Producers will have to move beyond the “soybean mentality” now that Asian soybean rust has arrived in the United States, say University of Georgia agronomists.

“The first challenge is to overcome the ‘soybean’ mentality,” a University of Georgia Extension agronomist told a group of farmers at an American Soybean Association (ASA) Soybean Rust Education Meeting in Savannah, Ga. “We basically don't scout soybeans. We look at it as an easy crop.” The meeting was one of six nationwide sponsored by the ASA.

In the crowd, farmers Lamar Black of Tilmanstone Farms in Millen, Ga., and Mark Detweiler, president of the Georgia and Florida Soybean Association, agreed and said that fact alone could influence the number of soybean acres in the Southeast this coming season.

“I feel comfortable with the fungicides to control ASR,” Black says, “but you've got to learn how to identify it and that might take hiring a consultant to scout at least two times a week for me to be comfortable about the situation.” He's looking at cutting back almost 100 acres of soybeans.

Detweiler of Rome, Ga., believes Asian soybean rust “weighs as one of the heaviest factors that we'll face in our lifetimes in soybean production.” It will require a change in thinking.

“In soybeans, we've kind of developed a mentality of planting, spraying and harvesting,” Detweiler says. “It will take a change in attitude. Fungicides have never been a big factor for most of us before.”

University of Georgia plant pathologist Bob Kemerait says Asian soybean rust came at a time when Georgia was experiencing a resurgence in soybean acres and the disease will likely contribute to a decline in acreage this season.

“We will have soybean rust in Georgia in 2005,” Kemerait says. “I don't know when it will hit. The reality is, we'll likely need fungicides or need to quit growing soybeans in Georgia.”

Kemerait says in the worst-case scenario, Asian soybean rust hits early in the season and requires multiple fungicide applications. “Then it becomes a case of economics. Can I afford to spray multiple times?”

Education will become a primary tool to prepare. That will include training growers to scout for it and may require hiring a scout. Early detection will be key.

Sentinel soybean crops will be planted this spring in a number of states, including Georgia, to catch the disease early before it gets in grower fields.

“Early detection will be quite difficult for growers,” Kemerait says. “There will be an intense focus on being able to identify the early symptoms at all agent and grower training sessions. County agents will monitor soybean acres each week. That's important because Asian soybean rust looks like other diseases.”

Quadris, Headline, Bravo and Echo have full labels for the treatment of Asian soybean rust. A number of Section 18 specific use labels have been approved.

“It becomes an economics of management,” Kemerait says. “How many times can we spray and with what? Can you afford two fungicide sprays?

He advises taking preventative measures early. “Spraying soybeans is a new game.”

Spraying decisions will depend on the weather, maturation date of the soybeans, presence of the disease and the price of soybeans.

Preventative sprays would be in order if the disease has been found in the same county or even within 300 miles. “If there's no rust in the field, spray with a strobilurin or chlorothalonil. If there's rust in the field, spray with triazole for the first spray. Then 14 to 21 days after the first spray, follow up with a strobilurin.

“Reconsider spraying if rust hits early — if you sprayed two to three weeks ago and the weather is favorable for rust,” Kemerait says.

While weather conditions for soybean rust may be more favorable for the spread of soybean rust in the summer, Phil Jost, University of Georgia Extension agronomist, points out that the disease was found in a large area in Georgia in 2004.

“Soybean acres will probably be down somewhat,” Jost says. “The key is going to be farmer awareness to be able to spot it and react.

“We basically don't scout soybeans,” Jost says.

Experts in Georgia and elsewhere are planning agent training at the county level “to take the scare out of the issue for growers, and make growers aware of the potential increases in cost,” Jost says.

Growers such as Lamar Black are already looking at purchasing spray equipment and reading all they can on the subject of Asian soybean rust.

“What we do in the Southeast will directly impact the rest of the U.S.,” Detweiler says. “We're on a learning curve and in an area where we're looking at price potential. There will be a lot of questions asked, ‘How much will I plant?’ It's going to be hard to make a decision as we look at it.

“We're going to have to treat soybeans as more than a step-child now,” Detweiler says.

e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com