Trent Jones has grown soybeans in Lamar County, Texas, up near the Red River, a hefty rock toss from the Oklahoma state line, for 25 or 30 years. He rotates with corn, and most years, when rainfall comes at appropriate times, he makes good dryland yields on both, beating 100 bushels of corn and 40 bushels of soybeans.

He says soybean production has changed considerably since he first started growing them. He's switched from the old standby-by Bragg and Lee varieties to early-maturing soybeans he can plant by late March and harvest in August, hoping to make a crop before the typically hot, dry Texas summers take a toll on yields.

“We need to get them up and going early,” he says. “If we do, we usually get good yields, but we have had beans not worth combining.”

He's switched from row beans to drills, 7-1/2 inch spacing, and says Roundup Ready technology “takes a lot of the hard work out of growing corn and soybeans.”

He's cut back on tillage. “We still use conventional tillage,” he says. “I just can't see where no-till will work well in these soils. But we till a lot less than we used to.”

Mostly, he does a little fall land preparation, maybe a chisel plow and a bit of smoothing out with a disk before planting.

But he's contemplating a change this spring that could be as unwelcome as it is expensive. He and other Southern soybean growers face the prospect of adding a preventive fungicide on the crop to protect it from Asian Soybean Rust.

Spray if must

“We don't really know what to do,” Jones says. “I've never seen any rust in this area, but if it comes in, I'll spray.”

He's not certain yet whether he'll use a preventive spray early or not and will rely on his crop consultant for advice. He's leaning toward holding off and waiting to see if areas further south or to the east report infestation. “I'm not yet committed to preventive spraying,” he says.

He admits that the wait and see strategy comes with some risk. “If we wait to figure out if we have it in our fields will it be too late to do anything about it? But we're looking at possibly $40 per acre to spray two times. It's a matter of economics.”

Jones says he's never applied fungicides routinely to soybeans. “That doesn't mean it wouldn't have helped,” he says.

The decision on whether or not to apply fungicides to prevent Asian Soybean Rust is confounded by uncertain yield. Jones says most years he makes good soybeans. “We had good yields last year but production is variable. We had some 45-bushel-per-acre soybeans in 2004, but we've had too many seasons when they dropped under 30.”

He doesn't believe the rust overwinters in North Texas.

“It might survive a winter on the Gulf Coast and it would only take one good wind to blow it up here in a day, and we get a lot of south wind in this area.”

Jones works with Ed Boykin, a crop consultant with Estes out of Paris, Texas. “He says we have several options to spray soybeans,” Jones says. “We can use Tilt, Headline, Folicur, or Quilt (a combination of Tilt and Quadris).” He says companies are also considering putting Headline and Folicur together.

Boykin says growers in the North Texas area, representing from 40,000 to 50,000 acres of soybeans, should have ample supplies of fungicide if Asian Rust shows up. “I have no feeling that farmers are going to cut back acreage because of the rust threat,” Boykin says. “Many are concerned, and rightfully so, because it can be a devastating disease.”

He's switched from row beans to drills, 7-1/2 inch spacing, and says Roundup Ready technology “takes a lot of the hard work out of growing corn and soybeans.”

He's cut back on tillage. “We still use conventional tillage,” he says. “I just can't see where no-till will work well in these soils. But we till a lot less than we used to.”

Mostly, he does a little fall land preparation, maybe a chisel plow and a bit of smoothing out with a disk before planting.

But he's contemplating a change this spring that could be as unwelcome as it is expensive. He and other Southern soybean growers face the prospect of adding a preventive fungicide on the crop to protect it from Asian Soybean Rust.

Spray if must

“We don't really know what to do,” Jones says. “I've never seen any rust in this area, but if it comes in, I'll spray.”

He's not certain yet whether he'll use a preventive spray early or not and will rely on his crop consultant for advice. He's leaning toward holding off and waiting to see if areas further south or to the east report infestation. “I'm not yet committed to preventive spraying,” he says.

He admits that the wait and see strategy comes with some risk. “If we wait to figure out if we have it in our fields will it be too late to do anything about it? But we're looking at possibly $40 per acre to spray two times. It's a matter of economics.”

Jones says he's never applied fungicides routinely to soybeans. “That doesn't mean it wouldn't have helped,” he says.

The decision on whether or not to apply fungicides to prevent Asian soybean rust is confounded by uncertain yield. Jones says most years he makes good soybeans. “We had good yields last year but production is variable. We had some 45-bushel-per-acre soybeans in 2004, but we've had too many seasons when they dropped under 30.”

He doesn't believe the rust overwinters in North Texas.

“It might survive a winter on the Gulf Coast and it would only take one good wind to blow it up here in a day, and we get a lot of south wind in this area.”

Jones works with Ed Boykin, a crop consultant with Estes out of Paris, Texas. “He says we have several options to spray soybeans,” Jones says. “We can use Tilt, Headline, Folicur, or Quilt (a combination of Tilt and Quadris).” He says companies are also considering putting Headline and Folicur together.

Boykin says growers in the North Texas area, representing from 40,000 to 50,000 acres of soybeans, should have ample supplies of fungicide if Asian rust shows up. “I have no feeling that farmers are going to cut back acreage because of the rust threat,” Boykin says. “Many are concerned, and rightfully so, because it can be a devastating disease.”

Can justify cost

Some growers will use preventive sprays and Boykin says they can justify the expense. “If we get rust, it's better to be prepared.”

He's seen an advantage with preventive fungicide applications. “Whether or not we see rust, we see a yield advantage with a fungicide application,” Boykin says. The yield bump, he says, more than pays for the application.

Either way, he'll spend a good part of the summer walking soybean fields looking for signs of the disease and also checking for plant growth stage.

“I may spend as much time scouting growth stage as I do trying to identify the disease,” he says.

Preventive applications should go on about growth stage R1, he says. That's early bloom. Growers can justify a slight delay, until R2 or R3, a week to 10 days later, without much risk, but Boykin prefers to err on the side of caution.

“If we get some weather in or have a problem with a sprayer and miss that window, I'd rather have the extra time.”

He says some growers will have him scout for growth stage and use a preventive spray. Others will elect to wait and see and have him look for disease infestation.

“I'll do either,” he says.

Growers should make sure they have adequate spray equipment to handle their acreage.

Identifying the disease in the field poses other problems. “Rust can be in the field for six or seven days before we detect it,” Boykin says. “In early stages it resembles a number of other diseases and we could be in trouble before we know it.”

Monitor strips

He hopes monitor strips planted along the Gulf Coast give growers farther north ample warning to protect their crops.

“Timing is the key. Available chemistry protects the crop for two to four weeks but we may need protection for six to eight weeks. A second application may be necessary. Four weeks after the initial spray, we have to monitor the crop.”

The fungicide mixes offer both a preventive and a curative material.

Boykin says reports of damage from Brazil indicate the disease can cause from 10 percent to 80 percent losses. “But conditions there are different. They don't have a cold season. If we have it here, I just hope it's not bad.”

Growers have a lot of information on rust available on Web sites, Boykin says.

“The biggest thing for them to understand is the potential for damage. It can be severe. Prevention may be necessary.”

He offers three recommendations for growers to prepare for the 2005 season:

  • Secure the product you'll need for treatment.

  • Secure application equipment or a service.

  • Find a scout you trust to identify growth stages and disease. A certified crop advisor could be a good investment.

Boykin says a soybean scout this summer has a significant responsibility. Farmers will have hard choices on whether to spend money on fungicides. “At growth stage R1, we will have no real estimate of production potential,” Boykin says. By that time, however, growers will at least know if they have a good stand and can use that as one criterion.

He says the industry is looking for other options for controlling Asian soybean rust, including better varieties. He also wonders if the threat of rust might be a catalyst to help growers increase yield by applying fungicides and adding to yield potential.

And he agrees with Jones, it will be a matter of economics.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com