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Many Soil and Plant Diagnostic Labs Remain Open with Limited Staff

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Many university soil testing laboratories, as well as plant diagnostic laboratories, remain open but have limited staffing and new sample submission protocols for growers to follow. (DTN photo by Jim Patrico)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Amid coronavirus-related lockdowns, most states and university administrations have deemed soil and plant diagnostic testing laboratories as "essential" services, able to remain open to accept samples from farmers and scientists this spring and summer.

"In the time of COVID-19, plants still get sick, and the soil that nourishes them needs care," stated a press release from University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in late March. "The health of plants and soil is critical to agriculture, an industry designated an essential service in response to the pandemic."

Like many other laboratories, UF's testing sites are making adjustments to try to keep employees safe and limit their contact with one another. For some labs, that has meant trimming back to a small staff, which has increased sample turn-around times. Other laboratories are limiting what samples they will accept, often banning in-person submissions and only accepting mailed samples that meet certain criteria.

Here is a listing of soil and diagnostic laboratories that remain open, with some new protocols. DTN will update them as necessary.

--The University of Illinois Plant Clinic

This clinic is still accepting mailed samples, with special instructions for those who use UPS or FedEx. Local residents can use a drop-off location on campus.

"The clinic is making every attempt to process samples in a timely manner," Diane Plewa, plant clinic director, said in a press release. "With the fluid situation, Illinois SCN type and HG type assays are on hold. Samples can still be submitted and will be stored until they can be processed."

See more here: https://extension.illinois.edu/…

--Iowa State University's Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic (PIDC)

Although it is remaining open, Iowa State's lab is doing as much plant diagnosis remotely as is possible to reduce the number of physical samples coming into the lab, according to a university press release.

The release asks that producers contact the lab by email first before sending a sample in, to see if "distance diagnostics" is possible.

Read more here: https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/…

--University of Delaware's Soil Testing Program

This program was given permission to stay open, and is continuing to process samples, according to its website. However, it is only accepting mailed samples to a new address due to campus shutdowns.

And because county Extension offices are closed in the state, the program's website provides information on how to submit samples without the soil test bags normally provided at Extension offices.

Read more here: https://www.udel.edu/…

--Kansas State University's Soil Testing and Plant Disease Diagnostic Labs

Kansas State's soil testing lab remains fully staffed, according to a university press release. Normal turnaround times for samples are expected, but the lab is no longer accepting in-person sample deliveries.

The university's plant diagnostic lab, however, will have only a limited staff working, so samples will take longer to process, the release noted. The lab is also banning in-person sample deliveries, and has a new mailing address for time-sensitive samples.

See more here: https://webapp.agron.ksu.edu/…

--Michigan State University's Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab and Plant & Pest Diagnostics Lab

The university's soil lab is still operating, with an estimated sample turn-around time of 10 days from receipt. Growers won't be able to access the customary soil test boxes from county Extension offices, and will need to mail samples in Ziploc bags, a university press release stated.

For time-sensitive samples, the lab will accept drop-offs in an on-campus location.

The plant and pest diagnostics lab is no longer accepting any drop-off samples, and is recommending growers first contact the lab by email to see if digital images will allow for diagnosis.

See more here:

https://www.canr.msu.edu/…

--University of Kentucky Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratories (PDDL)

These university laboratories are expected to remain open, but will no longer accept walk-in samples, according to a university posting.

The labs are requesting that growers route their samples through County Extension Agents, as they will only accept mailed samples originating from County Extension offices (with an exemption for hemp samples). Nor will the lab accept any out-of-state samples.

Read more here: https://kentuckypestnews.wordpress.com/…)

--Penn State's Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory and Plant Disease Clinic

The Agricultural Analytical Services lab is open but operating with a limited staff, a university press release stated. Growers can expect slower testing times and should prioritize "critical needs" samples, such as "samples associated with food and crop production and drinking water tests."

The Plant Disease Clinic is also operating under limited hours and is prioritizing "samples of life-sustaining crops/plants (e.g. field crops, vegetables, tree fruit, small fruit, etc.)." The clinic is also encouraging initial submissions of digital images for diagnosis.

See more here: https://extension.psu.edu/…

--University of Florida Plant and Soil Diagnostic Laboratories

The university's soil testing and plant diagnostic laboratories are open under new protocols, such as a limit of one person in a plant disease laboratory at a time. Digital image submissions for plant diseases are encouraged, the university press release stated.

See more here: http://southeastagnet.com/…

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

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Emily Unglesbee