U requests funds to study soybean rust

by Brady Averill

A conference committee – made up of both state senators and representatives – met for the first time Wednesday to discuss projects either not included in the bonding bill or included only in the House or Senate versions.

The bonding bill finances construction and remodeling projects around the state, including the University.

University officials were part of the first group of testifiers at the meeting. They asked the committee for money to plan a level three biocontainment facility on the St. Paul campus, where researchers could study exotic plant pathogens.

Beverly Durgan, College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences associate dean for research and outreach, said an important need for the facility is to study soybean rust, a disease found in some South American countries, which destroys soybean crops.

She said the request was in the last bonding bill. The need for planning money has “changed dramatically” now, Durgan said.

There are only two facilities in the country that can research soybean rust, and both are full, she said.

If the University built the facility, she said, it would be the only public higher education institution to have a level two and three facility.

A representative from the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council said the state might be susceptible to soybean rust in the future. If that were to happen, farmers would face a 10 percent to 40 percent crop loss, which would result in a $120 million to $483 million loss during a single season.

Jim Kurle, a professor in the plant pathology department, said he recently traveled to Brazil, where he saw soybean crops that suffered a yield loss of 90 percent because of soybean rust.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who heads the conference committee, asked when crops could be affected in Minnesota.

Kurle said it depends on several variables and that it will likely happen in five to 10 years.