From: Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press
Published November 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Louisiana Reports First Cases of Soybean Rust

BATON ROUGE, La. − The first U.S. cases of the fungus soybean rust, which hinders plant growth and drastically cuts crop production, were found at two research sites in Louisiana, officials said Wednesday.


The fungus is primarily spread by wind-borne spores, which are suspected to have blown in from South America during the hurricane season and were found after the bulk of the state's soybeans had been harvested, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom said.


Though agriculture officials said the effect of the fungus should be minimal this year because it appeared after much of the harvest, Odom said he was worried that Louisiana's soybeans wouldn't sell as well.


"What we're scared of is that the market may drop in Louisiana because of the rust aspect of it, and I don't see any reason for it because most of the beans have already been harvested," he said.


"The market may say, 'We don't want your soybeans,'" Odom said.


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Soybean prices rose about 3 percent Wednesday on the Chicago Board of Trade, largely due to news of the disease. The January contract for soybeans rose 14 1/2 cents to $5.25 a bushel.


"If it happened during the growing season, it would have had a much bigger effect," said Dale Gustafson, a grains analyst for Smith Barney in Chicago. "But the impact of that news on this year's crop is negligible."


The U.S. Department of Agriculture was sending a team of scientists and regulators to Louisiana to help identify the fungus and determine if it's spread beyond the LSU research sites in St. Gabriel and Baton Rouge, where the samples of the fungal disease were taken Saturday.


"Soybean rust has never been detected in the United States before," said Richard Dunkle, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.


Dunkle said of the two rust species, Louisiana's cases are known as the Asian species, or Phakospora pachyrhizi, "the more aggressive of the two species, causing more damage to the soybean plants."


Soybean rust can be treated with fungicides, but that adds increased costs to the production of soybeans. USDA officials said the fungicide treatment costs an average of about $25 per acre, increasing the cost of soybean production about 20 percent in affected areas.


The fungus creates tan and reddish-brown blotches on the under-side of growing leaves, weakening the plant and reducing yields. The infections can spread quickly and has been found in Australia, South America, Asia and Africa.


Keith Collins, chief economist for the USDA, said he didn't believe the fungus would have any effect on exports, noting the United States was the only major soybean producer in the world without soybean rust and the other countries have been exporting despite the presence of the fungus.


Source: Associated Press


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