11/24/2004 WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. - Soybean rust, a defoliating fungus thatprevents proper plant development and reduces crop yields, has migrated toArkansas.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said presence of the fungus, which isspread on the wind, was confirmed in fields near West Memphis this week.
The first cases of the defoliating fungus were confirmed Nov. 10 in BatonRouge, La., carried into the United States by an "overactive hurricaneseason," said Alan Blaine, agronomist at Mississippi State ExtensionService in Starkville.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed cases inMississippi, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, putting soybean producers andconsumers nationwide on alert.
"We've been sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting for it to show up,"said Terry Walker with the Arkansas State Plant Board. "Then when it does,it's evidently already spread over a wide area."
Soybean rust, or Phakospora pachyrhizi, has been spreading from itsorigins in Australia for more than 30 years. It was spotted in Hawaii in1995.
Plant Board director Darryl Little said rust, which attaches itself toleaves of soybean plants and reproduces rapidly, apparently was found onsolitary, sterile plants. With this year's crop mostly harvested, theeffect in Arkansas won't be known until next year at the earliest.
Little said the fungus may lower yield, but won't taint the soybeansthemselves.
"It's my understanding that it's not going to be a trade issue, but itwill be a production issue," he said. "I think we're probably one of thelast soybean producing countries that has the rust, and we haven't placedany restrictions on companies shipping soybeans into the United States."
Any reduction in soybean production will also affect the price of soybeanmeal, which farmers feed livestock as protein supplements, and productscontaining soybean oil, including margarine, cooking oils and saladdressings.
American producers have watched the fungus race through the world, mostrecently decimating 5 percent to 80 percent of soybean production inBrazil, which surpasses the United States in soybean production. Brazilianauthorities are experimenting with controlling rust with fungicides.
Quarantines are not effective because the fungus is windborne, traveling200 miles to 400 miles a day when temperatures are between 60 and 80degrees, said Michael McNeill, with the Ag Advisory in Algona, Iowa.
"It moved from Paraguay across Brazil in one growing season. That's likemoving from Miami to Seattle," he said.
The spores can overwinter in warm climates in kudzu and other legumes,making the South a particularly fertile breeding ground.
"What we have to do is hope for a good, cold winter to kill back thehosts," Blaine said. "We're working on a monitoring system to monitor theflow from south to north."
So far, fungicides are the only remedy. Researchers nationwide arehurrying to get federal approval for emergency fungal applications thatwill cost $20 to $40 an acre.
"What we have to do is convince farmers they can control this disease,"said Mike Powell, Helena Chemical Co. distributor in Bolivar County, Miss."Farmers are going to have to take a preventive approach. If they waituntil they've got the disease, the damage will be done."
In the Mid-South, where the soybean crop is annually worth $900 million,bean production will likely drop, particularly on unirrigated land wherelow yields will make it unprofitable to spray fungicides.
"Just because it's here, it's not all doom and gloom," Blaine said. "We'regoing to learn something every day. And we do have something we canspray."
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