The American Soybean Association (ASA) continues to urge USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to take all appropriate and science-based measures to prevent the accidental introduction of Asian soybean rust disease into the U.S.

“U.S. soybean farmers have an enormous stake in making sure Asian rust is not introduced into the United States, considering the potential of the disease to cause great financial damage in lost yields and high costs to apply fungicides to control it,” says ASA President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, IA. “At the same time, as a global exporter, we must ensure that the protocols we apply are based on sound science.”

Reports indicate that Asian rust has spread to almost all states in Brazil this year, and that areas in Paraguay and parts of northern Argentina are also infected. Brazil’s senior soybean rust specialist indicates Brazil’s losses to Asian rust are greater in 2004 than in 2003, and that total yield losses from Asian rust could exceed 4 million metric tons (150 million bushels), with costs of spraying fungicides to control Asian rust likely exceed $1 billion.

On March 12, APHIS published a Federal Register Notice calling for public comments on a draft document entitled “Status of Scientific Evidence on Risks Associated with the Introduction into the Continental United States of Phakopsora pachyrhizi with Imported Soybean Grain, Seed and Meal.” The comment period closed April 12.

Regarding the risks posed from the importation of whole soybeans from rust-affected countries, ASA is calling for the completion of ongoing rust spore viability studies before risk assessments are finalized. It is essential that APHIS complete its research before any guidelines are issued on the importation of soybeans, according to ASA.

“We are particularly concerned about soybeans from rust-infested soybean farms being delivered directly to export facilities for prompt loading on ships destined for the United States,” Heck says. “Because of this, we believe some soybeans, along with foreign material containing live rust spores, could be easily loaded on ships within weeks of being harvested.”

One way of guaranteeing that Asian rust is not introduced to the U.S. with imported soybeans is to kill the spores by heat before shipment. However, this probably would impact negatively on the quality of the oil, protein and amino acids in the soybeans – and be quite costly.

However, science has shown that it would be possible to kill all Asian rust spores in soybeans by storing them for a sufficient period in the country of origin. The required period of storage will depend on the results of research APHIS currently has under way in Paraguay and in its Beltsville, MD, testing facility on the viability of Asian rust spores. This research is not expected to be concluded until the fall.

APHIS’s scientific review found there was little risk associated with soybean meal imports, if properly handled. ASA agrees with APHIS that there is very little potential of introducing Asian rust to the U.S. with imported soybean meal provided that all of the soybean meal be heated for sufficient duration and temperature during the solvent extraction process to kill all spores, and if proper measures are taken during loading and transport to prevent re-contamination of the soybean meal.

If processors remove soybean hulls and foreign material prior to the extraction process, ASA believes this material also must be heated to kill spores before being added back into the meal for shipment. ASA believes it is essential that APHIS officials or other independent entities verify that this procedure is being followed for all of the soybean meal that may be shipped to the U.S. from South America.

A drought-reduced 2003 U.S. soybean crop, coupled with record exports and strong domestic demand, has led to U.S. soybean ending stocks at the lowest levels in nearly 30 years. Due to this tight supply situation, USDA projects imports of 430,000 mt of soybean meal will be needed to sustain and feed the U.S. livestock demand base. Brazil is one of the likely sources of this feedstuff.

APHIS’s scientific review found there was negligible risk of transmitting Asian rust through soybean planting seed, because such seed is highly cleaned to remove plant material.

“APHIS should spot-check soybean seed shipments to verify that they have been adequately cleaned,” Heck says. “We also strongly encourage APHIS to consider fungicide treatment of planting seed.”

It is common practice for planting seed to be harvested in South America and then quickly air-shipped to the U.S. for planting. Such a practice increases the possibility that live rust spores could be present even on clean seed. With little additional cost, seeds could be treated with a fungicide, as is a common industry practice.

“With the potential of Asian rust costing U.S. soybean farmers billions of dollars in lost yields and added production costs, the government needs to complete rust spore viability studies currently under way before contemplating protocols for whole soybean imports,” Heck says. “The federal government should take all appropriate and science-based measures to minimize or prevent the introduction of this disease into the United States.”