Tom Isakeit, Texas A&M University Research and Extension Center plant pathologist, covers a lot of ground searching for signs of soybean rust — after all, Texas is a big state — and he has the stories to match.
While a separate team monitors the Texas High Plains area, Isakeit is responsible for the rest of the state. In order to cover from the southernmost portion of Texas all the way up to the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders in the course of a year, he has to fly to some of his scouting sites, visiting them just once each season. Nearly 95 percent of the state’s rust findings in kudzu have been in eastern part of the state, east of Interstate 45 and north on Interstate 10, and although rural, there isn’t all that much row crop agriculture in the area.
However, he has taken a lot of ribbing from other plant pathologists after finding pornographic materials in protected kudzu under bridges. According to Tom Allen, Mississippi State University Extension plant pathologist, “it’s a running joke that he goes out there and finds all these empty pornographic DVD cases. He’ll send an e-mail with something like ‘no rust and no porn this time.’ It’s pretty funny.”
Isakeit tells that story and others in a chat with CropLife.
• “There are a couple of sites in east Texas with rust — most of them are the porno sites. The porno mag under the bridge is doing well, but the kudzu there has died back. So I don’t think I’ll be out there until the spring when the kudzu comes out again.
For the longest period of time, there was a mattress there, too. But someone removed it. Was it worth removing? Probably not, but it was under a bridge, so that helps to preserve it. I expect that that magazine is going to last decades. But I’ve also noted that at one of my sites, there was a person living under the bridge. I suppose that’s not too surprising in some of the urban areas as well.”
• “Where kudzu grows, people tend to dump their trash there. And kudzu covers it, except of course when it dies back.
You have to be careful walking through a kudzu patch. But I’m used to that — I work with watermelons, where if you don’t walk right through the vines, you might step on a fruit and slip on it. And of course, the growers always warn me about snakes. And they’ll wear tall leather boots or they’ll carry sticks ahead of them, but I think I’m noisy enough that I don’t end up surprising anything. There was once a big rattlesnake in my watermelon plot, but I don’t think it bothered me any or vice versa. But the kudzu, well, you have to be concerned about holes because it does cover up holes.”
• “In one spot, the kudzu is growing on a ravine and the people that own the property did warn me that it’s kinda risky there. I agree with that and I really don’t go down very far, I find it’s not really necessary. You can probably do a good job surveying the outer portions of it and detecting it.”
• “One interesting aspect of my own travels is that I check out what are probably the southernmost commercial soybean fields in the continental U.S. These fields are southeast of Brownsville, near the airport.
I see a lot of traffic from the Border Patrol, but they don’t interfere with me. I’ve not seen anyone sneak across, either, although the grower I work with said he encountered a Brazilian mother and daughter that were abandoned on his land by a coyote. When I walk around there, I do lock my truck. I don’t hang out here at night, either. The danger comes from the drug smugglers, rather than the illegal immigrants.
• “I’ve never really been questioned when I go into a soybean field. I have a state vehicle. So far, and this is the extrapolating back to the whole experience, the fact is I’ve been here 15 years, I will trespass on a regular basis into grower’s fields. When they confront me, what they usually say is ‘Can I help you?’ They’re not hostile; I’ve never gotten any adverse reaction from them. They say people here are friendly and I say to some extent, that’s true. Of course, on the flip side of that, I’m not in any fields where you could take anything of value, like watermelon fields or vegetables where might be a different reaction. Those growers might think, oh, you’re poaching. But going into a cotton field or a soybean field, that’s not a big deal. Those growers are just kinda curious, that’s the extent of that.”
By Amy L. Fahnestock