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Don't count out Asian rust, say ASA officials

Agriculture.com Staff 10/23/2006 @ 12:18pm

Nearly two years ago, the discovery of Asian soybean rust in the United States set off fears of widespread infestations.

So far, though, Asian rust infestations have been few and sporadic and have not struck Corn Belt soybeans during critical growth periods.

So was the concern over rust all show and no go?

"I don't think it was overblown at all," says Rick Ostlie, a Northwood, North Dakota, farmer and president of the American Soybean Association (ASA). Ostlie and Bob Callanan, ASA communications director, stopped by the Successful Farming/Agriculture Online offices recently to talk about government policy, trade issues and agronomic issues like rust.

Ostlie and Callanan say U.S. producers, the ASA and government officials were able to examine rust's devastating impact on Brazilian soybean production and form a proactive rust battle plan. A crucial component for which the ASA lobbied was obtaining emergency Section 18 approval from the Environmental Protection for several fungicides prior to any widespread rust outbreak.

"If you get the right conditions, rust could blow all the way up (from the southern United States) to North Dakota," says Ostlie. "We've had two dry years, and that's helped us out for rust, but we need these chemicals and sentinel plots to check for rust. In North Dakota, I will have a year when I will be dealing with rust."

Callanan points out such moves helped preserve U.S. farmer confidence to plant soybeans. "Soybean rust put some of Brazil's farmers out of business in two years because they didn’t know how to handle it," he says. "We were able to use their experience to be well prepared."

Soybeans will hold their own
There's a lot of talk about continuous corn at the expense of soybean acres these days, fueled by a demand tug-of-war between ethanol, livestock feed, food use and exports. However, Ostlie expects soybeans to hold their own, in part fueled by new technology.

"We are looking at significant yield increases and new events like the Roundup RReady2Yield beans with a five-bushel yield increase," says Ostlie. (Monsanto plans to commercially launch this product in 2009. Monsanto expects these soybeans to have a five-bushel per acre yield advantage compared to first-generation Roundup Ready soybeans in similar elite germplasm).

The industry also benefits from new varieties adapted to areas once on the soybean fringe like North Dakota. Soybean production in Ostlie's home state has grown from 500,000 acres planted in 1990 to 3.9 million acres planted in 2006.

"Production should keep increasing in North Dakota, and long-term nationally, too," says Ostlie. "There will be increases in bushels."

Soybean acreage may also benefit from up to 7 million acres coming out of Conservation Reserve Program contracts in the next few years. A share of this acreage may go to soybeans.

Curbing disease and insects
Other new technology that Ostlie sees boosting soybean yields includes fungicides to control fungal diseases besides Asian rust. Responses are more prone to occur in more southern states during humid growing seasons, he adds.

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