Soybean rust was not a major problem for soybean farmers in 2006. However, last year the potentially devastating plant disease made its way farther north than it ever has before, making its presence known in northern Indiana.

Soybean checkoff farmer-leaders, through the United Soybean Board (USB) and North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP), recognize the importance of monitoring the relatively new soybean disease. Both will partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will again fund soybean sentinel plots across the country in 2007.

Sentinel plots are established to monitor movement of soybean rust for early detection and provide an early warning system for soybean farmers. These plots will complement those established by USDA.

In 2006, soybean rust was confirmed in 274 counties in 15 states. Some farmers have expressed concern the mild winter may result in even more rust findings in 2007.

“We are all concerned with the rust outlook for 2007,” says David Wright, Director of Research at NCSRP. “Researchers found actively sporulating rust pustules on new growth of kudzu in Georgia and Florida in January.”

Farmers can monitor rust findings on www.sbrusa.net, which is regularly updated by checkoff-funded researchers and others who closely monitor sentinel plots. The site also provides information on where rust was confirmed in previous years as well as information on how to spot and spray for soybean rust.

Timely detection of the disease can provide U.S. farmers with enough advanced warning to enable proper application of fungicides, the only effective management option for soybean rust at this time. Fungicides applied too late may be ineffective, and applications made too early could result in decreased effectiveness and the need for additional applications. Also, unnecessary treatments will result in higher input costs, reducing farmer profitability.

“This sentinel plot program is outstanding, and the checkoff is responsible for it,” says Ann Dorrance, associate professor of plant pathology at Ohio State University. “I tell all of my audiences that this program is their biggest return on their checkoff investment.”

Other rust-related information can be found on USB's Web site, www.unitedsoybean.org, which contains diagnostic guides and a rust management guide. The soybean checkoff co-sponsors the comprehensive soybean rust Web sites www.planthealth.info and www.stopsoybeanrust.com, where soybean farmers can find the latest information on soybean rust. USB also provides funding to Qualified State Soybean Boards for in-state rust detection and prevention activities.

“Rust is not something farmers can afford to forget about,” says Jim Sallstrom, USB Rust Initiative Team Lead and soybean farmer from Winthrop, Minn. “Monitoring the movements of rust in 2007 will provide vital information to farmers, enabling them to know what to expect and take all of the necessary precautions to protect their crop.”

Besides being vigilant when it comes to tracking rust, the checkoff also funds projects focused on mapping known rust-resistant genes in an attempt to understand how this resistance works. So far two genes for resistance have been mapped, and the information is now available to public and private soybean breeders.

Another checkoff-funded project is dedicated to learning more about the relationship between rust spores in the air and the prevalence of the disease in the field. The goal of the project is to provide farmers with advance warnings of potential rust outbreaks. Hand-held rust-detection tools are also being developed by checkoff-funded researchers to allow farmers the ability to test for soybean rust in its initial stages.