If you know us, then you know almost nothing shuts down UF/IFAS. Not hurricanes, not wildfires, and not pandemics. In fact, at times of crisis the needs of our customers, like you, can be greater.
That’s been the case with the UF/IFAS Plant Diagnostic Center in Gainesville, where director Carrie Harmon has seen a recent spike in diseased palm samples. Operations look a bit different as you can’t enter the lab with your sample and you have to leave it in a refrigerator outside, but turnaround times haven’t become longer.
We know disease diagnoses can’t wait, so we’ve prioritized commercial growers’ samples. You shouldn’t notice any change in level of service, pandemic or not.
Connecting with any one UF/IFAS expert gets you access to a whole university and a whole universe of expertise on the other side of that door. We have plant diagnostic clinics open across the state, a hand-in-glove relationship with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry, and the resources of the National Plant Diagnostic Network.
I had a sense the Plant Diagnostic Center is a marquee UF/IFAS service even before I came on board last month. I visited UF/IFAS about 16 months ago in my former position as director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In that role, wherever I went across the nation, universities would show me the best of what they had to offer. One of the stops on my visit to Gainesville was the Plant Diagnostic Center where I met Dr. Harmon.
From the beginning of the pandemic, a major goal has been to protect our employees’ health, of course, yet we also consider it our responsibility to stay healthy as essential workers. If we’re sick, we can’t serve.
So Harmon has staggered shifts, with only one person in the lab at a time, followed UF’s mask mandate, and kept the refrigerator running outside 24/7 for touch-free sample drop-offs.
A major strength of our plant diagnostics service (in addition to the low fees) is it’s a distributed network. You can find us in Immokalee, Quincy, Apopka, Homestead, Balm, and Gainesville.
This lends itself to local expertise. It also gives you plenty of backup if a single lab is impacted by employee illness or other impediments. If caseloads soar in one location, overflow samples can be shared with others in the network.
Harmon, for example, has seen a lot more palm samples than normal this year. A huge batch came in from a single nursery, and Harmon was able to quickly give the clients the information they needed to stop the spread of disease. She and her team continue to analyze samples of turf and nursery plants, run phytosanitary tests, and check on out-of-state and international samples in the interest of protecting Florida’s green industry.
The work of the lab during coronavirus was featured in a video by UF.
If you’re not using us, you’re missing out. We wake and work each day to serve you. We believe every interaction with UF/IFAS must show our commitment to excellent customer service. We ask lots of scientific questions, but at times like these the one we ask the most is, “How can we help?”
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).