USDA is again funding projects to track the spread of soybean rust and create the Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education to provide producers with information about additional legume pests and diseases in 2006, officials announced.

The nationally coordinated network will help producers in making crop management decisions that reduce pesticide input costs, reduce environmental exposure to pesticides and increase the efficiency and efficacy of pesticide applications.

“The soybean rust sentinel plots, mobile team monitoring program and online reporting system are important tools for our producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “Timely information is essential to help farmers combat plant diseases and we are committed to providing it.”

The risk management tool component of the network is an online, real-time data system that allows growers and their advisors to access the latest information, to the county level, of where there are confirmed disease and/or pest outbreaks. The mapping tool will include frequently updated commentaries from state extension specialists and national specialists discussing immediate and projected risks and control options. USDA’s Risk Management Agency funded this $2.4 million component.

To compliment the network, USDA will continue to conduct teleconferences, workshops and organize extension field visits to prepare first detectors to scout for pest and disease problems, to obtain diagnostic confirmation when a suspected problem is found and to manage the information for timely incorporation into the risk management map.

Training modules will also be produced for crop advisors and producers about how to use the map system and what the risk management alternatives are, based on a three-tiered (low, medium, high) risk advisory.

The risk management mapping tool will continue to help improve crop protection by educating farmers about risk-management strategies and providing timely information about good farming practices specific to current crop pest and disease risk status. Farmers will have the information needed so they spray only when the risk is imminent, and reduce the overall number of sprays or other pest control interventions.

This tool will increase farmers’ awareness of more precise management practices and will provide documentation for potential crop insurance claims. USDA and Extension specialists will provide information to assist certified organic farmers in making decisions about planting schedules and geographic risk for disease and pest outbreak.

The soybean rust risk management tool is available online at http://www.sbrusa.net. USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, RMA, and Animal Plant Health Inspection Service are working together to implement the system. CSREES is implementing its part of the system through its land-grant university partners, the Cooperative Extension System, the Regional Integrated Pest Management Centers, and the National Plant Diagnostic Network.