It's not often you slow a runaway train, but I think U.S. farmers and the crop industry have done just that in how they're dealing with the Asian soybean rust issue. And it is an issue, not a crisis.
As you know, rust was first officially confirmed on U.S. shores in Louisiana on November 10, 2004. Since then, it's been identified in nine southern states. But long before that, university soybean agronomists, plant pathologists, USDA experts, chemical companies and farmers have been watching and planning for its arrival.
In fact, almost everywhere you turn there's a magazine, radio or television update on the subject. I can't think of an issue facing ag that's ever gotten more well-timed, educational and unbiased information than soybean rust.
I've often said the beef industry should get a pat on the back for how they quickly and professionally handled the BSE crisis about a year ago. I think the crop industry deserves a full-blown bear hug.
First detector teams have already been established in all major soybean-producing states to help identify rust should it appear in your area. These teams are set up much like a 9-1-1 emergency call. It's simply a matter of calling an Extension coordinator or certified crop adviser in your area who will then come directly to your farm to help sample and identify the disease.
In Iowa, where there are nearly 1,400 registered certified crop advisers, about 500 have already completed intensive rust training.
On another front, the National Strategic Planning Session for Integrated Soybean Rust Research has been operating since June of last year. It's a mouthful to say, but as David Wright, director of production technologies for the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) says, “The people who need to be part of this group are part of the group.”
The 110-member team is a partnership with USDA, United Soybean Board and NCSRP, and consists of public and private researchers, chemical companies and farmers. It's charged with developing a strategic plan for soybean rust research.
“We're to identify critical needs to solve the problem, not just to learn more about the disease,” Wright explains. “For example, how do we find answers to genetic resistance or come up with the best advanced warning system to let farmers know when they should spray?”
Already, this group has kicked into action and in the short term is, indeed, developing an advanced warning system.
Wright says this system will likely include sentinel plots to be planted all the way from Florida to North Dakota. It may also consist of an air and/or rain collection system to check for spores.
“It's a way to give farmers enough notice of where rust has been located so they can scout and spray in a timely fashion and minimize yield loss,” Wright says.
Another positive on rust is that all the advance warning has allowed chemical companies to gear up their fungicide production.
In northern Europe, where lots of fungicides are used on small grains, farmers have been asked to buy chemicals as early as February and March, reports Palle Pedersen, Extension soybean specialist at Iowa State University.
“They (companies) want to be sure we have the fungicides we need in North America if rust shows up here this summer,” Pedersen says.
Now it's mostly a wait and see proposition. Early plant detection followed by prompt application of fungicides at the right time are your best defenses.
We'll continue to keep you up to date on the soybean rust issue. Also, check our Web site: www.cornandsoybeandigest.com.
Good luck and stay tuned through the winter for new developments.