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Are those my shoes or a chuck roast?

Some day we will learn that Asian soybean rust is not as bad a disease as we first thought — nor is it completely harmless either.

But I imagine that sometime this season, a farmer will fail to spray for the disease, which will result in a complete disaster and some dreadful photographs and will put enough of a fright into other farmers that they'll never stray from proper caution again.

As you know, spores of the disease are believed to have entered the United States from Brazil on the winds of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, and have been the topic de jour for U.S. soybean producers ever since.

Despite the hoopla, I believe that by the end of this season, we will have had our rough spots with the disease, but knowledge, research and good sense will prevail and U.S. farmers, like those in Brazil, will have learned to control the spread of this dreaded disease.

In the meantime, we journalists must work through our own paranoia. I recently returned from a trip to Brazil to see how their growers were coping with rust. I saw a completely defoliated field that had not been treated with a fungicide for Asian rust symptoms. It was right next to a field that had been treated and was completely free of the disease. This tells me that the disease is controllable if treated at the right time with the right product. It also showed me that the disease can be fatal.

I know that as I wandered through the field which was infected with Asian rust, the spores had to be clinging to my clothes and shoes. This may be a discomforting thought to you as I have now returned home to Tennessee, but don't worry, I am making sure I err on the side of hysteria.

And so, wink-wink — here's my story.

Because I was told that 24 hours of below-freezing temperature will kill Asian rust spores, the two pair of blue jeans I wore in Brazil are resting comfortably inside a plastic bag in the freezer — between a chuck roast and the orange sherbet.

My shoes are on my feet this morning, thanks to a customs agent at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Ga., my first entry point from Brazil into the United States.

I had checked a box on my customs form indicating that I had been on a farm. For this, I was directed toward a customs agent armed with a spray bottle. She asked for the shoes that I wore on the farm, which I had placed in a plastic bag inside my suitcase. I removed the shoes, she sprayed them thoroughly, placed them inside another plastic bag and gave them back to me.

I wanted to ask her if she had ever heard of Asian soybean rust, and if the product she sprayed actually killed rust spores, but I didn't, figuring this would be like asking an airport security agent searching my carry on luggage if he was looking for a bomb.

Besides, customs agents are people you want to leave behind very quickly. I didn't do anything wrong, filled out all the forms correctly, truthfully stated that I had been on a farm, and said, “no ma'am,” politely, but she nonetheless made me feel like I was sneaking something into the country. She could have taught Unsettling Stares 101 — which I believe is a mandatory course for customs agents.

The blue jeans have another 22 hours to go before any Asian soybean rust spores will succumb to the cold. And probably another day or two before I can put them on again. As for the shoes, I still have some questions. Did the customs agent's disinfectant really kill the spores? Or should the shoes go in the freezer, too? If they do, could they be mistaken for the chuck roast and end up getting slow-cooked?

I don't want to overreact to Asian soybean rust, but then again I don't want to be this year's Hurricane Ivan, either. I imagine that most U.S. soybean producers know exactly how I feel.


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