Many years ago I stood next to a display on sudden death syndrome at a Farm Progress Show when it was just starting to show up. University experts were still trying to figure out what caused it, and how you could avoid it. What I remember is a young farmer looking at the display and then sighing to his wife, "Oh well, just something new to worry about."
Some of those worries never come true on your farm. For many, SDS is real, especially if you have low-lying fields or low-lying, very productive spots within fields. However, soybean Asian rust is an example of one that hasn't come true yet- at least not in the central soybean belt. It is now appearing in southern states, but has not yet arrived in the Midwest sates early enough in the season to cause yield loss. That doesn't mean that it won't if farmers don't remain vigilant.
Now comes word from Glen Hartman, a USDA-ARS professor based at the University of Illinois, that there could be other disease problems to battle in the future that we haven't seed yet in this country. However, his message is actually positive. Hartman believes that there is enormous potential to increase future soybean production, partly because both traditional breeding and genetic engineering can produce solutions to current and future disease issues in soybeans.
One exotic disease yet to be seen here is red leaf blotch, caused by a specific pathogen. It's on the USDA select agent list- the same list that contains anthrax. To date, it's only been reported in soybeans in Africa.
If it ever shows up in the U.S., there's already a recovery plan in place. The fungus can cause lesions on foliage, petioles, pods and stems- the works. It doesn't appear to be seed borne, but can be transferred along with soil and debris in grain. In third world countries, yield losses up to 50% due to this disease were documented in some third-world countries.
"We're simply building awareness, not trying to scare anyone," Hartman says. "Growers are usually the ones that find the disease in the field."
Hartman hopes that if farmers are aware of such a rare disease, if it ever does show its unique symptoms, they can notify Extension and USDA personnel to take care of the problem.