Extension Agents Warn of Agro-Terrorism

When you think about homeland security, it's usually the airports and borders and big cities. But what could terrorists do if they hit the farms that raise our food? We talked with some familiar people who now have a role in protecting crops and cattle.

For years, county extension agents have helped Georgia farmers grow their crops. Now they're on the frontlines of homeland security, trying to convince those farmers they could be a target.

"We start telling them what can happen if stuff fell in the wrong hands," said Tim Varnadore of Jeff Davis County. "It opens their eyes."

Between livestock and produce, rural Georgia helps feed the nation, and an attack to contaminate the food supply is an all too real threat.

"When they supposedly found Bin Laden's cave, one of the ones he was hiding in a couple of years ago, one of the most common pamphlets found in the cave was University of Georgia agriculture information," said Danny Stanaland of Bacon County.

Over the next year, they'll train local farmers, fertilizer companies and others how to keep a better eye on problems at home. The challenge is balancing the danger of real threats with the economic disaster of a false alarm.

"We want to be vigilant in what we do, but at the same time we don't want rumors getting out of what could happen," said Mike Dollar of Evans County.

With so many people working in agriculture, even an empty threat would hurt. As Wes Harris of Bulloch County noted, "I think that would be the terrorists' target more, a scare that created an economic disaster rather than a physical one."

Agents say, just like in a neighborhood watch, as more people keep their eyes open, less can happen. In each community, they'll go over ways to watch everything from livestock to fertilizers that could be used in explosives.

They say the toughest thing is getting people to realize the everyday things around us could be used to hurt so many people.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com