Specific chemicals can prime the plant immune system for augmented defense. β-aminobutyric acid (BABA) is a priming agent that provides broad-spectrum disease protection. However, BABA also suppresses plant growth when applied in high doses, which has hampered its application as a crop defense activator. Here we describe a mutant of Arabidopsis thaliana that is impaired in BABA-induced disease immunity (ibi1) but is hypersensitive to BABA-induced growth repression. IBI1 encodes an aspartyl-tRNA synthetase. Enantiomer-specific binding of the R enantiomer of BABA to IBI1 primed the protein for noncanonical defense signaling in the cytoplasm after pathogen attack. This priming was associated with aspartic acid accumulation and tRNA-induced phosphorylation of translation initiation factor eIF2α. However, mutation of eIF2α-phosphorylating GCN2 kinase did not affect BABA-induced immunity but relieved BABA-induced growth repression. Hence, BABA-activated IBI1 controls plant immunity and growth via separate pathways. Our results open new opportunities to separate broad-spectrum disease resistance from the associated costs on plant growth. © 2014 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved.