E-mails have been flying fast and furiously into Art Barnaby's computer since news broke this fall that soybean rust was found in the United States for the first time ever.

Barnaby, an agricultural economist and crop insurance specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension said that soybean growers want to know how and if crop insurance will cover any losses linked to soybean rust.

"My short answer," he says, "is, if growers spray (fungicide), but it still doesn't work, then the insurance will cover the loss." He went on to encourage growers, however, to look to experts within their state's land-grant university system or to a crop consultant for specific guidance in terms of what, when and whether they should treat their fields next year.

"If growers follow experts' recommendations, and yields still suffer, it's likely the claim will be paid," says Barnaby.

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency granted emergency exemptions for products to treat soybean rust. Growers should check with their state EPA affiliate to get specific product approvals.

Barnaby points out it's crucial for farmers to be vigilant in scouting their fields and treating at the first sign of trouble. That means watching for symptoms of the fungus that begin as small lesions on the lower leaves of the infected plant, says Doug Jardine, state plant pathology leader for Kansas-State Research and Extension. These lesions increase in size and change from gray to tan or reddish brown on the undersides of the leaves. If the disease goes untreated, the plant may become entirely defoliated in 10 to 14 days.

The fungus resembles brown spot, a common disease in soybean, and the less common bacterial pustule, which might make it a bit difficult to diagnose, Jardine notes. Maximum effectiveness of fungicide sprays come from applications made preventatively– before infection occurs.

In a Dec. 2 statement, the USDA Risk Management Agency said: "Yield losses associated with soybean rust have ranged from 10 to 80 percent if the soybean field is untreated. Once the disease invades a field, the window for effective rescue treatments is only about seven days. After a week, the nearly completely defoliated plants' yields are adversely affected."

According to the RMA, losses to soybean production due to soybean rust disease are an insurable cause of loss provided the insured producer can verify that the cause was natural (not agroterrorism)
and that available control measures were properly applied. If there are no effective control measures available or there are insufficient amounts of chemicals available for effective control, resulting loss of production would be covered.

RMA officials also note that yield loss from soybean rust would not be covered if there were sufficient control measures available, but the insured producer elected not to use them. Failure to purchase and apply recommended control measures will result in uninsurable causes of loss being assessed.

The cost of the spray application is not a consideration, Barnaby says.

"A few years ago a combination of high natural-gas prices combined with low corn prices, caused farmers to ask if they could save the pumping cost and collect their crop insurance. The answer was 'no.' The same principle will apply to rust. Farmers cannot save the spraying cost and collect their crop insurance," he notes.

"It will be critical for RMA and insurance providers to monitor when outbreaks are detected in an area to determine if an insured producer could have applied recommended fungicides in a timely manner and did not," according to an RMA statement.

For more information on soybean rust, interested persons can visit: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/ep/soybean_rust/  and
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/sbr/sbr.html. Information is
also available at http://www.planthealth.info and
http://www.soybeanrustinfo.com. For information about crop insurance
visit http://www.rma.usda.gov/news/2004/07/715soybeanrust.html.