Rust Tales: Georgia

Bob Kemerait, University of Georgia plant pathologist, leads a team of scouts that are now literally stalk kudzu. His children, ages 5 and 9, are not nearly as fond of scouting kudzu, but are often subjected to impromptu searches for rust, as Kemerait relates in his scouting comments.

“Scouting kudzu has become an obsession for me, as well as for many of my scouts. At one time not too long ago, kudzu was a familiar yet almost invisible weed because of this familiarity – just part of the Georgia landscape. In some areas of the state it was everywhere and I gave little or no thought to it.
Fast-forward to the onset of soybean rust and I am now KEENLY aware of every patch I see, as are my scouts. We have the tremendous urge to slam on the breaks and jump out of the truck to collect leaves and hunt rust.”

“My wife and children have endured countless unplanned ‘quick’ stops at new kudzu patches while we are traveling or are on vacation. At one stop, I used the high beams from our Honda minivan to illuminate a patch of kudzu in the dark of night. As I climbed back into the van, I could see the anxious faces of people living in a nearby house watching this insanity from a screen door.”

“I have raced against time to beat the first to collect last patches of kudzu in late fall. I have had my scouts combing town squares and abandoned buildings, train tressels, and culverts in search of rust.”

“I have become known as ‘Dr. Kudzu’ and ‘Kudzu rust stalker’ by our bemused agents. My scouts have faced countless questions from passersby as they stop along rural highways. They have startled snakes, or rather, been startled by snakes, and have even stepped into raging nests of hornets.”

• “Every one of us has been bitten by the hunt for soybean rust on kudzu.”

By Amy L. Fahnestock

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