Although not flawless, the Asian soybean rust detection and control plan worked well this past year. But with only one year under its belt, growers should be prepared for what's next.

In reviewing what worked this past year, plant pathologists and a host of other experts at a recent national rust symposium agreed that the test-plot system to detect rust has done its job. “Sentinel plots worked well and provided the early warning we'd hoped,” says Roger Magarey, plant pathologist with USDA/APHIS in Raleigh, NC. However, here are issues he says were problems:

  • Some early sentinel plot plantings got frosted and weren't helpful.

  • Handheld lenses were not adequate. “You really need to take samples to a lab for confirmation,” he says.

  • Diagnosis took too long. “We need a much quicker method to identify the disease,” Magarey says.

  • USDA's Web site didn't have prediction models. Magarey says that needs to be added for next year. Also, he points out that the site doesn't work well with Macintosh computers and slow dial-up connections are a problem.

“Some states had hotline phone numbers to call and that worked,” he says. “More states may need to institute that next year.”

He also says that the site should include some sort of auto e-mail function to help alert farmers.

Still, he's happy with how the sentinel plot system performed and wants it to continue next year. “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” he says.

Tracking sentinel plots was helpful and informative for farmers like Jim Sallstrom from Winthrop, MN. But as chairman of the United Soybean Board's production committee, he urges farmers to continue being vigilant again next year. “Don't let your guard down,” he says.

Last year, Sallstrom points out that 2.7 million fewer soybean acres were planted, partially because farmers had a fear of contracting rust. “A year ago the press was somewhat pessimistic about rust,” he says. He also points to expected higher and more profitable corn yields as a reason for fewer soybean acres.

Even so, he says, the 2005 soybean crop was outstanding with a national average yield of 42.7 bu./acre. More acres of soybeans are projected for 2006, Sallstrom says, and “farmers can plant with confidence knowing there'sa well-coordinated early warning system for rust.

“Most farmers are used to making their own decisions,” Sallstrom says. “But with rust, there's uncertainty and you have to learn to trust other people for advice. You have to ask yourself: Should I spray? When should I spray? And what should I spray?”

That's where rust experts like agronomist Steve Dlugosz come in. As past chairman of the International Certified Crop Advisers Program, he says the rust issue for 2006 will be similar to 2005, and can be divided into two areas: product issues and people issues.

For products, he's concerned about the availability of fungicides should a widespread rust outbreak happen next year. “The risk is still there,” he says.

For example, he points out that in Ohio there are 5 million acres of soybeans. Assuming an average rate of 7 oz./acre, that means over 270,000 gal. of fungicide will be needed for just one spray. In Indiana, there are 4 million acres, which translates to nearly 220,000 gal. of product for a single spray.

“There's always enough product when it's not needed,” he says. “But I don't think there's going to be a free movement of product if rust hits hard. Dealers and farmers will protect their inventory in case they need it for their soybean acres.”

On the people side, Dlugosz, who works for Ag One and Harvest Land in east central Indiana and west central Ohio, says growers attitudes about rust vary greatly. “Many assume rust will take care of itself. And even with all the educational efforts, many farmers are still unfamiliar with fungicide use.”

Like farmers, Dlugosz says crop experts also are bombarded with information. “Even as certified crop advisers, we still struggle with conflicting facts and that makes our jobs harder,” he adds.