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Researchers find rust in Tennessee
By ANN HINCH
Tennessee Correspondent

JACKSON, Tenn. — For the first time in nearly two years, soybean leaves bearing Asian soybean rust pustules were found on test plots in northwestern Tennessee on Oct. 12 in Obion, Weakley and Gibson counties.

Even so, Volunteer State soybean growers have led a charmed life thus far, with respect to the fungus.

This year alone, of the eight states that border Tennessee, rust infection was found on plants in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri. (Six counties in Illinois also reported it.)

Dr. Melvin Newman, plant pathologist with the University of Tennessee West Tennessee Research and Education Center, speculated perhaps Tennessee farmers’ dutiful fungicide-spraying schedule has helped stave off the wasting disease since it was first detected in the southern United States in late 2004.

In fact, he urges soybean farmers in all states to begin making plans now for what they will need to spray after spring planting in 2007.

He added southern farmers – long used to blue mold, frogeye and a multitude of other detrimental fungi – normally spray about half their crop as a matter of course.

“I’m afraid some of them would come up shorthanded, still, despite all the meetings we’ve had,” Newman said of the preparation of Midwestern and northern farmers who’ve managed to escape soybean rust so far.

It’s even possible there are more infected plants nobody has identified because growing season is nearly finished.

“I don’t know if anyone was looking very hard at this late date,” he said. “If (rust) had come in 60 days earlier (to Tennessee), we’d have been in a heap of trouble.”

The last time spores resulted in infection to Tennessee soybean plants was December 2004 on test plots in Shelby County, the southwestern corner of the state. The recent findings further north in Tennessee follow this summer’s weather pattern of rainfall across that region.

Moisture can be a breeding ground for fungal spores, and if many Tennessee soybean farmers are suffering harvest losses to this summer’s spotty drought, at least they didn’t have to contend with rust. Even the three counties in which rust was identified had a turn of luck – the day after the sentinel plots were sampled, a frost enveloped western Tennessee.

“It was 23 degrees here at the Jackson station, on the ground,” Newman explained. “It killed everything.”

Incredibly, no infections were found in Tennessee last year, despite winds and storms from Gulf hurricanes. Rust has migrated steadily north through South America and the Caribbean during the past several years. Whatever has kept the state safe, Newman warns farmers not to let down their guard.

“It’s still a pathogen that can come in and do a lot of damage,” he said.

This Tennessee farm news was published in the Oct. 25, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

10/24/2006