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Harkin commends USDA on soybean rust, says more can be done

Agriculture.com Staff 03/21/2006 @ 12:01pm

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlining the USDA's defenses against Asian Soybean Rust. According to the report, USDA has done a solid job monitoring and preparing American farmers to handle the disease. Soybean Rust is still a major threat, however, and there are areas that need improvement.

"It's clear that our nation has made progress and strengthened our farmers' defenses against soybean rust," Harkin said. "But this disease could still impose huge losses on soybean farmers and others involved in the soybean industry. I hope USDA will continue to strengthen coordination among the federal government, state governments, and all parts of the soybean sector to minimize the threat this disease poses to the U.S. soybean industry."

The report's key findings include:

Sentinel plots, areas of soybeans planted in advance to detect soybean rust, served as a way to identify where ASR was present and warn producers in potentially affected areas nearby. Effective monitoring and public notification of new finds of ASR led to timely fungicide application which likely hampered the spread of the ASR spores.

Inconsistency in reporting of soybean rust between states left some producers without timely, accurate information on the spread of the disease. One state only reported its findings four times during the growing season while another state reported on 162 different occasions. This inconsistency in reporting also impedes the progress of researchers in developing statistical models designed to predict the spread and severity of Asian soybean rust in future crop years.

USDA and EPA coordinated efforts effectively to ensure that pesticides were registered in a timely fashion so farmers could use them against soybean rust. Concerns remain about whether the supply of these fungicides will be available should soybean rust spread rapidly.

GAO's report outlines potential problems in the planned transfer of management responsibilities for nationwide ASR monitoring and tracking from USDA's headquarters to research scientists at North Carolina State University. The GAO report recommends USDA issue rules to ensure elements of the successful 2005 effort are preserved and improved following any transfer of responsibilities outside of USDA.

"USDA anticipated the problems soybean rust would present to our farmers and has taken appropriate steps to fight it. I commend the Department for its work on this matter. USDA needs to remain one step ahead of soybean rust," said Harkin. "We need to have a consistent standard for monitoring and informing producers of where the disease is so they can take appropriate action to protect their crops while avoiding unnecessary application of fungicides."

The complete report can be obtained at www.gao.gov.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlining the USDA's defenses against Asian Soybean Rust. According to the report, USDA has done a solid job monitoring and preparing American farmers to handle the disease. Soybean Rust is still a major threat, however, and there are areas that need improvement.

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