Wow! It’s 2020 already and I can’t say that I’ve recovered yet from the avalanche that was 2019.
Clinic staff processed 1506 samples, up roughly 17.5% from 2018. Samples came from 64 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, as well as FL, IA, IL, IN, MA, ME, MI, MN, and NY. Sample numbers were up sharply (despite the PDDC having increased fees in 2019) most likely in part due to having had two seasons back to back that were incredibly wet and thus favorable for disease development.
I also believe that the PDDC’s expanding molecular (i.e., DNA-based) diagnostic offerings have helped drive higher clinic sample numbers. Many of the molecular tests that the PDDC offers are particularly popular and useful for commercial vegetable producers. Once again, kudos to Sue Lueloff, the PDDC’s Assistant Diagnostician, for stepping up and handling all of the molecular samples. Sue tested numerous samples for bacterial soft rot pathogens, the oak wilt pathogen and phytoplasmas. In addition to processing routine samples (included in the total mentioned above), Sue also worked on a survey with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR), testing ~100 tree samples from around the state for phytoplasmas. Testing from this survey will be completed in early 2020.
As always, while Sue handled the molecular side of things at the PDDC, I handled the more classical side of the diagnostic process that involved culturing (i.e., growing pathogens from plant tissue) and microscopy. My highlight, sample-wise, for the year was confirming my first case of boxwood blight. This disease had been first reported in nurseries in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (WI DATCP) in 2018, but the sample I received at the PDDC was the first instance of the disease popping up in a landscape setting (i.e., in a home garden). I also spent a fair amount of time dealing with samples suspected of having sudden oak death/Ramorum blight. This disease has caused wide-spread death of oak trees (as well as other trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants) in California and Oregon. The first Wisconsin case was confirmed by WI DATCP in 2019. Thus far, none of the putative sudden oak death samples submitted to the PDDC has tested positive for the disease.
Disease Consulting by Email and Phone
In addition to coordinating efforts with live samples in the PDDC, I continued to provide digital disease diagnostics via email, through the UW-Madison Division of Extension PlantDOC online diagnostic website, and through the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers Facebook page. I also spent a lot of time on the phone answering plant disease-related questions. All told, I likely had 1500+ exchanges in the process of handling online plant disease inquiries and phone calls.
PDDC outreach activities, once again, hit an all-time high in 2019. I did 111 talks/presentations/workshops in 22 Wisconsin counties (many of these in-person). My biggest outreach event was again Wisconsin Public Television’s Garden Expo. I spent three days at the event, gave three talks (two on diseases of trees and shrubs, one on plant disease management) and helped answer questions with Lisa Johnson of Extension Dane County at Larry Meiller’s Garden Talk session. 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 3,435 University of Wisconsin Garden Facts fact sheets, brochures/informational materials and other written materials. Across all outreach programs in 2019, I interacted with almost 224,000 people. As always, a big thanks goes out to Larry Meiller for having me on his radio show with its awesome listenership.
What happens at the PDDC is not a solo effort. I have LOTS of help. I have 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 keeps the PDDC billing database running and up to snuff), Laurie Ballentine of the Russell Labs support staff (who prints and folds and otherwise produces all of the written handouts I use for my outreach efforts), and finally Alex Mikus (an undergraduate here at the UW-Madison) and Gisele Guzman (a participant in the TOPS program at East High School), my hard-working student hourlies who helped process the bulk of PDDC samples and kept me on my toes.
Now, 2020 has arrived and it’s time to gear back up! “It’s showtime, folks!” (Brownie points if you can identify the film that quote comes from.)