Threat of soybean rust looms for state growers

On The Farm

On The Farm

April 15, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

IF THERE is anything Maryland grain farmers fear more than an invasion of the dreaded Asian soybean rust, it's not being paid by their insurance company for crop losses because of the disease.

Soybean rust is a highly contagious fungal disease that has been steadily creeping toward Maryland since it was discovered in Louisiana a little more than a year ago.

And its chances of making its way here this summer are much greater than agriculture officials had expected as recently as a month ago.

In other parts of the world, including southern Africa and South America, soybean rust has reduced yields by as much as 80 percent when left untreated.

With this in mind, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is warning farmers with crop insurance that they have the responsibility to follow recommended practices and document their management procedures if they hope to be paid for any losses to their soybean crop.

As one agriculture official put it: "If you have an outbreak of soybean rust and the University of Maryland Extension Service recommends spraying the fields with a pesticide, the farmer needs to do it and to document the spraying. They can't let the crop go to hell and die and expect to be paid."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency, which oversees the federal crop insurance program, recommends that insured farmers use good farming practices by seeking and following the recommendations of agricultural experts to control the disease.

The agency also recommends that producers document the advice received and actions taken to combat soybean rust.

Although the USDA provides crop insurance, private companies sell it.

The state's warning to farmers says the private companies will need to verify that losses were unavoidable because of naturally occurring events.

That includes verifying that producers followed good farming practices, or that chemicals or applications equipment were not available, or that natural events, such as excess moisture, precluded access to the crop for timely application of the recommended treatment.

The failure to follow good practices could reduce insurance payments, the state Department of Agriculture warns.

There is more reason than before to take these insurance warnings seriously, said Arvydas Grybauskas, an associate professor and plant pathologist at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"There is a pretty good chance" that the disease, which reduces the growth and development of soybean plants, will make its way to Maryland this year, Grybauskas said.

"There's a higher probability than we thought a month ago," he said.

Grybauskas' gloomy prediction is based on the disease's ability to survive below-freezing temperature in northern Florida counties during the winter.

Scientists had hoped killing frosts would slow the disease's spread in the United States.

Agricultural scientists say the fungus most likely made its way into the United States last year from South America by catching a ride on the winds of hurricanes Frances and Ivan.

Maryland's soybean harvest in 2003, the latest year for which statistics are available, was valued at $115 million.

Planting time marks the opening of auction

It's getting close to flower planting time again, and that marks the opening of the Southern Maryland Regional Farmers' Market annual plant and flower auction.

A wide variety of bedding plants and vegetable plants, hanging baskets, planters and more will be available in various lot sizes at every auction.

The auction will be held, rain or shine, at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, starting April 27. It will be open at 10 a.m. every other Saturday beginning May 7. The auction closes June 18.

The farmers' market is on the southbound side of Crain Highway (U.S. 301) in Cheltenham next to the veterans cemetery.

Information: 301-372-1066 after April 17.

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