CALS detects pests for national plant network
by Marlene Fritz
"The result could be the just-in-time rescue of an Idaho commodity"
Learn how to use Idaho's Distance Diagnostic through Digital Imaging connection with the Western Plant Diagnostic Network at www.dddi.org/idaho/
In Washington County, UI Extension Educator Steve Reddy reads about the sickening toll the emerald ash borer has taken on Midwestern ash trees in four lightning-quick years and wonders how soon one of his clients will arrive at his door with a specimen in hand.
"We're really worried about emerald ash borers," says Reddy. "We would like to catch that one early."
High-risk pests like emerald ash borer, sudden oak death, and potato wart--along with unease about bioterrorism--are why the USDA linked the nation's land-grant universities and state agricultural regulatory agencies into the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN).
As a result, Idaho's trained "first detectors" can now use a web-based Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging system to transmit images of suspicious samples to the NPDN's network of statewide, regional, and national experts. Whether they're on national watch lists or on regional lists of "least wanted" species or "pests of concern," these unwelcome invaders must be unequivocally identified before they can be fought.
Extension plant pathologist Krishna Mohan, who coordinated development of Idaho's www.dddi.org/idaho website for the NPDN's Western Plant Diagnostic Network (WPDN), says incoming pests can wreak havoc, whether they're introduced naturally, accidentally, or intentionally.
Parma-based disease diagnostician Ram Sampangi will oversee disease samples, while Moscow-based colleagues Tim Prather, Frank Merickel, and Yvonne Barkley will identify weeds, insects, and forestry problems, respectively; as appropriate, they'll also upload information to WPDN headquarters at the University of California-Davis.
According to Sampangi, an estimated 50 exotic pests establish themselves each year in the western United States, giving system operators plenty to be watchful about.
In Canyon County, UI Extension Educator Jerry Neufeld expects Master Gardeners to report questionable pests through the DDDI website. Although the odds of the pests being high-risk invaders aren't great, Neufeld applauds the system for its ease of use. "It wraps everything up in one neat package," he says. Users relay textual information and digital photos, which are archived electronically.
If the pest is a known and resident disease organism, Sampangi responds quickly with identification and control recommendations; if it's a newcomer, he expedites the confirmation and reporting process.
Learning to be "first detectors"
Extension educators, crop consultants, pesticide applicators, growers, Master Gardeners, and Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) inspectors can all be trained as "first detectors."
They learn techniques for identifying agro-terrorist threats, protocols for collecting and submitting samples, and procedures for reporting pest problems. Because their regulatory responsibilities differ from the UI's educational mission, the ISDA inspectors use a parallel route to deliver DDDI information to ISDA microbiologist Liz Vavricka.
In Twin Falls, UI Extension Entomologist Kelly Tindall predicts that the digital system will "definitely be useful," allowing cameraphone-carrying growers to send instantaneous images of stricken crops straight from their fields.
Far-flung homeowners can transmit photos of baffling bugs directly from their vegetable patches. In most cases, the result will be just-in-time education. But should Tindall open her e-mail to find an image of a high-risk invader, the result could be the just-in-time rescue of an Idaho commodity.
Contact Mohan at email@example.com.