January: 2018 in Review

Calendar at AngleAs the New Year rolls in, it’s time to reflect on the past year and all that happened at the PDDC.

Clinic staff processed 1282 samples, down roughly 11% from 2017.  These samples came from 62 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, as well as FL, IA, ID, IL, ME, MI, MN, MO, NM and TX.

While samples numbers were down, the complexity of the samples seemed to be on the rise.  In particular, requests for molecular diagnostics increased this year and I have to give kudos to Sue Lueloff, the PDDC’s Assistant Diagnostician, for stepping up and handling all of these samples.  Sue tested numerous samples for phytoplasmas, an incredibly complex process involving identifying DNA sequences of these bacteria-like organisms.  She confirmed the presence of the cranberry false blossom phytoplasma, a pathogen that hasn’t been documented in WI for many decades.  Sue was also involved in the first detection in Wisconsin of Xanthomonas vasicola pv. vasculorum, the corn bacterial streak pathogen.  Sue also confirmed the presence of Verticillium nonalfalfae, a rather odd species of Verticillium (at least in my experience), in Verbena.  PDDC staff still need to complete Koch’s postulates with this fungus, but if successful, this will be the first report of Verticillium wilt of Verbena.

While Sue handled the molecular side of things at the PDDC, I concentrated on handling the more classical side of the diagnostic process that involved culturing (i.e., growing pathogens from plant tissue) and microscopy.  I spent a lot of time identifying Phyllochora maydis, the corn tar spot fungus (a recent addition to the pantheon of fungal plant pathogens in the state).  I also got to see a new fungus that has been on my personal bucket list for years:  Cristullariella (cause of zonate leaf spot).  This is a rather uncommon disease that I saw in 2018 on both maple and grape.  I also continued to provide digital disease diagnostics via email, through the UW-Extension PlantDOC online diagnostic website, and through the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers Facebook page.  I logged roughly 1800 exchanges in the process of handling online plant disease inquiries.

2018 Ed StatsPDDC outreach activities hit an all-time high in 2018.  I did 107 talks/presentations/workshops in 31 Wisconsin counties (virtually all of these in-person visits).  My biggest outreach event was again Wisconsin Public Television’s Garden Expo.  I spent three days at the event, gave two talks on diseases of vegetables and helped answer questions with Lisa Johnson of Dane County UW-Extension at Larry Meiller’s Garden Talk session (always a blast!).  As always, I had a steady stream of visitors to the PDDC booth, talking with and answering questions for folks the entire time.  I distributed 10,300 University of Wisconsin Garden Facts fact sheets (a record), 663 brochures/informational handouts of various kinds and 154 handouts for my talks.  Across all programs in 2018, I interacted with over 230,000 people.  Again, a big thanks goes out to Larry Meiller for having me on his radio show with its awesome listenership.

2018 marked my 20th anniversary at the PDDC.  I really couldn’t have accomplished what I have over those 20 years (and what I continue to accomplish) without the support of a number of people.  I already mentioned Sue Lueloff (molecular diagnostician extraordinaire) above.  Also part of my team are Ann Joy (who does data entry that is instrumental in keeping federal funds through the National Plant Diagnostics Network flowing into the clinic), Dixie Lang (who makes the PDDC website look beautiful and work smoothly), Laurie Ballentine of the Russell Labs support staff (who prints handouts and prints and folds clinic brochures), and finally John Lake (just graduated from the UW-Madison with a degree in Plant Pathology) and Stephanie Salgado (now a senior at James Madison Memorial High School, my alma mater), my superhero student hourlies who processed the bulk of PDDC samples this year and kept me from going insane.  A special congratulations to John and his wife Michelle on a new addition to their family (Daphne Day) who arrived just before Christmas!

I’m not sure what 2019 will bring, but let’s see what happens!  Bring it on!

For addition information on the PDDC and its activities, check out the PDDC website, follow the clinic on Twitter or Facebook (@UWPDDC) or contact the clinic at pddc@wisc.edu.