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EPA green-lights rice sheath blight control

A year ago, Louisiana farmer Kim Frey lost about 20% of his rice yield potential because of sheath blight. Recent federal action could make that kind of loss a thing of the past.

“Last year we had whole cuts that were affected," says Frey, who raises about 1,000 acres of rice.

Not long after federal officials signed off on BASF's new Priaxor fungicide for soybeans earlier this month, they gave the green-light to emergency use of another fungicide to control sheath blight, which is growing into an enormous pest in the Delta region. Last week, officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Section 18 approval to the BASF fungicide Sercadis for control of sheath blight. The approval means farmers can use the product on fields in the state of Louisiana where no other effective control measure works.

"Sercadis should be here with plenty of time to spare,” Frey says in a university report. "That is a relief."

What's made sheath blight such a problem in Louisiana's rice fields? Sercadis will be used on fields where the recent disease outbreak, which Louisiana State University crop specialists have called the worst since the 1970s, is resistant to any other treatment option.

Sheath blight causes tiller lodging and eventual plant collapse in commercial rice fields. Though supplies of the new BASF fungicide are limited, farmers in the affected area of the Delta region will be able to get the necessary amounts of the fungicide as long as officials have documented and verified resistant sheath blight.

“BASF is determined to help Louisiana growers solve this pressing problem with a solution that has been researched,” says Paul Rea, Vice President, U.S. Crop Protection, BASF.

“This is a godsend,” says Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist. “There were guys getting ready to go back 20 years in disease control.”

Adds LU AgCenter Rice Research Station director: “Of all these Section 18 applications I have been a part of in the past 30 years, this is one of the most critical,” Linscombe said.

Though the new product's gotten EPA Section 18 approval, that doesn't mean it's treatment time just yet. LSU plant pathologist Don Groth says farmers should look into applying it in late May and early June. In most cases, 1 application will suffice, but Groth says in fields where there's been excessive precipitation, 2 applications may be necessary.

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