A toll free hotline has been established for producers and others to call for up-to-date information about the possible spread of Asian soybean rust to Tennessee. The number is 877-875-BEAN (877-875-2326).

Although the fungal disease had not been confirmed as occurring in the state in 2006, experts want to be ready for a possible outbreak, says Melvin Newman, Extension plant pathologist with the West Tennessee Experiment Station in Jackson.

Elizabeth Long, a University of Tennessee Extension specialist in entomology and plant pathology, will coordinate information for the hotline. “I plan to update the hotline with any new information by 1 p.m. EDT each Monday,” she said. “Additional updates will be made when any breaking news occurs.”

Asian soybean rust is caused by the fungal species Phakopsora pachyrhizi and is known to infect more than 90 legume species. It has the potential to significantly reduce soybean yields but can be managed with fungicides if detected early. Prevention and control measures are expected to raise costs for producers and ultimately for consumers.

Soybeans rank among Tennessee’s top crops, earning farmers nearly $232 million in cash receipts in 2005. This year the Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service reports that state producers intended to plant some 1.2 million acres of soybeans.

Growers are encouraged to watch for symptoms of the fungus such as small lesions on the lower leaves of infected plant that increase in size and change from gray to either tan or reddish brown on the undersides of the leaves. Lesions are most common on leaves but may occur on petioles, stems, and pods.

Asian soybean rust was first found in the United States in late 2004, including a sample collected at the Agricenter in Memphis, Tenn.; however, field sampling during 2005 failed to confirm the fungus in the state.

More information about soybean rust and recommended measures for controlling the disease are available through the UT Extension Web site: http://UTcrops.com — first click on “soybean” then follow the link labeled “diseases and nematodes.” Growers can also visit the USDA soybean rust Web site: http://www.usda.gov/soybeanrust.