Arkansas' congressional delegation is asking Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman for $715,000 in emergency funding for a program that would help provide “immediate detection, training and education efforts” on Asian soybean rust.
The two senators and four congressmen are basing their request on Arkansas' strategic location for preventing the spread of the disease in the southeastern United States next spring. Asian soybean rust was first detected in Arkansas and eight other southeastern U.S. states in November.
“Asian soybean rust is an extremely dangerous disease,” says Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., author of a letter requesting the funds. “It is one of the most serious threats to U.S. agriculture since the boll weevil.
“We have been able to get funding for long-term research for such diseases in the past, but we need short-term help now.” (Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Reps. Marion Berry, Vic Snyder, John Boozman and Mike Ross also signed the letter.)
Speaking at the Agricultural Council of Arkansas' annual meeting in Memphis, Tenn., Pryor said Arkansas' 3.3 million to 3.5 million acres of soybeans could play a key role in the direction the disease takes if it overwinters in Florida, south Louisiana or Texas this winter.
“As it now stands, a spore cloud from the lower Mid-South can impact 3.3 million to 3.5 million acres in Arkansas next year,” he said. “Since Arkansas soybean acreage equals or exceeds the acreage in the rest of the Southern states, the potential of greatly enhancing the eventual spore cloud is immense.”
Since Arkansas' soybeans are planted earlier than Midwest beans, soybean rust could become established in Arkansas, produce spores and follow the prevailing winds into the large soybean-producing states of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, South Dakota and Ohio.
“Arkansas is the gateway to the Midwest,” Pryor says. “To keep soybean rust from devastating the bulk of the U.S. soybean crop, we feel the fight against it must be rapidly and massively fought in Arkansas. Due to the early work of the Southern Pest Detection Network, Arkansas has the unique ability to conduct an effective holding action.
Those efforts will hinge on the state receiving timely assistance from USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service emergency funds through the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
“The university already has a program in place through the Southern Pest Detection Network that can help farmers detect the disease quickly,” said Pryor. “Early detection will be of critical importance in stopping the spread of this disease.”
Treatments for Asian soybean rust are projected to cost Arkansas producers more than $122 million if the disease overwinters and moves north from the Gulf Coast.
“The other side of this problem is that if soybean yields go down, other segments of Arkansas agriculture industry such as poultry feeders will feel it immediately,” Pryor noted. “So we need help to make sure it doesn't get a foothold in our state.”
The letter said the funding will be focused on four areas:
- First-detector training program. Both the Cooperative Extension Service and the Experiment Station will concentrate on providing intensive training to 500 county agents, farm service and seed company field staff, private consultants and other crop protection professionals. “Since soybean rust closely resembles other diseases, it is important that accurate and immediate detection occurs,” the letter said.
- Public education. General training will be provided to farmers, agriculture industry personnel and other interested persons.
- Detection and monitoring. Funds will be used to learn about the ideal conditions (temperature, moisture, otherenvironmental conditions, varieties) that make infestation likely and predictable so that chemical treatments can be targeted in advance of infestations. The university is proposing to establish “sentinel plots” in the 40 Arkansas soybean growing counties that will be monitored multiple times daily.
- Analytical support — Extension Plant Disease Clinic. This includes the hiring of a disease diagnostician and supplemental staff, clinic operations, costs and gathering of supplies and analytical upgrades. “The availability of overnight mailing sampling kits will be a critical part of the process.
Pryor told Council members that he believes agriculture is at a crossroads not just because of Asian soybean rust but also because of the growing federal deficit that will have to be addressed in the next Congress.
“I believe that it is absolutely critical that we do not reopen the farm bill,” he said at the opening of his remarks. “But there are people in Washington who want to do that to attack the deficit.”
Pryor said he agrees that deficit reduction is needed, “but considering that agriculture accounts for only 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the federal budget I don't think agriculture is the place to look for massive cuts in spending.”
With talks continuing on the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, Pryor said, now is not the time to be making major changes in farm programs.
“We do not want to leave our trade negotiators without any arrows in their quiver when it comes to trying to finish up the new agreement,” he said. WTO negotiators have scheduled a ministerial meeting in Hong Kong next December to try to wrap up the talks.
Commenting on the November election results, Pryor said the Congress is losing “some of its best advocates for Southern agriculture” through retirements and defeats of incumbents.
Referring to the retirements of Sens. John Breaux, D-La.; Fritz Hollings, D-S.C.; Zell Miller, D-Ga.; and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, Pryor said he believes it's possible that power may be shifting to the Midwest when it comes to farm policy.
Whether that's true or not, farm groups need to restore the harmony that has been the hallmark of farm policy. “Instead of agriculture fighting among itself, we need to understand that we need to work together,” he said. “I see my role as going to Washington and working with everyone to keep the current farm bill.”