USDA is again funding projects to track the spread of soybean rust and create the Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education to provide producers with information about additional legume pests and diseases in 2006, officials have announced.

The nationally coordinated network will help producers in making crop management decisions that reduce pesticide input costs, reduce environmental exposure to pesticides and increase the efficiency and efficacy of pesticide applications.

“The soybean rust sentinel plots, mobile team monitoring program and online reporting system are important tools for our producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “Timely information is essential to help farmers combat plant diseases and we are committed to providing it.”

The risk management tool component of the network is an online, real-time data system that allows growers and their advisors to access the latest information, to the county level, of where there are confirmed disease and/or pest outbreaks. The mapping tool will include frequently updated commentaries from state Extension specialists and national specialists discussing immediate and projected risks and control options. USDA's Risk Management Agency funded this $2.4 million component.

To complement the network, USDA will continue to conduct teleconferences, workshops and organize Extension field visits to prepare first detectors to scout for pest and disease problems, to obtain diagnostic confirmation when a suspected problem is found and to manage the information for timely incorporation into the risk management map.

Training modules will also be produced for crop advisors and producers about how to use the map system and what the risk management alternatives are, based on a three-tiered (low, medium, high) risk advisory.

The risk management mapping tool will continue to help improve crop protection by educating farmers about risk-management strategies and providing timely information about good farming practices specific to current crop pest and disease risk status.

With foliage dropping, soybean rust is getting easier to find. Any remaining green leaves get attention.

“Sometimes there are still some beans at the field edges that have green foliage,” said Sikora. “The three fields I found rust in Saturday were all that way — rust on a few green leaves.”

In Georgia, soybean harvest is nearing full swing.

“There are some good beans and some sorry ones,” said Phil Jost, Georgia Extension soybean specialist. “The August/September drought we experienced really hurt. The good beans are cutting 40 to 45 bushels. The bad beans won't do much better than 20 bushels.”

USDA has the state average pegged at 30 bushels, down from earlier this summer.

Towards the end of the season, soybean rust has become widespread in Georgia. It's yet to be determined if the disease has had any yield consequences.

“Our gut feeling is there are very few, if any, fields with enough rust infestation to hurt yields,” said Jost. “Some of our untreated trials, especially in the southwest corner of the state, will probably see yield drop. But as far as commercial fields, we don't think there's much damage. It's safe to say it's more widespread now than it was a year ago when the hurricane brought the rust in. But it hasn't hurt much.”

Jost suspects a “large majority” of farmers likely sprayed a fungicide at least once. “No doubt that has something to do with low infection rates.”

Georgia Extension agents have aided in finding the new cases of rust.

“Right now, the disease is easy to find. So agents are out pulling a couple of leaves and sending them in. We want to know how far north the rust has traveled. It's almost to the Georgia/Tennessee line. Most of the new finds are a pustule here and there, nothing major.”

Still, the new finds are interesting and disturbing due to the dry conditions Georgia has experienced since mid-August.

“It's been extremely dry,” said Jost. “Yet, the rust has moved and progressed. That worries me.”

Both Jost and Sikora are concerned about what an increased rust spore load will mean for crops next year. Soybean producers have yet to see what the disease is truly capable of.

“The fact it has grown to the level it has this year is, in my opinion, just an indication we've increased the innoculum source,” said Jost. “That means there will be a greater potential for trouble with soybean rust next year. If we have early-season wet conditions, this disease could be much, much worse than we've seen.

“Of course, it's all weather dependent. If 2006 is dry, rust may not be an issue. But if we find rust early in the season, knowing what it can do to our crop, we'll recommend fungicides again.”

Does Sikora see any reason to tweak fungicide recommendations?

“At this point, they're solid. And they'd better be. I believe innoculum will continue to build in south Florida. I'm not trying to alarm anyone but that's my fear.

“What I don't want to have happen is producers look only at this year and not take soybean rust seriously. This isn't just a one-year problem. We must remain vigilant.”

Due to high input costs, expectations in many states are for a larger soybean crop next year. While harvest may be keeping such talk to a minimum, Jost hasn't heard much along those lines.

“With input costs being so expensive, we'll probably see some increase. But I'm not hearing a huge shift. If a shift occurs, though, there's no doubt the extra acres will play a part in how this disease moves across the state.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com