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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Asian Soybean Rust Found in Several U.S. States

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I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Asian soybean rust has been found in a number of American states. The first report of the plant disease came on November tenth in the state of Louisiana. There were later reports from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. All these states are in the South. The presence of soybean rust was also confirmed in Missouri, in the Midwest.

Asian soybean rust is a fungus that can sharply reduce harvests. A fungus is a simple organism. It cannot make its own food. So it takes nutrients from material living or dead. Asian soybean rust can infect several other kinds of bean plants, as well as kudzu, an invasive plant. The fungus does not harm animals or people.

It was first discovered in Japan just over a century ago. It has spread to Africa and, most recently, to South America. Scientists believe it moved north to the United States on the winds of a severe storm, Hurricane Ivan, in September.

The rust is light brown or red in color. It grows on leaves, which develop growths. These growths break open and release a powder of reproductive material. Scientists say winds can carry the fungus spores for thousands of kilometers.

Over the years, the disease has caused major damage in Asia. Australia has also experienced damage. Outbreaks in Africa over the last several years have reduced soy harvests by over fifty percent in some areas. The disease arrived in Brazil in two thousand one. The United States Agriculture Department says soybean rust took only one year to spread to sixty percent of the soybean fields in Brazil.

Still, the Brazilian government says it expects a record harvest this year. Brazil recently passed the United States as the biggest exporter of soybeans in the world.

The United States is the biggest producer. In nineteen ninety-four, Asian soybean rust appeared in Hawaii. But until now, it was never found on the mainland.

The discovery comes at the end of the growing season in the United States. Officials say the fungus did not affect this year's harvest. But it could return next year.

Agricultural officials say farmers have time to start planning ways to control the disease for the next planting season. A number of chemicals can be used to treat fields. But they are costly.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. I'm Gwen Outen.

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