FOR A DISEASE that hasn't hit the U.S. soybean industry very hard, Asian soybean rust continues to gather press and attention. You'll even see a story in this issue on rust, found on page 14. Maybe you are getting tired of reading about it. But I hope you'll bear with us through yet another mention of it.

I recently attended a national meeting on soybean rust where 350 researchers, government officials, chemical company representatives, crop consultants, educators and growers attended. Interest was so high in this meeting that the organizer, the American Phytopathological Society, had to halt preregistration.

In my many years of covering livestock and crop issues, I have never seen such a mixed gathering of experts who really want to work together and find solutions. This group looked back at the monitoring, research, products and outbreak of the rust in 2005. Then they criticized their work and made suggestions for improvements this year. For example, they decided that USDA should improve its soybean rust Web site to open faster on a dial-up system. They want more hotlines for growers to call. They want better diagnostic tools. They think the dissemination of spore information should be better handled. As a result, it looks like the country will be better prepared if soybean rust becomes more widespread this year.

I found the most interesting speaker to be Billy Wayne Sellers, a grower from Baxley, GA. Sellers has the notoriety of being the first soybean grower in the U.S. to have soybean rust infect his farm. Rust hit at the R5 and R6 stage. Because it was late in the season, he sprayed his field only once with good results. Ironically, a soybean rust plot located only one mile from his field never became infected.

Sellers plans to continue growing soybeans again this year and spray as needed. “There's a strong possibility I'll have soybean rust every year because of where I live,” he says. “But in the Midwest, I hope you never get it.”

Many experts at the rust meeting echo Sellers' sentiments. Soybean rust will be more of a problem in the South, and it will spread over the next few years. But only under the right weather conditions will the disease move north into the heart of the Midwest. Hopefully, any infestation will not be at the level growers feared last winter. A little experience has helped temper those concerns.