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PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY FOR UNCERTAIN ENEMY
RAISING AWARENESS OF ASIAN SOYBEAN RUST IS FIRST STRATEGY OF INDUSTRY
The enemy hasn't even been found in the contiguous United States. But already the soybean industry is preparing for what plant pathologists say is the inevitable arrival of Asian soybean rust. The first step is to understand the disease and raise awareness of it before farmers are face to face with treatment decisions.

Soybean leaves with three levels of soybean rust. — Photo courtesy of BASF
"It's not a question of if this disease will enter the U.S., but when," says Bryan Hieser, United Soybean Board (USB) production chair and soybean farmer from Minier, Ill. Soybean rust has been found in Asia and Australia for decades. Since the spores are easily transported in air currents and spread rapidly over wide distances, it was no surprise when rust moved to Africa in the mid-1990s. In 2001, soybean rust was found in Brazilian soybean areas, and in 2003 was identified in northern Argentina.

"With possible yield losses of 80 or even 90 percent, rust is one of the most pressing issues ... and we have undertaken a series of actions designed to safeguard the U.S. crop," says Ron Heck, American Soybean Association (ASA) president and producer from Perry, Iowa.

DIVERSE GROUPS GET INVOLVED

Those steps include trying to understand the disease and preparing short- and long-term management objectives to respond should rust develop. USB and ASA are helping coordinate research to screen soybean varieties and exotic germplasm for sources of rust resistance, identifying management recommendations for controlling the disease once it enters the United States and using weather models to help predict the spread of rust.

Untreated soybeans (left) compared to treated soybeans (right). Untreated soybeans are prematurely dropping leaves. — Photo courtesy of BASF
"The threat from this disease is truly a unique situation. Never before have crop protection manufacturers and industry and government agencies collaborated so closely to prepare for the possibility of attack from a pest," says John Smith, fungicides business manager, Bayer CropScience. "ASA and USB have been instrumental in raising awareness of the disease and working with manufacturers to ensure that product is available in the U.S. ASA has established a Web site that will list all products available under both Section 3 and Section 18 (emergency) labels."

Groups involved include USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Office of Pest Management Policy and USDA's Soybean Rust Technical Working Group and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While seed companies are working to develop rust-resistant soybean varieties, crop protection companies that include BASF Corporation, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Sipcam Agro USA and Syngenta Crop Protection are working to ensure fungicides are approved and readily available for use in the United States.

"We have been working closely with the soybean production associations," says Robert Gordon, fungicides market specialist, Dow AgroSciences. "We have helped sponsor ASA and other grower group meetings and made presentations at the same meetings. We are in discussions with ASA now on sponsorship and presentation for another series of meetings they are planning."

Other crop protection companies have been involved with ASA and government groups to increase awareness and understanding of rust before it becomes a domestic issue. "This is a new disease for the U.S., and there is a lot of speculation and panic about it," says Allison Talley, fungicide specialist, Syngenta Crop Protection. "We are trying to get at the best science and at the same time help with funding industry awareness and training so we are all better prepared."

INCREASING AWARENESS

While the EPA prohibits companies from promoting unregistered products, Bayer's Smith believes soybean growers are already very aware of the implications of soybean rust entering the United States from ongoing education and awareness programs.

"We have made an effort to educate our customers and their growers about the disease when we've had opportunities. As a sponsor of Doane seminars for retailers, farm managers and consultants, for example, we used our time to educate attendees about the disease," says Smith. "We'll continue to educate growers when opportunities arise."

Crop protection companies have assisted USB and ASA in preparing and distributing educational materials to growers, including diagnostic guides. The guides were also sent to crop consultants, county and university extension agents, plant pathologists and others.

"The ag media will play a substantial role in helping educate growers, retailers and the industry about rust issues," adds Gordon. "Since we've had experience dealing with rust in South America, we are making ourselves available to the ag media to provide information that can be used in news reports to help educate the public. We need to respect the rules restricting advertising and promotion of products. But soybean rust is a major concern that requires sharing of factual information."

Internal company communications are equally important. "Because the disease is so aggressive, it's important our sales and technical reps are prepared, can recognize symptoms and know the appropriate response before they face rust in the field. We've worked closely with our colleagues in countries where rust is present to learn from their experience," says Smith.

Syngenta is working on a three-prong awareness approach. "Last year we put out a Q&A on rust for our internal people to begin to prepare for rust and worked with ASA on education publications," says Jim Peters, brand manager, fungicides. "In phase two, we are going into specific recommendations for product use based on our trials in Brazil. This is information we will have our people share with retailers and growers."

Technical bulletins are a strategy employed by BASF as well. "First, we hope that all the preparation done to date never needs to be used. That said, our technical services team is taking the lead within BASF to ensure our internal staff, including business representatives, are the best informed and best trained resource in the industry," says Tracy Linbo, soybean market manager, BASF.

COMPANY PREPARATIONS

Three fungicides are approved under Section 3 for rust control in the United States - Bravo, Echo and Quadris. Several others are included in a Section 18 request and include Bumper, Eminent, Folicur, Headline, Laredo, Pristine, Propimax, Stratego and Tilt.

"The question is, 'Will Asian rust act the same in the U.S. as it has in South America?'" says Peters. "We are getting every bit of performance data we can from South America to help back the recommendations we make in the U.S, including the best application methods, nozzle type, adjuvant use, application speed and more."

Likewise, preparations are underway at Dow AgroSciences. "We have significant experience with our products in the South American market and continue to test efficacy not only against soybean rust but also secondary diseases as well," Gordon says. "We are also measuring customer satisfaction with Dow AgroScience products in areas of South America where they are being used commercially."

Bayer CropScience is monitoring the disease's impact on soybeans in other countries and working closely with Brazilian counterparts. "We're supporting government agencies and associations charged with monitoring disease progression and reporting its status," says Smith. "We have several years' on-farm experience with Folicur and Stratego in other countries where Asian soybean rust is a problem. We're working with USDA to conduct trial work in countries where the disease is present and making product available for testing by U.S. universities."

Once rust is recognized in the United States, crop protection company representatives say they will be prepared for product dispersal. "Distribution plans will depend on infestations and locations in the U.S.," says Peters. "But as an example, we are already building supplies of Quadris to prepare for rust. Quadris is already used in nearly every state in such crops as soybeans, corn, cotton or rice, so it is readily available."

BASF will employ a similar tactic. "Timing of the registration of our products, the disease's entrance into the United States and where rust first appears will determine how and where we will distribute our products," says Linbo. "We will work closely with our channel partners at that time to determine necessary product allocations and provide product training to ensure growers have the best possible support controlling the threat."

Gordon notes, "We will use the same distribution channel that handles our current line of corn and soybean products. The question of adequate resources will be tested by the extent to which soybean rust distributes in the U.S. soybean market. If it becomes a commonly fought soybean pest across all production areas, it will take the resources of all of these companies to adequately meet that threat." AM

Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer based in Edwardsville, Ill.


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