Agriculture Production: USDA Needs to Build on 2005 Experience to Minimize the Effects of Asian Soybean Rust in the Future

GAO-06-337 Published: Feb 24, 2006. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 2006.
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In 2005, U.S. agriculture faced potentially devastating losses from Asian Soybean Rust (ASR), a fungal disease that spreads airborne spores. Fungicides approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can protect against ASR. In 2005, growers in 31 states planted about 72.2 million soybean acres worth about $17 billion. While favorable weather conditions limited losses due to ASR, it still threatens the soybean industry. In May 2005, GAO described the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to prepare for ASR's entry, (Agriculture Production: USDA's Preparation for Asian Soybean Rust, GAO-05-668R). This report examines (1) USDA's strategy to minimize ASR's effects in 2005 and the lessons learned to improve future efforts and (2) USDA, EPA, and others' efforts to develop, test, and license fungicides for ASR and to identify and breed soybeans that tolerate it.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To ensure reliable, quality reporting on the spread of the disease, USDA should provide additional guidance to state ASR program managers and monitors on the timing and frequency of reporting on the incidence of ASR, the designation of sentinel plots, and when to use advanced diagnostic testing.
Closed – Implemented
In 2006, USDA facilitated numerous discussions with partners interested in continuing with its coordinated framework for focusing national attention on Asian soybean rust--the framework included a surveillance and monitoring network, a web-based information management system, criteria for deciding when to apply fungicides, and predictive modeling and outreach. USDA also funded 379 sentinel plots that were strategically placed based on the guidance of soybean pathology experts. Finally, to ensure the accurate and timely confirmation of soybean rust, USDA used the National Plant Diagnostic Network to encourage the diagnostic testing of plants suspected to be infected with soybean rust.
Department of Agriculture To ensure that ASR continues to receive national priority and the same level of effective coordination and cooperation evidenced in 2005, USDA should develop a detailed action plan, prior to the beginning of the growing season, describing how it will manage ASR in 2006.
Closed – Implemented
In fiscal year 2006, we reviewed and reported on USDA's preparation for Asian Soybean Rust (ASR). We reported, among other things, that a clear plan of action and strong leadership in coordinating the actions of all stakeholders was important in 2005 and would continue to be critical to the success of efforts to monitor, report, and manage the spread of ASR in 2006. We recommended that USDA develop a detailed action plan, prior to the beginning of the growing season, describing how it would manage ASR in 2006. USDA developed a plan, which it titled "A Coordinated Framework for Soybean Rust and Aphid Surveillance, Reporting, Prediction, Management and Outreach." According to USDA, the plan served as a living document through the beginning of the 2006, until its last revision was made on May 1, 2006. USDA stated that the planning recommendation made by GAO paid great dividends. The plan was used as a springboard for the Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education--a national system that provides centralized information to pest management practitioners. Although the system has been expanded from soybean rust and soybean aphid detection to include other crops, soybean rust remains the system's top priority.

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