Soybean rust disease is one of the most pressing issues facing U.S. soybean growers because it has the potential to devastate the country's soybean industry, growers at a recent conference focusing on the disease were told.

“We must work to prevent the accidental introduction of soybean rust associated with imports or travelers, and a potential outbreak via wind-borne spores,” said American Soybean Association President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa.

Soybean rust attacks the foliage of a soybean plant, causing the leaves to drop early, which inhibits pod-setting and reduces yield. The amount of damage depends on how early in the growth of the soybean plant the infection occurs. It can cause 90 percent yield losses.

More than 200 soybean producers, scientists and industry experts participated in a recent soybean rust disease conference to learn more about the threat of Asian soybean rust and measures being taken to safeguard the United States from the damaging crop disease. The conference, hosted by the American Soybean Association, also provided growers with information on the approval status and registration of fungicide products to combat the disease, the identification and detection methods for soybean rust, and the steps being taken to develop rust-resistance soybean varieties.

“The American Soybean Association has undertaken a series of actions designed to safeguard the U.S. soybean crop,” Heck said. “This kind of concerted effort on behalf of soybean farmers is what ASA is here to do, and that's why membership in the ASA is so important.”

One of the topics discussed at the conference was the immediate concern that rust could be transported through commercial soybean shipments from South America, where Asian rust has already caused significant crop losses. Because imported soybeans are allowed to contain up to 2 percent foreign material that mostly consists of pieces of plant stems, pods and leaves capable of transmitting the rust spores, ASA is concerned that soybean imports from countries where rust has been detected represent a risk to the U.S. soybean industry.

“ASA is working closely with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to develop protocols that will prevent the accidental introduction of soybean rust from any potential imports of soybeans or soybean meal,” Heck said. “ASA and APHIS share the goal of developing procedures that will protect the United States while insuring that the procedures are science-based and no more trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve the protection goal.”

The commodity group is adamant that the risk assessment procedures must be based on good science because the U.S. exports more than 1 billion bushels of soybeans each year and U.S. growers would not want other countries to erect non-scientific barriers to trade.

“ASA is confident that USDA is working to develop the right protocols to prevent the accidental introduction of rust,” Heck said. “As global exporters, it is in our best interest to have plant protection measures around the globe that are grounded in science because we also have to live with such measures to reach our international customers.”

During the past three years, the American Soybean Association has worked extensively with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service, the Office of Pest Management Policy, and with the new Homeland Security Department on the rust issue. ASA is also working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to insure fungicides are approved and readily available, promoting additional federal funding to expand rust research, and now, hosting the Soybean Rust Conference.

“What is needed now are more federal dollars to expand rust research,” Heck said. “Growers can help by becoming ASA members, and by calling on their senators and representatives to provide greater federal research funding to fight soybean rust disease.”

The conference was conducted in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture and was sponsored by BASF Corporation, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Sipcam Agro USA and Syngenta Crop Protection.