WASHINGTON, D.C. – Frank D. Lucas, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research, and Jerry Moran, Chairman of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, today co-chaired a joint hearing to review the economic impact of Asian Soybean Rust (ASR) on the American farm sector. ASR, a fungal disease that affects the growth of soybeans, among other plants, was first discovered in the U.S. in November 2004. Discovered late in the 2004 crop year, ASR is not thought to have had any measurable effect on the 2004 soybean production and has given the U.S. soybean sector time to prepare strategies to guard against possible ASR damage to the 2005 soybean crop and beyond.
ASR was first discovered in Japan in 1902 and over the last century, its rust spores have traveled thousands of miles, infecting plants on five continents including Asia, Australia, Africa, South America and North America. These rust spores, once airborne, can move quickly, reportedly traveling up to 400 miles in a single day.
“It is important to note that with soybean rust that you can’t stop it, you can only hope to contain it. Now that it is here, U.S. farmers, like those the world over, must deal with it. Our primary purpose for this hearing is to give our producers clear guidelines regarding how to combat rust in a timely and effective manner,” Subcommittee Chairman Lucas said.
Once a soybean plant is infected with ASR, rust lesions tend to cover most of the leaf, stem and pod. The lesions cause premature defoliation, thereby reducing photosynthesis and stunting the growth of the plant. Heavily infected plants will have fewer pods and lighter seeds. The pathogen can infect and reproduce on 90 known plant species, including kudzu, a weed widely prevalent in the southern U.S.
The disease’s rapid transmission rate, coupled with an abundance of host species, suggests that eradication would be unlikely once the fungus is established in the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are currently nine pesticide active ingredients registered or granted emergency exemptions for use in 19 pesticide products to treat ASR. It is believed, however, that the most effective treatment would be the development and use of resistant plant varieties. Fungicides, when applied properly, can prevent crop losses; however, the cost of fungicides would likely lead to a significant reduction in soybean production in lower-yielding southern states.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is coordinating efforts with various USDA agencies, state land-grant universities, and industry participants to provide producers with information and continued research efforts. The USDA-led group has developed a four-pronged approach to ASR that includes protection, detection, response, and recovery.
“Our government and industry have done a good job thus far in coordinating educational efforts through various workshops, meetings, press and the internet but more can and must be done. Soybean rust is now in the U.S. and all indications are that it’s here to stay. Keeping up coordinated and cooperative communication efforts is essential to our producers’ ability to respond to this disease,” said Subcommittee Chairman Moran.
The Subcommittees heard from two panels of witnesses representing the USDA, EPA and industry groups. A complete list of witnesses is included below. The Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management will hold a hearing on Wednesday, May 4, to examine crop insurance and ASR.
Dr. Joseph Glauber, Deputy Chief Economist, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Joseph J. Jen, Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Matt Royer, Senior Program Advisor, Pest Detection and Management Programs, Plant Protection and Quarantine, APHIS, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Burleson Smith, Special Assistant for Pest Management Policy, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jim Jones, Director, Office of Pesticide Programs, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Neal Bredehoeft, President, American Soybean Association, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jay Vroom, President, CropLife America, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Steve Dlugosz, Chairman, Independent Certified Crop Advisors, Indianapolis, Indiana
Mr. Jim Thrift, Vice President of Regulatory Policy and Corporate Relations, Agricultural Retailers Association, Washington, D.C.