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Karnal bunt regulations filled with inconsistency, irregularity

Charlie Pribyla who farms with his son Joe near Goree, Texas, expresses frustration with the inconsistent regulations and enforcement of Karnal bunt quarantines.

“I am extremely disappointed with the way USDA has handled the situation,” Charlie says.

He offers a telling example. One of the Pribyla wheat fields lies about half in Baylor and half in Throckmorton counties. Both counties are in the quarantine area. Another farmer's field extends from Baylor County east into Wilbarger, where Karnal bunt has not been officially identified.

Pribyla says last spring he combined his Baylor County field that extends into Throckmorton County. He ran separate tests on the part of the field included in each county. All tests were negative.

“Inspectors told me since the field was one contiguous area, the entire acreage was considered one field.”

However, when inspectors identified wheat from the Baylor/Wilbarger County field as positive for Karnal bunt, the field was considered two separate entities and the Karnal bunt identification attributed to Baylor County.

Pribyla believes the inconsistency results from lack of manpower in USDA offices.

“They simply cannot handle infestations in any more counties,” he says.

He and other farmers, as well as some officials, insist that Karnal bunt is not limited to the four quarantined counties but is more pervasive throughout the region, perhaps the state.

Farmers in the four affected counties don't wish any ill will on neighboring counties but are frustrated that they seem to be scapegoats in what most say is not a biological problem but an international trade issue.

“USDA needs to remove the zero tolerance label from Karnal bunt infected wheat,” Pribyla says. ‘If we could raise tolerance to 1.5 to 3 percent, we would have no problem.”

Karnal bunt does not pose a health risk to humans or livestock.

Pribyla and County Extension Agent Mark Dorsey also say regulations seem to change frequently on how to manage infected wheat. At one point, Dorsey says, officials said farmers could graze wheat but would have to move animals onto oat forage five days before shipping.

“They then determined that farmers would have to control volunteer wheat in the oats before they could graze it,” he says. ‘It's impossible to get volunteer oats out of wheat.”

He finally got word that as long as oats are the primary crop, grazing for the five-day “cleaning-out” period would be allowed.

“I've begun to get everything in writing,” he says. “If I get verbal approval over the phone, I request a written statement be faxed to me.”

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