"Given the impact soybean rust would have on soybean production and growers in the U.S., the only prudent course of action is to avoid imports from diseased areas until APHIS completes its risk assessment," said ASA President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa. "We know APHIS scientists are working diligently on the risk assessment, and ASA supports their science-based evaluation."

To help promote greater understanding about soybean rust, ASA recently hosted a Soybean Rust Conference that was conducted in cooperation with APHIS. More than 200 soybean producers, scientists and industry experts shared information about rust identification and detection methods, the approval status and registration of fungicide products to combat the disease, and the steps being taken to develop rust-resistant soybean varieties.

Soybean rust is not present in the continental United States. It has been present throughout Asia and Australia for decades. In 1996, the disease moved from Asia into Uganda, and by 2002, it had spread throughout much of Africa. In 2001, soybean rust was found in South America and it has spread throughout the soybean growing areas of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. By 2003, rust had also spread to a northern, non-soybean growing area of Argentina.

For more than two years, ASA has been working with APHIS to make sure the U.S. is protected from the accidental introduction of rust, a fungal disease that attacks the foliage of a soybean plant. Rust spores can be transmitted on the plant stems, pods, and leaves that are typically mixed with bulk shipments of commodity grade whole soybeans. The disease can reduce yields up to 80 percent or more, but does not affect the quality or safety of the soybeans.

"ASA and APHIS share the goal of developing procedures that will protect our 74 million acres of soybeans while ensuring that the procedures are science-based," Heck said. "Asian rust is already causing significant soybean crop losses in countries where it has been detected. ASA’s goal is to make sure soybean rust isn’t accidentally introduced here in the U.S."

In a Phytosanitary Alert issued by the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO), it was estimated that soybean rust could adversely affect all soybean varieties in the United States at an estimated cost of $7.2 billion, which represents about half the value of the U.S. soybean crop.

A drought-reduced 2003 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 analysts project imports of 430,000 metric tons of soybean meal will be needed to sustain and feed the U.S. livestock demand base.

"From risk assessment information APHIS has shared with ASA, soybean meal can continue to be imported under the proper protocols without risk of introducing soybean rust into the United States," Heck said. "U.S. soybean growers need U.S. livestock demand to be robust when growers harvest the 2004 U.S. soybean crop. It is not in U.S. growers’ interests to choke-off this livestock demand in the short-term, or to encourage livestock operations to locate offshore in the long-term, via ill-considered import restrictions that aren’t supported by science."

Last year, ASA worked with APHIS to require that Brazilian soybean meal imported into Wilmington, N.C., had been processed, heat-treated, and handled in such a manner as to eliminate the possibility of any potentially viable soybean rust spores being present. There are reports that several shipments of soybean meal are again scheduled for delivery later this year.

"The safety of importing commodity soybeans remains much less clear than for properly-handled soybean meal," Heck continued. "ASA has raised many questions on this issue to make sure APHIS scientists are looking at all the potential risks and pulling together as much scientific knowledge as is necessary to protect the U.S. soybean industry."

Commodity soybeans grown in Canada could be safely imported into the United States since soybean rust is not present in North America.

"APHIS scientists will soon be back in the lab and out into the field, and a team is scheduled to go to Brazil to do more research," Heck said. "ASA will continue to work with scientists to make sure U.S. growers are fully protected and to ensure that APHIS' risk assessment is based on the best science."

There is the potential for a natural introduction of soybean rust into the United States that would likely result from spores being carried on wind currents or storms from West Africa or northern South America and the Caribbean. However, it is critically important for researchers to have as much time as possible to develop rust-resistant soybean varieties.

ASA is working to significantly increase federal soybean rust research funding. Soybean producers are asking Congress to allocate more resources for soybean rust, and ASA is seeking $2.8 million for the development of rust resistant varieties and fungicide efficacy testing. Growers can help by becoming ASA members, and helping ASA lobby Congress to get these needed funds. Go to www.soygrowers.comto become a member today.