ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The American Soybean Association is urging USDA to more rapidly undertake development of a national strategy for controlling and mitigating the potential for an Asian soybean rust infestation in the continental United States. Rust is a devastating disease with the potential to cause enormous losses in annual U.S. soybean production, resulting in serious consequences for domestic industry, including the livestock sector.

“Much more aggressive and coordinated action is needed from the administration to prevent potentially adverse consequences to the U.S. soybean industry,” said ASA President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa. “ASA has asked Secretary (Ann) Veneman to take immediate steps to insure that U.S. agriculture is fully prepared to respond to and mitigate the outbreak of rust, and requested a meeting to more fully discuss these plans.”

According to a computer model developed by University of Illinois researchers, in cooperation with USDA scientists, “the disease has most likely spread to soybean-growing areas in Brazil and Venezuela located north of the equator, making it inevitable that rust will reach the United States in a relatively short time... If it’s already established there, we could even see rust in the United States as soon as the current growing season and certainly no later than a year or two down the road.”

ASA, a membership organization representing 25,000 soybean producers, believes the United States is unprepared at the present time to deal with the imminent threat of a soybean rust outbreak, and that there are a number of actions USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies must take that are critical to mitigate the impact of the rust fungus upon arrival.

Key among these is approval of effective fungicides for use on soybean rust, and insuring that sufficient quantities be available in advance of a rust infestation. To facilitate local fungicide supplies, ASA is calling for the development of a strategy to insure adequate supplies will be available.

ASA, in cooperation with USDA, state soybean associations, and others in the soybean industry, has begun a campaign designed to educate soybean farmers about soybean rust. Nevertheless, ASA believes USDA needs to undertake additional educational efforts to insure producers, Extension agents, crop consultants and others involved in the field are able to identify rust as early as possible. Information and education also must be provided on fungicide application timing, application equipment recommendations, and other practical information that is essential to successful efforts to mitigate and prevent billions of dollars in losses to the U.S. soybean industry.

“The reality today is that an effective soybean rust surveillance program is not yet in place, adequate supplies of cost-effective fungicides approved for use on soybeans do not exist, and programs to provide widespread training and education to farmers, crop consultants, and others have not been implemented,” Heck said.

Research is being carried out by the Agricultural Research Service to develop rust-resistant or rust-tolerant soybean varieties. The soybean checkoff has provided more than $1.1 million in soybean producer checkoff funds to support soybean rust research, and ASA is working with Congress to increase appropriations to fund additional work by ARS scientists.

“Research to identify rust-resistant or -tolerant soybean varieties must be greatly expanded,” Heck said.

Over the course of the last two years, ASA has worked closely with USDA Undersecretary Bill Hawks and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to establish protocols for imports of soybean planting seed and soybean meal from rust-infested countries that, properly enforced, can effectively eliminate the risk of contamination. ASA is now seeking to insure that any protocol developed for importing whole soybeans from these countries will be equally effective.

“ASA appreciates the ongoing efforts by the USDA to prevent the introduction of rust in the United States as the result of imports,” Heck said. “However, until key scientific questions are answered and spore viability studies are completed, ASA believes imports of whole commodity soybeans from rust-infected countries should not be contemplated.”

ASA and other industry stakeholders are very concerned about the prospective arrival of Asian rust in the United States and are prepared to work with USDA and other agencies to develop a comprehensive plan that anticipates and initiates appropriate responses to rust.

“We must acknowledge the potential that Asian rust will spread to the United States this year or in the next several years,” Heck said. “USDA must take every science-based measure to prevent the introduction of rust into the U.S., as well as take immediate steps to ensure that U.S. agriculture is fully prepared to respond to and mitigate the outbreak of rust.”