"I want disease-resistant varieties if I've had a problem in the past because it's expensive to spray for the disease," says the Jonesboro farmer. "The disease information is about as important as yield, because diseases can wipe you out."

Fortunately, the University of Arkansas' Division of Agriculture has a new screening program to test soybean varieties for disease resistance and give farmers the information they need quickly.

A limited version of the program has been around for years, but the new one has been geared up to provide more timely disease information to farmers so they can select the right soybean variety to plant before booking seed in December or January.

Christian says the program "is a much needed service for Arkansas farmers."

The University of Arkansas is best suited to do this work, says Terry Kirkpatrick, head of the division's Nematode Diagnostic Laboratory at Hope, Ark. He said there's no other place where farmers can get scientific information that allows them to compare disease packages of the current varieties.

"There's nobody doing anything to this level or with this degree of coordination in the South," Kirkpatrick notes. "I'm not aware of any state that's got a more coordinated, focused effort in screening soybean varieties to determine their resistance or susceptibility across such a broad range of diseases."

Kirkpatrick, Kimberly Hurst and J. D. Barham, are focusing on soybean cyst, rootknot nematode and stem canker while Rick Cartwright, Extension plant pathologist, and his assistant, Mark Trent, are focusing on foliar diseases such as frogeye leaf spot and aerial blight.

Hurst and Trent were hired specifically to work on the new Soybean Disease Screening Program. In addition, John Rupe, Cliff Coker, Carol Boger, Chris Tingle, Dwayne Beaty, Trey Reaper and numerous county agents will help.

"Wherever we can get information on the effect of diseases on current or new soybean varieties, we'll go get it and report it," Kirkpatrick says.

He says the disease screening program complements the Soybean Variety Testing Program by Don Dombek, a division researcher, who evaluates varieties for adaptability to Arkansas conditions and yield potential.

"He locates his sites in places where pests are minimal because he doesn't want those factors interfering with measurements of how well that variety will grow," Kirkpatrick says. "However, most soybean farmers have to deal with disease problems."

Cartwright says Dombek provides him and Kirkpatrick with seed of about 250 varieties, which they plant in a greenhouse and in field plots across the state where they're exposed to disease organisms.

The disease screening team plans to provide farmers with immediate information about diseases, something that has been difficult to do in the past.

"Our goal is to get this information to growers and others on the Internet soon after we collect it so that it's near real time,” Cartwright says.

"The overall goal is to have as much rating data as possible on each variety in a final report by each Dec. 1 to help growers select varieties for their next crop. This should also allow Dombek to include disease rating data in his printed yield reports and provide updated information for Tingle's annual Soybean Update."

A lion's share of the support that makes the program possible is coming from the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, says Cartwright. "The board makes it possible to hire the people who do the important work of monitoring. That work would be impossible without them."

Lamar James is Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

e-mail: ljames@uaex.edu