The American Soybean Association (ASA), a trade group representing 25,000 U.S. soybean farmers, is encouraging all producers to get the facts about Asian soybean rust (Phakopsora pachyrhizi), a fungal disease that attacks the foliage of a soybean plant causing the leaves to drop early, which inhibits pod setting and reduces yield. ASA has been actively working on rust detection, prevention and research efforts for more than two years. Although soybean rust is not present in the United States, the association has been receiving calls from growers who are concerned about the risk of this disease entering the country.”ASA is a membership organization, and the calls our staff is getting are from growers who are not ASA members,” said ASA President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa. “If these growers were members, they would have received up-to-date rust information on a regular basis through our member communications during the last eight months.”In the upcoming March 2004 issue of the ASA Today membership newsletter, ASA members will be receiving special Growers Guide to Soybean Rust, which will provide the latest information about rust identification, the timing of fungicide application and the modes of action. Only ASA members will receive this full-color printed guide. Growers who are not ASA members can obtain free history and background information about rust from ASA’s web site www.SoyGrowers.com/rust/, and from USDA at www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/ep/soybean_rust/.”Soybean rust has the potential to very negatively affect the U.S. soybean industry,” Heck said. “With possible yield losses of up to 80 percent or more, ASA is doing all that can be done to prevent the introduction of rust into the United States, along with preparing for an eventual outbreak.”There is the potential for a natural introduction of 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. Soybean rust spores are easily transported in air currents and spread rapidly over wide distances. Limited data is available on how long spores can survive, but studies have shown that under the right circumstances, spores can be viable for more than 50 days.ASA is also concerned about the risk of human-assisted movement of soybean rust that could occur as a result of imported plant materials infected with the disease. Growers traveling to agricultural areas infected with rust must take special precautions so they do not bring the disease back to the U.S. on their clothes. Imported soybeans also pose a risk because they may contain pieces of plant stems, pods and leaves capable of transmitting the rust spores.The combination of near-record U.S. soybean exports to date, continued domestic demand for both soybean meal and soybean oil, and a drought-reduced 2003 U.S. soybean supply provide the potential for limited soybean meal and possible whole soybean imports in the latter half of 2004 to meet domestic livestock demand before U.S. supplies are replenished with the harvest of the 2004 U.S. soybean crop. USDA projects 2003/04 U.S. soybean ending stocks to be 125 million bushels – the lowest in nearly 30 years. USDA’s stocks-to-use ratio suggests that ending stocks will fall to less than 18 days of use – the lowest level on record.These figures have analysts projecting that imports will be needed to sustain and feed the U.S. livestock demand base. USDA’s January 2004 Supply & Demand Estimates raised projected U.S. soybean meal imports from 310,000 metric tons to 430,000 metric tons.While ASA would prefer to meet all domestic demand for soy products without imports, the drought-reduced 2003 U.S. soybean crop will not allow this. 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, as a result of ill-considered import restrictions that are not supported by science.”Given the near certainty of soybean meal imports, and the potential for bulk soybean imports, ASA is working closely with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to develop protocols that will prevent the accidental introduction of soybean rust,” Heck said. “Last year ASA worked with APHIS to require that Brazilian soybean meal imported into Wilmington, North Carolina, had been processed, heat-treated, and handled in such a manner as to eliminate the possibility of any potential viable soybean rust spores being present.”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. Food grade soybeans that have been stored for a length of time and that are cleaned and bagged, such as the recent deliveries reported in Texas and New Jersey, should pose no risk of accidental rust introduction into the U.S. Whether commodity soybeans can be imported safely, and with what safeguards in place, is less clear. ASA has had a series of ongoing meetings with APHIS to find the answer to this question.”ASA is actively working with APHIS to ensure that the U.S. soybean industry is fully protected from the accidental introduction of soybean rust via imports,” Heck said. “ASA and APHIS share the goal of developing procedures that will protect the United States while ensuring that the procedures are science-based.”ASA is adamant that the risk assessment procedures for rust must be based on good science because the United States exports more than 1 billion bushels of soybeans each year. U.S. growers would not want other countries to erect non-scientific barriers that would prevent these U.S. exports from reaching international customers.”If growers want to help themselves, they should become ASA members and help us in our efforts to get Congress and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to provide adequate funding for research projects to develop rust-resistant soybean varieties,” Heck said. “ASA has worked with ARS to identify research projects that would complement the research currently being conducted.”ASA is calling for research projects that screen exotic genotypes with new sources of genetic resistance, characterize genetic diversity among isolates, and determine the economic efficacy of fungicide mediated control of soybean rust. Researchers need to develop genetic markers from soybeans to expedite selection of soybean germplasm with genes that improve plant tolerance to soybean rust pathogens and to initiate proteomic research on the genetic regulation of rust resistance and interaction. Funding is also needed to initiate a gene marker assisted breeding program and development of micro-arrays to expedite selection of agronomic genotypes with multiple genes for resistance to rust.”When growers ask me how likely we are to face an outbreak of soybean rust in 2004, I tell them that no one knows for sure,” Heck said. “The experts I’ve talked with all describe the spread of soybean rust as a matter of when, not if. ASA’s goal is to absolutely prevent the accidental introduction of soybean rust in order to give researchers more time to find answers to combat the disease. To prepare for the eventuality of the natural movement of soybean rust, ASA also will be working to educate its members on the best management practices to combat rust in advance of an outbreak.”For the convenience of prospective members, ASA provides a secure online application available from www.SoyGrowers.com/membership/ and a toll-free number 1-800-688-7692.