New Website Simplifies Connection to UF Experts in Plant Health

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Maybe it’s a farmer who has spotted an unfamiliar bug in the fields, or a homeowner whose once-healthy garden has developed discoloration on some leaves. In these instances, says the director of the University of Florida’s Plant Diagnostic Center, growers just want solutions.

Now, a new website, diagnostics.ifas.ufl.edu, hopes to expedite that process.

“We want this site to be a one-stop shop,” said Carrie Harmon, director of the Plant Diagnostic Center that is among the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ larger network of plant health resources for growers and citizens statewide. “Our aim is to connect the internal and external audience to the plant problem solutions they need in just a few clicks.”

The internal audience includes an extensive network of UF/IFAS Extension agents in every Florida county, the Florida Master Gardeners program, and several plant health clinics throughout the state.

The external audience, of course, is the members of the public seeking help for their plants, whether that involves disease, pest or weed identification; soil and water quality testing; or resources and suggested management methods for a known problem. Harmon said the website is laid out to direct users to the information they need to submit a digital sample, or, as she recommends, to find their local Extension office.

“The ultimate goal behind the website was to bolster, strengthen and promote the local UF/IFAS Extension folks for the resource they are,” she said. “We need people to know that they’ve got this incredible resource in their community.”

Harmon notes that the Distance Diagnostic and Identification System, which sends user-submitted digital samples to a local Extension agent, is limited in its capabilities because certain problems, like diseases, can be hard to identify by images alone. But for some issues, like a bug that is clearly pictured, identification may be possible. Still, Harmon encourages people to visit their local Extension office and get to know the agents and Master Gardeners to take full advantage of the expertise and help they can provide.

For the Extension agents and Master Gardeners, Harmon said the new website simplifies their ability to identify specialists if they happen to be unfamiliar with a particular problem that is presented to them. And, she adds, this process will ideally provide an empowering educational experience for all.

“I want the Extension offices to get the diagnostic reports, to see what is recommended to manage the problem and to learn what is common where they are,” Harmon said. “When the problem comes around again the next season, that grower or homeowner can have their needs met right there at the county office. It makes the county office more valuable; it makes the plant clinics and Master Gardeners more valuable; and it reconnects Extension with its local base.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS website at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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