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La. Farm Bureau/Radio Network‏

February 21, 2014

Brown Rust In Sugarcane

Brown rust fungus poses a serious threat to Louisiana's nearly $1 billion sugarcane industry. Thanks to funding from the American Sugar Cane League, LSU AgCenter molecular biologist Niranjan Baisakh is studying DNA markers in sugarcane associated with resistance to the fungus. He hopes to help sugarcane breeders develop varieties that block the fungus at the molecular level. The fungus, which creates orange to reddish brown lesions on sugarcane leaves, is spread by spores that blow through the wind. The lesions' damage prevents leaves from collecting enough light to effectively perform photosynthesis. Thus, the plant cannot produce sufficient energy to grow and be healthy. Baisakh said the yield of nonresistant cane varieties can be reduced by 20 percent to 50 percent. Scientists have been studying sugarcane resistance to brown rust fungus for more than 20 years, Baisakh said, but a gene called Bru1 is the only indicator of resistance located so far in sugarcane. The frequency of Bru1 in Louisiana sugarcane varieties is low, meaning it has not been used effectively as a means of breeding resistant varieties, he said. However, there are some varieties resistant to the fungus that do not contain Bru1. Baisakh's goal is to track DNA characteristics of fungus-resistant varieties to determine genetic components of resistance. Once resistance genes besides Bru1 are discovered, varieties containing them can be crossed with those with Bru1 to form "gene pyramids" that force the fungus to overcome multiple genes instead of one. It is important to identify these alternate resistance genes because brown rust fungus often adapts to sugarcane varieties as acreages increase.

Baisakh works closely in this effort with other AgCenter scientists - Jeff Hoy, Collins Kimbeng, Michael Pontif and Kenneth Gravois - and Anna Hale, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma. Gravois said brown rust fungus arrived in Louisiana in 1979. Today, it is "probably one of top two diseases we deal with." In 1993, the AgCenter released the high-yielding sugarcane variety known as LCP 85-384, a variety that became so popular that it made up 91 percent of Louisiana sugarcane acreage by 2004. It was highly resistant to brown rust fungus when it was released, Gravois said, but the disease eventually made its way in and hurt the industry.

Until about three years ago, the only way to deal with the fungus was to develop varieties that resist it, Gravois said. Growers now have a couple of fungicide options that help extend the life of some sugarcane varieties, but they are expensive. They also do not take away 100 percent of the damage, so Gravois said varietal resistance remains the best option.

Sugarcane breeding, however, takes 12 to 14 years, and molecular studies are slow because sugarcane is a genetically complex plant that does not have a fixed chromosome number. Baisakh said sugarcane is much more difficult to manipulate than crops such as rice.

Baisakh said this season has been colder than usual, so farmers may assume their cane is safe from the fungus when, in fact, they may be growing susceptible varieties. If they plant the same varieties next year and the weather is warmer, they may be surprised with a severe outbreak of rust.

2013 Soybean Crop Better Than Expected

The average protein and oil levels in the 2013 U.S. soybean crop ticked upward, according to the soy-checkoff-funded Crop Quality Survey. Average oil levels jumped to 19 percent, a 0.5- point increase from 2012 levels, while average protein levels grew by 0.4 percentage points to 34.7 percent.

U.S. soy's biggest customer, the global animal agriculture sector, takes note of the protein content in the soybeans it uses, says Laura Foell, chair of the United Soybean Board's Meal Action Team.

"Our customers buy our soybeans for the components: protein and oil," says Foell, who farms in Schaller, Iowa. "The animal agriculture sector uses protein to feed animals, and the food industry uses the majority of soybean oil for human consumption and the rest for industrial-like biodiesel. The more protein and oil we have in our soybeans, the more product we have for our end-customers. And more demand could lead to a better price for our crop."

The study found less regional variation in protein and oil levels in 2013 than in previous years. These typical regional differences result from climate events and other factors outside of farmers' control.

Foell says farmers should talk with their seed representatives about soybean varieties that will produce higher levels of protein and oil without sacrificing yield.

Blue Jeans Go Green

The Cotton Board will again be hosting a booth at the 2014 Mid-South Farm and Gin Show on February 28 and March 1 at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, Tennessee - and we want your used denim! The Cotton Board's Regional Communications Managers will hold a Blue Jeans Go Green denim drive where each piece of donated denim earns a chance to win a $300 gift card from Cabela's - World Foremost Outfitters.

"We're asking visitors to the Gin Show to bring their old denim, no matter what shape it's in," explains Brad Robb, The Cotton Board's Vice President of Communications. After the show, the denim will be converted into UltraTouch™ insulation by Bonded Logic, a leading manufacturer of natural fiber insulation. The insulation will then be provided to building organizations working in communities in need - often in area affected by natural disasters.

The Cotton Board's booth (1024 & 1025) will have bins where attendees can drop off their donated denim items and enter their chances to win. "We say 'chances to win' because for each piece of denim you donate, you get one entry. The more you bring, the more entries you get and the better your chances of winning," explains Bobby Skeen, Mid-South Regional Communications Manager for The Cotton Board.

"We decided on a Cabela's gift card because they adopted an apparel finishing technology developed by Cotton Incorporated called 'STORM COTTON' and have applied the technology to a line of camouflage hoodies," explains Skeen. "We will also be showcasing one of the hoodies at the show."

The Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program is also sponsoring a NASCAR Nationwide series race being called the Blue Jeans Go Green 200, the same weekend as the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. The Blue Jeans Go Green denim drive recently collected its one-millionth piece of used denim. "In addition to bringing your denim, make sure and get one of our always-popular lip balm," concludes Skeen.

For more information about the program, please visit

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