Always be prepared — that's the motto of Garst Seed Company's 26 agronomists in the event that Asian soybean rust spreads farther into soybean production areas in 2006.

To best prepare for this scenario, Garst recently sent all of its agronomists to parent company Syngenta's Vero Beach Research Center in Florida for an intensive Asian soybean rust training session.

The Syngenta center is one of the private facilities in the United States to have live Asian soybean rust specimens in incubation — giving the Garst agronomists the opportunity to study the fungal disease firsthand and be better able to identify it in soybean fields.

The specimens were collected from a natural occurrence in the state of Florida. All precautions were taken to contain the rust during the training and then destroy it when the training was complete.

Garst's agronomists are now among a limited few in the nation who have actual hands-on experience in identifying Asian soybean rust.

“Our agronomists have received the most extensive hands-on training available for this disease,” says John Pieper, eastern agronomy services manager for Garst. “They will be able to quickly and accurately identify Asian soybean rust and help growers manage this devastating disease.

“Garst agronomists also have access to cutting-edge technology and detection tools through Syngenta that will further aid them in providing growers with key information to prepare for and treat Asian soybean rust.”

University and industry agronomists have predicted that the 2006 growing season will likely be more favorable for the spread of Asian soybean rust than the 2005 season.

Key early signs that agronomists will watch for include: the level at which kudzu and volunteer soybeans survived the winter, where they survived and what percent was infected with Asian soybean rust. Agronomists will also closely monitor temperatures and precipitation levels.

“We're not sounding alarms, but since the potential exists for this disease to spread farther into growing areas this season, Garst will be prepared and ready to help growers,” says Jim Bueltel, western agronomy services manager for Garst.

During their training at the Vero Beach facility, the Garst agronomists performed classroom work to study the early symptoms of Asian soybean rust. This disease can be easily confused and misidentified with other common soybean diseases, such as bacterial pustule, bacterial blight and brown spot.

The agronomists also trained on some of the latest disease tracking and monitoring technologies, including Syngenta's Syntinel RustTracker — an award-winning Geo-reference Information System (GIS) that combines spore location information gathered from spore traps and sentinel plots with AccuWeather.com weather data to create a series of maps that help agronomists identify the most likely areas for soybean rust outbreaks.

The technology went live in May 2005. During the season, RustTracker found rust-like spores in 13 states and 61 percent of the traps. In the two states where soybean rust developed, Alabama and Georgia, Syntinel spore traps detected spores an average of 31 days before the disease was found.

With their knowledge of the Syntinel system, Garst's agronomists now have access to a very valuable tool for early detection this season.

“Early detection is absolutely critical for keeping this disease in check,” Bueltel says. “The Syntinel technology, coupled with our agronomists' knowledge, will help us identify Asian soybean rust before it advances to levels that cause major yield losses. Growers in South America have shown us how absolutely important it is to properly diagnose this disease early in its development.”

Garst agronomists teamed with Syngenta Crop Protection representatives are also prepared to make fungicide recommendations should an outbreak occur.

Syngenta's Quadris and Quilt fungicides are two potential sprays for crops that are at high risk of developing Asian soybean rust. Garst's agronomists can suggest the best times to apply these fungicides and the proper application methods in order to help growers successfully treat outbreaks.

Scientists at the Vero Beach Research Center continue to test the safety and efficacy of Syngenta's fungicide products on soybean plants and are beginning a baseline sensitivity analysis, which will prepare them to monitor and manage any possible development of resistance.

The lab is also studying the uptake and redistribution of Syngenta's fungicides within the soybean plant after application.