Soybean Rust, Case Study Example

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Case Study

The problem of soybean rust was identified in the United States initially in November, 2004 (Aultman, 2010.) Since then, each state has been encouraged to develop a plan of action in order to monitor the condition of soybean crops throughout the country.  In the state of Iowa, soybean rust was first identified in 2007 but did not present a significant loss to the state’s crop yield.  This paper will discuss five issues pertaining to the problem of soybean rust.

More than 22 other states based their specific state action and response plans on that developed by Iowa (Rust Defense: Numerous Tactics will Control this Potentially Devastating Pathogen.) An essential part of the plan was the need for a training program, which provided methods for hundreds of first detectors of soybean rust. The Iowa plan was significant because while it did not encourage growers to panic and engage in costly, unnecessary methods of prevention and treatment, it promoted careful monitoring and analysis to address the condition where it already existed. It was a cautious pragmatic effort to address a problem without exaggerating it.  The focus was on studying samples of leaves and making decisions about whether or not further investigation was necessary to determine whether or not soybean rust had taken place or was going to present a potential risk for future crops in the state.  This cautious approach has had financial benefits because in most situations, the threat presented by soybean rust has not come close to devastating the crops of any specific region.  In fact, although early estimates of losses due to soybean rust had been large, to date the problem has been much less significant than originally predicted (Aultman, 2010.) As a result, the USDA and United Central Soybean Board have continually taken steps to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of engaging in a costly soybean rust monitoring effort.

There are certain obvious reasons to explain why the Iowa soybean rust plan would not necessarily be relevant to be adapted by other states; these factors are mostly related to the climate in the southern states. Studying soybean rust reveals that the material that comprises the rust can only survive on dynamic plant material. As a result, although it may not “overwinter” in the areas that produce soybeans in the central or northern soybean production areas in the United States, it can survive during the winter on certain hosts such as those in the Southern United States (Robertson, 2008.) In Iowa, scientists who have studied soybean rust conclude that the phenomenon will only occur when a certain combination of interconnected events develops according to specifically timed events.  These events are: when the production of spores occurs early in the season beginning at the location where the pathogen survived the winter; the spread of the spores to Iowa; and the occurrence of weather surroundings that reinforce the establishment and development of soybean rust (Robertson, 2008.) It is believed that the absence of any one of these three factors would prevent the outbreak of soybean rust from developing.

In my opinion, soybean rust is the result of natural introduction. Initially, soybean rust was limited to the Eastern hemisphere until it was discovered on the mainland United States in 2004; the conditions that foster healthy survival of the soybean are also those which are most accommodating to the development of soybean rust (Miles.) In the case of the United States, average temperatures as well as the levels of moisture which occur naturally in the North Central region fall within the average ranges that would cause severe crop yield losses. Although initial estimates of losses turned out not to be as devastating as had been predicted, it was believed that as long as soybean rust became established in the agricultural life of the United States, it was likely to become least a minor factor in economic crop losses within the Mississippi delta region as well as other southeastern coastal states.

Soybean rust was first reported in Japan around 1902, and 30 years later it had moved as far south as Australia and began appearing in India and Africa as well.  The pathogen moved westward in Africa and gradually made its way to South America by February, 2001 (Miles.) It seems clear that weather conditions and natural patterns have caused this pathogen to spread globally.

There are only a few possible explanations for the infestation of soybean rust. The disease is a fungal illness that can spread over large areas quickly when it is windborne, which appears to have been the case since it was discovered in Asia and has increasingly moved westward, rich in the continental United States, South America, and Hawaii. This, combined with a large number of host species, hints that once it is established in any region, it may be difficult to eliminate or prevent (Schnepf, 2005.) It is believed that soybean rust spores travel to the southeastern United States from South America through upper elevation winds following a turbulent hurricane season in 2004.  In addition, as discussed, certain conditions including mild temperatures and the presence throughout the year of host species in the southern half of the United States offers an accommodating environment to support the survival of the pathogen during the coldest months of the year throughout those regions.  Additionally, because the spring planting season occurs in those areas several weeks before planting in the largest soybean growing areas of the Corn Belt, the pathogen has enough time to develop and become available for windborne transmission at the same time that the soybean plantings reach vegetative states.  In addition, rust spores are extremely lightweight and are able to easily travel via wind, potentially moving hundreds of miles in a single 24 hour period (Schnepf, 2005.)

Although it is conceivable that soybean rust could be utilized to destroy crops in acts of agro terrorism, there does not appear to be any evidence that supports its use until present day.  Rather, this threat to the agriculture industry appears to be based solely on natural weather conditions and disasters that cause it to spread quickly; responses to the problem have involved monitoring the crops and making decisions about when and whether to use anti fungal agents to prevent or treat soybean rust when it has already, or is likely to occur.

In a case of agro-terrorism the agency charged with addressing the problem would be the Department of Homeland Security. This is the agency that was charged with investigating the anthrax threats and deaths following September, 2001. A significant part of the security of any nation involves preventing terrorists and weapons from entering the United States; in addition, the food supply of the nation, its agricultural health and plant resources are vitally important to protect as well (Homeland Security and Agriculture, 2008.) An important aspect of this security involves the prevention of foreign plant pests and diseases that threaten our food supply and public health, a threat such as soybean rust.  A consistent and reliable flow of products and well-timed inspections of food are crucial to the agriculture of the United States, so that introducing plant diseases which can disrupt that orderly process remain a continual threat to our national crops and forests.

Bibliography:

Aultman, Stephen, Hurley, Terry, Homans, Frances, & Haight, Frederick. (2010). Invasive Species: The Case of Soybean Rust. St. Paul: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

Hollier, C. (2005). Case Study: Asian Soybean Rust. Retrieved October 22, 2012, from National Plants Diagnostic Network: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:UbRI0ktqNysJ:www.npdn.org/webfm_send/1710+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShzR4Ai0QriujgpynsdH_QXgDs2ole6ilKrUwI2HxK7Z4GJ1rf1hwlO9JcnGJxvN6MlxJFDDU80R0mvs8c0e37tJspUsQjty6MFs5-du5ONrHdrSWXOcP_KcoO8nEIg4juDevHA&sig

Homeland Security and Agriculture. (2008). Retrieved October 22, 2012, from National Association of State Department of Agriculture: http://www.nasda.org/cms/7196/9017/9288/7514/7517.aspx

Miles, Monte, & Frederick, Reid (n.d.). History and Distribution of Asian Soybean Rust. Retrieved October 22, 2012, from Illinois Soybean Rust Information Center: http://www.soybeanrust.org/historyanddistribution.htm

Robertson, A. (2008, August 10). Integrated Crops Management News. Retrieved October 22, 2012, from Iowa State University: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/CropNews/2008/Issues/20080811.htm

Rustic Defense: Numerous Tactics Will Control this Potentially Devastating Pathogen. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2012, from Iowa Soybeans: http://www.iasoybeans.com/productionresearch/publications/agresearch/rustdefense.pdf

Schnepf, R. (2005). Asian Soybean Rust: Background and Issues. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

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