.

In the latest episode of The Research Field podcast, Dr Helen Grogan a Horticulture Research Officer with Teagasc outlines the various threats to plant health in Ireland, the efforts underway in Ireland and at EU level to combat these threats, and why the success of such efforts is vital for all Irish people.  

The Horticultural Development Department in Teagasc works closely with food producers, foresters and plant specialists to ensure that crops are healthy and productive and that crop management practices are optimised to minimise the impact of pests and diseases.

Listen in here:

The Research Field · 13: Protecting the Health of Ireland's Plants

Plants – essential for life

About 80% of our food comes from plants, and virtually all of the oxygen we breathe, so we are extremely dependent on them. It is, therefore, very important that we try to safeguard the health of plants around the world as much as possible and protect them from harmful pests and diseases that can have a harmful impact.

Problems can arise, however, when ‘new’ pests and pathogens are ‘accidentally introduced’ into an area or country from outside. Examples of this in Ireland are Sudden Larch Death, affecting forest plantations of larch trees and Ash dieback affecting native ash trees and forest plantations.


Global trade has potential risks. 

One way that new pests and diseases can enter an area is via international trade in what we call ‘Plants for Planting’ - plants that are grown in one country and then sold on for planting elsewhere.  These plants would frequently be traded internationally for gardening, landscaping and forestry purposes.  A new disease was found to be causing leaf scorch, wilt and dieback of olive groves in Italy in 2013, causing entire plantations to be wiped out. The bacterium Xylella fastidiosa was identified as the causative organism, previously unknown in Europe, but causing devastation in vineyards and citrus trees in North and South America. It has since been detected in other European countries and, as it can infect over 500 different plant species, it is now of  major concern in Europe, and especially here in Ireland, where it has not yet been detected.


Plant passports

Since December 2019 plant passports’ are now required within the EU for plants that are being moved between professional operators - both within and between countries - to confirm what country they are from.  Countries that are free of a particular pest, say Xylella, can apply to be declared a ‘Protected Zone’ for that pest and that will be stated on the plant passport. Thus, importers of plants will have the assurance that the plant is coming from a Xylella-free zone.    


Everyone has a responsibility to protect our plant health

The International Year of Plant Health wants to raise awareness in the general public of the threat of new pests and diseases to our plant life. Individual travellers can also accidentally bring in new pests and diseases if they bring back plants or soil from foreign countries. In the end, everyone has to play their part in keeping damaging pests and diseases out of the country, especially when they can cause such widespread destruction of the plants we depend on for food and oxygen.