WASHINGTON — USDA and state Extension Service specialists have begun monitoring “sentinel” plots in a number of soybean-producing states for evidence of outbreaks of Asian soybean rust.

Their findings will be fed into USDA’s new soybean rust surveillance and monitoring network that is being coordinated by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. APHIS is providing funding for more than 300 sentinel plots across the Soybean Belt and Puerto Rico this year.

“As you know, last November USDA confirmed the first appearance of soybean rust in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “Since then, USDA has been working with state and local governments to help farmers get up-to-date information and solutions to the soybean rust issue.

“Today I’m pleased to announce that as a part of the soybean rust surveillance and monitoring network USDA and its partners will begin monitoring sentinel soybean plots in 26 major soybean producing states.”

Following Johanns’ announcement at an April 14 news conference, a USDA spokesman said the network will eventually be increased to 35 states and Puerto Rico. In addition, state universities and the United Soybean Board will fund at least 400 additional sentinel plots in 2005.

Reports from those sentinel plots will be available on the Web site created by USDA to help farmers monitor the progress of Asian soybean rust if it begins to spread in the United States. The Web site can be found at http://www.usda.gov/soybeanrust.

Asian soybean rust has been confirmed on live host plants in two locations in Florida this year. USDA and the state universities have also been conducting scouting programs in south Louisiana and Texas.

Johanns announced USDA will begin offering a new e-mail update system for soybean rust in the next few weeks.

“Those who sign up will receive e-mail updates whenever there’s a change on the tracking map as well as other timely information about soybean rust,” he said during the news conference.

He also urged producers to begin talking to their county Extension and crop insurance agents about complying with insurance requirements related to treating fields for Asian soybean rust.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency, which oversees the federal crop insurance program, issued a statement in late March advising growers that they must use good farming practices and follow the recommendations of agricultural experts to remain eligible for coverage against losses to soybean rust.

“Producers should seek and follow the recommendations of local agriculture experts to control soybean rust and — this is important — document the advice they receive and the action they take to combat the disease,” Johanns said.

“Producers should also talk to their crop insurance agents to make sure they comply with the specific terms of their crop insurance policies. These very important steps are a vital part of our system of plant and animal health protection and the protection of our entire food system.

RMA is encouraging producers to talk to their crop insurance agents to understand and comply with the terms of their crop insurance policies to insure they will be adequately prepared to meet the challenges presented by this disease, officials said.

“While the disease is an insured peril under the federal crop insurance program, damage due to the insufficient or improper application of available disease control measures is not,” said RMA Administrator Ross J. Davidson Jr.

Under the terms of the Common Crop Insurance Policy, a practice is considered a good farming practice if agricultural experts agree that the production method used will allow the crop to make normal progress toward maturity and produce at least the yield used to determine the production guarantee.

Failure to purchase and apply adequate control measures due to economic reasons is not an insurable cause of loss, said Davidson. Producers must be knowledgeable of any pending outbreaks and the control methods recommended by local agricultural experts, such as Extension agents and certified crop consultants, used in their area to combat the disease.

Appropriate treatment may vary from timing of application (before or after discovery of the disease), frequency, and choice of chemical or other determining factors. If crops become infected, RMA recommends that insured producers document:

• The date of discovery of the disease;

• Any recommendations received from agricultural experts;

• Actions taken regarding the application of appropriate control measures.

Davidson said approved insurance providers are responsible for verifying that losses are unavoidable due to naturally occurring events.

“That includes verifying producers followed good farming practices or that chemicals or application equipment were not available or natural events (for example, excessive moisture) precluded access to the crop to timely apply the recommended treatments.”

“Again, I urge people to stay in touch,” said Johanns. “If you’re in a soybean production state, stay in touch with our Web site. We’re working very hard to keep it current, up-to-the-minute current if we can.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com