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Illinois planning rust surveillance upgrade
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

DECATUR, Ill. — An upgrade to state-of-the-art cameras, memory cards, and other technical equipment is part of a $93,000 project by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) and the University of Illinois (UOI) Extension that will provide much-needed upgrades to the state’s ability to rapidly diagnose Asian soybean rust and other plant diseases.

According to a recent press release, the project will upgrade Extension’s Distance Diagnostics System (DDDI), described as an internet-based tool that enables UOI plant pathologists to analyze leaf samples dropped off at local Extension offices by producers. “This upgrade is essential to help protect our valuable soybean crop,” said Chuck Hartke, IDOA Director. “The Distance Diagnostics System gives us the ability to quickly screen suspect plants and provide an early warning to farmers if rust is ever diagnosed so they can promptly begin treating their fields.”

DDDI was started as a pilot project in 1999 and was expanded statewide in 2000. The system utilizes digital cameras to photograph soybean plant samples microscopically. The photos are posted to a secure website, where pathologists examine the samples and decide whether they merit forwarding to the UOI Plant Clinic for testing.

DDDI project coordinator Dennis Bowman called the upgrade vital to ensuring the best available defense against the encroachment of rust, which has not yet been confirmed in Illinois.

“The system has proven its ability to rapidly diagnose biologic farm and home problems, but the original equipment is still in use. While the microscopes remain functional, the cameras have become technologically obsolete, and the low resolution of the images they capture limits the system’s potential,” Bowman said. “This project will replace the outdated equipment.”

The equipment upgrade for all 95 county Extension offices will cost $93,000, of which $36,000 will be provided by the Extension. The remainder will be paid by the IDOA through a Homeland Security grant, according to the press release.

“The planned upgrades only will make (DDDI) an even better resource for Illinois producers,” said Ken Dalenberg, chair of the Illinois Soybean Assoc., whose organization is in partnership with the UOI and IDOA in organizing the rust detection network.

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.

5/3/2006