Managing soybean rust requires focus on controllable variables
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The arrival of soybean rust in
the United States will present farmers with a number of
uncertainties about exactly how to respond to the problem for the
upcoming growing season, according to a recent study by Peter
Goldsmith, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and
Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, and Gary Schnitkey,
associate professor in the same department.
"The situation for farm managers in
Illinois is much different than for producers in South America,"
said Goldsmith, who also serves as the Fellow in Agricultural
Strategy at the National Soybean Research Laboratory. "Because the
spores are present all year-round in that region, growers can make
the simple decision to apply multiple spray treatments each year. In
the higher latitudes, where killing frost is present, the extent of
the rust problem will differ considerably from year to year."
He noted that this key difference
leaves Illinois growers with important decisions about what do about
the threat for the upcoming growing season.
"Farmers will have to respond in
some way to this new threat," said Goldsmith. "The decisions can
range from doing nothing at all to applying multiple spray
treatments. Growers can even decide to avoid planting soybeans
completely. Organic soybean growers face a special challenge because
there is no known organic treatment for rust."
According to Goldsmith, managers
will need to focus on a few key variables in making the decision
about how to respond to the rust situation.
"One variable creating uncertainty
is the lack of experience in dealing with this disease," he said.
"Most soybean growers are unfamiliar with using fungicides. Spraying
for rust will add many new demands on the state's spraying
infrastructure, protocols and skills. More narrowly, growers have no
previous experience with this disease to guide them in making
Goldsmith points out that there are
also many uncertainties about the extent and range of the disease
and how it will affect markets.
"We still do not know if the disease
will even be present in 2005. If it is present, it is still
uncertain when rust might arrive during the growing season or how it
might be distributed across a particular region or farm," he said.
"We also do not have any idea what its final impact will be on crop
yields and prices."
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He suggests in the study that one
way of dealing with all the uncertainties is to focus management on
a few key activities that are both controllable and have positive
effects. At the top of the list are management activities that focus
on scouting, disease management and spray-related decision-making.
"There is plenty of time before the
infection might make its appearance," Goldsmith said. "There is a
large amount of high-quality educational materials available. This
creates an opportunity for generating returns to good management.
Those who are prepared will out-perform those who are not."
A secondary area of concentration
should be on cropping decisions and preparation of spraying
equipment and materials. To make this process easier, Goldsmith and
Schnitkey developed a decision support tool that is available on the
"The results show that the
corn-soybean ratio will have less impact than the activities
involved with scouting and good spray management," Goldsmith said.
"Because timing of the spray is critical, growers should make sure
the proper equipment and fungicides will be available if needed. One
way to begin this process is to develop good communications with
fungicide sales representatives and spray contractors."
He points out that there are some
variables that are completely uncontrollable, such as grain prices
and the rate and location of the rust infection.
"These variables need to be factored
in and analyzed, but they cannot be directly managed," he said. "The
key is for growers to place the major focus on the high-impact,
controllable variables. That means learning about the disease and
about how to scout and treat it."
of Illinois news release]