An Iowa team is developing an action plan to prepare for and respond to soybean rust should it surface in the United States. Asian soybean rust has not been found in North America, and experts don't expect it to hit the United States this growing season.

If it shows up in the United States, soybean rust could cost the industry more than $1 billion a year in fungicides.

The group began meeting last fall to discuss how to proceed in the event of rust reports. The team members represent Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Soybean Association/Iowa Soybean Promotion Board and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Greg Tylka, a plant pathologist at Iowa State, says the team's goal is to keep farmers, crop consultants, Extension specialists and researchers informed on how to spot the disease, where to take samples for accurate identification and how to minimize yield loss.

"We want to alleviate fears and let the public know there are well-trained people working on this potential problem. We have an effective and geographically widespread system to check for soybean rust," notes Tylka.

Since Asian soybean rust is not present in the United States, few researchers have had the opportunity to study the disease. Iowa State has two researchers with expertise who are monitoring the fungus' movement, developing weather-based models to predict when and where rust could occur and analyzing where the disease could overwinter. 

The team plans to hold five training workshops for more than 2,000 crop consultants and advisers in late June to help them identify Asian soybean rust. These crop professionals are likely to be the first to detect the disease if it hits U.S. fields.

"There are some common soybean diseases that can be confused with soybean rust, so accurate diagnosis is key," says Tylka. "Producers shouldn't make drastic management decisions without knowing all the facts."

Earlier this year, team members tested how quickly the first test samples could be verified by USDA. An Iowa State Extension field crop specialist initiated the test by taking a false sample to the Plant Disease Clinic at Iowa State. It took less than 30 hours for the sample to make its way from the field to the clinic and on to Beltsville, Md. for official USDA confirmation.

"That's pretty quick turn around," says Tylka. "Our goal is to have the same turn-around time, if needed, during the growing season."

The team's purpose is to develop a comprehensive system to detect and respond to a pathogen that travels quickly, and to protect a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2003, more than 2.4 billion bushels of soybean were produced in 31 states. The United States produced 39 percent of the world's soybean, followed by Brazil with 26 percent, Argentina with 18 percent and China with 8 percent.

Soybean rust is found on every continent in the world except North America. The fungus was first identified in Japan in 1902. It was discovered in Australia in 1934 and from there it traveled to Africa. Brazilian soybean producers first experienced the disease during the 2002/2003 growing season.