Farmers ready for rust battle
Despite preparations, there's no way to know how hard soybeans might be hit

February 27, 2005, Anne Fitzgerald DesMoines Register via CropChoice.com: As spring planting approaches, U.S. farmers, agronomists, seed companies and chemical suppliers are bracing for combat against Asian rust.

A fungus found last fall for the first time in the United States, the disease can decimate soybeans, one of Iowa's two top crops and a commodity used widely in food, livestock feed and industrial products. No one knows whether the wind-borne disease will spread into the Upper Midwest this year, but there are growing fears that that could happen.

Iowa State University Extension researchers and private-sector specialists want to be ready.

Earlier this month, a delegation of Iowa State University Extension crop specialists visited Brazil, where soybean rust has caused widespread damage since first appearing there in 2001.

This week, a group of scientists from Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. will be in Brazil to learn more about the disease.

The Iowa State group, which returned from Brazil on Feb. 20, saw the disease's impact at various stages of development, including fields destroyed by the disease.

"It's the worst I have ever seen it," said Palle Pedersen , soybean agronomist with ISU Extension in Ames and coordinator of the trip. "It was really bad. . . . Farmers have been spraying two, three, four times."

So far, the only known treatment to prevent crop loss is to spray soybean plants with a fungicide.

Crop specialists are warning Iowa farmers that they will have to monitor their crops closely to detect the disease early in its development.

"Timing on spraying is the key," Pedersen said.

For More Information...
For more on how the organic community is reacting to the rust threat read, "Researchers responding to discovery of soybean rust in the U.S" by ISU's organic specialist Dr. Kathleen Delate.

Even then, yield losses may occur, and costs will mount quickly, especially if multiple spraying applications are needed, experts said.

The ISU Extension field crop specialists visited areas where two to three applications of chemicals to combat the fungus had been done. Each trip across a field costs Brazilians from $10 to $12 per acre for the chemical alone.

"There's widespread concern today in Brazil about soybean profit margins," said Robert Wisner , an ISU Extension economist who was part of the Iowa State study group. The cost of combating Asian rust is a key contributor to that concern, he and others said. In Iowa, pressure is building to be ready in case the disease hits.