Farm Bureau Insight: Securing Agriculture

By Greg Doering, Kansas Farm Bureau

The official dedication and ribbon cutting for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan this week is very welcome news. It also makes me feel old since the process to get here has taken nearly the entirety of my adult life.

Also known as NBAF, the facility is a state-of-the-art lab that will research animal diseases that can also infect humans and develop vaccines and anti-virals for some very nasty bugs. The facility is the replacement of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the coast of New York, which is more than six decades old. NBAF will investigate diseases like African Swine Fever, Nipah Virus, and foot and mouth disease (FMD), among others.

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FMD is among the most contagious, infectious diseases in the world, and an outbreak in the U.S. would cost billions of dollars to the livestock industry alone. Vaccines exist for individual strains, but there’s so many different varieties it’s impossible to fully protect against.

The center of the country may seem like an odd choice for a facility that will study some of the most dangerous diseases that threaten our food supply, agricultural economy and public health. But NBAF will anchor the so-called Animal Health Corridor between Manhattan and Columbia, Missouri. The region is home to more than 300 animal health companies and accounts for 56 percent of total worldwide sales in the industry.

NBAF will further leverage the existing networking, collaboration, education and training already present in the area to not just protect but strengthen our food supply. The research will extend beyond known pathogens to emerging diseases to better understand their impact on livestock and humans.

The lab biosafety designation is the highest level possible, making it the first of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to studying animal diseases. As recent history has shown, such pathogens can spillover to affect humans so the research is critical for early identification to minimize the impact on public health.

While the ribbon cutting marks the end of construction and testing of the building, it will take another year or two for the scientific mission to become fully operational. Once it does, it will also provide round-the-clock diagnostic testing to quickly identify suspected pathogens. The diagnostic lab will also provide training to federal and state veterinarians so they can better understand how outbreaks occur and how to combat them.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the federal government first announced it was seeking to replace the Plum Island facility. Those two decades are full of twists and turns in the site selection and funding processes, but NBAF is poised to protect the nation’s food supply and human health from diseases both old and new for the coming decades. In short, Kansas will be at the center of securing agriculture for the foreseeable future.

“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.Β 

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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