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The Importance of Submitting Plant Samples to Diagnostic Laboratories

Why Submit a Sample?

In this age of modern technology and web based diagnostic platforms, it is becoming much easier for producers and other professionals in plant production to find answers to questions about their growing operations.  Although the dissemination of information via online platforms is generally good, it can cause producers to incorrectly diagnose plant health issues.  The reason this is uncertain territory is because plants will express the same symptoms as the result of many different types of stresses.  For example, leaves can turn yellow from nutrient deficiencies, pH imbalances, over watering, disease and pest presence, herbicide exposure and many other stressors.  Understanding field history and testing with laboratory methods may be necessary to get an accurate diagnosis. In order to implement the correct management strategy for plant health issues one must first obtain the correct diagnosis.

What Do Diagnosticians Provide?

Plant diagnosticians have a myriad of tools and technology available for evaluating and diagnosing plant health maladies.  There is typically a fee involved with submitting plant samples to a diagnostic laboratory; however, obtaining a correct diagnosis may end up saving a producer hundreds of dollars in the end.  This makes the submission fee insignificant and well worth the investment.  Plant diagnosticians are equipped to identify causal organisms which help further refine management techniques.  They employ many different types of diagnostic technologies that utilize microscopy (figure 1.), culturing (figure 2), serological (antibodies) and molecular tools to confirm the presence of plant pathogens. It is important to accurately identify which pathogenic agent, if any, is responsible for causing a particular plant disease.  It is wasteful and ineffective to apply a fungicide to plants that are suffering from a bacterial or viral infection.

Figure 1. Many plant diseases can be identified by evaluation with a light microscope.

Figure 2. Bacterial cultures isolated from an infected corn leaf.

How Do I Submit a Sample?

If plant pathogens are not the cause of a plant’s symptoms then further analysis may need to take place to pinpoint the cause.  Plant tissue samples may need to be  analyzed for nutrient content.  Soil sample analyses are always helpful to understand the amount of plant available nutrients in your garden, field or pasture.  Don’t forget to reach out to your local Extension Agent for help understanding lab reports and for assistance in developing a management plan. Click on the links below ↓ for more information on how to properly submit a sample to the UF/IFAS Plant Diagnostic Center or the UF/IFAS Soils Lab for diagnosis.

UF/IFAS Plant Diagnostic Center

UF/IFAS Extension Soil Testing Laboratory

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