November 24, 2003
Argentina's Soybean Producers Fear Spread of Asian Soy Rust
Soybean producers, stars of Argentina's profitable agricultural industry, fear a potentially devastating strain of Asian soy rust may spread from neighboring nations.
The climate of Argentina, the world's third-biggest soy producer, could allow the disease, which can be carried by the wind, to spread there after hitting Brazil and Paraguay.
"There is soy everywhere, so once the rust appears in one place, it could spread everywhere," said Silvia Vallone, a disease specialist at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) in the soy growing region of Cordoba.
She said the north of Argentina was at greatest risk, near the border with Brazil and Paraguay.
The disease, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture says poses no risk to consumers, can reduce yields by 80% if not treated with fungicide. But controlling the disease could be hard in a country where soy fields cover an area about the size of the United Kingdom.
Some people have compared it to the foot and mouth disease that hurt Argentina's beef industry in recent years.
"Without exaggerating, I think this disease is what foot-and-mouth was for cows," said Antonio Ivancovich, coordinator of the INTA fungus control project.
Soy is the biggest source of income in Argentina and its producers are seen as a backbone of the economy, which is recovering from its worst-ever crisis.
Argentine officials expect a record harvest of 37 million tons in 2003/2004, a million tons below U.S. government estimates but two million tons more than last year's crop.
While the INTA has found signs of the disease in soy near the border with Paraguay and Brazil during the 2002/03 season, specialists see no sign of it yet in large commercial farms.
But there are worries the rust could appear at the same time as the planting for the 2003/2004 season, which has been delayed by lack of rain.
"Anything that can lower the quality of the crops worries us," said Gerardo Panzardi, head of the rural association of Chaco, a northern province.