Rallying To Save Rust Alert System

You know it as ipmPIPE if you service soybean growers — the key pipeline to critical Asian soybean rust information for the past three seasons. However, USDA’s Integrated Pest Management Pest Information Platform Extension and Education program is in danger of losing some of its long-term funding support at the federal government level.

The program, up and running in time for the 2005 season at www.sbrusa.net, grew out of the need to provide information following the first confirmation of soybean rust in the U.S. in late 2004. It provides scientific tools such as the sentinel plot system utilized across soybean-growing states, commentary and advice from individual state Extension specialists, and a chronology of positive detections and their status — all on a real-time basis. E-mail alerts inform subscribers of new confirmations, which is the key to preventive or treatment applications of fungicides in a timely manner. Additions to the program, which now has five components, include tracking soybean rust confirmations in Canada and Mexico, plus a tracking and Extension advisory system for another significant pest, the soybean aphid.

Funding Facts, Fears

Funding is in place for the 2008 season, but is uncertain for 2009. According to Don Hershman, Uni­versity of Kentucky Extension plant pathologist, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) has funded the program since 2006 and will continue to fund the development of any ipmPIPE project, but the agency cannot fund maintenance programs. “RMA has concluded that the Asian soybean rust PIPE is now in maintenance mode and is no longer fundable,” Hershman says. “The money we use for PIPE is one year behind, thus we are OK for 2008 Asian soybean rust monitoring because we are using 2007 money. The 2009 season begins the crisis, which is based on 2008 money.”

RMA has actually funded around 75% of the soybean rust PIPE; soybean growers have been supporting roughly 25% of the costs through soybean checkoff funding. “Those funds are way short of what is needed to continue doing what we are doing,” Hershman says. The soybean rust monitoring effort takes about $1.6 million, primarily for personnel and travel for the many states involved.

“The cost associated with establishing sentinel plots is minimal, so the only way to truly cut costs is to cut people — and cutting people means fewer plots can be monitored,” he says. “And monitoring fewer plots just means we’ll know less about where soybean rust is or isn’t and that could seriously compromise the rust risk assessments we put out,” he adds. “Plus, the Asian soybean rust predictive models can only function if they are being ‘fed’ monitoring data. If the level of data are diminished, so, too, are the quality of the model outputs.”

“The ipmPIPE is not disappearing,” Hershman says. “But the money we have been using for Asian soybean rust monitoring is drying up, since no alternate source of funding has yet to be identified.” The soybean aphid and legume PIPE components will be in the same situation in 2010 or sooner.

Making The Pitch

The ipmPIPE Steering and Execu­tive committees are working to find a funding solution, and already have hosted an ipmPIPE Summit in Washington, DC. According to Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, growers and crop consultants clearly communicated the value of ipmPIPE for management of rust to an audience of some 40 government and private-sector policy makers.

“As this is one of the finest examples of private/public partnership in support of effective and responsible use of pesticides, we must strive to gain long- term and stable federal funding for this program,” Vroom says, adding that the program also is becoming the model for pest management and monitoring efforts in other crops, making its future existence even more critical to the entire U.S. agricultural industry.

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