Extension Ag Update
November/December 2003
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National Plant Diagnostic Network

Nancy Pataky, Director, University of Illinois Plant Clinic, (217) 333-0519, npataky@uiuc.edu

To protect agriculture throughout the nation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN). A separate network for animal systems is also under construction. The plant network provides an avenue to quickly detect, identify, and report pests and pathogens that have been deliberately or accidentally introduced into agricultural systems. The primary concern is food security, of course, but economic threats to the nation are also important. This network will tie together specialists from across the country to help in rapid and accurate problem identification. The NPDN system will provide clear avenues of communication from the first detectors through various players, including Extension educators, university diagnostic labs, state regulatory agencies, and national regulatory agencies.

Sometimes new pests and diseases slip past ports of entry and are detected by first responders, such as crop scouts who find soybean rust or possibly arborists who detect an insect pest in the trimming process. In the next year or two, special educational programs will be available to train first responders to recognize disease and insect problems that might appear unusual for an area. Training will begin in the agricultural arena but will most likely move to the green industry as well. We’ll keep you posted when training is available.

The NPDN has been divided into five regional centers. Illinois is part of the north-central region. The University of Illinois Plant Clinic is intimately involved in the NPDN through the plant diagnostic information system. A new Internet-based system will be used at the Plant Clinic starting next May. This system includes use of a new database that is required by state and federal law to be reported to national authorities. Information will still be confidential within that system. The plant diagnostic system also includes a Web-based digital camera that will allow diagnostic labs to share images in real time with specialists anywhere. This does not guarantee that someone will always be available when needed, but it certainly provides opportunity for immediate and remote macroscopic or microscopic examination. The cost for samples at the Plant Clinic will not increase. Money has been provided to upgrade to this system. Look for details on clinic improvements and changes when we open again next May. Meanwhile, for more information on the NPDN, visit the web at www. NPDN.org.